Do racial and ethnic group differences in performance on the MCAT exam reflect test bias?

Acad Med. 2013 May;88(5):593-602. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e318286803a.


The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is a standardized examination that assesses fundamental knowledge of scientific concepts, critical reasoning ability, and written communication skills. Medical school admission officers use MCAT scores, along with other measures of academic preparation and personal attributes, to select the applicants they consider the most likely to succeed in medical school. In 2008-2011, the committee charged with conducting a comprehensive review of the MCAT exam examined four issues: (1) whether racial and ethnic groups differ in mean MCAT scores, (2) whether any score differences are due to test bias, (3) how group differences may be explained, and (4) whether the MCAT exam is a barrier to medical school admission for black or Latino applicants. This analysis showed that black and Latino examinees' mean MCAT scores are lower than white examinees', mirroring differences on other standardized admission tests and in the average undergraduate grades of medical school applicants. However, there was no evidence that the MCAT exam is biased against black and Latino applicants as determined by their subsequent performance on selected medical school performance indicators. Among other factors which could contribute to mean differences in MCAT performance, whites, blacks, and Latinos interested in medicine differ with respect to parents' education and income. Admission data indicate that admission committees accept majority and minority applicants at similar rates, which suggests that medical students are selected on the basis of a combination of attributes and competencies rather than on MCAT scores alone.

MeSH terms

  • Achievement
  • Bias
  • Black or African American* / statistics & numerical data
  • College Admission Test* / statistics & numerical data
  • Cultural Diversity
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate / statistics & numerical data
  • Hispanic or Latino* / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Minority Groups* / statistics & numerical data
  • School Admission Criteria
  • Schools, Medical* / statistics & numerical data
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • United States
  • White People* / statistics & numerical data