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Chemical Processes on the PCAT

  • by Sam
  • Apr 01, 2017
  • PCAT Blog

After getting several questions specifically about the chemistry section of the PCAT, I thought it might be useful to spend a little time reviewing this section.  Structurally, chemical processes is similar to biology biological processes, with the same balance between passage based and discrete questions.  In both these sections, there are 20 questions based off passages and 28 discrete questions.

All the questions for the chemical processes can be separated into a few different categories: General Chemistry (50% of questions), Biochemistry (20%), or Organic Chemistry (30%).

General Chemistry

Of all the sections in Chemical Processes, general chemistry is worth the most points.  It will make up about 24 of the 48 questions.  In general, questions related to this category are based off information you learned in your first couple of years of undergraduate chemistry courses.  These questions range from the relatively basic, such as the structure of an atom and the periodic table, to the more difficult concepts, such as nuclear chemistry and solubility.  The topics covered by general chemistry are:

  1. Atomic theory
  2. Chemical bonding
  3. Reactions and reaction mechanisms
  4. Kinetic theory
  5. Solutions
  6. Nuclear chemistry


The biochemistry category is a bit of an anomaly in Chemical Processes.  At times, it may seem a bit more like biology than chemistry, as all the questions will be focusing on biological molecules.  It can be difficult to do well on these questions if you haven’t taken some upper level Biochemistry and biology courses, but the upside is that you will only have about 10 questions that fall under this category.  The questions for Biochemistry can be broken down into the following topics:

  1. DNA and RNA
  2. Lipids
  3. Proteins

Organic Chemistry

The last of the questions will fall under the category of organic chemistry.  As most students know, organic chemistry is a branch of chemistry all on its own, so it is recommended that students not try to take the PCAT unless they have taken at least one semester (preferably 2) of organic chemistry.  You’ll only have about 14 questions from this category on test day, and most students find that the organic chemistry on the PCAT is simpler than the organic chemistry they had to perform in undergrad.  This mostly boils down to the fact that you don’t have to draw out the mechanisms of the reactions and you have the multiple-choice answers to help guide your decisions.  All questions in this category will fall under 2 categories:

  1. Structure and properties of organic compounds
  2. Reactions of organic compounds

Knowing what to study can make a difference when you’re preparing for the exam. We hope this helps get you started! For those who are just getting started, we’ve found that one of the most efficient ways to practice for the exam is to take practice tests. Can you think of a better way to prepare yourself for the actual exam? Next Step offers a free full-length PCAT practice exam as well as a 5 exam bundle. Our exams were built for the new 2016 format and allow students to take a practice PCAT in test-like conditions. You will be scored just as you would on the real exam; in addition, we provide our students with a performance breakdown as well as full answers and explanations for each question on the exam so you understand what you did wrong and why.

If you’re struggling with your timing or find you content knowledge lacking, you can always get outside help. You don’t have to go through this alone if you don’t want to. If you’re interested in one-on-one PCAT tutoring, take a look at our PCAT page or set up a free consultation here. One of our Academic Managers will reach out to you and set up a time to discuss your PCAT prep and see if our services would be a good fit.

Good luck with your PCAT prep!

Phil Hawkins, Senior PCAT Instructor


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