How to Study for The PCAT

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:

  1. Writing Portion (30 minutes) – Tests ability to problem solve and conventions of language
  2. Verbal Ability (25 minutes) – Analogies and Sentence Completion
  3. Biology (35 minutes) – General Biology / Microbiology / Human Anatomy and Physiology
  4. Chemistry (35 minutes) – General Chemistry / Organic Chemistry / Basic Biochemistry Processes
  5. Reading Comprehension (50 minutes) – Comprehension / Analysis / Evaluation
  6. 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.

Tips

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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19 thoughts on “How to Study for The PCAT

  1. Anonymous

    Your articles are so helpful!! Thanks so much for writing this!!
    I got one question: How deep should I prepare for each science subjects on PCAT? I’ve heard people said that most of the questions on PCAT would be general questions so I only studied Kaplan’s prep books and did not go back and study the courses’ detail material. I started prepare for the test 3 months ago, and now there’s only 1 month left, how would you suggest me?
    Thanks!!

    Reply
    1. ThePharmacistBlog Post author

      Thanks for supporting the blog and stopping by. Yeah so what you wrote is what I would recommend. Just do as many practice problems as possible. Only go back and study areas where you need extra help after analyzing your percentages from the practice problems. Also I did write a blog on PCAT. Please go read! Thanks

      Reply
  2. Marissah Wood

    Hello, I was wondering if anyone could help me with a question I have about the PCAT.

    I just took my practice test last Saturday and when I received my score, all of my categories were scored out of 40, instead of 48 like it says on the PCAT blueprint. On the heading it said “Total Number of Core items” and said that there were 40 “Core Items” for each category. Does this mean that there are 8 experimental questions that they just get rid of or something? Is this only for the practice test?

    Thank you

    Reply
    1. ThePharmacistBlog Post author

      I am not too familiar with how these practice tests are conducted. Also what practice test did you take? What company? I recommend posting to the studentdoctorforums to see if someone knows the answer. Good luck

      Reply
      1. Marissah Wood

        I took the official practice test through the pcat/pearson website. It was conducted online and I had to answer 48 questions for each section (minus verbal ability, that was 40) but each section was scored out of 40 instead of 48 on my score report.

        Reply
  3. Lela

    I have 4 weeks until the PCAT. I’ve taken my pre-reqs about 2 years ago. I need the best strategy for a thorough review to get he best possible score. Advice on which study guide?

    Reply
  4. Nadia

    Hi ,your blog is the best. Thank you
    I have a B.S in computer engineering and i wanted to study pharmacy now.
    is it possible you think ? i mean if i take a PCAT exam.
    or i had to have a BS in chemistry and biology.
    im so confused and i do not know what to do. can you help me find my way ?
    ——-
    if the answer is yes.
    you think i can study biology and chemistry like every day for 6 months to get ready for the exam ?
    Thank you so much for your Help.i really like to be a pharmacist .

    Reply
    1. ThePharmacistBlog Post author

      I would recommend you read my entire how to get into pharmacy guide. Go to “Start Here” on the top menu. Then click on “how to get into pharmacy school guide”. Read your way through those posts and it will answer all of your questions.

      You do not need any specific major or degree, just pre reqs requirements for the school you apply to.

      Reply
  5. sunya

    I dont have Dr. Collins notes and i have heard that his notes are best for getting good score. Can you please tell me the best books to study for maths and chem test?

    Reply
  6. anbdulla ahmed

    Hello.your blog is very good but i have question in any book should i study for the pcat because i see alot of books about pcat Im outside of usa but i will come to usa for study if you can give me information about pcat book

    Reply
  7. Grace

    I am preparing to take PCAT this coming summer and I found your blog extremely helpful. Thanks for sharing your experience and suggesting various test prep items!

    Reply
  8. Anonymous

    Super useful! Thanks! One question…Did you need to study off any textbooks? I’m in my second year at McGill and I haven’t sold any of my old textbooks because I thought I might need them to study…do you think I’d need them?

    Reply
    1. ThePharmacistBlog Post author

      No never needed any books again, sell them while they are worth anything would be my advice

      Reply
  9. Masia

    Hello, your blog has been very helpful to me. I do plan on taking the pcat in January of next year. It’s been a while since I took biology and chemistry what are your suggestions for reviewing those sections and what can I use to study for the microbiology and biochemistry subtests?

    Reply
  10. Jossey

    Hey thank you do much for sharing the info, it’s very helpful. The PCAT exam strategy is a little bit changed for 2016( essay based questions for bio and chem and no verbal). Are there any books with the new updates like Dr collins, Kaplan?

    Reply

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