MCAT-astrophe frustrates students

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Officials have found a way to make the MCATs even more stressful.

Last summer, the Association of American Medical Colleges officially switched all Medical Colleges Admissions Test (MCAT) exams from paper-based to computer-based, a move that was seen as more convenient and environmentally friendly.

But the catastrophe that followed left many pre-med students doubting the new system.

Fewer locations could provide the necessary resources for a computer-based test, creating a stressful situation for many students last summer.

The change led to fewer seats (since special testing stations are required), computer malfunctions and long registration wait times.

Shibani Walia, a fourth-year medical science student, logged on to the AAMC’s website last May at 9 a.m. to register for the August MCAT. She did not get a seat for the exam until 3 p.m.

“Just logging on was a problem for me ... It was complete havoc,” Walia said.

Although 6,000 students took the test in 2006, the AAMC announced a few days before last year’s summer registration only 3,000 seats would be available.

“It’s a lot easier to put an extra desk into a room, whereas it’s a lot harder to put in an extra computer,” Walia explained.

“Some [students] were having to go out of province or out of the country to write the [summer] exam,” Blaise Moritz, executive director of the Princeton Review Canada, remembered.

Students hoped the AAMC would take steps to avoid this problem.

Registration for the January exam, which began this Tuesday, has already created some problems.

He felt the AAMC did not resolve problems from the summer test.

“This was AAMC’s first chance to show Canadian students it would be different, and it has kind of flunked that task,” Moritz criticized.

Karen Mitchell, associate vice-president MCAT at AAMC, disagreed.

She explained the steps it has taken to improve the registration and testing process.

“In Canada we added 60 per cent more seats [for our January exam] than we had last year... we have added test dates in August and September.”

Mitchell said it is planning to accommodate last year’s volume of students plus 10 per cent.

The AAMC has also made a number of additions to its hardware and software to help improve its system.

Yet when students signed on to register, they were still faced with a page asking them to wait. Some students waited for six hours.

Mitchell admitted there was an average wait of one hour this Tuesday, but said yesterday had no wait at all.

“I think the AAMC is genuinely trying to improve the system,” Walia said, but she is still apprehensive.

“I personally think that the disadvantages outweigh the advantages to the computer-based [MCAT].”

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