What is the PCAT? (Pharmacy College Admission Test)

By Jordan Fabel •  Updated: February 19, 2022  •  8 min read  •  Health
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More than 85% of all pharmacy programs require students to take the Pharmacy College Admission Test (PCAT). If you’re thinking about applying to pharmacy school, you need to prepare for this exam as it’s likely that one of the schools you’re applying to requires it.

The PCAT works like most other standardized tests, but the content isn’t the same. You have to study more as this exam is more rigorous than others you’ve encountered.

To learn more about the PCAT and how you can study for it, keep reading. We’re going to cover everything you need to know.

What is the PCAT?

What Is the Pharmacy College Admission Test (PCAT)?

The PCAT is a standardized test that aspiring pharmacists will take on a computer. It assesses each test taker’s knowledge in writing, biology, chemistry, critical reading, and quantitative reasoning.

The exam has a total of 192 multiple choice questions as well as one writing prompt. Each test taker will have 3 hours and 40 minutes to take the exam. Although, they will also receive a 15-minute break which is not included in this total test time.

Topics You Should Be Studying for the PCAT

As we mentioned, the PCAT covers a variety of topics:

Let’s dive into the subjects that you should be focusing your energy on.


Upon taking the PCAT, you’ll have a writing prompt. The prompt will cover a problem in one of many areas: health, science, social issues, cultural issues, or political issues.

Once you’ve read through and understand the prompt, you will write a solution to the prompt given. Using your knowledge of science and reasoning skills, you should explain the solution and why you believe it would solve the problem.

You will have 30 minutes for this section.

Biological Processes

For the biological processes section, you will have 45 minutes. There are 48 multiple choice questions in total for the section.

Here is the breakdown:

Chemical Processes

For the chemical processes section, you will have 45 minutes. There are 48 multiple choice questions in total for this section.

Here is the breakdown:

Critical Reading

For the critical reading section, you will have 50 minutes. There are 48 multiple choice questions in total for this section.

The test will present each individual with several reading passages. These will cover various historical, social, and political topics related to science, social science, and humanities.

Here is the breakdown:

Quantitative Reasoning

For the quantitative reasoning section, you will have 50 minutes. There are 48 multiple choice questions in total for this section.

Here is the breakdown:

Pharmacy College Admission Test Tips

Mastering the PCAT takes a lot of science-based knowledge and test-taking prowess. If you’re going to pass the exam on the first try, you need to understand the exam structure and how you can use that structure to your advantage.

Here are some of our PCAT tips.

Answer Every Question

Each section that has multiple choice questions includes some experimental questions. These are questions that the test creators want to demo on the exam. But, they won’t count towards your score.

Plus, there is no penalty for guessing. You won’t lose points for giving a wrong answer.

Therefore, you should attempt to answer every single question on the exam. We don’t suggest that you pick an answer at random, but you should make educated guesses to the best of your ability.

Take the Classes

You may be surprised to hear this, but many students try to take the PCAT without taking the courses relevant to the exam. Even if it’s difficult to fit into your schedule, you should take the classes that align with the exam:

If you absolutely cannot take these classes, we do recommend sitting in on them. These classes likely occur in large lecture halls. You may be able to sit in without the professor noticing.

However, if they’re held in smaller classes, you can ask the professor if you can sit in on the class. Most professors would love to have students join their class, as long as there is a seat available.

Don’t Procrastinate

This may be an obvious test-taking tip, but people still procrastinate. So, we decided to go ahead and remind you: don’t procrastinate.

No matter how much time you think you have, it will pass by in a flash. Then, you’ll be left wondering where all the time went.

We suggest getting started with PCAT studying as soon as possible. Make a study schedule for yourself that you can commit to following.

Class Time = Study Time

If you’re taking a class related to the exam, you’re studying for the exam every time you study for that class. So, when you’re getting ready for an exam, you should study like you’re getting prepped for the PCAT.

Of course, the class’ exam is the top priority at the moment. But, you shouldn’t be studying solely for the exam at hand. You should study to help you remember all of this information for when it is time to take the PCAT.

The more information you remember from your classes, the less you’ll have to reteach yourself later.

Find Your Balance

Each individual who studies for the PCAT will approach the test differently. Some may study for a month leading up to the exam. Some may study for a week.

You need to find what your balance is. Students who did well on the PCAT report studying an average of 90 minutes a day every day for the month leading up to the exam.

These individuals didn’t spend five hours a day studying, but they also didn’t wait to pick up a book until the night before.

Before you approach studying for the exam, you should find room in your schedule for studying daily. Of course, you can take breaks as you see fit. Having a consistent schedule will help you develop the study habits necessary to study well for the exam.

Focus on Your Weak Spots

When it comes down to the final days of studying, you need to focus on your weak spots. There’s no point in continuing to study biology if you remember everything in your PCAT study book.

Focus on organic chemistry if you can’t seem to remember anything from that class. With the final few weeks or even the final few days, it’s better to spend your energy on topics that you’re not confident about.

Don’t Gamble

Don’t walk into an official PCAT exam to see how you’ll do. Don’t gamble with your future.

You can take the PCAT more than once. But, you shouldn’t depend on a retake to do well on the exam.

You should approach your first official PCAT examination like it will be your only one.

You can always take online PCAT exams and practice with those questions. You should approach the first exam like it’s the deciding factor as to whether or not you’ll get into your dream school.

Try Everything

As you’re studying, you should complete every test question, read every passage, and guess on every question. The more exposure you have, the better equipped you’ll be for the real exam.

Take timed exams. Complete practice tests. Attempt practice problems.

Do as many of these tests and problems as you can. Sometimes, they’re more effective than reading practice books.

Can I Receive Testing Accommodations?

Under some circumstances, individuals taking the PCAT may qualify for reasonable testing accommodations. To qualify, you must meet the conditions that the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and ADA Amendments Act of 2008 specify.

Some accommodations may include the following:

Keep in mind that the accommodation must be reasonable. You cannot ask for or receive an accommodation that puts you at an unfair advantage. Accommodations exist to level the playing field for those test-takers with disabilities.

If you feel that you qualify for testing accommodations, you should contact your doctor. He/she must submit a request for these accommodations in writing, and you must sign a HIPAA Consent Form. A test officiant must approve these documents and the accommodation before the day of the exam.

Take the PCAT

Now that you know everything there is to know about the Pharmacy College Admission Test (PCAT), it’s time to study and take the exam. Get as much practice as you can and expose yourself to the different types of questions and subjects that the PCAT covers.

The PCAT may seem scary, but you’ve got this. Just take your time and put in the work. Remember to create a schedule that makes sense for your needs.

Jordan Fabel

Jordan Fabel

Covering different 'paths' that people's lives can take. Creative, foster parent, ticket dismissal, you get the idea. Exploring the requirements, certifications, exams, and obviously, approved courses along each path.