Top Tips for the PCAT
Test day is coming up. If you haven't sat for one of the PCAT exams yet it can be a pretty intense day. Here are a few points to get you through the day.
- It is not as hard as you think - we have purposely made the questions in this book slightly more difficult than those in the exam you will be taking, to make you just that little bit more prepared. If you have passed all the questions in this book with a 70% average, should expect 80% on the actual exam.
- Get there on time - make sure you know where you are going, check the transport you are taking online, also print off a map if you can. If you are really worried, don't just plan out your trip to the exam site. Actually go to the exam site, preferably the Saturday morning one-week before. This will give you a good idea of the traffic at that time and if there are any road closures that will affect the trip. Pay attention to where you can legally park without having to run out and feed the meter. If you cannot physically travel to the exam site beforehand, contact someone from the area and get the information from them.
- Hydration and nutrition - there are no real rules here for students, do not bring a four-course meal, but do bring a bottle of non-fizzy water and a snack which is high in carbohydrates and will keep you going through the exam.
- The night before - get everything you need together in one place. All the ID requirements, the correct notes, pencil, eraser, calculator and pen. If you are unsure what you need to check the PCAT website. Students usually spend the night before in cheap hotels near the testing center make sure you have a good, hearty breakfast to get you going.
- Read the instructions on the exam carefully - do the appropriate number of questions from the right sections, and answer compulsory questions. Follow instructions like your life depends on it.
- Know how many marks each question carries - don't spend too long on anyone. Use the number of marks on the paper as a guide.
- Use your experience - by now, through your high school education, you have probably sat over 50 exams over your lifetime. You know what is best and what works for you. Use the techniques that you have learned in high school. Some candidates bring earplugs to reduce noise distractions. Many students never find ambient noise to be a problem but we have heard horror stories of lawn mowers outside and talkative proctors. If you are at all distracted by noises during testing, take a few earplugs just in case.
- Fragrance- this may sound a little strange, but there has been some research, which suggests that if you wear a certain fragrance when revising you should wear it during the exam as it will help with memory recall by association. Although the science is a bit suspect, even if it has some truth, aromatherapy and nice smells have been shown to put people in a more relaxed mood which may be useful when going into a stressful exam.
- Take a chill pill before the test (well, not literally)
- Relax - the majority of students taking the PCAT pass first time. The minority who fail, usually have a proper excuse for not passing i.e. they did not have the correct resources, they had an adverse event which affected study performance, turned up late etc. The fact that you have bought this book means that you are less likely to be in that minority group.
A key area students have highlighted to us which raises their anxiety is before the exam and during lunch, make sure you talk to relax, talk about anything but not about the exam. There's really nothing to be gained from seeing how others did and you are prohibited from talking about specifics. Talked with other candidates mostly to relax and briefly take my mind off the test. If someone does say something that leads you to believe that you missed a question or did poorly, relax, they have as much chance of being wrong as you do. after Even if you are 100% sure you got a question wrong, it is inevitable you will get at least one wrong! But it's over and can't be changed. If you let your confidence take a hit at lunch it will not be a pleasant afternoon session. Do your best while you are taking the exam and don't worry about it afterwards.
What to bring and what to leave behind
Make sure on the testing day you bring the appropriate, valid, unexpired IDs that you used when making the initial registration. You will need to turn up to the center no more than 15 minutes late or you will not be admitted to the testing room, and no refund will be given.
In addition to the ID requirements, you can't actually bring very much with you into the PCAT exam itself however, you can bring test center anything you like (such as purses, cell phones, or backpacks) to the actual test center. Once you arrive they will issue you with a locker where you can store all of it. The PCAT administrators are extremely strict, we recommend that you do not bring anything into the exam itself as everything is provided. The list of prohibited items is extensive and includes:
Food, beverages, papers / notes, highlighters, books, rulers, earplugs, calculators (including watch calculators), cell phones (if this rings during the exam you will be thrown out), recording devices, cameras, head- phones, watches, or any other electronic devices or reference materials. You can't even wear a hat with a brim or bill into the testing room (unless for a religious or medical reason that has been pre-approved).
If you have a medical reason why you need to take an item into the exam room you will need to receive approval, submit a request with the appropriate documentation explaining the need for this accommodation to PCAT Customer Relations.
One useful thing to bring in with you is a pencil as there is a booklet for you to write in. So you can write planning notes for your essays and sketch your quantitative ability workings. Remember though at the end of the exam any notes you create will be confiscated, so don't write anything you need to take home with you.
Tackling the test
Once you physically are inside the test center and at your computer bay make sure you follow these simple rules.
Timing is everything, make sure you are hot with timings, do not spend a lot of time on just one question, keep it balanced. You have four hours for the entire exam, a good technique is to go through all of the questions answering the ones you know instinctively and leave the ones you doubt till later. All questions carry equal credits. Hence, you must concentrate on easier questions first and then move to difficult or unfamiliar ones.
Reserve extra calculation time, it is always good to save some extra time at the end of your exam so that you can go over the calculation questions just one more time. When you do this, do not assume that you are doing the easy parts of the calculation correctly such as minor multiplications and additions, check everything.
To guess or not to guess
Unlike many other MCQ exams, the PCAT does not penalize you (i..e no negative marking) for entering an incorrect answer. As the exam is subdivided into sections you will need to keep an eye on the time. When you come to the end of your allotted time for a specific section and have not completed all the questions, (hopefully not!), we recommend that you fill each choice even if you do not know the answer. You cannot get penalized for this and you could end up getting them all correct by chance. Just make sure before you do to eliminate the main distracting questions which are obviously incorrect and put your bet on the one you think most likely.
Handling experimental questions
In each subtest, the candidate (you) is presented with around 10% of questions, which are not marked and scored like the other questions. Unfortunately, in the exam, they do not tell you which is which! So you should treat all questions in the exam as if they are marked 100%. Although it is kind of consoling at the end of the exam to speculate whether the questions you did not do so well on were actually the experimental ones.