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How Hard is the PCAT & How to Study For it

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As an aspiring pharmacy student, you simply have to come to terms that you must take the PCAT exam to join the Pharmacy school of your choice.

But this test isn’t a walk in the park; you’ve to work hard for it. Or rather should I say smart?

You must agree with me that the feeling of possible failure is dreadful, especially when all you hear from those around you is how hard the PCAT is.

But is that even true? Find the answer in this article.


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How hard is the PCAT?

If questions were to get tired and go on a strike for being asked several times, then this “how hard is the PCAT?” question should have retired by now!

I mean, there’re probably thousands of students posing out this question every other PCAT exam window. So, I don’t find it surprising that you’re one of them.

And that isn’t a bad thing as It’s normal to worry about the unknown. It shows you’re normal and want only the best for yourself. So, congratulations on that.

Back to the main issue; how hard is the PCAT?

I will try to answer as objectively as possible, based on numerous discussions going on online.

This is to help you get an actual picture of how things are on the ground. And not just assumptions.

First, I will begin by saying the word hard is relative. What might seem hard for you is easy for someone else and vice versa.

So, passing the PCAT largely depends on you as an individual; your capabilities, past experiences, and present determination.

I have come across some students narrating how they managed to secure a place in pharmacy school even with a low GPA, and it amazes me every time to know that everyone has an equal chance to score highly, so long as they change their perspective.

Some limitations are only in your mind. I mean, if you start believing everything you hear and surround yourself with negative thoughts about the PCAT test, then you’re going to make minimal effort to understand the prep materials.

All this thanks to the “I won’t get much anyway” attitude. But, if you show resilient and decide that you’re going to score highly no matter what, then you’re definitely going to put up more effort to cover as much content as possible and be adequately prepared for the actual PCAT test.

But, I am not trying to say that it’s all rosy. On the contrary, most individuals who have taken both the PCAT and the MCAT exams say they aren’t that different.

They aren’t easy to crack and require you to act smart.

When you begin thinking like a winner, you start behaving like one, and the results tend to be pleasing. But, if you start acting like a loser, then you might as well begin smelling the awful results from a distance.

You will also be glad to know that in PCAT, most questions are knowledge-based. This means you should focus on understanding the various PCAT subjects.

And the best way to do that is to avoid memorizing/cramming. Instead, study to understand such that you can easily handle any question in any subject, no matter how tricky it might seem.

If you study correctly and adequately, religiously take the practice tests and inject a high dosage of confidence into your system, then there’s nothing stopping you from being a success.

What you work for is what you get.

So, what I can say is that; PCAT is as hard as you let it be. I mean, there’s nothing too difficult for a hard-nut, right? You can crack PCAT if you study CORRECTLY.

How to study for the PCAT

I have talked about studying smart in the above section. And I know you’re wondering how that is done. Don’t worry, as you will find the answers in this section.

First, it’s good to understand that the method you use to study for the PCAT  depends on how much time you have left before the big day.

For instance, you can’t use the same study schedule and model of a student who has 6 more months to exam day to study for your exam, which is due in a month. It simply won’t work.

You see, the other part has more time to review materials, while you’re working on a tight time-frame.

Generally, you are going to study for the five main sections of the exam.

So, let’s go through what you need to cover and how to go about it.

  • Sign-up for the test

Remember, you will have only four opportunities to study for PCAT in a year. And most of the time, that’s around January, July, September, October/November.

So, ensure you register early to get sufficient preparation time.

The best timing space should be around 4-5 months, but some individuals prefer lesser time. Therefore, do what suits your needs.

  • Master the test Structure

PCAT has four multiple-choice sections which include quantitative reasoning, chemical processes, biological processes, and critical reading. This plus the writing section makes a total of five.

You should know what you’re studying to help come up with a suitable study schedule.

  • Assessing Your Skills By taking a diagnostic Test

The best way to identify your strong and weak areas is by taking a diagnostic test or a practice test.

There’re many ways you can access a PCAT practice test, and one of the most convenient ones are from various free online platforms, such as study.com.

Use the results to grade yourself, then mark the areas with weak performances.

These are the areas that you will emphasize on 9allocate more time) in your study schedule.

But that doesn’t mean you ignore the parts you permed exceptionally well. You’ve to study them as well, only that you will need lesser time to go through the content.

  • Develop a study Schedule

Your study schedule should clearly show how you plan to spend your study time on each day of the week.

And it could be for a few weeks or months, depending on the time you have before the real exam.

But if you’ve already made up your mind to study only for a month, then I would advise you to go through the previous article I had written on “How to study for PCAT in one month.”

You will find a sample 1-month study plan and a bonus 2 & 6 months study schedule.

The secret is to spend more time on weak areas and lesser time on your strong subjects. If, by any chance, your diagnostic results indicated that you need to improve on all the areas, then divide the time equally.

Remember, you can always alter your schedule with time, depending on the results of the practice tests you will be taking at the end of each week.

Generally, a study schedule of 4-5 months, needs you to devote at least an hour a day for your studies. While a program of 1-2 months, you will need 3 good hours from your daily routine.

Don’t forget to leave a day to rest at the end of the week.

  • Using Study Materials

The studying materials you select for your PCAT prep will depend on your financial capability and time-frame.

Purpose to invest in two or three resources and combine them with other free online materials. Some of the famous test prep companies include Kaplan, Mometrix, and Barron’s.

You can also hire a tutor.

As for the review books, ensure you get the latest edition.

You can also join a PCAT study group, enrol in courses, or opt for self-paced study. Whichever method you choose should help you prepare adequately. So, select carefully. And this’s where adequate research comes in.

Things to Know Before Taking the PCAT

To score highly in PCAT means you have to employ smart strategies.

And that includes knowing a thing or two about what you’re up against.

Here’s a list of essential things you should keep in mind before passing PCAT

  • Understand the test

Let’s face it. You can’t adequately prepare for the unknown.

So, the first logical step should be for you to know all the subjects you will be facing.

And they include Reading and Comprehension, Chemistry, Biology, Quantitative Ability, and of course, the writing test on various health-related questions.

Once you understand this, you can quickly identify your strong and weak areas for adequate review.

  • Coursework Completion

No matter how confident you feel about yourself, ensure you complete all the course work before your PCAT exam date. There might be some “insignificant” areas you ignore that will make a significant difference in the test.

  • Review those Study Guides

Take time to go through the study guides for an understanding of the various question patterns.

Most of the prep materials present them in the form of practice tests. Don’t skip those. They usually give you an idea of what to expect on test day.

Broaden your list of test prep materials to gain maximum exposure. Don’t depend on one or two of them, and sometimes they don’t give a full picture of what the PCAT looks like.

  • No procrastination

Procrastination is a monster when it comes to disrupting your PCAT test prep. While it’s a common occurrence and most students would confess to having gone through it at one point, you should succumb, but rather focus on your studies.

This will help you take the exam early while granting you another opportunity for a retake, in case things don’t go as planned.

  • Maximize on Unfamiliar areas

A course in pharmacy means most of your work will be based on the sciences. So, check out which area is likely to give you more “trouble” and maximize on them.

Some subjects aren’t that well-detailed in high-school and will demand more concentration.

  • Identify Your Study Habits

We all possess distinctive studying habits. Some will concentrate better alone, while others can barely master anything without the help of a tutor or group discussion.

Also, some individuals can study for 2 hours straight without tiring, while others can barely go on for 30 minutes.

So, take breaks as much as necessary and adopt a study module that suits your habits.

Remember, the most important thing is to prepare adequately, and whatever helps you achieve this goal is welcome.

  • Never Experiment

Some individuals are daring, and that’s a good thing. But don’t gamble with your future when it comes to the PCAT test.

If you took the test once or twice and scored well, it doesn’t mean the subsequent times will guarantee the same results.

When you decide to take the test, let it be because you prepared for it adequately and never because you can simply do it.

You might end up messing up with one subject, and it will bring down all your strengths.

Besides, why would you even want to take the exam just for the sake of it?

What to do the day before PCAT

The day before the PCAT should be for relaxation and reflection. This means you shouldn’t be going through any review material.

If you find yourself worrying about the possible results, get your mind occupied on other things.

You can even watch your favorite movie, TV show or take a walk in the park. The feel of fresh air is always fulfilling.

Also, ensure you feed on healthy food, and if you have a sensitive stomach, avoid foods that can trigger a stomach upset. You don’t want to spend most of your exam time in between washrooms, now do you?

Visualize yourself as top-scorer and avoid meeting up with fellow PCAT takers. Group discussions might escalate into “know-it-all” arguments and can quickly pump fear into your system.

Avoid negative energy by all means. If anything, take time chatting the day away with family and friends as you discuss general life issues.

There’s no kind of anxiety that a good dose of laughter can’t wash away.

And of course, sleep early to ensure you’re well-rested the following day. You need to look fresh on exam day, and you can’t achieve that if your eyes are puffy.

Also, adequate night’s sleep will help you relax. Therefore, it will be easy for you to remember the concepts you had studied.

How hard is the PCAT vs. MCAT?

PCAT (Pharmacy College Admission Test) is a standardized exam that students who are aspiring for a career in the pharmaceutical sector must take for admission into pharmacy school.

On the other hand, MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) is also a standardized test, and only students aspiring for a career in general medicine take it for consideration in medical school admission.

Now that you know who these tests are meant for, it should be clear that most students can only take either of them, although some take both.

Some students who have taken both exams tend to think that MCAT is harder than PCAT since its questions are more detailed as opposed to those of PCAT, where learners are primarily tested on general knowledge.

But, I have also come across some students who feel that both exams are the same in terms of difficulty, as you will have to devote time studying, especially if you aren’t good at science.

So, I can conclude by saying that both exams have a level of hardness, depending on your strengths and weaknesses. Therefore, preparation is paramount.

For a detailed Review, check out the previous article I wrote on PCAT vs. MCAT.


Do you take the pcat in high school?

It’s advisable not to take PCAT in high school.

You need to cover some more areas in Biology and Chemistry, and it will be a waste of money taking it in high school and then retake it because of a poor score.

When should I take the pcat?

The best time to take PCAT is the 2nd year in college.  But if you must, then ensure to complete at least two semesters in both Biology and General Chem. Not forgetting at least 4 weeks of organic chem

How long to study for pcat?

The duration you take for PCAT test prep depends on how good you’re in grasping concepts. If you’re good in sciences and possess superb test-taking skills, then 3-4 weeks can be enough.

But if you’re struggling in most subjects, then you might need 2-6 months, depending on how fast you polish your weak areas.

So, the secret is not to compete with others, but rather take time to understand yourself and allocate sufficient time for adequate preparation.


PCAT is one of those exams that will make you realize your potential. You will have to work smart for a good score, and that means identifying your weak spots and focusing more time studying.

It doesn’t matter whether you have only a month or 6 months left before the actual exam day; how you master the concepts is what matters.

And because we all have different potential, I can say that PCAT is as hard as you want to see it. If you approach it with adequate preparedness and confidence, then you can crack it, just as those before you did!

So, don’t keep postponing. Go for it and give it all your all.

John Reed
The chief editor of TestPrepPal.com. I am an alumni of the university of Pennsylvania and my goal with the website is to help future graduates with their tests.

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