After years of working in test prep, I’ve learned that good test prep always includes two phases: Content & Practice.
This may seem obvious, but I can’t tell you how many students end up focusing on just one of these phases and it always ends up hurting them in the end. So what does each phase need to include and why are these steps are so important?
This phase of your test prep should come first. In this phase, the goal is to make sure that you have good background knowledge. Content review is an important part of your prep. You can know all of the strategies for tackling the quantitative section, but they won’t help you if you don’t understand how to expand and simplify logarithms.
The length of this phase depends on the student; it can take months to get through, or it may take a student just a couple weeks. This is because students have different content backgrounds when starting out. If you have a master’s degree in biology, you may not need to spend more than a day or two recovering material. On the other hand, if it has been a few years since your last bio class (or even tougher- you haven’t completed all your prerequisites!), you may need to spend a bit more time in this phase.
Now, beware, many students get “trapped” in this phase and end up never moving into the second phase because they feel like they haven’t mastered the material. Don’t fall into this trap. Take a look at the question categories provided by Pearson; when you feel fairly confident in one category, move on to the next.
This section may seem obvious, but this is where most students go wrong. You cannot do well on the PCAT if you don’t have a good understanding of the format and timing of the exam. A long content rich exam like this can be mentally exhausting if you’re not prepared. By practicing the exam, you can get an understanding of the timing, become more familiar with the format, build stamina for such a long exam, and make it so that you are more comfortable and relaxed on test day.
When practicing, make sure that you are simulating the actual PCAT. Don’t take unnecessarily long breaks or let yourself get distracted. The only way to prepare yourself for test day is to practice the exam the way it will be administered.
There is more to this practice phase than just practice. Too many students end up just taking 3 practice tests a week and plowing ahead without actually learning anything. This is the time when you should start to go from “confident in the content” to mastering the content.
As you see more and more questions in your practice, you will get an idea of what areas you are still a little weak in. Inevitably, as you gain content knowledge in the first phase, some content areas are going to become stronger than others. But it is impossible to know which areas those are until you get to the practice phase. You may go into this phase believing your strength was kidneys and immunology was a weakness, but once you begin taking practice tests, you may find the opposite to be true.
Once in the practice phase you can truly identify your weak areas. Don’t just accept these and move on though. When you discover a weakness in your content knowledge, take a break from the Practice phase. Strengthen your content knowledge in this area of weakness and then begin practicing again. With this strategy, every single test, every missed question, will make you a stronger PCAT taker.
You’re not alone in this
If you’re struggling with your content knowledge or you don’t find your test results improving, you can always get outside help. You don’t have to go through this alone. 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.