A career in healthcare is one that calls for dedication, compassion, and of course passion. You have to be ready to face it all for your patients.
And the first step of showing that resilience is by undertaking a standardized exam that will pave way for medical school enrollment.
So, you could either be taking the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) or PCAT (Pharmacy College Admission Test).
Have you already thought about which one between the two you should take? The decision you make is vital.
And that’s why in today’s article we are taking you through the major differences of MCAT vs. PCAT, in terms of purpose, content scoring, system length, and cost of the exam, among others.
PCAT vs. MCAT: Major Differences
- Comparison Table of MCAT vs PCAT
|Purpose||Admission to medical school mainly in USA and Canada.||For consideration to admission into pharmacy colleges in the USA and Canada|
|Content||Four major sections (Biological and Chemical Foundations of Living things, Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills, Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems, Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior) pay more attention to the critical thinking capabilities of the student.||7 subtests covering the various topics in 6 subjects(Verbal ability, Biology, Reading comprehension, Qualitative ability Chemistry, Writing, Quantitative ability)|
|Scoring||118-132( each 4 section) 472-528 (total score)||Original score goes through a scale-score conversion, which ranges from 200-600.|
|Length of Exam||7 hrs. 33 minutes||3 hours 40 minutes|
|Price of Exam||$320||$210|
|Testing time||Between January and September
*24 times a year
|Months of January, July, and September.
And February, October, and November, in some locations
*Several times a year
Although both the PCAT and the MCAT tests are for students interested in joining the healthcare sector, they both seek to fulfill different purposes, where the field of study (within the healthcare sector) is concerned.
The MCAT test, for example, is usually administered by the American Association of Medical Colleges and its focus is to admit students to all medical colleges across North America, the Caribbean Islands, and Australia.
And that’s not all, even if the examination is meant for medical colleges’ admission, it doesn’t apply to the optometry or the dentistry sub-sections.
So, if you’re interested in being a dentist, then you can breathe easy knowing the “beast” (as MCAT is famously referred to) won’t at least stand on your path.
On the other hand, the PCAT is a standardized test administered by Pearson’s brand; PsychCorp.
And this is the examination that has been authorized by the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy as the legal examination students should take for consideration of admission into pharmacy colleges.
The test is applicable in both the USA and Canada.
So, if you have been looking forward to a career in pharmacy land and are a resident of these two countries, you already know which exam to expect.
The MCAT exam is divided into four major sections;
- Biological and Chemical Foundations of Living things
- Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills
- Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
- Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior.
And even with this, it’s advisable to know that the MCAT exam doesn’t focus much on the content. Rather, the exam questions pay more attention to the critical thinking capabilities of the student.
Therefore, be ready to read more passages and then answering questions about them. This is the major reason as to why I always advise students to allocate extra study time to CARS (Social Sciences and Critical Analysis).
You really have to get yourself to understand these in-depth passages if you want to attain a good score.
And because you don’t even know the content of the passages you will find in the exam, memorizing content is the last thing you want to do when it comes to the MCAT test. It really isn’t aimed at that!
But, you will have to read to understand the concepts and various patterns so that you can easily apply them on examination day.
Let’s now look at PCAT;
This exam seeks to test the skills and abilities that students require to enroll in pharmacy school. And it’s categorized into 7 subtests covering the various topics in 6 subjects;
- Verbal ability
- Reading comprehension
- Qualitative ability Chemistry
- Quantitative ability
As you can see, the tests simply focus on the basic scientific knowledge and don’t go in-depth as that of the MCAT.
For example, although the PCAT covers Biological processes, it’s the general knowledge that you should know and not anything deeper that will require you to think outside the box; which is the specialty of the MCAT exams.
Also, the biology section of PCAT covers topics like phyla, while the MCAT goes deeper into topics about bacteria and the human body.
So, while PCAT requires you to give a specific answer, the MCAT needs you to think broadly and give the best answer based on the situation at hand.
But even with critical thinking in MCAT, you have to know your limit and the best way to do that is to understand the various formulas so that you can easily retrieve them during examination day and apply them appropriately to suit the questions you’re answering.
Also, in some instances, the PCAT might even ask questions that you will either know the answer or can guess. But expect to receive a lot of details from the MCAT, which will help solve the preceding problem.
Additionally, you will find physics in MCAT, while it is missing in the PCAT exam.
Deriving a score is the most important part of any examination process.
And both the PCAT and MCAT exams aren’t any different.
They weigh students by their scores, so the early you know how this is worked out, the better for you.
As it will help you know how much effort you need to exert in your studies to crack the tests.
- PCAT Scoring
Before I give you a breakdown of what the PCAT score looks like, there are a couple of things I want you to understand;
Just after your PCAT test, you will get a preliminary score report. The report will usually show your scaled scores and the various percentile ranks you attained in every section.
But, this won’t be your final score yet, as you will have to wait for the Pearson to verify them all. It’s only after verification that you will receive your final score.
So whatever is on the preliminary report will only show what’s pending, and it’s subject to change.
That said, it usually takes around 5 weeks (after the end of the season’s testing window) that you can now access your official results.
This will be done through an Official Score Report and you can access it online.
Even after you access your score report, it will still be available online at least for one year (which is calculated based on the date that you took the exams).
But, the official transcripts will be sent to the schools that you had indicated.
So, typically, your PCAT score will be automatically outlined in your official score report.
But if you don’t want it to be there, then you can choose the “No Score Option” during the examination.
However, before, you select the “No Score Option”, know that the Pharmacy schools of your choice will only accept the Official score report and not the preliminary score.
Also, you can never receive a report of your score through fax, email, or even number.
So, in case someone tries to scam you, you should be aware and on high alert.
Now that you’ve understood that, let’s look at the score breakdown;
Usually, the score report s categorized into 6 different scores. And all of them represent each section of the tests you took.
For example, for the 5-multiple areas (Quantitative Ability, Verbal Ability, Biology, and Chemistry, Reading, and Comprehension), you will be allocated a score depending on the number of right answers you gave.
Afterward, that original score goes through a scale-score conversion, which ranges from 200-600.
And then you get a composite score with is an average of your scale score on each section. The good thing is that the body allows the Pharmacy schools to access both the composite and the single section scores.
As for your writing sample, you will get your score but not inclusive with the other subjects. It will have to undergo the scrutiny of at least two graders and then the score (on a scale of 1-6) you receive is standardized.
Each scaled score comes with a percentile rank. And this includes the individual sections and the composite score.
This will help you know how you performed as compared to other students who took the same exams. For instance, if you receive a percentile rank of 70, then it means you managed to score 70% better than other examination-takers.
If you have been hearing PCAT students discuss their results, then the number they usually refer to is the composite percentile rank.
Since the score of PCAT is based on a scale of 200-600, the average score is 400. That means, the individual who rank 90th, scored around 430.
This is important because most pharmacy schools have a pass-line and you can’t get admitted if you score below it. That’s why it’s always important to thoroughly research the various schools’ admission requirements before picking your top list.
- MCAT Scoring
Now, that you already have a clear understanding of how the PCAT test is scored, let’s look at the MCAT test before pointing out some major differences in this section.
Like the PCAT, when it comes to the multiple answer section, the score you receive depends on how correctly you answered the various questions.
You, therefore, don’t have to focus on the wrong answers as they fall under the same category as the unanswered ones. And you aren’t penalized when you score wrongly.
Afterward, like the PCAT the score you receive in each section is then converted into a scale score, only which this time around, ranges from 118-132, as opposed to the 200-400 of the PCAT.
The main reason as to why both examination centers use scale score conventions is to ensure they fairly compensate for the little variations in test-setting, which can either make the exam more difficult or easier than the previous window period.
The final score of the MCAT largely depends on how other test-takers perform. The entire exam is usually worth 528 points. And the average score of the single sections is 125, while of that of the entire test is 500.
So, in essence, when a student is ranked 50th percentile in MCAT, it means they managed to score around 498-502. See how this one differs with percentile ranking in PCA T, where a 90th percentile means a score of 430?
Your percentile score in MCAT is also based on how well you performed as compared to other test-takers.
The MCAT Score Report contains a Confidence Band, which will give you a clue of the range of accuracy in your scores. This will help the medical schools of your choice get a real picture of how you really scored.
There’s no confidence band in the PCAT scorecard.
Also, there’s the score profile, which allows you to understand your strengths and weaknesses. This part isn’t available in the PCAT score report.
Length and cost of the exam
The length of these two exams varies in many ways.
For instance in PCAT;
- Writing; takes 30minutes
- Biological Processes, which includes 48 multiple choice questions takes 45 minutes
- Chemistry processes, which also include 48 multiple choice questions take 45 minutes
- Critical Reading, which also has 48 multiple choice questions takes 50 minutes
- Quantitative Reasoning, which contains 28 multiple choice questions take 50 minutes.
- There’s also a 15 minutes break, which is optional
So, in total, the PCAT test will take you through 192 multiple choice questions, complete with one writing prompt, which will roughly take 220, minutes of your time (3 hours 40 minutes).
And this doesn’t include the break.
On the other hand, in the MCAT exam;
- The Chem/Phys section, which contains 44 passage-related questions, 15 standalone, take 95 minutes
- The Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS), which contains 53 passage-related questions, takes 90 minutes
- The Bio/ Chem section, which has 44 passage-related questions and 15-standalone, takes 95 minutes
- The Physic/Soc section, with 44 passage-related questions and 15 standalone, takes 95 minutes
- The examinee Agreement will take around 8 minutes
- The optional tutorial takes 10 minutes.
- The minor breaks, which are also optional takes 20 minutes
- The mid-exam break which is also optional is 30 minutes
- The Void question takes 5 minutes
- The satisfactory survey, which is optional takes another 5 minutes.
So, the total content time is 6hrs, 15 minutes. But considering everything, the exam will take approximately 7 hrs. 33 minutes of your time.
This is a whopping 4hrs.33 minutes difference from the PCAT test! This should be enough to show you how detailed the MCAT exam is as compared to the PCAT.
That said, let’s have a close look at the pricing of these tests;
The MCAT test costs $320 in 2021. And this includes the exam and the distribution of score costs.
On the other hand, the PCAT exam will cost you $ 210 in 2021, which is a difference of
So, I guess you already know which one is expensive.
Note; the examinations are all computer-based
As for the MCAT, students get to take the exam around 25 times a year. And this usually takes place between January and September.
The best way to ensure you secure a slot is to apply early. And that includes selecting your location of choice.
Remember, the lots fill-up pretty fast, so you better be quick as well.
Consequently, the PCAT exam is also offered several times a year, though the exact number of times haven’t yet been mentioned anywhere.
However, the test dates are usually in January, July, and September.
There are also other locations scheduling them in February, October, and November. So, it really depends on your current location.
FAQs About PCAT vs MCAT
PCAT vs. MCAT difficulty: Is the PCAT harder than the MCAT?
First, both exams can be tough if you didn’t take enough time to practice.
That said, the PCAT exam can be a bit difficult for students who aren’t great at answering fast-paced questions, and especially where math is concerned.
On the other hand, students who wouldn’t mind tackling longer issues that don’t require you to recall much will find the MCAT exam easier to tackle.
Also, the verbal section of the PCAT is notorious for derailing some students, but if you can hack it, then consider yourself good enough.
But, based on the reviews going on online and the number of individuals that I have interacted with (the ones who have taken both exams), they consider the MCAT test much tougher than PCAT.
They actually describe it as being intense and quite frustrating.
Which test you should take?
One of the reasons as to why the MCAT test is considered tougher than the PCAT is because of the advanced nature of its questions. This has to do with Biology, especially. And the fact that PCAT doesn’t dwell on physics.
So, if you want to take the MCAT test, then you need to fully equip yourself with the immense background knowledge that will help you answer the questions critically.
As for PCAT, general knowledge, which you have been very specific with. That’s why it’s considered easier and convenient.
Also, MCAT is meant for admission to general medical school and is more expensive than PCAT, which is meant for admission to pharmacy colleges.
So, you will have to consider your financial capability and the career path you wish to take.
Both the PCAT and the MCAT are exams students have to take to join the healthcare sector.
What you choose between the two, however, largely depends on your career choice and passion.
If you want to pursue any general medical course, then you might want to take the MCAT. But, if your passion lies in Pharmacy, then PCAT is the best route.
But you should be both financially and psychologically ready as MCAT is quite expensive and includes digesting a lot of content as opposed to PCAT.