The Pharmacy College Admissions Test (PCAT) is designed to examine the skills and abilities needed to excel and succeed in pharmacy school. Currently, the overwhelming majority of AACP institutions require the PCAT for admission to pharmacy degree programs.
The PCAT tests basic scientific knowledge; math, verbal, reading comprehension, and writing skills; and your overall critical thinking skills. The test consists of 192 multiple-choice questions and one writing topic, placed in five separate sections. The exam spans approximately four hours, including one short break given in the middle. As of July 2011, the PCAT is offered exclusively on the computer.
- ADDED New passages, each with a set of four questions, will appear in both the Biology and Chemistry sections. The test makers had been trying out a few science passage-based questions previously, but these question types are now here to stay and will account for approximately half of your score for both science sections. You’ll need a strategic approach to handle these well on Test Day.
- REMOVED The Verbal Ability section, which formerly contained analogy and sentence-completion questions, has been completely removed from the test.
- CHANGED The Quantitative section now places more emphasis on word problems, especially in the context of algebra and arithmetic, and less focus on precalculus and calculus. All of the same content areas are still tested, but the number of questions you will see in each area will be different. You’ll need to be prepared to translate longer and more complicated questions into mathematical operations.
- Due to the changes above, most test sections now have new names and timings:
- Biology → Biological Processes (40 minutes)
- Chemistry → Chemical Processes (40 minutes)
- Reading Comprehension → Critical Reading (50 minutes)
- Quantitative Ability → Quantitative Reasoning (45 minutes)
- The Writing section has stayed the same and will still feature writing one essay in 30 minutes at the beginning of the test.
Your score report will contain six separate scores (one for each section of the test) and a composite score. The five multiple choice sections—Verbal Ability, Biology, Chemistry, Reading Comprehension, and Quantitative Ability—are scored based on the number of correct answers. Your initial “raw score” is then converted to a scaled score ranging from 200-600. Your composite score is calculated by taking the average of your scaled score on each multiple choice section. Pharmacy schools will see both your individual section scores and your composite score.
Your Writing Sample will also be scored, but separately. Your essay is reviewed by two graders, whose scores are averaged. You will then receive a score on a scale from 1-6. Note that as of July 2014, there is not a second or unscored Writing Sample on the PCAT.
In addition to your scaled scores, you will receive your percentile rank for each section and for your composite score. For example, if your percentile score is 60, this means that you scored higher than 60 percent of the other test takers. The composite percentile rank is frequently the number students use when discussing their PCAT scores.
The PCAT is scored on a scale from 200-600 with the median being a 400. The 90th percentile is typically a 430. Many pharmacy schools require that you score above a particular level on your exam in order to be considered as a candidate for admissions. You should research the admissions requirements for the schools to which you plan to apply.
The PCAT is a computer-based test that is administered several times a year. Test dates are offered in January, July, and September in all locations with select locations offering test dates in October and November. The test is administered by Pearson at testing locations throughout the United States and Canada.
2017-2018 PCAT Test Dates
|Test Date||Register By|
|July 18 – 19, 2017||May 19, 2017|
|September 7 – 8, 2017||July 10, 2017|
|October 23 – November 3, 2017||October 6, 2017|
|January 3 – 4, 2018||November 3, 2017|
Students are encouraged to register early, as seating is provided on a first-come, first-serve basis and there are no opportunities to take the PCAT standby. Registration costs $210 and can be done either online or via mail (additional fees may apply). For additional registration information, visit pcatweb.info.
After getting several questions specifically about the chemistry section of the PCAT, I thought it might be useful to spend a little time reviewing this section. Structurally, chemical processes is similar to biology biological processes, with the same balance between passage based and discrete questions. In both these sections, there are 20 questions based off passages and 28 discrete questions.
All the questions for the chemical processes can be separated into a few different categories: General Chemistry (50% of questions), Biochemistry (20%), or Organic Chemistry (30%).
Of all the sections in Chemical Processes, general chemistry is worth the most points. It will make up about 24 of the 48 questions. In general, questions related to this category are based off information you learned in your first couple of years of undergraduate chemistry courses. These questions range from the relatively basic, such as the structure of an atom and the periodic table, to the more difficult concepts, such as nuclear chemistry and solubility. The topics covered by general chemistry are:
- Atomic theory
- Chemical bonding
- Reactions and reaction mechanisms
- Kinetic theory
- Nuclear chemistry
The biochemistry category is a bit of an anomaly in Chemical Processes. At times, it may seem a bit more like biology than chemistry, as all the questions will be focusing on biological molecules. It can be difficult to do well on these questions if you haven’t taken some upper level Biochemistry and biology courses, but the upside is that you will only have about 10 questions that fall under this category. The questions for Biochemistry can be broken down into the following topics:
- DNA and RNA
The last of the questions will fall under the category of organic chemistry. As most students know, organic chemistry is a branch of chemistry all on its own, so it is recommended that students not try to take the PCAT unless they have taken at least one semester (preferably 2) of organic chemistry. You’ll only have about 14 questions from this category on test day, and most students find that the organic chemistry on the PCAT is simpler than the organic chemistry they had to perform in undergrad. This mostly boils down to the fact that you don’t have to draw out the mechanisms of the reactions and you have the multiple-choice answers to help guide your decisions. All questions in this category will fall under 2 categories:
- Structure and properties of organic compounds
- Reactions of organic compounds
Knowing what to study can make a difference when you’re preparing for the exam. We hope this helps get you started! For those who are just getting started, we’ve found that one of the most efficient ways to practice for the exam is to take practice tests. Can you think of a better way to prepare yourself for the actual exam? Next Step offers a free full-length PCAT practice exam as well as a 5 exam bundle. Our exams were built for the new 2016 format and allow students to take a practice PCAT in test-like conditions. You will be scored just as you would on the real exam; in addition, we provide our students with a performance breakdown as well as full answers and explanations for each question on the exam so you understand what you did wrong and why.
If you’re struggling with your timing or find you content knowledge lacking, you can always get outside help. You don’t have to go through this alone if you don’t want to. If you’re interested in one-on-one PCAT tutoring, take a look at our PCAT page or set up a free consultation here. One of our Academic Managers will reach out to you and set up a time to discuss your PCAT prep and see if our services would be a good fit.
Good luck with your PCAT prep!
Phil Hawkins, Senior PCAT Instructor