In the past few years, the majority of all standardized tests have gone through some amount of revision. When the new MCAT was launched, there were a lot of questions about what aspects of the exam would change. Now in 2016, the revised MCAT has been administered for an entire year and used successfully by medical school admissions committees to evaluate applicants for the 2015-2016 application cycle. Thousands of students took the new test in 2015 and we now know more about the revised MCAT. For those of you who have considered graduate school, you might have heard that the revised GRE is a computer adaptive test. You might then ask, “Is the revised MCAT adaptive?” The answer is no.
What Does Computer Adaptive Mean?
A computer adaptive test is one where the difficulty of the questions will vary based on your performance on earlier questions. For example, the revised GRE contains two sections on math and two sections on verbal reasoning. Your performance on the questions in the first section of each will determine the difficulty of questions in the second section. For example, if you excel in the first math section, you can expect your second math section to contain more difficult questions. There is no adaptation within a section, which means how you do on the first question will not affect the second question or any other question in the same section. This is why we say that the revised GRE is adaptive by section.
Another computer adaptive test is the GMAT, taken by students that want to pursue business school. This test, however, is adaptive by question within a section. If you answer a question correctly, you can expect the next to be more difficult. One major downside to the GMAT is that you only have one chance to answer each question. You cannot go back, review the question, and change your answer.
How Does This Affect my Approach to the MCAT?
The MCAT is not a computer adaptive test so the questions you receive on your test day have all been pre-determined. For the MCAT, you are allotted a fixed amount of time for each section. During this time, you can answer questions on any passage or set of freestanding questions. This means that you do not have to do the questions in order. If you encounter a tough passage, you can skip it and move onto another passage. When you have gone through all of the questions, you can then go back to tackle the tougher passages as well as review any questions that you want. At the end of each section, your answer choices are fixed and can no longer be changed.
To be realistic, the fact that the MCAT is not adaptive isn’t really a big deal. Whether or not an exam is adaptive or not does not make that big of a difference to test takers. Regardless of how the questions are presented on the test, you always have the same goal of getting the most questions corrected. If you want to figure out how to get more questions right, check out our post on the top five strategies for MCAT success.