Because medical schools accept students straight out of college, they want applicants who can prove that they have the knowledge and the skills to apply that knowledge. You can guess that most medical schools will require sufficient levels of accomplishment from an applicant before they decide to admit a student. Often, these accomplishments would include a high Grade Point Average or experience via a job, internship, or extracurricular activities.
Students pursuing a career in optometry will find that the most significant accomplishment would undoubtedly be passing the OAT Test. But if you are here, reading this article, then a few thoughts must have crossed your mind: “what is the OAT Test?” “why is it so important?” and finally, “is it hard?” Luckily for every optometrist-in-training, we are here to answer those questions!
What is on the OAT Test?
The Optometry Admission Test, or as we will call it, the OAT Test, is a specialized yet standardized test designed for various optometry education programs to test applicants and whether they can handle the programs themselves. The OAT Test consists of hundreds of multiple-choice questions that will be the primary barrier between you and a long, rewarding curriculum in optometry school.
If you are not yet aware (and if you are not, well, that is concerning and what this article is for!), optometry is the field of studying and examining the human eye and all biology relating to it. The human eye may be a small and sensitive ball of nerves and oddities, but wanting knowledge of the subject matter is not a small ask, nor is optometry a simple profession. Those who will take the OAT Test must be the kind of students who have the passion and desire to devote themselves to such a career (literally—studying the eye should be left to the professionals!).
Additionally, the OAT Test is not like your exams in high school or college. The OAT Test is an exam made solely to distinguish unqualified applicants from the qualified. The material is not only designed so that only the most knowledgeable college student can pass, but they will be admitted to schools with even more challenging material and subject matter.
Before even taking the OAT Test, most proctors and tutors ask that you have at least two years of college education. Thankfully, you do not necessarily need a bachelor’s or Master’s Degree to take the test, though some schools you apply to require those degrees and a passing grade for the OAT Test!).
The OAT Test is split into four key sections that test only the most demanding knowledge and information about the world of optometry. These sections make up the most critical forms of knowledge necessary for optometry.
- The Survey of Natural Sciences section of the OAT Test is a culmination of several subtests: Biology, Chemistry, and Organic Chemistry. These subjects all involve understanding the literal and theoretical makeup of the eye and the rest of the human body.
- The Biology subtest has questions based on Cellular and Molecular Biology, Genetics, and Ecology.
- The general Chemistry subtest focuses on gases, liquids, solids, atomic and molecular structure, and laboratory techniques.
- Finally, the Organic Chemistry questions cover the topics of Mechanisms, the chemical and physical properties of molecules, stereochemistry (also known as structure evaluation,) acid-base chemistry, and many more.
- The Reading Comprehension section of the OAT Test, rather obviously, deals with how one reads critically and understands how information is presented. Unlike the other sections of the OAT Test, the questions on Reading Comprehension involve understanding a set of passages and answering correctly. One must be ready to understand the information and not make the wrong mistakes. Much of optometry may be interpreting the experiments and results of a physical exam.
- The Physics section of the OAT Test measures your practical and theoretical understanding of physics. Physics is essential in optometry as it includes how sight and information, like how light bounces off objects.
- The Quantitative Reasoning section of the OAT Test tests your mathematical skills and reasoning. In optometry, math is used to calculate and identify sightlines and vision angles during an eye exam to examine human sight objectively.
What’s the Most Challenging Part of the OAT Exam?
The OAT Test examines your understanding of optometry, which in itself is a very complicated and sensitive (literally—have you ever gotten poked in the eye?) field. It stands to reason that there may be many things challenging within the OAT Test. So, what is the most challenging part?
Each of the four test sections focuses on aspects of optometry that individually stand-alone but create a cohesive frame of reference when put together. We consider the most challenging part is the need to put these things together, to begin with. While none of the individual sections of the test are anywhere close to the apex of their field (for example, you do not need to know particularly high-level physics or mathematics), they do require higher-than-average understanding of the subjects to pass.
It is also possible that one is considerably out of practice within one or more of these fields. Perhaps your time in college means you finished math early, and all of your lecture and test notes are languishing about, unread, and unused. Or maybe you never went into college at all—however, in this case, you would have an even harder time getting in, as most medical schools, including optometrist schools, require that the applicant have a Bachelor’s Degree. Whatever the case, having your fundamental skills and knowledge left behind will make the sections more difficult and mean you have a lot more work to do.
How Long is the OAT Test?
The OAT Test is said by many to be a whopping four and a half hours, which in our experience, is higher than average for most standardized tests! In particular, each section has a time limit:
- Ninety minutes to answer a hundred questions for the Survey of Natural Sciences section,
- Sixty minutes to read the passages and answer the following fifty questions for the Reading Comprehension section,
- Fifty minutes to answer forty questions for the Physics section,
- And forty-five minutes to answer forty questions for the Quantitative Reasoning section.
Be aware that you must take each section consecutively. While you are afforded a small break between tests, you are expected to complete them all in a single sitting.
One silver lining is that examinees are allowed to take the OAT Test an unlimited amount of times, or practically as many times as needed to get that perfect final score. However, for the first two attempts at the OAT Test, you have to wait at least 90 days before your next go at it, and from the third attempt onward, you require an authority’s permission to retake the test, so it becomes even more of a challenge. Some may refuse you entirely!
What Score Do You Need to Pass the OAT?
One question that is definitely on your mind is how much exactly you need to get right to pass the OAT Test. Be forewarned that while the results may not seem pretty, there is more to a test than its score!
The OAT Test is scored on a scale of 200 to 400, which means that the lowest possible score you can get is 200, while the highest score is 400. On the OAT Test, you are scored for the number of questions you got right instead of the number of questions you got right and got wrong. Additionally, each section of the OAT Test has its own score—this is called the “raw score.” Your final overall score is not simply an average—instead, the proctors of the OAT Test will score your cumulative score on your overall performance in the OAT Test. Suppose you did exceptionally well in one section but poorly in another. In that case, this will not linearly affect you, but rather the proctors will take into account what you ultimately did and did not succeed in.
Here is the trickiest part: what counts as a “passing score”—what institutions and schools will accept for admissions—depends on the institution. This fact complicates things, as the baseline you would want to aim for depends on what school you want to go to. For some, this is a boon—for example, your school may only require a 250 on your final result to accept you—and a real problem in others—the school can have incredibly high standards that you must meet.
For many schools, a score of 320 is considered very good, while a 350 is regarded as an excellent score. Keeping this fact and the scale in mind, we can determine that the OAT Test will demand much from examinees. When you complete the OAT Test, you will not only be given your final test score but so will your school of choice.
Previously, we mentioned that the OAT Test is unlike most high school or college exams. However, comparing items can be an excellent way to measure qualities such as difficulty. How does the OAT Test compare to the MCAT?
Is the OAT Harder than the MCAT?
The Medical College Admissions Test–MCAT for short–is similar to the OAT Test. The MCAT is focused more on the general field of medical science. Nearly every medical college in the United States employs the MCAT to measure a student’s worth in admission. So is the OAT Test harder than the MCAT? Will a future optometrist have difficulty finding a school than other future doctors and nurses?
Like the OAT Test, the MCAT is split into four sections:
- Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems,
- Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems–this section and the one above are both similar to the Survey of Natural Sciences section,
- Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills, which falls under the same material as the OAT Test’s Quantitative Reasoning section,
- and Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior.
The scoring scale for each section of the MCAT is between 118 and 132. The final score ranges between 472 to 528, with a median of 500. This scale is much smaller than the OAT Test, which leaves more room for error.
We can say that the OAT Test is more difficult than the MCAT. The MCAT is a general exam covering a broader array of material than the OAT Test, a specialized examination. Thus, the OAT Test asks more from the examinee. However, we would like to say that if you can understand how the MCAT is structured and designed, you will have a much easier time with the OAT Test. But there are no guarantees! The only natural way to pass the OAT Test is to study for the OAT Test!
Wrapping Things Up: How Hard is the OAT Test?
Passing the OAT Test seems by no means an easy feat. The OAT Test is designed to be difficult for a difficult subject and for schools to ensure that only the students who seriously want to apply can succeed and attend their institutions. But it only seems difficult: so long as you possess the drive to prepare and learn to pass the test, you will pass the OAT Test in no time!