Test Glitch Disrupts Computerized MCAT

University Testing

A still-unexplained error in the first fully computerized administration of the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) on Saturday, January 27, 2007 demonstrates both the limits of technology and the stubbornness of test-makers.


About one-third of the 2,500 examinees sitting for the MCAT encountered a truly odd item on their exams. A reading comprehension passage about robotic fish was followed by a set of questions about warblers. Test-takers were stunned by the disconnect. Some spent valuable time going back to re-read the section to see if they had missed relevant information. Others say they simply stared at their computer screens for several minutes.


When asked, test-site administrators told the students to do their best and forget about the error. Apparently some proctors, particularly those on the west coast, had received advance notice of the problem through an email alert, but they were instructed not to give test-takers any warning.


In response to the disruption, the MCAT's sponsor, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) offered test-takers three options: receive a full refund, take the test for free on another date, or receive "comparable" results derived from a "special comparison table" that excluded the flawed item. But these scores will be based on fewer questions, and AAMC's conversion formula is unknown. In addition, they will not account for the time test-takers spent puzzling over the error or the anxiety-producing interruption of their concentration.


Several students have contacted attorneys to see whether litigation against AAMC is plausible. But, given the pressure to submit MCAT scores with medical school applications, most test-takers have little choice other than to accept one of the test-maker's inadequate options.