The PCAT stands for Pharmacy College Admission Test. This is a standardized exam required by most pharmacy schools. You must take this exam before applying to pharmacy school. This exam is similar to the SAT or ACT that are required before applying to college. The difficulty level is a step up and it has more focus on the sciences and math. The PCAT has changed over the years and is now a computer based test. When I took this exam back in 2007 it was still a paper based exam. The writing portion of the exam is also a fairly new concept. Here is a breakdown of the exam which can change on a year-to-year basis:
- Writing Portion (30 minutes) – Tests ability to problem solve and conventions of language
- Verbal Ability (25 minutes) – Analogies and Sentence Completion
- Biology (35 minutes) – General Biology / Microbiology / Human Anatomy and Physiology
- Chemistry (35 minutes) – General Chemistry / Organic Chemistry / Basic Biochemistry Processes
- Reading Comprehension (50 minutes) – Comprehension / Analysis / Evaluation
- Quantitative Ability (45 minutes) – Basic Math / Algebra / Probability & Statistics / Precalculus / Calculus
To register for the exam you can visit: www.pcatweb.info
How to Study for the PCAT
The PCAT official website has practice exams and study guides for purchase. I do not recommend these if you are a poor college student. They are expensive and do not provide any additional benefit to other cost effective study guides. I personally purchased the online PCAT practice exam back in 2007 and felt that it was a waste of money (from pcatweb.info). What I found most useful when preparing of the PCAT was to do as many practice problems as possible from prep books. The nice thing about the prep books was that they included explanations on why a specific answer was the best one. The one I used to prepare for the exam was the Kaplan PCAT Prep Book. (This is an Amazon affiliate link, if you make a purchase it will help support this blog, thank you!)
The Kaplan PCAT book provides great information on strategies, review of all the topics covered in the PCAT, and practice exams. Reading the entire prep book and taking all the practice problems can take months. It is a lot of material to memorize. My approach was to give myself 4-5 months to prepare for the exam. I scheduled 30-60 minutes per day dedicated to study out of the PCAT book. Initially, I read every single page. This took a long time and I felt that I did not retain much of anything. After 1 month had passed I forgot what I had learned on day 1 when I first opened up the book. Half way into my study sessions I realized that it was best for my personal learning experience to just do practice problems. If I got the question wrong, I would go back and review that information and learn it carefully. How did I know this worked better for me? I kept track of my test scores each time I did a mock practice exam. My scores gradually improved over time. There are other great study resources, here are my Top 5 PCAT Study Tool Recommendations.
I can remember the PCAT exam day vividly as this was my 21st birthday! I did not party or have drink on my 21st birthday. Instead I spent it taking one of the most difficult exams of my life. It is a very long exam and once it was over I was exhausted and all I wanted to do was sleep. Two weeks leading up to this day I hit the books hard. I studied and took many practice exams, spending over 10+ hours a day studying in the library (including my current course load at the time). I would not recommend doing this as it can be quite stressful on your body and health. Surprisingly, my body put up with the torture and the day after the PCAT I became quite sick. It was probably a cold or something but all that studying and stress did take a toll on my body. Looking back I would recommend to take breaks, get physical activity, eat well, and sleep well.
Having experienced the PCAT, here are a few other tips that can help you succeed on test day:
- Get lots of sleep, do not stay up late studying the night before. Do something relaxing or get lots of physical activity in that day to help you get a good nights rest (try not to exercise right before bed though).
- Eat well and keep a balanced diet to prevent getting sick on test day.
- Bring a snack or something to eat during the break.
- Practice essay writing and time yourself.
- Focus on Chemistry and Biology as these are very important to pharmacy schools.
- Quantitative ability section is very time consuming. I found this part to be very challenging with the time allotted. I would recommend solving the problems you know quickly and skip the hard ones until the very end.
- See my Top 5 PCAT Study Tool Recommendations
I hope the recommendations above will help guide, motivate, and inspire you to achieve your goals. Follow my blog for more tips and advice on how to become a pharmacist. What are your experiences? Please comment below and share your thoughts.
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If we had a magic bullet for writing a compelling PCAT essay, trust me, we’d give it to you. However, you have only two principal jobs when writing your essay:
- persuade your audience
- write clearly
You don’t need to be a Jane Austen or Charles Dickens to crack the PCAT essay, so long as your audience understands what you’re saying and understands why it’s important. Here are several time-honored techniques you can use for PCAT Writing success. Make your writing the best it can be and score a 6 on the Writing section with these tips:
Read the good stuff
Do you have a favorite author? Have you ever been struck by a piece of literature or an article that was so good, it sent shivers up your spine? When was the last time you read something in the newspaper? There’s no time like the present to make reading part of your regular PCAT prep.
Carve out time once or twice a week to sit down with an article or short essay, and analyze what makes it a compelling piece so you can emulate those factors in your own writing. What do you like about it? What about the author’s writing style makes it persuasive? Try to identify effective transitions and determine the types of sentence structure the author employs. Does the author present two or more sides to an argument in an objective way? Is the support for their arguments evidence-based and logical? When does the author make it clear what her position is? Are there any calls-to-action?
Note that more often than not, “big words” don’t make or break an essay. On one hand, using very precise terms can convey the author’s message in a concise manner. But on the other hand, accidentally using the wrong word can be devastating or at least reduce the author’s credibility. Remember, you will not have spell check or a dictionary on Test Day, so stick to what you know!
Scratch your brain
You won’t have a ton of time on Test Day to think deeply about a problem, something necessary for PCAT Writing success. So, take advantage of the time you have now to practice “thinking deeply” about a pressing contemporary issue, such as:
- Whether standardized testing is a fair metric in elementary education
- Improving quality of care and reducing wait time in the veteran healthcare system
- Ethical dilemmas concerning the safe use of artificial intelligence
- Addiction risk associated with opioid use in pain management for chronic pain
Even if you don’t know much about one of these issues, first see if you can identify the problem and what implications it might have for society. For example, you might surmise that standardized tests reward rote memorization rather than creative thinking and unfairly disadvantage certain students. Furthermore, standardized tests are limited in the skills that they can evaluate and discourage teachers from offering a more diverse, adaptive curriculum.
Your first goal when writing your essay should be to convince your readers that there is an unmet need, so the more you elaborate on the problem, the more compelled your reader will feel to keep reading until they figure out a solution!
Next, ask yourself: if you were on the other side of this argument, what would you need to be convinced to jump ship and change your mind? Well, you would want to know that your own position was heard, and then you’d need to have each of your arguments dismantled. So your essay should present some of the common arguments in favor of standardized testing. For example, standardized tests are the best way to compare students’ performance on a national scale. One could also argue that they level the playing field for students, allowing some to demonstrate their capacity for learning even despite lower grades.
Then, defuse these arguments swiftly. Your goal is to find flaws or counterarguments to your potential readers’ support for standardized testing, making them question the validity of their own arguments. Are standardized tests the ONLY way to compare students’ performance? Do they REALLY level the playing field? What clever alternatives can you come up with that will satisfy both parties?
Make sure that you end with a strong conclusion. There’s no length requirement for your conclusion, but it is important not to simply summarize your main arguments; every sentence of your essay should add some new insight. What is your final recommendation? What can you say that will leave your audience at least continuing to ponder this issue, and at best, questioning their own position?
Now go ahead and do some online research. What are the popular arguments in favor of or against standardized testing? How many could you think of, and were there any that you wish you had come up with?
Who is going to care about what you are writing? In other words, who is your intended audience? Well, technically the test-graders are your actual audience, but if you could disseminate your essay, who would you want to read it? Then consider what you intend to accomplish. Is your goal to completely change your audience’s opinion about the issue? Maybe they agree with your position on the issue but need convincing that your proposed solutions are realistic and will make a difference. Do you want to leave your audience with any — explicit or implicit — action steps?
At the end of the day, thinking about writing a great essay won’t help you very much until you put pen on paper. The best advice for PCAT Writing success, or scoring a 6 on the Writing section is to practice, practice, practice. Analyze your writing and then re-write. Ask someone else to review your writing, and then re-write again. As your writing improves over time, not only will you be more prepared on Test Day, but you will also be better able to develop logical arguments and present them clearly to your audience in the future.
Check out our free PCAT Diagnostic or take all 5 PCAT Full Length Exams for practice on the Writing section. Now what are you waiting for? Get started today writing the PCAT Essay that knock the socks off of your test-grader!