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Why Understanding the New 2018 MCAT Interface Matters

by Dr. Anthony, MD/PhD

In December of 2017, the AAMC finally released their new exam interface. Long awaited, these changes have introduced challenges to some students. While some of the changes are cosmetic (e.g. higher screen resolution, clearer font size and type, new color scheme) many of them directly impact the manner by which a student will navigate the exam. Some of them may also indirectly effect your score on the test if you are not prepared. As a result, it is important these new test features are reviewed, practiced with, and incorporated into your study plan.

Mouse Commands

The new MCAT still allows students to highlight text or to strikeout answers, but the mouse commands to do so have changed. The latest practice tests the AAMC have released shows that to highlight, now you must click and drag over the desired text, and then click on a separate “highlight” button in the upper left hand corner of the screen. The same goes for striking out wrong answers. This will slow down the speed of highlighting and striking out answers considerably compared to the previous MCAT and what you may be used to in most software.

For those who insist on using the mouse to track information in the passage, you will need to practice with this new interface to ensure you can do the required tasks in the allowed time for each section. Alternatively, you may wish to switch to a note-taking technique, or a hybrid of the two techniques. Pacing is an important part of any successful MCAT administration, so be sure to nail your passage strategy down as soon as you can.

Keyboard Shortcuts

These are the most important strategy-related changes to the 2018 MCAT. The new exam provides students with multiple keyboard commands to highlight text, bring up the periodic table, open the navigation menu (which shows all questions, flagged status and responses in a given section), flag questions and many more. Some of these shortcuts require the contortion of the hand to reach both keys at the same time, and each could be more or less awkward, depending on if you are a lefty or a righty. Some may even elect to use both hands to pull off some commands. Many of these keyboard shortcuts, if mastered, will provide a quicker way to highlight passage text than mouse alone. This will mean students will have to be that much more efficient when doing scratch work.


The new 2018 MCAT provides students the use of a 9-page wet erase booklet and a marker. This means erasing work is not an option, and handwriting and scratch work must be done carefully so that the marker ink does not bleed or smear as you write. Your ability to write properly with this new setup is important as eventually, every student will need to make some calculations or drawings on the exam. If you are a lefty, or have always had poor handwriting, this may affect your ability to neatly make passage notes if you do not practice with test like materials. If you are in a pinch, use some old overhead projector sheets and a fine-tip sharpie. You can also go visit your testing center and ask to see the materials, so you can get the exact marker you will use on Test Day.

The 2018 MCAT updates provide some interesting changes to the layout and design of the test, but the exam itself has not changed. If you want to see the new MCAT interface, Next Step has updated its Full-length exam suite, including our Free MCAT Practice Bundle, to reflect the most up to date features of the exam. With careful practice, and thorough analysis of your abilities with a mouse and/or keyboard, you will be able to handle this changes and even use them to your advantage on the exam.

Good luck!

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