You’re probably on track to taking the Pharmacy College Admissions Test, known as the PCAT but struggling to find the best preparation advice. Whether you’re just beginning your journey, repeating the examination, or halfway through, we have the ultimate list of tips to get you to excel.
While this article discusses PCAT tips and test-taking strategies, remember that the best thing to do is prepare at least 2 months ahead. Make sure you have ample preparation time. The average time spent is between 2-6 months before sitting for the PCAT.
Keep reading to learn our tips and tricks to keep you on the right track to excel.
3 General Tips and Study Notes for PCAT
Use the below pieces of advice as study notes throughout your journey. Sticking to these three will allow you to stay on a general track.
Schedule at Least 3 Months in Advance
It’s essential to create a PCAT study schedule. While you might want to take it one step at a time, dividing and conquering the material allows you to slowly tackle the subjects. Moreover, you can keep track of the areas you feel least confident in.
To be able to design your study schedule, a good approach is to take a practice test first. This allows you to create your plan according to your weakest point. Make sure you focus on the subtest you scored least in. There are 5 sections in the exam: writing, quantitative measurements, biology, chemistry, and reading. A great 3-month schedule has been created by a chemistry teacher, which you can find here.
Buy Your Study Resources
The best PCAT study resources come in the form of books. These often provide summaries, discussions, explanations, and practice questions. The first one is the PCAT Prep Plus
by Kaplan, which many test takers use. You’ll also have access to two practice exams.
Another book is Barron’s PCAT book. It is composed solely of practice questions. A good combination of these two books will help you in the long run. A general method of approaching it is reviewing a section from the Kaplan book, then solving the practice test on the topic from the latter.
Study Before Registering (Twice!)
The exams are generally offered approximately 6 times a year. Check out the official timetable on the Pearson website. Hence, according to your overall goal, register accordingly. That’s why it’s generally recommended to do one practice test and review the material a little before registering.
This allows you to evaluate whether you need 3, 6, or even 9 months to fully prepare. Another piece of advice is to register for two exams in the first year. For example, taking the January exam and then repeating it in July allows you to compare and use the highest score you achieve.
5 Study Tips 2-6 Months Before the PCAT
Now that you know the essential tips to follow throughout your journey, how will you prepare right before the examination? The whole study period, spanning 2-6 months, should start slowly but get more intense. This prevents any chance of getting burned out early on or being incredibly overwhelmed.
Hone Your Study Tactics
If you have ever taken the SATs, you probably know how straightforward the exam can be. Many find them easy, but the PCATs are pretty different. While there is a writing section, and the four others are simply multiple-choice ones, they often are pretty extensive.
So your approach when studying is never about memorizing concepts or explanations. The ultimate way to score anywhere in the 90th percentile and above is to fully comprehend the material. Hence, before you dive deeper, aim to focus on your proper understanding instead of spending too much time struggling with the material.
It’s often underestimated what the power of practice tests can do. Now, using these resources is something every student should do for any of their examinations, PCAT or otherwise. However, how can you settle on one practice test? Are the free online ones sufficient enough?
Well, the short answer is no. However, getting access to free ones online gives you a general idea of your overall performance. However, once you’ve tackled most of the study material, you need something much more extensive.
Check out the PCAT Pearson Study Test guide. Almost every student who has taken the test before preaches those tests. They’ll provide you with the closest thing possible to what the actual exam will be like.
Don’t Focus on Kaplan
We have mentioned the Kaplan book as one of the PCAT tips and tricks to use. However, while it’s an excellent reference to use at the very beginning, don’t overdo it on their practice tests. Sounds quite confusing, right? Well, here’s why.
Many students have complained about freaking out once they use the Kaplan practice test a week or so before their exam. They’re simply solving it to see where they’re standing. However, they receive extremely low percentiles around the 30th – 50th. The theory is that Kaplan encourages students to sign up for their online resources, which is why they make their exams extra tricky.
While it might be tempting to simply go all in at the very beginning of your study journey, make sure you start slow. That means for the first 2-3 weeks, simple study a few times a week for 1-2 hours. When you’re feeling confident enough, push it up to almost every day, studying for 3-4 hours.
Invest In the Best Study Resource
Still, wondering how to prepare for the PCAT? Well, one material all students swear by is the one offered by Dr. Collins. It provides you with incredibly concise information. The chemistry section there is also the best reference you can use while studying.
However, it seems like the science and mathematics section on the Dr. Collins study material can be a little lacking. That means it’s often seen as a little easier than the actual PCAT exam. Hence, to ensure you’re not getting used to the ease, mix between the three sources: Pearson, Kaplan, and Dr. Collins.
5 Test Tips 1 Month Before the PCAT
The month before the PCATs should mainly focus on your weakest areas, revising summaries, and solving practice exams.
The amount of time you should spend preparing for the PCAT is unknown. It largely depends on you and your overall ability to retain and understand information. However, if you’ve merely been studying for 1 hour per day, this is the time to amp it up.
Why should you be spending more time one month before? Well, you must become aware of any weak points you have in the material. If you’re taking things very slowly, you might realize you haven’t had the chance to entirely give each area justice.
Avoid the “Trial Run”
One of the first pieces of advice given above is to register for the examination twice. But this isn’t because the first exam should be taken as a trial run. Instead, it’s used for your own benefit, assuming you will do your ultimate best in both examinations.
Hence, if you’re going into your first exam with the mentality of experimenting and seeing how it goes, we guarantee you won’t perform well. Your mind will automatically be wired to think you have another shot later on in the future. However, it’s never a guarantee, so avoid setting yourself back.
Sign Up for Forums/Study Groups
The power of study groups, if done right, can be incredibly unique. However, if you’re trying to optimize efficiency, as in you haven’t utilized the time before the last month, then avoid study groups.
However, if you’ve followed a 2-6 month schedule, have finished your material, and feel confident, reach out to others. Ask them questions you’re unsure of, whether it’s about the material or the exam day itself. This will allow you to discuss questions and other subjects with others in the same boat.
Practice Some More
An extensive study, “Rethinking the Use of Tests: A Meta-Analysis of Practice Testing,” has studied the best methods of utilizing practice exams. The findings are as follows:
- Using mixed-format tests allows you to more effectively study and retain information.
- Multiple-choice questions are the single most effective method of administering exams.
- There is a phenomenon called transfer-appropriate processing, which states that the ability to receive information is more accessible when the process is similar. This was concluded as a result of having the final exam identical to the practice test. Hence, aim to solve exams that are closest to the actual PCAT.
- Solve only one practice test every 2-3 days. It has been found ineffective to solve more than one in a short timeframe.
- To fully retain the information from your practice tests, aim to solve them somewhere between 1-6 days before the exam. That means your last week should solely be spent practicing tests and avoiding solving one right before the exam.
This one is relatively straightforward. If you are zoning out or getting distracted, take a break for 1-2 days. While that might seem excessive, overwhelming your brain with the material will prevent any of it from being retained for the long term.
5 PCAT Test Day Tips
On the exam day, your brain might be racking and asking how hard the PCAT is. We know at this point that it’s considered tricky, as it requires a lot of preparation time. However, that shouldn’t deter you from your path if you’re confident about what you’ve studied. Here is what to do the day of:
Prepare Yourself the Night Before
Manifesting your thoughts right before you sleep can come in handy. If you sleep feeling nervous, you’ll not be able to sleep or properly focus the following day. Hence, aim to have a healthy, balanced meal, avoid using your screens, and head to bed early on during the day.
Eat Upon Waking Up
Aside from all the PCAT study tips, your nutrition will play a vital role in how you perform. You probably heard that one before, but the exam is a lengthy one. Hence, you should be all hyped up and energized to stay in the all for an extended period.
Hence, try waking up a little early to avoid running to the examination hall or feeling stressed about the day to come. If you’re relaxed by music, put on calming songs in the morning and simply put your mind to rest.
Do Not Study
Cramming a little material right before the exam will be incredibly tempting. However, you should avoid that at all costs. Not only might that confuse you, but it can start your brain running before the exam and possibly exhaust you. Don’t even be tempted to go over just “one” subject.
Don’t Rely On the Scrap Paper
Have you ever heard that Pearson VUE testing centers provide dry-erase boards to use for note-taking and calculations? Well, many people use this to write down equations and notes as soon as they receive them. However, this method is a hit or miss. Some centers might allow you to do the jotting. Others will ban it.
Always Use the Break
After the first two multiple-choice subtests, you’ll be given a break. This break provides you with the chance to take a breather, go to the bathroom, drink water, or eat something. ALWAYS use this break, as it’ll allow you to shake off any residual nervousness.
Wrapping Things Up: PCAT Tips and Test Taking Strategies
The bottom line is that the PCAT requires unique preparation. Don’t utilize the same methods you’ve used in other standardized tests. The PCAT is guaranteed to be much more specific and hectic.
However, when you provide a 3-6 month period to study before the exam day, you’ll have ample time to prepare and fix a schedule. Always refer to the tips above to guide you through the process of excelling in the PCAT.