Journey to Pharmacy School: Prepping for the PCAT (Part 1)

If you missed my last post about my overall journey to pharmacy school, I briefly mentioned that I would soon be taking the PCAT, the Pharmacy College Admissions Test, which is an exam specifically designed to test one’s readiness for a career in pharmacy. Well, the countdown to my PCAT testing date has officially reached the less-than-a-month-left point! I’m getting so excited and nervous all at the same time. I’ve been studying hard so far this summer and I did pretty well on the first full-length practice test I took, so I’m hoping my hard work leaves me feeling prepared and confident when the day finally comes. This week, I thought I’d tell you a little more in detail about the PCAT, from the structure and format of the test to the way that it’s graded, as well as how to get signed up for it.

What’s on the PCAT? There are six sections in total. One of them is a 30-minute essay, which tests both writing and problem-solving abilities, and the other five each consist of multiple choice questions that cover different topics learned in the required pre-pharmacy courses.

  • The Biology section is long and covers general biology, microbiology, and anatomy and physiology, with a few hints of immunology and genetics as well.
  • The Chemistry section includes theory and calculation questions pertaining to both general and organic chemistry.
  • The Verbal Ability section tests vocabulary with two types of questions: sentence completion and analogies.
  • The Reading Comprehension section contains 6 to 7 short passages with several questions following each one.
  • The Quantitative Ability section tests all sorts of math skills, from algebra to trigonometry to calculus.

Test takers have 35 minutes for biology and chemistry, 25 for verbal ability, 50 minutes for reading, and 40 minutes for math. Add in the essay and you’re there for about a 4.5 hour exam!

How is the test graded? The writing sample is graded much like the writing exams taken in elementary and high school, with a panel of experts using a rubric to determine the appropriate score, which can be as low as 1 or as high as 6. For the multiple choice sections, a raw score out of 600 points is determined and then weighed against scores from the previous year’s exam results, which gives a percentile score. This weighted result doesn’t tell pharmacy school how you did as an individual, but how you did compared to everyone else who took the test. For example, if you score in the 60th percentile, that means that 60% of people got the same score as you or lower, and 40% of people got a higher score than you. A higher percentile tells pharmacy school that you probably know your stuff better than other candidates that you might be competing against, and that makes you a more desirable pharmacy student.

When should I take the test? That depends on your plans for pharmacy school. I have some friends in pharmacy school now that entered after just two years of undergraduate studies, which means that they probably took the test in the middle of their second year. By that time, they had covered just enough material in their classes to answer the kinds of questions asked on this test. Personally, I chose not to go this route because I wanted to have my pre-pharmacy courses completely finished before I even thought about the test, and I wanted to have the whole summer to study and get ready for it. Whichever way you end up doing it, you’ll have plenty of chances to take it (or retake it, if necessary) because it’s offered multiple times during the year, with several test dates throughout July, September, October, November, and January. This year’s official test dates can be found on the PCAT website.

How do I sign up for the test? First, you need to go to the PCAT website and register with Pearson Education, the test supplier, to take the exam. On this page, you’ll confirm that you’re a pre-pharmacy student and indicate the schools that you want your test scores sent to, and you’ll also pay the exam fee, which is around $200. When this part is done, you’ll get a code to use on the Pearson VUE website, which is where you will actually schedule your test and choose the testing location you want. The closest testing site from the LMU campus is in Knoxville, TN, and there is also one a little farther away in Johnson City, TN, but Pearson has several across the country if there’s one closer to your hometown.

Those are just a few of the facts about getting signed up for the PCAT and choosing when to take it to fit your program of study. Next week, I’ll tell you how I’ve been studying for it and share some advice that I’ve found about getting ready for test day. Then the next post will be on test day! I probably won’t have a post about my actual test experience until a few weeks later, but I’ll be sure and leave you guys with something good that day. Keep checking back for more, and if you’d like to receive alerts when I post something new, click on the subscribe button at the top of the page!



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