10 Things to Know Before Taking the PCAT

The PCAT weighs heavily on the minds of many hopeful pharmacy students. This feeling of dread is understandable. It’s yet another standardized test; an added high-pressure barrier to the next objective in the course of your life. Fortunately, like most standardized tests, the PCAT code can be cracked through proper PCAT test prep and test-taking strategies. Understanding these 10 nuggets of truth and wisdom can help improve your performance.

Know the test

The PCAT is divided into four subtests to be taken over the course of four hours. The subtests are Biology, Chemistry, Quantitative Ability and Reading Comprehension. Knowing the different subject areas and how long you’ll have to complete them will allow you to hone in on your strengths and weaknesses during your PCAT test prep.

Complete the coursework

This one may seem obvious, but some students get ahead of themselves when it comes to taking the PCAT. Make sure you’ve completed Biology I and II, General Chemistry I and II, Calculus, and are at the very least enrolled in Organic Chemistry I before tackling PCAT test prep.

Don’t procrastinate

Many of you are probably reading this and thinking, “easier said than done.” We’ve all been bitten by the procrastination bug, but it’s especially important to get ahead of the curve and take the PCAT early in the testing cycle. This grants you the opportunity to retake the test in case you did not perform as well as anticipated.

Review study guides

There are many PCAT test prep options available for different subsections of the test. These study guides usually include practice tests that will allow you to learn diverse types of questions and question formats that will be on the exam. Dr. Collins, Kaplan, and Pearson are all popular providers of study guides.

Focus on unfamiliar subjects

If you’re preparing for a career as a pharmacist, chances are your coursework leaned more towards the sciences than liberal arts. If that’s the case, it may do you well to prepare more thoroughly for subjects you haven’t seen in a while.

Know your study habits

Going blind into PCAT test prep for a test this robust can be overwhelming. If you’re the type of person who can’t concentrate alone, find a study group. If you can’t study for more than 15 minutes at a time without getting distracted, plan a day of studying in 15-minute intervals with breaks in between. It doesn’t matter how you study, as long as you study in a way that keeps you motivated.

Don’t “experiment”

Just because you can take the PCAT more than once doesn’t mean you should take the test just to see how well you do. If you go into the PCAT with the mindset that you can always take it again, you’ll never be able to adequately prepare for the exam, and you may miss out on an edition of the test that plays more to your strengths. Go with the sports approach of treating every practice like a game; you’ll be well prepared when game time rolls around.

First attempt, last chance

It’s risky to let the last test of a PCAT test cycle be your first attempt at the exam. Not only will you not have another chance to retake the exam if you do poorly, but also knowing it’s your last chance may increase stress and cause poor performance.

Find the right balance

Students who have scored well on the PCAT reported working on PCAT test prep 90 minutes daily for a month leading up to the test. That’s far from intensive, but it’s also far from lackadaisical. Twenty minutes a day of studying isn’t going to be sufficient, and a 24-hour cram session leading up to the exam won’t be very fruitful either.

Maximize your exposure

There are a great variety of PCAT test prep materials, all with their own strengths and weaknesses — one large, catch-all Kaplan book may not be sufficient. One of the most effective ways to prepare for the exam is through timed Pearson practice tests. In addition to Kaplan, many publishers offer preparation booklets, such as Barron’s, McGraw-Hill, and CliffsTestPrep.

We hope these tips will help with your PCAT test prep. Don’t forget the time-honored test-taking advice: get a good night of sleep, eat a healthy breakfast and don’t stress. Best of luck!