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Shortage Of Spots To Give MCAT Test

May 16, 2008
For sure you have heard to people taking the Medical Colleges Admissions Test(MCAT) many times before they pass it, and are able to get their admission in a medical college.

Robert Balfour assumed that his second shot at the Medical Colleges Admissions Test(MCAT)would be easier than his first attempt a year earlier. But then he discovered that unlike the year before, he couldnt get a test spot in his home city of Vancouver. Instead, he had to travel to Edmonton. But that was just the beginning of his challenges.

The MCAT test, which is the standard exam required for students hoping to go to medical school, was administered on computers for the first time this year. The test has traditionally been offered in old-fashioned paper and pencil mode, allowing an unlimited number of students to take the test almost anywhere. Although MCAT managers say that the new computer version has a number of advantages, some Canadians who secured one of the rare test-taking seats found themselves handicapped by the new system's Achilles Heel: computer malfunctions..

Because the computer version requires special testing stations, there are a fixed number of seats and locations. This has resulted in Canadian medical school applicants like Balfour(name has been changed)traveling hundreds of kilometers to get a spot. Yet, despite the added price of Balfours plane ticket to Edmonton, he was among the lucky test-takers who actually got a spot.

Six thousand Canadians took the test in the late summer of 2006, but this year, only 3,000 spots were available. Fidler said that some of his students who couldnt get spots were traveling to the States where they were more available. To AAMCs credit, they did respond and added three additional test dates in Canada. But those filled up very quickly, said Matt Fidler.

Our students are very vocal about [the shortage of spots], said Matt Fidler, MCAT program manager for Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions, the leading provider of test preparation programs. In Canada, people wait and take the test in August. [The Association of American Medical Colleges] did not take that into account. The total capacity for the test takers in the later half of the year was barely half what it needed to be.

In Canada students typically take the summer to study and take the test in August or September.
Fidler hopes that additional spots will be added, but cautions that Canadian students may have to change their ways. If AAMC does not add more capacity, students may have to break tradition and take the exam in June or July, or even April and May. There are many seats available in that time, he said. Your readers who are looking to write the exam next year need to learn about what happened this year. Students who want to write the test need to be very aware of when registration opens.

Many people were aware of when registration opened this year. The registration system in Canada crashed in April when thousands of students vying for an August spot overwhelmed the server. Some students were under the impression that there were no remaining seats available. Mitchell was not familiar with the incident.
In January, when the test was first taken, the AAMC experienced a computer mishap that affected 2,220 students, said Fidler. But they took very good steps to correct it and it has not happened since then. If we believe that the condition might have had an impact on student scores, we test them again. Sometimes we send a letter to the medical schools to explain the situation, explained Mitchell.

Although the location and availability of test dates have proved to be a challenge with the new system, it also has considerable advantages, according to Mitchell. The test has been shortened from eight to five and a half hours long and the time it takes to send results to students has been halved. There are also 22 opportunities to take the test, rather than only test dates in April and August. We are not hearing about disadvantages from the students. The complaints from testing centres are down 80 per cent, she said.

For Balfour, rewriting the test may not be sufficient. He estimates that he lost approximately $3,000 from traveling to Edmonton, registration and preparation costs, and lost wages from not working in order to study. I am a full-time student on full government student loans, he said. I cannot afford to spend this kind of time, particularly the time required for test preparations, and money to write this test again in the future.

The MCAT is a very crucial test towards my dream of becoming a medical doctor, Balfour said. There is already a lot of stress preparing for the test and I did not expect the test conditions to add further stress and hardship.
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