Wednesday, February 28
“The MCAT’s power comes from its use as an indicator of your abilities,” says the introduction to Kaplan’s 2007 MCAT prep book. “Good scores can open doors. Your power comes from preparation and mindset, because the key to MCAT success is knowing what you’re up against.”
Test-taker Daniel Sonshine of Brown University was well-versed in Kaplan’s test techniques for the medical school entrance exam, but on Jan. 27, when he turned to the verbal section of his computerized MCAT after “nervously chugging along through the physical sciences,” he had trouble staying calm.
Per Kaplan’s advice, Sonshine sought out the easiest verbal passage first. Having settled on a passage about robotic fish, Daniel read it and then turned to the accompanying questions. The questions were about warblers.
“I was totally caught off-guard,” Sonshine told Campus Progress. “My mind was swimming.”
Sonshine had stumbled upon a rare and completely befuddling testing error. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, which administers the Medical College Admissions Test, a total of 787 examinees out of the some 2,400 who tested that Saturday encountered the same incoherent passage-question pairing. These students were left staring at the incomprehensible task–“a square peg and a round hole,” as one student put it–as precious minutes ticked away.
Sonshine spent seven minutes reeling. Then he “struggled, struggled through,” the rest of the section, trying to put the passage behind him.
Weeks later, Sonshine and some 700 others are still struggling to understand what happened and how to proceed as medical school application deadlines loom, and slots for future testing dates remain booked.
Dr. Robert Jones of the AAMC describes the error as a fluke. “Well, first it was a human error, not a computer error. It resulted from a failure of our review processes. All test forms are reviewed by several people in different organizations at a detailed level,” said Dr. Jones in an email. “For inexplicable reasons, this error was not identified prior to release. We are still investigating how that happened.”
In the meantime, the AAMC has promised to deliver “comparable” scores based on the unlucky students’ performances on other sections of the test using “a special comparison table” to calculate these new scores–or just give students the option to void their scores and have their test fee fully refunded.
If students take their chances on the “special comparison table,” the scores will be reported without special comment or notice. “No disclaimer is required,” said Dr. Jones. “We have no reason to believe that the calculated score they receive based on the other items will not provide a fair estimate of their ability.”