News  Med school scraps MCAT

Standardized test abandoned in effort to improve accessibility

correction appended, Sep 17
In an attempt to make its medical program more accessible, McGill has dropped the popular Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) for applicants to the Faculty of Medicine.

At the end of July of this year, the McGill Faculty of Medicine announced that all Canadian applicants with degrees from Canadian universities would no longer be required to submit a MCAT score.

The MCAT is a standardized test administered by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), accepted at schools throughout Canada and the United States.

The test has been criticized for limiting the number of francophones applying to medical schools, as the test is administered exclusively in English.

Saleem Razack, the Assistant Dean of Admissions at McGill’s Centre for Medical Education, says that requiring applicants to write the MCAT can be a deterrent for francophones looking to enter medical school, as some have a hard time with the verbal reasoning section of the test.

“The changes are to get at all the excellent qualities of applicants,” explained Razack. “We want to eliminate all barriers.”

According to a 2010 class profile published by the McGill Faculty of Medicine, 92 per cent of the 175 students who were admitted to the faculty in 2010 were residents of Quebec, but only 27.8 per cent identified as francophone.

“We have social accountability obligations, [in particular] where we fit in the local context,” Razack said.

Of the 17 medical schools in Canada, the six schools that do not require MCAT results, with the exception of McMaster University, are francophone or bilingual universities: the University of Ottawa, Université de Montréal, Université Laval, Université de Sherbrooke, and now McGill.

Victoria Bentley, a prospective medical student currently in the Faculty of Science at McGill, argued that the test levelled the playing field.

“The MCAT aims to provide a standardized assessment of a student’s knowledge of scientific concepts, ability to think logically, and work under stress (a lot of stress),” Bentley wrote in an email. “It’s designed so that any two students of equal ability should reproducibly get the same mark. It’s supposed to silence any statistical noise.”

Harold Reiter, the Admissions Chair of the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine at McMaster University, further explained the use of the MCAT. “Each on its own (GPA or MCAT) are valuable predictors of future performance,” he said in an email. “And combined they are even more predictive.”

McMaster does use the verbal reasoning section of the MCAT, but not other parts of the test.

Bentley seconded Reiter’s concerns. “The MCAT’s real value is that it judges all students with a uniform set of criteria,” she said. “GPAs from different schools mean different things, and even within one school it’s harder to get As in some classes more so than others.”

“Now that McGill has dropped the MCAT, it’s going to have to place more emphasis on GPA, which is not necessarily fair to all candidates from various academic backgrounds,” Bentley continued.

But Reiter conceded that the MCAT alone cannot determine the quality of applicants. “No tool will provide perfect overall test reliability (the ability to reproducibly differentiate between applicants) nor predictive validity,” he said.

“Ideally, having multiple tests to look at any one domain (e.g. cognitive ability) is advantageous in diluting out the biases inherent in any one test.”

“The MCAT needs to be put in its place,” said Razack. “[It is] only one of the tools in our armamentarium.”

Razack attempted to quell concerns that McGill’s Faculty of Medicine would lose prestige because of the changes to its applications standards.

“This medical school is incredibly competitive to get into and will likely continue to be that way,” he said. “We’ve been accepting applications since September 1, and, though it is early to tell, the stats [on number of applicants] are up 165 per cent compared to this time last year.”

in an earlier version of this article Saleem Razack was quoted as saying, “This is a far preferable outcome than having all institutions ignore their local stakeholders and result in the same cookie-cutter admissions process at every medical school.” In fact, Harold Reiter said this. The Daily regrets the error.