The Medical College Admission Test “MCAT” Academic Accommodations for ADHD

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The Medical College Admission Test or, MCAT, as it’s known, is the standardized test that purports to assess your readiness for medical school. Your MCAT score is a vital part of your academic package. It can not only compensate for a less than stellar GPA, it can have a direct effect on the tier of medical school to which you are admitted. In other words, it’s very important! The MCAT is a computer administered test that assesses your knowledge across four academic domains: Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems; Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS); Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems; and Psychological, Social and Biological Foundations of Behavior. For a deeper exploration of the MCAT, check out it’s WIKI page at

The MCAT is widely used. In 2016 approximately 87,000 students took the MCAT. Though the MCAT is designed to assess your knowledge of areas relevant to the practice of medicine, to perform well on this timed test draws upon cognitive skills like short-term memory, non-verbal reasoning, math skills, rapid information processing, and the management of complex timed tasks. Obviously, those with learning disabilities such as specific disorders of reading and mathematics, will have trouble focusing on the lengthy and challenging MCAT subtests. This is especially true of students with ADHD. Unfortunately, despite the high incidence of ADHD in adulthood (the National Institute of Mental Health reports that the estimated lifetime prevalence of ADHD in U.S. adults aged 18 to 44 years is 8.1%), not many MCAT examinees have accommodations. In fact, in some years less than 1% of examinees have accommodations, which may suggest that there are examinees who have not been appropriately identified as needing accommodations or others who know they have an attention or learning disorder who have chosen (or been forced through a denial of their request) to struggle through the test under standard administration conditions.

Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder is a diagnosable mental condition that typically occurs in childhood and persists throughout a person’s life. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition defines ADHD based inattention as a person who doesn’t pay close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in school or job tasks; has problems staying focused on tasks or activities, such as during lectures, conversations or long reading; does not seem to listen when spoken to (i.e., seems to be elsewhere); does not follow through on instructions and doesn’t complete schoolwork, chores or job duties (may start tasks but quickly loses focus); has problems organizing tasks and work (for instance, does not manage time well; has messy, disorganized work; misses deadlines); avoids or dislikes tasks that require sustained mental effort, such as preparing reports and completing forms; often loses things needed for tasks or daily life, such as school papers, books, keys, wallet, cell phone and eyeglasses; is easily distracted; and forgets daily tasks, such as doing chores and running errands. Older teens and adults may forget to return phone calls, pay bills and keep appointments. ADHD is prevalent. Approximately 13% of males and 4% of females will be diagnosed with ADHD in their lifetime. Further, about 4% of the U.S. adult population struggle with ADHD symptoms.

Though most people in today’s day and age know the basic symptoms of ADHD such as those described above, the negative effects on intellectual and academic functioning, especially among high achieving students, are not as apparent. These effects include distractibility for visual tasks like reading and math; deficits in cognitive skills that require concerted visual focus, such as tasks drawing upon visual-spatial skills and perceptual organization abilities; and problems with comprehending and producing sequences of information. For anybody who has toiled through physics and chemistry it will be clear how these deficits would affect problem solving in these areas, especially during intense and timed test situations. To compensate for the deficits caused by ADHD, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compels test companies and producers such as the Association of American Medical Colleges to offer reasonable accommodations to those who demonstrate a clear and documentable need.

If you have ben previously diagnosed with ADHD or you wonder if you may be having symptoms of ADHD that have not yet been diagnosed, you should always attain a psychoeducational assessment with a qualified licensed psychologist.


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