How to Prepare for the PCAT: A Step by Step Guide

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Whether you’re familiar with PCAT, you might already know that most pharmacy institutes require it for their students to be admitted. PCAT stands for Pharmacy College Admissions Test. The sole purpose is to test candidates on their pre-existing skills and how well they can excel with the knowledge they have.

Nowadays, most AACP institutes require an examination before entry. However, the score you should aim for varies according to the college. Failing the exam isn’t strictly possible, but scoring within a low percentile will eliminate you from getting accepted into some schools.

So, you must prepare adequately for what’s to come. The guide below is a step-by-step process of how to prepare for the PCAT.

What is Covered in the PCAT?What is Covered in the PCAT?

Approximately 65% of AACP schools will ask you for your PCAT scores. Well, before diving into methods to prepare for the exam, you must understand the material you’ll be tested on. There are various sections of the exam that you’re expected to study for differently.

There is a writing section and 4 multiple-choice sections. The list below will better illustrate the various departments involved:

Writing/Essay

In this part of the exam, you will have 30 minutes to write a medical essay. But what should you expect from the PCAT writing section? Well, the piece you’ll write revolves around solving a presented problem. It could be about health, medicine, science, society, or culture.

The method you’re expected to approach the problem involves four steps. First of all, you should explain the prompt/question presented. Secondly, you should state a solution with proper reasoning. Then, offer any substitute solutions to the problem. The last part sums everything up in conclusion.

Quantitative Reasoning

Expect this part to be a little math-heavy. Here is where you analyze and solve some basic mathematics equations and problems. You have 40 minutes to complete 48 multiple-choice questions. The fields it covers include algebra, statistics, and probability.

The breakdown of the quantitative reasoning section is 20% algebra, 20% statistics and probability, 22% precalculus, and 15% basic mathematics.

Biological Processes

Going into the pharmacy field, you should already be prepared for a little more biology than you’re used to. This subsection of the exam involves completing 48 multiple-choice questions within 30 minutes. The breakdown of the subtest is 60% biology, 20% human anatomy and physiology, and 20% microbiology.

Chemical Processes

This might be perceived as the most challenging part of the exam, as it spans only two essential topics. 60% of the subtest involves chemistry, and 40% is about organic chemistry. You’ll have 30 minutes to finish off 48 multiple-choice questions.

Critical Reading

This part of the exam involves coursing through some scientific journal articles. The language is much more sophisticated and revolves around intensive scientific terminology. Hence, your academic side should be pretty strong to excel in this section.

You’ll be provided 50 minutes to read those 6 passages, with 48 multiple-choice questions throughout the whole section. The breakdown is 40% analysis of the passage, 30% evaluation, and 30% reading comprehension.

You might find some resources online referencing a verbal section. This part has been removed from the curriculum since 2016.

What to Prepare Before the PCAT?

What to Prepare Before the PCAT?

There are two vital steps to approaching the PCAT. One is learning to prepare before the exam, and the other is how to properly study for it. In his section of the article, we will break down the necessary steps to take before taking the PCAT.

Find the Best Resources

There are innumerable amounts of resources and websites online. However, settle on one excellent PCAT study guide, as using multiple might lead to some confusion over the long term. Kaplan provides one of the best study books out there. It also involves online preparation, proven strategies to use, and included 2 practice tests to use.

Hone Down Your Strategies

Strategies used throughout the PCAT could differ from what you’re used to. You already have studied enough pharmacy-related material, but they have all been pre-pharmacy courses. Simply memorizing and writing it down in the exam will do you no good. Instead, aim to fully understand every aspect of the material. That’s because the PCAT aims to establish whether you can nail down the fundamentals in the exam.

Terminology

As the exam’s writing section includes scientific explanations, scientific terminology is the most vital part of knowing by heart. This will allow you to properly present the skills you own through your writing abilities.

Take the Exam Early in the Year

First, check out the available exam dates on the official Pearson website. Then, consider taking a test as early as possible and use it as your trial run. It’s often recommended to sit for two examinations and use the best one as your official results. This somehow gives you a margin of error if you don’t do so well on your first try.

How to Study for the PCAT?

How to Study for the PCAT?

We recommend 2 months, at least, to properly prepare for your examination. However, finishing it in less time is possible if you decide to. That will require much more daily preparation, which is why it’s advised against. However, here are the top methods to study for the PCAT:

Continue Studying from Your Guide

As mentioned earlier, Kaplan has a great study guide. However, another alternative would be using the PDF-formatted test guide offered by Study Guide Zone. The best part about the latter is that it’s free of charge, and you can use the pdf version instead of purchasing the book.

Reach Out to Previous Students

You can definitely find online forums and groups for people currently taking the PCAT and ones who already passed with flying colors. Find people who have excelled, and ask them for their tips and tricks. If they have previously composed some summarized notes, ask them if you can access them to use as a revision technique.

Flashcards

Many previous students have already compiled their flashcards on Quizlet. You should use them to revise material, memorize terms, and use them on the go when you want a new revision.

Practice Everyday

While it might not be realistic to practice one PCAT practice test every day, aim to solve at least 20 questions daily. For a short, free version, check out Kaplan. However, another free option is found through the PCAT Practice Test website. But if you can afford it, purchase a few tests to solve on your own. You can register for Pearson’s practice tests here.

How Long Should You Study for PCAT?

How Long Should You Study for PCAT?

Many ask the question of how long to study for the PCAT. Well, there is no specific answer to this question. The main reason for that is that it widely depends on your abilities, existing knowledge, and retention skills.

Hence, to figure out whether you need more time than the average student, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does it take me more time to study and focus entirely?
  • Do I find it difficult to retain information quickly?
  • Will I be more comfortable if I have more flexibility in my schedule?
  • Am I incapable of answering at least 50% of the exam correctly?

If your answer to most of the above questions is yes, then take as much time as you need. Generally, students spend 2-6 months fully readying themselves for the test. You cannot simply flunk it because the PCAT scoring will significantly influence whether you get accepted into your dream school.

Moreover, you must realize that the strategy and time required for the PCAT exceed that of other standardized tests. Not only is there a writing section, but you often have to answer more than 40 questions, although multiple-choice, in around 30 minutes. So, is the PCAT hard? The short answer is yes, simply because you’re not used to the overall style.

Below is a 2-month preparation plan. Use it as a general guideline. It’s broken down into 8 weeks.

  • Make a general schedule, form your strategies, and comprise an overall plan.
  • Start working on your goals. Aim to address biological processes and general chemistry first, as they’re the most difficult.
  • Focus on quantitative reasoning and both organic chemistry and biochemistry.
  • Finish at least one full practice test, then hit the books to study more biology and chemistry.
  • Find a mix of all the subtests, and focus on the most lacking areas.
  • Review the topics you’re struggling most with, and complete at least one more practice exam.
  • Use flashcards and summarized notes for this week, then take yet another exam.
  • Begin your final preparations (listed below), and make sure you get enough rest.

7 Tips to Succeed on Your PCAT Test Day

7 Tips to Succeed on Your PCAT Test Day

  • Quickly review your biology and chemistry. These are perceived as the most vital parts of pharmacy schools. However, ditch the PCAT prep book and use any notes and flashcards you have.
  • The day before your exam should include three items. First of all, get as much rest as possible throughout the day. Second of all, ensure you’re eating all the required nutrients, and aim for a balanced diet. The third thing is to get at least 7 hours of total sleep.
  • While biology and chemistry are considered to be the hardest, the most time-consuming would be the quantitative ability part. It’s all mathematics. Hence, instead of getting stuck on one question, skip the difficult ones and do the ones you’re 100% sure of.
  • Take the break offered. After the first two multiple-choice subtests, you’re offered a breather. It’s optional, but taking it to go to the restroom and eat a snack will help you for the part to come.
  • Ensure your writing is scientific-based. The examiners want you to illustrate your knowledge through fundamental terminology and analysis.
  • Arrive at your designated test center 30 minutes before the examination starts time. Not only will you have enough time to sign in, but it can reduce your overall stress.
  • Ensure you have your ID and any other documentation your center requires before leaving for the center.

Wrapping Things Up: How to Prepare for the PCAT: A Step by Step Guide

The bottom line is, unlike other standardized tests, the PCAT is quite a lengthy examination. So you’re required to not only prepare through study resources but find the most efficient way of completing all the questions. While that might sound easy enough, it will take a few weeks out of your year to merely prepare adequately.

However, don’t stress about it. The worst thing that can happen is you being too nervous the day of the exam, which will definitely backfire. Hence, if you’re confident enough about your preparation, you’ll be more at ease on the exam day. Use our above tips and tricks to ease you through the process.

Professor Conquer
Professor Conquer

Professor Conquer started Conquer Your Exam in 2018 to help students feel more confident and better prepared for their tough tests. Prof excelled in high school, graduating top of his class and receiving admissions into several Ivy League and top 15 schools. He has helped many students through the years tutoring and mentoring K-12, consulting seniors through the college admissions process, and writing extensive how-to guides for school.

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