ALMA — Alma College students will be more prepared for graduate-level admissions exams and professional licensing exams thanks to a new partnership with global educational services provider Kaplan.
Beginning this past fall of 2022, the Alma-Kaplan partnership allowed Pre-Health, Pre-Med and Pre-Dental students at Alma opportunities to pursue free private test preparation for the Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS) portion of the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT®) exam, and the general MCAT® exam for admission to medical schools. Nursing students also receive assistance for the National Council Licensure Examination-Registered Nurse (NCLEX-RN®) exam and plans are underway to extend offerings into preparation other exams, including the Law School Admission Test (LSAT®) for law school admission.
Faculty and staff at Alma say the benefits for students as a result of this partnership are many-fold. Among them: students save money they may have otherwise spent on private test prep, gain face-time with faculty who have already taken and passed these exams and force themselves to make the necessary time commitments needed to pass the exams.
“We believe our students have already saved thousands of dollars on private test prep thanks to Kaplan, and we’re only beginning to see the benefits now,” said interim provost Janie Diels. “By eliminating those test prep costs, you’re breaking down barriers to success and leveling the playing field for Alma students to have access to their chosen fields.”
As part of the partnership, Alma this fall began offering two classes for Pre-Health, Pre-Med and Pre-Dental students, specifically dedicated to Kaplan private test preparation. Through these courses, Diels said, students get opportunities to take replica versions of the test before they move onto the real thing, which can be an enormous help.
“These tests can be grueling, but also very expensive, and thus very high-stakes. Most students are usually only able to take them once. If we’re able to get our students comfortable with taking on this enormous burden before they actually have to take it on, we’ve done a good thing,” she said.
An added bonus is that the Kaplan courses are credit-bearing — meaning that students are taking classes they need to graduate while preparing to pass their exams. This ensures that students are making necessary time commitments needed for test preparation, which is often underestimated.
“Offering a free course is fantastic, but without accountability, it can become an afterthought in the minds of a student who already has so many time commitments. What this partnership does is get students seriously thinking about their next steps while they’re still working on their bachelor’s degree, in league with their fellow students, which is a huge leg up for them,” Diels said.
Alma students have access to test preparation materials for the NCLEX-RN® and MCAT® from Kaplan, such as e-books and videos, even outside of their coursework. This access lasts up to one year after they pass their course at Alma. Nursing students take a proctored Kaplan exam at the end of each nursing specialty rotation that is designed in the same format as the NCLEX-RN®, starting as early as their sophomore year.
“The challenge that many nursing students face with the NCLEX-RN® is that the style of some of the questions is unlike anything they’ve seen in their general education classes,” said Angela Griffin, clinical coordinator and simulation technologist in the Alma College nursing department.
“Students need to understand how to answer questions like this and the Kaplan resources and practice exams are providing us a means through which to expose the students to these difficult questions as early as their sophomore year.”
A big part of the early success of the partnership has been Alma’s Pre-Health Professions Committee; a group of expert faculty and administrators who work very closely with a group of students who are on a similar education and career paths. The committee works together to keep track of students and make sure they are where they need to be in terms of test preparation and other factors that determine post-graduate success. Nursing faculty work together in a similar way.
“Test prep is absolutely critical for something like the NCLEX-RN®, MCAT® or the LSAT®, and a great score on those exams can open up so many doors for students that may have been closed previously. To give students an opportunity to get that kind of score is not only exciting — it’s empowering,” said Brianna Harfmann, co-chair of the Pre-Health Professions Committee and associate professor of integrative physiology and health science (IPHS) at Alma.