The PCAT Blueprint

Examining the PCAT Blueprint...

Like nearly every exam, the PCAT has a syllabus, called "the Blueprint” which details out precisely what you need to know to pass the exam. This can be found as an official document on pcatweb.info just type "PCAT test blueprint and sample items” into Google and it will pop up. This book has been created with this Blueprint in mind, so that everything that you learn reading it, has direct relevance to the exam. The PCAT syllabus is split into six distinct sections as follows:

  • Verbal ability - analogies and sentence completion.
  • Reading comprehension - comprehension, analysis, evaluation.
  • Writing - health issues, science issues, social, cultural, or political issues.
  • Quantitative ability (calculations) - Basic maths, algebra, probability and statistics, precalculus, calculus.
  • Biology - general biology, microbiology, human anatomy
  • Chemistry - General chemistry, organic chemistry, basic biochemistry.

You will find in this book, that there are chapters and sections dedicated to each one of these main topics and subtopics.


Checking out the PCAT Exam structure

Although there are 6 sections to the syllabus, the PCAT exam itself is subdivided into seven subsections. They decided to split the writing section in two, as they thought that students would be overwhelmed if they had to do it all in one go. The entire length of the PCAT is four and a half hours (270 minutes), so it takes quite a while to complete (students often stay overnight in near by hotels!). The seven sections are as follows:


1. Writing

Testing time - 30 minutes. This is the first section to be administered and should get you into the swing of things.

Number of questions - the first of two essay writing question. Although this part is marked very much on the quality of content and not quantity it is useful to a ball park figure of how much you are expected to write. The average typing speed of someone taking the PCAT is around 20 words per minute, you have 30 minutes so in all it is reasonable to expect an essay of around 600 words in length which is around two A4 pages of text.

The essay that needs to be written will always be the answer to a statement asking you for a solution to a health, social or science problem. A student is supposed to provide a solution to the problem through the essay and appropriately discuss around the topic. The main skills tested in this section are:

  • Problem solving and problem exploration skills
  • Skills dealing with conventions of language

A quick example of a writing question may be - "Discuss a solution to increasing health care coverage for patients of lower socioeconomic status”. In the answer to this question, you could write about universal healthcare coverage, subsidizing insurance and healthcare inequalities.


2. Verbal Ability

Testing time - 30 minutes. This is administered after the first writing section.


Number of questions - 48 multiple-choice questions

This section is a test of verbal skills. It tests students for their vocabulary and usage of words in language. This is done through questions based on:

  • Analogies
  • Sentence completion

There are two types of verbal ability questions firstly, is sentence completion, a quick example would be: Evolution is the gradual development of something from a ______form to a more complex form. The student will then be presented with 4 random choices such as: diverse, unwieldy, simpler or erroneous. The best answer here would be simpler as common, definition of evolution is the gradual development of something from a simpler form to a more complex form.


The second type of question is the analogy question, which may go something a little like this::: nefarious : virtuous :: reticent: ________. Nefarious means wicked or criminal. Virtuous means having high moral standards. Thus, nefarious is the opposite of virtuous. Reticent means not talkative or willing to reveal one's thoughts. So you need to choose a word which the opposite of reticent. Your options include: devious, slow, talkative, costly. The best answer here would be talkative, simple!


The verbal ability section is sometimes seen as quite elementary as it makes common sense, however, PCAT examiners are known to throw in complex words, if you get stuck, try breaking the word up and try to figure out the meaning of each part.


3. Biology

Testing time - 30 minutes. This is the third test section to be administered and is the first to ask factually based science questions.

Number of questions - 48 multiple-choice questions

Students are tested for their knowledge in biology. The topics in this section are taken from:

  • General biology
  • Microbiology
  • Anatomy and physiology

A quick example would be - The single event that occurs during the anaphase of mitosis, which brings about the equal distribution of chromosomes, is which of the following: splitting of the centromeres, splitting of the chromatids, replication of the genetic material, condensation of the chromatin. The answer would be splitting of the centromeres.


4. Chemistry

Testing time - 30 minutes. This section follows the biology section.

Number of questions - 48 multiple-choice questions

Students are expected to have basic factual and practical knowledge about the following in order to answer the questions of this section.

A quick example would be - which of the following statements in relation to the hydrogen atom is correct: 3s orbital is lower in energy than 3p orbital; 3p orbital is lower in energy than 3d orbital; 3s and 3p orbitals are of lower energy than 3d orbital; 3s, 3p and 3d orbitals all have the same energy. The answer would be 3p and 3d orbitals all have the same energy.

A short break of around 10-20 minutes is administered after the chemistry section after which, the testing is resumed from the second writing section.


 5. Writing

Testing time - 30 minutes

Number of questions - 2nd of 2 essay writing questions.

The content of this section is similar to the writing section administered at the start.

Another quick example may be - "Discuss a solution to the problem of obesity in the context of diet and exercise.” Here you could write about the link between obesity and other diseases and suggest solution such as subsidized exercise schemes, healthy eating public health campaigns and better food labeling.


6. Reading Comprehension

Testing time - 50 minutes. This section is administered after the second writing section.

Number of questions - 48 multiple-choice questions on 6 passages

This section tests the ability of students to understand text on their own. For this, they are presented 6 passages based on scientific topics, the content of which is not known to them before. They are supposed to answer the questions based on what they have understood from the reading. It tests the following:

  • Comprehension
  • Analysis
  • Evaluation of the given material

A quick example can't be given here as these questions are usually extremely long. However, if you go to the end of this book you will be able to see example questions.


7. Quantitative Ability

Testing time - 40 minutes. This is the last section to be administered.

Number of questions - 48 multiple-choice questions

The quantitative ability section is a section that is based on testing the students for their mathematical skills. Students are required to have basic knowledge of the following:

  • Basic Math (15%)
  • Algebra (20%)
  • Probability & Statistics (20%)
  • Precalculus (23%)
  • Calculus (22%)

A quick example would be - The volume of a water tank at any given time t is given by the equation v = 5 + 6t, where 5 is the initial volume of water present in cubic inches and 6 is the rate at which water is flowing in the tank (cubic inches per second). Based on this information, which of the following statements is NOT true? At time t=0, the volume will be 5 cubic inches; The volume will be less than 60 cubic inches at time t=10 seconds; The volume will be less than 80 cubic inches at time t=12 seconds; At time t=1 second, the volume will be less than 15 cubic inches. The answer would be that the volume will be less than 60 cubic inches at time t=10 seconds.


Other questions you may expect in this section include questions about:

  • Arithmetic
  • Divisibility and multiplication
  • Addition and subtraction
  • Evens and Odds
  • Prime Numbers
  • Percentages
  • Square of a Number
  • Exponents
  • Roots
  • Averages

So in general, there are 48, five choice MCQs, per subsection (with two writing essay questions) eight of which are experimental items and are not scored. However, these are not indicated to you, so you do not know which ones are experimental; so you should treat all questions as scoring questions. In addition to this, in the writing section, you are presented with two subs subtest one of which is also experimental. Overall, the exam should take you about four and a half hours to complete.

Within a one of the five subtests you can navigate back and forth, however, if you progress to the next subtest you will be unable to go back to the previous section. This brings up an interesting tactic about timing, you should make sure that at the end of each subtest you have checked over you work thoroughly and do not need to review it again.

Last modified: Friday, 3 March 2017, 4:30 AM