Happy Independence Day, readers! And happy anniversary, because today’s post marks a whole year of blogging for me. I appreciate all of your support and encouragement along the way, and I look forward to sharing even more stories of my college adventures with you. Now, on to this week’s new topic! Last time I told you about where to go to sign up for the Pharmacy College Admissions Test (PCAT). This week, I want to tell you how to study for each individual section and share some tips I’ve learned to increase each sub-score.
You will have just thirty minutes to complete the writing sample. That’s thirty minutes to come up with a solution to the problem presented in the writing prompt, plus do some brainstorming and write the actual essay. That’s a lot to do in such a short amount of time, so you’ll need a study plan that focuses on speed as well as precision. Start by looking up some past PCAT essay topics, and write a four to five paragraph essay over one of those topics in thirty minutes. You may even want to have a favorite English teacher look over your practice essay and grade your response. Your actual essay will be graded using a rubric based on the number of grammatical mistakes you made and how well you defended your answer. Have your practice essays critiqued in a similar fashion and you’ll be more than ready to take on the real thing!
For the remaining five sections, which are all multiple choice, I recommend starting your study regimen with a diagnostic test to see where you stand already. The one I used was about half the length and time of the actual PCAT, and it showed me which areas I was already pretty well-versed in and which ones I needed to spend more time on. I was then able to tailor my study plan to fit these specifications, brushing up on the things I felt pretty confident about and reading a little more in depth about the things I had forgotten.
Preparing for the verbal ability section should consist mostly of learning as many new words as possible. This part of the test shows admissions panels how wide your vocabulary is, so it’s important to work on continuously expanding your knowledge of word roots and meanings. One of the most helpful things I’ve found for this part is to use flashcards with the word on one side and the definition on the other. There are even some free digital flashcard apps available on many mobile device stores. Or, if you’re reading a book and you come across a word at any time that you don’t know, go ahead and look it up. It might just help you on exam day! Be sure and also look for words that may have multiple meanings. For example, I came across a flashcard recently for the word appreciate, and my first thought was to define the word as “to treasure or value.” However, this word also has another, much different meaning: “to increase in value”, as the price of a home appreciates over time.
For the biology and chemistry sections, you’ll want to dig out your notes from all your old science classes. If you happen to have your old exams, a good idea would be to retake them and look up the answers to the questions you missed. There are also many great PCAT practice question websites, including this one that I’ve been using that records your time as you go (Remember, during the real deal you’ll have just 35 minutes for all 48 questions!) and offers in-depth explanations for each incorrect answer. The most important thing you can do, though, is make sure that you know the answer for a fact and that you can reason it out for yourself. The test might be multiple choice, but if you can pick out the correct answer right away, without having to play the process-of-elimination game, you’ll save yourself a lot of time when you reach the more difficult questions.
The quantitative ability section is another one that will require lots of practice questions and explanations, especially if it’s been a while since you took a math class. You’ll be tested on everything from your probability skills to your ability to integrate calculus equations on command. A few time-saving tips would be to memorize the shapes of certain graphs. For example, cubic equations are always S-shaped and parabolas are always U-shaped, so if you know from the question what the answer can’t be based on visual evidence, you can eliminate obvious answer choices. Also, on test day you’ll be given a small white board and a dry erase marker to work out problems with, so I recommend investing in these items to practice working out problems so it will feel natural and comfortable on test day.
Finally, for the reading comprehension section, the best piece of advice I can give is to know what kinds of questions to expect. You won’t be required to calculate anything or use any scientific theories, so just read every type of scholarly material you can and be prepared to use some critical thinking skills. Know the difference between a logically supported fact and the author’s opinion, and think about why the author might have included certain details or points.
If you’re interested in a one-stop shop that contains all the same tips that I just mentioned, look no further than the official Kaplan PCAT Study Guide. It contains the same diagnostic test I took, in-depth reviews of every topic within each section, with questions following each chapter, and two full-length practice exams at the end. I lucked out and was fortunate enough to have a graduating LMU student pass down her study guide to me, but if you have to purchase one for yourself, it’s only around $40 and can be bought at most major bookstores.
That’s it for background and preparation for the PCAT! At the time of my next posting, I’ll be en route to Knoxville’s testing center to take it myself. Wish me the best of luck because I have been anxiously awaiting this day all summer and I really want a good score. I’ll eventually write a post for you guys about my test day experience so keep checking back for it. If you’d like to get email reminders about each new post, go ahead and click the subscribe button at the top! And leave a comment below if you have any more questions about the PCAT.