The Pharmacy College Admission Test can be a valuable tool used to evaluate applicants to pharmacy programs.
This test reliably measures one’s content knowledge, abilities, and skills deemed essential for success as a pharmacy student and even in your professional career thereafter.
As such, every student should strive for competitive PCAT scores, and the first step towards that would be understanding all there is to know about PCAT scoring.
How Is PCAT Scored?
The PCAT is developed, administered, and monitored by a specialized team within the Pearson Clinical Assessment group, and all PCAT tests are administered at Pearson VUE Test Centers.
This exam is a norm-referenced standardized test that’s designed to measure candidates’ content knowledge and cognitive abilities essential for success in Pharmacy school.
As such, how you score on this test will be a significant determinant in how pharmacy schools view you as a potential student.
How Does PCAT Scoring Work?
The first step to understanding how the PCAT is scored would be to understand the structure and format of the PCAT exam.
First off, this exam is divided into two main groups, whereby you have the writing subtest on one hand and the multiple-choice subtests on the other.
No. Of Questions
Types of Questions
Stand-alone & Passage-based
Stand-alone & Passage-based
Stand-alone Word Problems
192 Qns. + 1 Prompt
a) Writing Subtest Scores
PCAT essays are scored through a combination of electronic and manual methods.
Your essay is evaluated and scored manually by a trained human scorer. Then the very same essay is assessed and scored by an internet-based Artificial Intelligence tool known as Intelligent Essay Assessor™, or IEA in short.
Both electronically and manually, each essay is assigned a writing score ranging from 1.0 to 6.0, representing the lowest and highest possible earned score, respectively.
The overall writing score is arrived at by averaging two assigned scores: one from a human scorer, and the other, either from another human scorer or from the AI tool.
There are certain instances whereby an essay could be scored as 0, and these scenarios include:
- If the essay is left blank.
- If the essay is written in a language other than English.
- If the essay is written on a topic other than the one assigned.
- If the writing subtest is answered in a manner otherwise indicating a refusal to write.
The writing subtest is scored primarily on two main metrics: Conventions of language; and problem-solving capabilities.
So while score point 1 indicates inadequate levels of both, score point 3 indicates satisfactory levels, and score point 6 indicates superior language and problem-solving skills.
b) Multiple-Choice Subtests Scores
After a test has been administered, all score data for the multiple-choice subtests are processed electronically.
First off, the test-takers Raw Score is calculated.
The raw score is based on the number of questions answered correctly in each subtest. So overall, the total raw score on the PCAT would be 192, but you also have to remember that this exam contains experimental unscored questions.
The raw score obtained is then converted to a Scaled Score.
PCAT scaled scores range from 200 to 600, and these are standardized scores representing equal units on a continuous scale.
The first thing you need to understand is that the scaled scores are calculated separately for each of the four PCAT sections: Biological processes, Chemical processes, Critical Reading, and Quantitative Reasoning.
The individual scaled scores for each subtest are used to produce the Composite Score.
The composite score refers to the unweighted average of the four multiple-choice subtests scaled scores.
The scaled scores are also used to obtain the Percentile Ranks.
PCAT percentile ranks range from 1 to 99, and these represent the percentage of candidates from the total number of test takers who scored lower than a given score on the test.
How To Interpret PCAT Scores
The official PCAT score report will contain a scaled score, a percentile rank, a writing score, and a writing mean.
1. Scaled Score
This refers to the standardized score based on multiple choice questions answered correctly and the test form difficulty.
“Test form difficulty” means that subtest scaled scores earned for a particular subtest during one PCAT test administration will be comparable to scaled scores earned for the same subtest during other PCAT test administrations.
This is the case even though different forms of the PCAT have been administered over the years, and composite scaled scores are comparable in the same way.
2. Percentile Rank
This refers to the percentage of examinees from the current norm group who earned lower than a given score.
For instance, a percentile rank score of 63 means that that particular test-taker scored as well as or better than 63% of students in the norm group.
Because they are based on performance relative to the current norm group, percentile ranks for the multiple choice subtests are comparable across subtests.
This is also the reason why compared to scaled scores, percentile ranks are a far more useful method of comparing individual candidates, in addition to determining a particular candidate’s relative strengths and weaknesses.
You can handily use subtest percentile ranks to compare abilities in the specific subject areas, while the composite percentile rank comes in handy when making general comparisons.
3. Writing Score
This refers to the earned score assigned on a 6-point scale.
A candidate’s writing score reflects their ability to apply conventions of language and problem-solving skills in composing an original essay.
To become a pharmacist, one will need to be able to create organized and coherent reports or correspondences under deadline pressure. This skill will be required not just in their academic life but in their professional life as well.
As such, the writing score is vital for college admission committees as it indicates a candidate’s written communication skill and can therefore be used as a guide for placement purposes.
4. Writing Mean
This refers to the average of all writing scores earned by all candidates taking the PCAT during the 12 months prior to the test taker’s test date.
This score is provided for comparison purposes, so you can best judge your performance compared to that of other test-takers before you.
What Is A Good PCAT Score?
The American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy does not set a passing or failing score for the PCAT. Rather, individual pharmacy colleges tend to establish their own score criteria, and these can vary widely from one college to the next.
The PCAT exam is scored in a range of 200 to 600, with the mean scaled score being 404 and there being a standard deviation of around 20 for the subtests and 18 for the composite score.
So overall, anything above 408 is considered a good PCAT score, seeing as 408 falls somewhere around the 60th percentile, while 416 marks the 75th percentile.
However, of course, you need to keep in mind that the percentile ranks corresponding to scaled scores are recalculated each time the PCAT test is normed, and this is done every 4 years.
The most recent renorming occurred in 2019, and the results were as below:
What PCAT Scores Do You Need For Pharmacy School?
Individual pharmacy colleges establish their own passing PCAT score for admission.
There are colleges that do not even require or consider the PCAT, while quite a good number of institutions deem the exam as optional and not necessarily a requirement for admission.
So the only way to know which PCAT scores you would need for pharmacy school would be to look up a particular pharmacy college and check their requirements.
Overall, for most institutions, PCAT scores at or above the national average are considered highly competitive for entry. So look to score above the 70th percentile at the very least.
The more competitive the program, the higher your score will have to be.
For instance, the school of pharmacy PharmD program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has their average composite PCAT score for admitted applicants set at 78%.
Another thing to keep in mind is that PCAT test scores are reviewed alongside the rest of your application, so a higher score improves your competitiveness, even in colleges where the PCAT is an optional requirement.
Aside from the overall composite score, colleges may also look at your PCAT subtest scores in each of the four sections to help identify your academic strengths and weaknesses.
On the one hand, you have course-dependent subtests – Biological Processes, Chemical Processes, and Quantitative Reasoning, which emphasize scientific and mathematical knowledge.
On the other hand, you have language-oriented subtests – Critical Reading and Writing, which can provide a more accurate depiction of a student’s overall academic ability.
Another way to look at the subtest scores is knowledge-based Vs. application-based.
Although the Biological Processes and Chemical Processes subtests do involve the application of interpretive and critical thinking skills, they also include some memorizable content. So these subtests may be more favorable for students whose cognitive strengths are knowledge-based.
However, the Critical Reading, Quantitative Reasoning, and Writing subtests are much more skill-based than knowledge-based.
One subtest requires the comprehension, analysis, and evaluation of complex ideas represented in the text; another subtest involves the performance of quantitative computation skills required to solve mathematical problems; and the writing section involves the composition of an original essay that proposes a solution to a problem.
These subtests are more dependent on knowing how to apply skills rather than merely identifying information, and as such, they may be more favorable for students whose cognitive strengths are application-based.
Ultimately, it is up to each college or school of pharmacy to determine how it can best use PCAT scores to assess a candidate’s application, and so there is no one fixed way to go about it.
What Is The Lowest PCAT Score To Get Into Pharmacy School?
Most schools do not have a minimum PCAT score. Instead, they will measure up your score to the rest of your application and use that to gauge your strength as an applicant.
Nevertheless, a score below the 50th percentile is typically frowned upon, and many admissions committees will struggle to see you as a worthwhile applicant.
FAQs About PCAT Scoring
How Long Does It Take To Get PCAT Scores?
Official PCAT scores are released within 5 weeks after the testing window.
Once released, your official score report will be available online for 1 year from the date of your test administration.
What Is A High Score On The PCAT?
A composite score at or above the 90th percentile is considered a high score on the PCAT. This typically translates to a scaled score of 427 and above, while anything above 432 falls in the 95th percentile.
How Long Are PCAT Scores Good For?
The validity of PCAT scores varies between schools.
Some schools require the PCAT to have been taken within 2 years of your application, while others will take PCAT scores that go as far back as 5 years ago. So always check with the schools you are applying to, to see how long your PCAT scores would be good for.