Cheating on the MCAT

Recently, two men in BC were caught cheating on the MCAT.

I was discussing this with a friend of mine, who was mainly shocked because “they could’ve got away with it if they only added maybe two more levels of sophistication: Not letting the tutors work together, and doing OCR on the text in the image.”

I have a pet conspiracy theory that for the most part, it is the best cheaters who get into medical school. Maybe that’s just me being jaded, and maybe it’s stories like this, combined with personally knowing some people who not only cheated in their undergrad, but bragged about it and were admitted to medical school.

My friend’s response was that my suspicion sounded plausible, but that “not everyone can get in [to medical school] … and cheating may not be the cause, but there is certainly something wrong with the system.”

Of course not everyone can get in. The sizes of medical school cohorts have been artificially suppressed. The doctor shortage is not an accident. We’re short of doctors in Canada as a matter of public policy, not because factors outside of our control have made it so.

In many ways, our current medical system has been engineered to contain the optimal conditions for encouraging cheating.

First off, the stakes for getting into medical school are very high. Doctors are paid extremely well, and within the medical community (and among people generally) they are revered as nearly godlike.

Not only that, but the consequences for failure to get into medical school can be devastating. Entire university programmes are geared toward prep for med school—there is a huge investment that someone has to make even before a student can even be considered for admission.

By the time someone has got to the point of writing the MCAT, she has invested an amount of money in the five-figure range. All her friends and family know that this is where she’s headed. If she doesn’t make it, she loses all her sunk costs, she loses face and she might also have to deal with the pressure of parents’ expectations, either because they themselves are in medicine or because they helped to finance her education.

The slightest error or even a doubt in the mind of a student, a bad mark or a comment from a well-meaning parent might be enough, in the face of all these pressures to make an otherwise good student cheat.

And as much as professors like to say that universities are tough on cheaters, they’re not. I know from a few personal experiences as a TA that even in schools like McGill, nothing at all is done about academic offenses, even when students are caught cheating red-handed.

So, we have a huge potential payoff, limited numbers of people who can cash in, terrible consequences for failure and we train students not to fear the consequences of cheating.

I don’t know why we’re all acting surprised at this.

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The Grey Literature

This is the personal blog of Benjamin Gregory Carlisle PhD. Queer; Academic; Queer academic. "I'm the research fairy, here to make your academic problems disappear!"

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