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PCAT Section Breakdown

In 2016, the PCAT underwent the biggest change to its test structure in 30 years.  It changed the structure of almost every section and even removed an entire section of the PCAT! This has left many students inquiring about the new PCAT, so here is a quick guide on what you need to know for each section of the PCAT:

Section Breakdown

There are 5 sections on the PCAT exam delivered in a set order. The image below displays each section in the order that you will see it on test day.


PCAT Writing

This PCAT section will be different from the others; you will be given 30 minutes to write a well-crafted essay based on a “problem” presented in the writing prompt. The prompt subject will feature one of the following issues:

  • Health
  • Science
  • Social, Cultural, or Political

In your response, you will be expected to demonstrate an understanding of the problem and formulate a solution. Be sure to give yourself enough time to proofread the essay once you’ve finished. The program you will be writing in does not have spell-check and it will not warn you if your grammar is correct, so you will want to check your work for errors.

Contrary to popular belief, you will need to practice this section. Though you can predict the question you will receive, with practice you can come up with a blueprint for what to do about certain types of problems. It’s important that you can formulate a solution and craft an essay in the allotted time, so timed practice is also beneficial.

PCAT Biological Processes

This is the first multiple-choice PCAT section you will face on test day. You will be allotted 40 minutes to answer 48 questions; 40 of these questions will count towards your score and 8 of them will be experimental. The subject breakdown for this section will be as follows:

  • 50% General Biology
  • 20% Microbiology
  • 30% Human Anatomy and Physiology

You will have 5 passages that each have 4 questions apiece.  This is one of the major changes and it is important to get practice with this new testing format. There will be access to a calculator during this section.

PCAT Chemical Processes

This section is very similar to the biological processes section in everything but content.  You will again be allotted 40 minutes to answer 48 multiple-choice questions. The breakdown is as follows:

  • 50% General Chemistry
  • 30% Organic Chemistry
  • 20% Basic Biochemistry

You will also have access to a calculator during this section. In addition to the calculator, you will have access to a periodic table.

PCAT Critical Reading

This multiple-choice section focuses on your reading and comprehension skills. You will have 50 minutes to answer 48 multiple-choice questions based around 6 reading passages. The skills tested in this section can be divided as:

  • 30% Comprehension
  • 40% Analysis
  • 30% Evaluation

This section requires more skill than the other multiple-choice sections, which require knowledge of the subject matter. Success on this PCAT section will be based on what kind of strategies you are utilizing. Preparations for this section should be focused more on practice than on studying.

PCAT Quantitative Reasoning

You will have 45 minutes to answer the 48 multiple-choice questions in this PCAT section. This section focuses on your mathematical abilities. The subject breakdown is:

  • 25% Basic Math
  • 25% Algebra
  • 18% Probability & Statistics
  • 18% Precalculus
  • 14% Calculus

This section may be a little more difficult for some test takers. Some of the mathematical processes that are covered have likely not been seen since high school. Be sure to brush up on your knowledge of these subjects with a focus on putting that knowledge into practice. You can expect about half of the 48 questions will be based off of word problems.

This section is by far the most likely to give you timing issues.  Even though you have a calculator in this section, almost every single question requires multiple calculations with difficulties all the way up to complex integration.  Having shortcuts and question strategies is very important to allow you to speed through these questions.

You can take a look at the PCAT’s Test Blueprint here.

Official Score Reporting

The scoring for the PCAT Writing section isn’t just a different format than the others; it has a different scoring scale . Instead of a composite score and percentile ranking, you will be given a score on a scale of 1.0-6.0, half points will be awarded, and a Mean Score, which is the average score among test-takers for the previous 12 months.

The multiple-choice sections will receive a scaled score, listed as SS on the score report, ranging from 200-600 and a percentile ranking, labeled as PR on the score report. While the scaled score is important, pharmacy schools tend to focus on the percentile rankings.

Your official score report will contain 7 separate scores; one for the writing section, one for each of the multiple-choice sections, and a composite score. You can check out a breakdown of Scoring on the PCAT in our blog post here.

How Confident Are You?

This test can be difficult and it is one of the many things that pharmacy schools look at when reviewing applications. How well you do will have an effect on your acceptance. You want to make sure that you are confident in your knowledge and abilities going into test day. If you’re unsure about where you stand, consider getting outside help. You can set up a free consultation with one of our Academic Managers to go over whether or not our one-on-one PCAT tutoring is right for you. For more information on our tutoring packages and pricing, click here.


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