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Finals vs. the PCAT: A Tale of Two Tests

Fall is officially here: leaves are falling, pumpkin spice aroma fills the air…and finals are right around the corner. If you signed up for a January PCAT, finals might be the last thing on your mind. But it’s just as important to maintain — or even improve! — your GPA as it is to rock the PCAT, for several reasons.

  1. A strong GPA shows that you’re committed to your studies and capable of doing the same in pharmacy school.
  2. If your GPA was not where you wanted it to be in the beginning of college, raising your GPA over the course of your studies and finishing strong is something admissions committees really like to see.
  3. Your PCAT score should complement, not compensate for, your GPA.

Now, this isn’t to say that either your finals or your PCAT is more important than the other. Here are a few strategies to keep in mind to help you excel on both your finals and your PCAT while managing a busy schedule.

It’s a marathon not a sprint

There’s a misconception that GPA doesn’t matter after submitting your PharmCAS application, but that’s in part just a myth. Pharmacy schools reserve the right to withdraw your acceptance if your GPA falls below their required standards, so it’s important to pass your classes and maintain a GPA that (1) allows you to graduate if you are completing a 2- or 4-year degree and (2) meets the GPA requirements at each school you’re applying to. Your grades matter…and admissions committees do care!

It’s also a good idea to have a long-term strategy in mind. If there is even the slightest possibility that you will decide to re-apply for pharmacy school in the future (or if you are applying next cycle), then your grades this semester will appear on your transcript, and it always helps to have grades that you’re proud of.

For these reasons, treat the application process as a marathon, not a sprint. There are no shortcuts to becoming a top-notch pharmacist, and all of your experiences leading up to pharmacy school — academic classes, the PCAT, pharmacy tech experience, etc. — will help make you the best pharmacy student you can be, and ultimately the best pharmacist you can be.

Two birds, one stone

Your finals and the PCAT are not mutually exclusive. The study skills you’ve developed for your classes will translate over to your PCAT, and vice versa. Not only that, but there is a good chance that there is some overlap between your current classes and the subjects tested on the PCAT. If you’re studying for a microbiology final, you will know bacteria and fungi in much greater depth than is tested on the PCAT. So when you encounter a microbiology question on Test Day, you’ll be able to answer it in your sleep! The same is true for many biology, chemistry, and math classes you might be taking, so studying for finals might be able to double-count as studying for the PCAT.

During finals week, focus on your finals, and pay special attention to any areas that might be tested on the PCAT. Do the absolute best you can on your finals, and your PCAT prep books will be waiting for you on the other side. Also, be more lenient with yourself during this time — for example, instead of scheduling a PCAT Full-Length right around finals, consider pushing it back another week so finals can be your #1 priority during finals week.

A little bit goes a long way

It’s only the beginning of November, but now is the perfect time to start thinking about finals. Just like your PCAT prep, studying for finals should be something you integrate into your weekly routine so that you learn (and actually retain) the material more thoroughly, and also so that you don’t lose sleep cramming for finals last minute!

While studying for finals, build in small chunks of Critical Reading and Writing practice each week because just a passage or two a week will really add up over the next few months. Focusing on non-science skills will let you focus your mental energy on the content on your finals while still developing valuable Test Day skills. That said, do try to mix things up by fitting in a few practice problems from each PCAT subject so that you keep your science knowledge sharp and don’t neglect any given subject for weeks at a time.

After finals, use winter break to your full advantage. Develop a schedule and commit to it so that you can make the most out of your “PCAT time” and your free time. Having a structured schedule will help make your studying time more focused, goal-oriented, and productive, but make sure to build in time for some breathing room. Plan to have at least one Rest Day per week, and protect these days as part of your study plan. Some students find their Rest Days to be more rejuvenating when they make the most of their free time by scheduling activities or time spent with friends and family. It’s just as important to avoid burn-out and work on your sleep hygiene as it is to learn your amino acids!

Your finals are equally as important as your upcoming PCAT exam, and if you start preparing now, you’ll be able to make the most out of your time without compromising your goals.

Good luck!

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