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What are the Different Types of PCAT® Questions?

By C. Mitchell
Updated Jan 26, 2024
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The PCAT®, also known as the Pharmacy College Admission Test, contains questions related to scientific aptitude, particularly as related to biology and chemistry; math, including calculus; reading comprehension; verbal ability; and writing skills. PCAT® questions are all multiple-choice questions, with the exception of two free-form essays. The multiple-choice questions in the math and science sections usually test facts and substantive knowledge. As such, they are usually presented as equations, definitions, or rules-based questions. The verbal and reading comprehension PCAT® questions, on the other hand, often ask candidates to deduce, compare, and analyze various written meanings and grammatical constructions.

The majority of PCAT® questions are fact-based. They are designed to test how well a graduate admissions candidate understands the mechanics of basic earth and life sciences and math, and how effective the candidate is at communicating. Most pharmacy colleges require candidates for admission to have already earned a bachelor’s degree in a scientific field, or at least significant coursework in the maths and sciences, from an English language institution. As such, little on the exam should be new information to candidates, but it usually must be brushed up on before test day.

With the exception of the writing section, all PCAT® sections contain series of multiple-choice questions, where test-takers must choose the best answer out of four or five options. Particularly for the science and math sections, the multiple-choice aspect can make the exam harder than if the questions simply asked for a written answer. Although the correct response is among the options, most PCAT® questions are phrased in such a way that several different answer options look, at first glance, to be correct. Studying for the PCAT® test, then, usually requires both a subject-matter review as well as practice reading and answering PCAT®-style questions.

One of the main aims of PCAT® questions in the verbal ability section is to test candidates’ grasp of English language nuances and grammatical structures. The section is composed of vocabulary analogy questions, as well as sentence completion questions that ask for the best word or phrase to finish the thoughts of a given sentence. Verbal questions can be challenging in that questions generally ask for the best answer, not just an answer that is correct. Most of the time, some if not all of the options presented in the multiple choice selection could plausibly work.

Compared to the other multiple-choice sections, reading comprehension has the fewest questions — but this does not mean that it is any shorter. PCAT® questions on reading comprehension begin with the presentation of a passage, usually one that is complicated and obscure. The questions that follow seek to determine the candidate’s ability to quickly extract relevant information from unfamiliar text. In almost all respects, the PCAT®reading comprehension sections are comparable to similar sections on other standardized tests.

The only free answer portion of the PCAT® is the writing abilities section, which asks examinees to compose two unique essays. Both essays are timed, and in many ways are designed to demonstrate how test-takers use verbal communication and language skills in practice. Traditionally, the essay portion was written out longhand on prepared exam paper. The PCAT® exam is increasingly administered on computer, but locations that offer word processing do not provide spelling or grammar check.

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