PCAT Test Breakdown

PCAT or Pharmacy College Admission Test is a standardized test used for gaining admission into pharmacy colleges. Not everyone has the aptitude and capabilities to undertake the assignments and scholarly work undertaken in pharmacy colleges. One needs to have specific scientific and basic abilities to enter such a college. It is only then that students can understand the coursework and remain active, which determines their success in college. PCAT screens students for this basic knowledge and skills that are required to join a pharmacy college.

Most of the pharmacy colleges depend upon the score in this test to judge the incoming candidates. Therefore, if you plan to join a college of pharmacy, it is a good idea to plan in advance and prepare for the test. Preparation for this test, however, is not just about learning all that is given in science books. It requires you to understand the test before you begin the drill-and-practice routine.

Why should you understand the test? For all those who might think that endless preparation is the only key to gaining high scores in the test, this might come as a wake up call. PCAT does test your basic knowledge in math and science and verbal skills, however, the chances of success in the test are higher if you plan a study routine after understanding the features of the test.

It makes more sense to understand the test sections and find out your weaknesses and work more towards them than to learn for the test without thinking.  Knowledge of the test structure helps to form strategies that are practical during preparation and during the test. This type of schematic preparation helps you to maneuver your energies in the direction that results in maximum output with minimum efforts.

Administering PCAT

The following guide will help you to understand PCAT better.

Total testing time – About 4 hours, including time for giving instructions and a break.
Total number of questions – 240 questions                                                                         

Two types of questions:

  1. Multiple- choice questions
  2. Essay writing questions

The PCAT test is divided into seven sections. All these sections test six content areas. The content areas are as follows Verbal Ability, Biology, Chemistry, Reading Comprehension, Quantitative Ability and Writing.

The order of administration and the time allotted to each of the sections is given below.

  1. Writing

Testing time - 30 minutes. This is the first section to be administered.
Number of questions – 1 essay writing question
This section requires students to write an essay in which the given problem in the essay prompt will be dealt with. The students are supposed to provide a solution to the problem through the essay. Hence, the skills tested in this section are:

  • Problem solving skills
  • Skills dealing with conventions of language
  1. Verbal Ability

Testing time - 30 minutes. This is administered after the writing section.
Number of questions – 48 multiple-choice questions
This section is a test of verbal skills. It tests students for their vocabulary and usage of words in language. This is done through questions based on:

    • Analogies
    • Sentence completion
  1. Biology

Testing time – 30 minutes. This is the third test section to be administered.
Number of questions – 48 multiple-choice questions
The students are tested for their knowledge in biology. The topics in this section are taken from:

    • General biology
    • Microbiology
    • Anatomy and physiology.
  1. Chemistry

Testing time – 30 minutes. This section follows the biology section.
Number of questions – 48 multiple-choice questions
Students are expected to have basic knowledge about the following in order to answer the questions of this section.

    • General chemistry
    • Organic chemistry
A short break is administered after the chemistry section after which the testing is resumed from the second writing section.
  1. Writing

Testing time – 30 minutes
Number of questions – 1 essay writing question
The content of this section is similar to the writing section administered at the start.

  1. Reading Comprehension

Testing time – 50 minutes. This section is administered after the second writing section.
Number of questions – 48 multiple-choice questions on 6 passages
This section tests the ability of students to understand text on their own. For this they are presented 6 passages based on scientific topics, the content of which is not known to them before. They are supposed to answer the questions based on what they have understood from the reading. It tests the following

    • Comprehension
    • Analysis
    • Evaluation of the given material.
  1. Quantitative Ability

Testing time – 40 minutes. This is the last section to be administered.
Number of questions – 48 multiple-choice questions
The quantitative ability section is a section that is based on testing the students for their mathematical skills. Students are required to have basic knowledge of the following

  • Math
  • Algebra
  • Probability and statistics
  • Precalculus and calculus

Experimental Questions

Apart from the writing sections, all the five sections contain a total of 48 questions. Out of these 48 questions, 40 contribute towards the score in PCAT, while the remaining 8 questions are experimental questions that are not scored. Out of the two writing sections, one section is for experimentation. The purpose of including experimental questions in test sections is to test new questions for future test administrations.

Students will not be able to identify experimental questions from the other questions since they are intermingled. Therefore, even if they do not contribute towards the score, the students will have to answer each question seriously.

Study Routine to Follow According to the PCAT Structure

  1. Allocate your study time according to the PCAT test sections. Take a diagnostic test to identify the areas that need more practice and allocate more time for those areas.
  2. Taking timed practice tests can help you to get an idea of the time taken to answer the test questions. You can increase your speed by constant practice and keep a check on time as you answer the questions.
  3. Generally, about 3 months are enough for PCAT preparation. However, students should make a judgment of the time they will require after having a look at the syllabus to study.

Scoring Pattern Adopted in PCAT

For scoring the multiple-choice questions, one point is awarded for every correct answer, no matter if it is a difficult question or an easy question. Therefore, it makes sense to do the easy questions first of all and then spend time on the difficult questions. By lingering too long on difficult questions you might run out of time to answer other questions.

Moreover, according to the scoring pattern of the test if the student has provided an incorrect answer, it does not affect the score earned by students due to correct answers. What one learns from the aspect of scoring test pattern is that in case of doubt it is possible to resort to guesswork without worrying about being penalized. A correct guess can make a great difference to your score and hence it is best to answer all questions in the test.

PCAT score ranges between 200 and 600 for multiple-choice sections. The mean score usually lies between 340 and 460. The score report also mentions percentiles that make it possible to compare the performance of students in the test. The writing score is scored on a scale of 0 to 5.0. Scores are provided for both, conventions of writing and problem-solving abilities, as displayed in the writing sections.


Preparation without understanding the PCAT is similar to shooting arrows in the air; you don’t have a target in mind and there is no way that you can direct your efforts. Hence, make the best of the information provided to students about the test by schematic preparation.