How to Study for the PCAT: 9 Tips & Strategies

April 25, 2024
3 min read


Reviewed by:

Jonathan Preminger

Former Admissions Committee Member, Hofstra-Northwell School of Medicine

Reviewed: 4/25/24

If you’re preparing for pharmacy school and want to know how to study for the PCAT, read on!

The PCAT is an essential part of your pharmacy application. It will assess your readiness for pharmacy school and will thus be considered heavily in the admissions committee’s decisions on your candidacy.

As such, you’ll want to ensure you’re adequately prepared for this exam and have the most effective test strategies up your sleeve. In case you’re struggling with your prep, don’t know where to start, or need that extra boost to improve your score, this guide will go over the best PCAT study tips to help you master the exam!

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PCAT Study Tips and Strategies

You want to work smarter not harder when preparing for the PCAT to ensure you’re using your time most optimally. Here’s how to do so:

Hope for the Best, Prepare for the Worst

One of the first steps in your PCAT journey will be deciding when to take it. If you’re planning on attending pharmacy school right after your undergrad, the summer after your sophomore or junior year is typically an ideal time to write the exam.

While you should be optimistic, you should also prepare to write the PCAT multiple times to get to your target score. Even if you consistently meet your target during your prep sessions, it’s not uncommon for students to score lower during test day.

Take a Diagnostic Test

Our second PCAT study tip is to take a diagnostic test. Before you create your study schedule, it’s important to assess your baseline abilities. Taking a diagnostic test will give you insight into how long you need to study to reach your target score.

The larger the difference is between your diagnostic score and target score, the more time you should dedicate to studying.

Focus on Quality, Not Quantity

It’ll be difficult to narrow down the resources to use for your PCAT study prep. Just a quick Google search will result in hundreds of different courses, prep books, and videos, all claiming to be the best.

While it may seem most comprehensive to use as many study materials as possible, it’s more effective to focus on the quality of your materials than the quantity.

Many of these prep books will have similar content and share the same strategies, they will just be given different names. 

Do your research and talk to previous test takers. There will be certain prep materials that will keep coming up that you can rely on for your studies. Pick only two to three of these prep materials to guide your studies.

Personalize Your Study Schedule

An important part of learning how to study for the PCAT is having a realistic study plan. Once you’ve determined the perfect dates and resources for your PCAT study prep, you should create a study schedule that works for you and factors in all of your other commitments.

While it may seem easier to just follow someone else’s schedule or one you found online, you need to customize your schedule for it to actually work. 

You know your limits and study habits. If you know you’re most productive in the morning, ensure you carry out the bulk of your studies then. Or, if you have a job, you’ll have to work around it to ensure you dedicate enough time to your studies without overworking yourself. 

Factor all of your other time-consuming responsibilities into your schedule to ensure you build one you can commit to! 

Practice Undistracted Study

Now that you’re finally at a stage where you can crack open your prep books, it’s crucial you practice undistracted study.

By this, we mean you need to dedicate all of your attention to the PCAT during your designated study hours. Whether it be only two hours, or eight, you must focus on your PCAT throughout. 

This means putting your phone on silent and placing it out of reach and out of sight. Having your phone silenced but within reach puts you at risk of using it for just a few minutes, which inevitably turns into a few hours.

These distractions will make it harder for you to meet your milestones and retain information. If you find you’re struggling to focus solely on your PCAT studies for several hours, you may need to adjust your study schedule or take more breaks. 

Remember, your schedule isn’t set in stone! It can and should be adjusted as you discover what works best for you. 

Practice, Practice, Practice

Understanding the content, format, and common question types you’ll see on the PCAT are essential first steps to acing the exam. However, once you’ve gone through your prep books, you must practice everything you’ve learned by using real past exams.

Without practice, you’ll see little improvement in your score. Take untimed and timed tests to hone your skills and identify your weaknesses. Create customized practice tests with sections or questions you struggle with the most to ensure you can rectify your weaknesses.

Prioritize Targeted Study

Practicing each section of the PCAT equally is an ineffective study method because you will overspend your time on strengths and underspend it on your weaknesses, resulting in a lower score on test day. 

Spend more time practicing sections you struggle with and less time on sections you don’t. 

Don’t Completely Neglect Your Strengths

While it’s essential you prioritize rectifying your weaknesses, you also need to dedicate time to your strengths. Even if you think you have mastered a section, or scored the highest on it during your diagnostic, you must still include it in your prep. 

Don’t underestimate your psyche on test day! By neglecting an entire section of the PCAT during your studies, you risk freezing up on exam day because of the pressure. After not seeing a section throughout your prep, you may find you’ve completely forgotten how to tackle it!

Push Yourself But Not Too Hard

You’ll undoubtedly have to push yourself throughout your PCAT study prep. You’ll find it hard to stay motivated some days but will have to push yourself to study through these feelings. 

If you receive a lower score than anticipated on your first test, you may feel defeated and second guess your career path. You will also need to push yourself through this doubt.

However, you shouldn’t push yourself too hard. If you’re studying more than eight hours a day, trying to cram in as much practice as possible, you’re pushing too hard. Eight hours is the maximum you should study per day. Any more will lead to exhaustion.

If you find you’re also losing sleep or missing meals to study, you’re pushing yourself too hard and are more likely to burn out or give up. A healthy mind and body will allow you to study and perform to your optimal level!

How Long Should You Study for the PCAT?

How long you choose to study for the PCAT should be determined by multiple factors, including your other commitments, your diagnostic score, and how much time you can dedicate to your studies each day.

Considering all of these factors, the typical time period students study is between two to six months. Students with fewer commitments that can treat their PCAT like a full-time job typically study for two to three months, whereas students with actual jobs or other responsibilities generally need four to six months.

Studying for the PCAT

In this guide, we’ve provided our most effective study tips. For any remaining questions, read on to find your answers.

1. What Is the Best Way to Prepare for the PCAT?

While there is no perfect way to prepare for the PCAT to ensure you reach your target score, you should generally follow these PCAT study tips to maximize your chances of success:

  • Give yourself enough time to retake the exam
  • Take a diagnostic test to determine how long you’ll need to study
  • Choose a few quality prep resources instead of several redundant ones
  • Create a personalized study schedule that will fit your life
  • Eliminate any distractions
  • Dedicate a sufficient amount of time to practicing timed and untimed tests
  • Spend more time rectifying your weaknesses than honing your strengths
  • Do not completely exclude your strengths from your study plan
  • Push yourself hard enough to stay motivated but not hard enough to burn out

Following these tips will ensure your PCAT journey is as hassle-free and productive as possible!

2. Is the PCAT Test Hard?

Yes, the PCAT test is generally considered to be challenging. This comprehensive exam tests more than just basic science knowledge. It will also test your quantitative reasoning and critical reading skills which are difficult to master. 

3. What Should I Study for the PCAT?

The study prep tools you choose depends on your financial restrictions, time restrictions, and study methods. However, most students rely on prep books, courses, videos, and PCAT tutors to aid them.

Choose two to three quality resources that others have given the seal of approval.

4. How Long Should I Study for the PCAT?

You should study for a period of two to six months for the PCAT. 

5. What Is a Good PCAT Score?

A good PCAT score is one that gets you into your top pharmacy schools. Higher-ranking pharmacy schools typically expect scores around 420 and above, whereas lower-ranking schools expect scores of 405 and above.

Final Thoughts

Your PCAT score will influence the type of pharmaceutical education you receive. To give yourself the best chance of getting into a top pharmacy school that can offer you the best resources and opportunities, it’s essential you receive a high score.

Now that you know how to study for the PCAT, you can set yourself up for success. Follow the PCAT study tips shared in this guide to ace the exam in the most trouble-free and effective way possible!

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