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New 2018 MCAT Interface – What Has Changed and What You Need To Know

  • by Sam
  • Dec 13, 2017
  • Advisors, MCAT Blog, Pre-Med Support

by Andrew Dombrowski

Big news in MCAT-world! The MCAT has a new interface, which is now live for official AAMC practice tests! In this blog post, we’ll give you some background information on the change, review the key features of the new interface, and provide some suggestions about what it means for you. To help make the transition smoother, we’ve already updated the interface of our MCAT practice exams to make them as representative of the MCAT as possible! 

In fall 2017, the AAMC announced that starting in 2018, the MCAT will be administered through Pearson VUE, instead of Prometric. This will lead to some changes in the Test Day experience (for more details, see our blog post on the topic), as well as a revised test interface, which was rolled out for official AAMC practice materials on December 11.

Shortcuts

One of the most-anticipated changes is that the MCAT now has keyboard shortcuts. For these shortcuts, you use the Alt key (or the option key on a Mac) plus a certain letter, which is usually underlined within the test interface, so hitting Alt+N does the same thing as clicking on the button marked “Next”—that is, it takes you to the next question. The keyboard shortcuts allow you to carry out a wide range of functions within the test, such as:

  • Basic navigation: Alt+N takes you to the next question, and Alt+P takes you to the previous question. Alt+V opens up the navigation window, and Alt+C allows you to close it. Alt+T takes you to the periodic table.
  • Highlighting and strikethrough: Once you have selected text with your cursor, Alt+H allows you to highlight it, and Alt+S is for strikethrough. We’ll have more to say about highlighting and strikethrough later, but one notable feature is that both highlighting and strikethrough now can be used both in passages and questions (including the answer choices).
  • Reviewing: While answering various questions, you can hit Alt+F to flag a question for review. After you answer or click past the final question in a section, you are taken to the review screen, from which you can either click on individual questions or type Alt+A to review all, Alt+I to review incomplete questions, and Alt+R to review flagged questions. Once you start reviewing, Alt+W will take you back to the review screen. Interestingly, the review screen distinguishes between incomplete and unseen questions. Once you’re ready to end the section, from the review screen, you can hit Alt+E.

As soon as the AAMC announced that keyboard shortcuts would be introduced, savvy pre-med students began speculating about whether there would be a tool like Ctrl+F that would allow you to search for specific terms. There is no such ‘find’ tool. Depending on your browser, you may be able to use Ctrl+F (or command+F on Macs) to search the passage while taking AAMC practice materials, but we highly discourage doing so, because your eyes and brain are the only tools you will have for searching on Test Day.

Highlighting and Strikethough

As we mentioned above, the highlighting and strikethrough tools are now different. Instead of selecting text and then right-clicking for strikethrough or clicking on a pop-up icon to highlight, in the new interface, you now highlight text and either click on a highlight or strikethrough button, both of which are always present in the upper left of the screen, or use keyboard shortcuts (Alt+H for highlighting, Alt+S for strikethrough).

To undo strikethrough, you can simply select struck-through text and either hit Alt+S again or click the strikethrough button. Undoing highlighting is a bit more complicated. Once you select highlighted text, if you prefer to use your mouse, you can click on a drop-down menu associated with the highlight button to switch from highlighting mode to remove-highlighting mode. If you’d rather use keyboard shortcuts, you hit Alt+H and then hit the down button twice to get into remove-highlighting mode. Be careful, though, because you will stay in remove-highlighting mode until you switch back.

In practicing with these features ourselves, we found the navigation and interface to be somewhat clunky or counter-intuitive to use. It is critically important that you practice with the official exams to familiarize yourself with how to highlight and strikethrough quickly.

You can now use both highlighting and strikethrough for both the passage text and for questions and answer choices. However, there are some potential pitfalls with the highlighting/strikethrough tools that you should be aware of:

  • For answer choices that contain an image, the strikethrough goes ‘behind’ the image, meaning that it’s not extremely obvious at a glance which answer choices were struck through. Therefore, we suggest using this tool with care for questions with images.
  • Using the Alt+H and Alt+S shortcuts may be more challenging if you’re left-handed, because reaching those keys when holding the mouse with your left hand is more difficult. Again, practice is key.
  • Removing highlighting is a multi-step process and comes with a risk of leaving the button toggled to the remove-highlighting setting, which could surprise you and break your flow when you go to highlight something else and have to troubleshoot it when nothing happens. In general, less is more when it comes to highlighting, and we suggest that you use the highlighting tool more like a scalpel than like a paint roller—but the potential pitfalls in undoing highlighting make this advice even more important.

Scroll Bar

The scroll bar is very clearly marked to the right of any passage that takes up more space than is available on the screen, but be careful: if you scroll down to the bottom to answer a question, and then move to the next question, the scrolling function will re-set and you will be taken back to the top of this passage. This might surprise you at first and interrupt your concentration, but again, the key will be to practice to the point that you learn to expect it.

Review Screen

Once you’ve finished a practice exam, you’re taken to a screen where you can review your answers. This review screen has been updated too. In particular, it now includes an item-level review table, which means that you can now click on specific questions to review, rather than having to work through them sequentially. This will help you review in a more targeted and specific way.

You will also notice a different color scheme (with a lot of blue) and some slightly different graphic design choices. If you’ve already spent some time working with AAMC materials, it may take you a little while to get used to the new colors, but don’t worry – the eye adapts quickly! If you haven’t worked with AAMC materials before, then you won’t have any expectations that could be confounded. No matter what, remember that the passages and questions themselves are what you need to focus your undivided attention on!

If all of the above information seems a bit overwhelming, don’t worry! Before taking a practice exam—and before taking the real test on Test Day—you have the opportunity to walk through a tutorial as part of the test interface itself, so all of these keyboard shortcuts and other tips and tricks will be fresh in your mind.

At Next Step, we pride ourselves in offering the most realistic MCAT prep materials in the business, in early 2018, we will update our MCAT diagnostic, 10 full-length exams, QBank, and other online resources to reflect the new MCAT interface.

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