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Almost all professional schools require a national qualifying exam. For information about the exam, click the appropriate link below.


  • The MCAT: Medical, Some Veterinary

    The MCAT Basics

    The MCAT is the entry exam for Medical (and some Veterinary) schools and is known as one of the most difficult exams ever developed. It is primarily a critical thinking test, primarily because it requires you to think about and understand basic scientific principles and their applications instead of concentrating only on facts and information.

    It is offered 22 times per year.  Take the test at least by the spring (April) before your senior year (a year and a half before you enter school). That way you can take the August if necessary. If you think you will need to take it multiple times, take it earlier. However, taking the MCAT multiple times is not ideal and may work against you in applying for medical school. DO NOT wait until August the year before you plan to attend and certainly don't wait until April the spring before classes start.

    To register for it, fill out a registration packet, which can be obtained after February 1 from your college advisor or the MCAT Program Office at (319) 337-1357. Each exam costs $210.00.  Inquire about test fee-reduction plans if you believe you are eligible. Scores are reported 30 days after taking the test.

    MCAT Content

    Score information: Scores for the three multiple-choice sections range from 1 to 15. The numerical scores from each multiple-choice section are added together to give a composite score. The maximum composite score is 45. There is no penalty for incorrect multiple choice answers, thus even random guessing is preferable to leaving an answer choice blank (unlike many other standardized tests). Your scores are given in relation to that of other test-takers.

    The MCAT test is divided into three sections:

    1. Physical Sciences : first section, 70 minutes, 52 multiple-choice questions. Assesses problem-solving ability in general chemistry and physics through problem-solving skills (not rote memorization). It gives you 200- to 300-word passages, formatted like journal or textbook articles, experimental research, data analysis, or scientific-style editorials, followed by questions. It is designed to test your ability to understand scientific concepts in new situations.

    2. Verbal Reasoning: second section, 60 minutes, 40 multiple-choice questions. Evaluates the ability to understand, evaluate, and apply information and arguments presented in prose style.  Includes a strong emphasis on reading comprehension, evaluation, synthesis, and application.

    3. Biological Sciences : fourth section, 70 minutes, 52 multiple-choice questions. It presents a number of 200- to 300-word passages, followed by a series of questions, plus a number of stand-alone questions. You will need to draw on your knowledge of basic biology and organic chemistry.

    Preparation

    Preparation for the MCAT is extremely important and takes several months of dedicated work. For tips on preparing, view the bottom of this page.

  • The PCAT: Pharmacy

    The PCAT Basics

    The PCAT (the Pharmacy College Admissions Test) is the entry-exam for pharmacy school. The intent of the PCAT is to ensure that individuals who enter pharmacy school are qualified, and thereby to ensure that excellence in pharmaceutical education is maintained.

    The PCAT is a computerized exam that is administered by Harcourt Assessment.  three months out of the year: in July, September, and January, with multiple dates throughout the month (especially September) and registration dates two months before the actual exam. We recommend that applicants take the PCAT in either summer or fall so their scores can be sent to PharmCAS and their applications completed as quickly as possible. That way, you can submit your scores and your application by September and qualify for early submission. January tests for the following fall are not favored. If you think you will need to take it multiple times, take it earlier. However, taking the PCAT multiple times is not ideal and may work against you in applying for pharmacy school. Register early to make sure you get the exam date that you need.

    Register to take the PCAT at the PCAT Website (http://www.pcatweb.info/) Each exam costs $150.00.  Inquire about test fee-reduction plans if you believe you are eligible. The score reports are sent out 6 weeks after taking the exam.

    The PCAT Content

    All the content areas (verbal ability, writing, biology, chemistry, reading comprehension and quantitative ability) should be given due consideration. None of the skills should be neglected.

    The PCAT tests six content areas: Verbal Ability, Reading Comprehension, Writing, Biology (general biology, microbiology, and human anatomy and physiology), Chemistry (both inorganic and organic chemistry), Quantitative Ability (basic math, algebra, probability and statistics, precalculus, and calculus).

    The PCAT test is divided into seven sections:

    1. Writing : first section, 30 minutes, 1 essay writing question.  This section gives you a prompt with a problem, and you must provide a solution to the problem through the essay. It tests: Problem solving skills, Skills dealing with conventions of language.

    2. Verbal Ability: second section, 30 minutes, 48 multiple-choice question.  This section tests students for their vocabulary and usage of words in language. This is done through questions based on: Analogies, Sentence completion.

    3. Biology: third section, 30 minutes, 48 multiple-choice questions. This section tests material from: General biology, Microbiology, Anatomy and physiology.

    4. Chemistry: fourth section, 30 minutes, 48 multiple-choice questions.  This section tests material from: General chemistry, Organic chemistry. *A short break is administered after the chemistry section.*

    5. Writing: fifth section, 30 minutes, 1 essay writing question.  The content of this section is similar to the writing section administered at the start.

    6. Reading Comprehension: sixth section, 50 minutes, 48 multiple-choice questions on 6 passages. This section tests the ability of students to understand scientific passages, answering questions based on the reading. It tests: Comprehension, Analysis, Evaluation of the given material.

    7. Quantitative Ability: seventh section, 40 minutes, 48 multiple-choice questions.  The quantitative ability section is a section that is based on testing the students for their mathematical skills. It tests: Math, Algebra, Probability and statistics, Precalculus and Calculus. No calculators are permitted. 

    Preparation

    Preparation for the PCAT is extremely important and takes several months of dedicated work. For tips on preparing, view the bottom of this page

    You might consider a PCAT-specific study guide (e.g. Dr. Collins PCAT Study Guide) to help guide your studying.

  • The DAT: Dental

    The DAT Basics

    The DAT, the Dental Admissions Test, is the entry-exam for Dental school. It is a standardized exam testing your knowledge in Biology, Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Reading, and Math, as well as a Perceptual Ability Test (PAT) section that tests your visual abilities to determine angles and shapes through logic and visual tests.

    It is taken on the computer at testing centers throughout the country and thus can be taken almost any day of your choice. Check on the ADA’s DAT website (http://www.ada.org/dat.aspx) site to find your nearest testing location and dates that have availability for you to take the test. Take the test the summer before your senior year. That way, you can submit your scores and your application by September and qualify for early submission. If you feel you will need to take it multiple times, then take it earlier, because you have to wait 90 days between tests.  However, taking the DAT multiple times is not ideal and may work against you in applying for dental school. 

    To register for the DAT, go to the ADA (http://www.ada.org/dat.aspx) website. Each exam costs $285.00. Inquire about test fee-reduction plans if you believe you are eligible. Unofficial score reports, generated at the test center, are provided for the examinee upon completion of the test. The official score report is sent to the dental schools about three to four weeks after the test.

    DAT Content

    These scores are standardized onto a scale of 1 to 30. Exam score is based on the number of questions answered correctly, so candidates are encouraged to guess on questions they do not know.  Each section is scored individually and then groups of sections are scored collectively. Your Academic Average (AA) will be the average of your three science sections and your math and reading sections. Your PAT is scored separately.

    The DAT test is divided into four sections:

    1.  Survey of Natural Sciences: first section, 90 minutes, 100 multiple-choice questions. Three subsections:

    1. Biology – 40 questions: Cell and Molecular Biology, Life Diversities, Vertebrate Anatomy and Physiology, Developmental Biology, Genetics, Evolution, Ecology and Behavior.

    2. General Chemistry – 30 questions: Gases, Liquids, Solids, General concepts, Acids, Bases, Solutions, Thermodynamics, Thermochemistry, Atomic and Molecular Structure, Nuclear Reactions and Laboratory Techniques.

    3. Organic Chemistry – 30 questions: Chemical and Physical Properties of Molecules and Organic Analysis, Stereochemistry, Nomenclature, Acid-Base Chemistry, Aromatics and Bonding, Individual Reactions of Major Functional Groups and Combination of Reactions to Synthesize Compounds.

    2.  Perceptual Ability Test: second section, 60 minutes, 90 multiple-choice questions.

    Evaluates the ability to understand spatial relationships in 6 subsections, including angle discrimination, form development cubes, orthographic projections, apertures, and paper folding.  It requires the students to possess skills like angle-discrimination, block counting, paper folding, form development, and object visualization. Such skills are considered necessary to judge how students can perceive minute differences.

    *optional 15-minute break*

    3.  Reading Comprehension Test: third section, 60 minutes, 50 multiple-choice questions.

    Consists of passages on dental and other sciences designed to predict if students will be able to read and understand textual information as is required to be read by dental students. The students are required to understand the concepts and ideas presented in the passage and answer the questions. The questions can be answered without any prior knowledge of the subject matter.

    4.  Quantitative Reasoning Test: fourth section, 45 minutes, 40 multiple-choice questions. Two subsections:

    1. Mathematics Problems –30 questions: Algebra, Numeric calculations, Conversions, Probability, Statistics, Geometry and Trigonometry.
    2. Applied Mathematics (Word) Problems –10 word problems.

    Preparation

    Preparation for the DAT is extremely important and takes several months of dedicated work. For tips on preparing, view the bottom of this page.

  • The OAT: Optometry

    The OAT Basics

    The Optometry Admission Test (OAT) is a standardized exam required by all schools and colleges of optometry. It is designed to measure general academic ability and comprehension of scientific information.  

    It is computerized, and while you are allowed to take the OAT an unlimited number of times, you must wait at least 90 days between testing dates.  Take the test the summer before your senior year. That way, you can submit your scores and your application by September and qualify for early submission. If you feel you may need to take the test multiple times, take the test earlier. However, taking the OAT multiple times is not ideal and may work against you in applying for optometry school. In addition, only scores from the four most recent attempts and the total number of attempts will be reported. 

    Register to take the OAT on the ADA website: https://www.ada.org/oat/index.html. Each exam costs $189.00. Inquire about test fee-reduction plans if you believe you are eligible.  At the time of the test, you will be given your own score report. Official score reports will be sent within a three week time period to up to 5 optometry schools of your choice plus your pre-optometry advisor.

    The OAT Content

    For each section, the candidates' raw score (range from 200-400) is based on the number of correct answers only. All test items carry equal marks in OAT. That means that if a difficult question is taking time, then you should drop it there and move on to the next question.  There is no penalty for incorrectly answered questions, so guess. The score report will contain 8 different scores: quantitative reasoning; reading comprehension; biology; general chemistry; organic chemistry; physics; total science (the natural sciences and physics scores combined); and an academic average.

    The OAT test is divided into four sections:

    1.  Survey of Natural Sciences: first section, 90 minutes, 100 multiple-choice questions. Three subsections:

    1. Biology – 40 questions: cell and molecular biology, life diversity, vertebrate anatomy and physiology, developmental biology, genetics, evolution, ecology and behavior.
    2. General Chemistry – 30 questions: general chemistry concepts, solids, liquids, gases, acids, bases, solutions, chemical equilibria, thermodynamics, thermochemistry, chemical kinetics, oxidation reduction reactions, atomic and molecular structure, periodic properties, nuclear reactions and laboratory techniques.
    3. Organic Chemistry – 30 questions: mechanism, chemical and physical properties of molecules and organic analysis, stereochemistry, nomenclature, individual reactions of the major functional groups of combination of reactions to synthesize compounds, acid-base chemistry, aromatics and bonding.

    2.  Reading Comprehension Test: second section, 50 minutes, 40 multiple-choice questions. Assesses ability to interpret, analyze and comprehend complex, new scientific information by requiring students to read and interpret short passages of a scientific nature, similar to those encountered in the first year of optometry course. However, no prior knowledge of these topics is required by students.

    3.  Physics: third section, 50 minutes, 40 multiple-choice questions. Assesses your understanding of basic physics, including units and vectors, linear kinematics, statics, dynamics, rotational motion, simple harmonic motion, waves, energy and momentum, fluid statics, thermal energy, thermodynamics, electrostatics, magnetism, D.C. circuits, optics and modern physics.

    4.  Quantitative Reasoning Test: fourth section, 45 minutes, 40 multiple-choice questions. Tests your skills of reasoning and manipulating numbers and relation between numbers including mathematical problems and quantitative material in algebra, numerical calculations, probability, statistics, geometry, trigonometry, and mathematical word problems.

    Preparation

    Preparation for the OAT is extremely important and takes several months of dedicated work. For tips on preparing, view the bottom of this page.

  • The GRE: All Graduate Schools, Some Professional Schools

    The GRE Basics

    The GRE (Graduate Record Examination) is required by most graduate schools, and can be taken throughout the year. The GRE is comprised of 3 sections and is a 2-1/2 hour computer-adaptive test (your performance on previous questions determines which questions come next).  Most schools require the General test, though some require a test over a specific subject (subject tests are paper-and-pencil and are only given three times per year), and require additional fees.

    It is offered year-round at computer-based test centers. Take the test the summer before your senior year. That way, you can submit your scores and your application by September and qualify for early submission. If you feel you will need to take it multiple times, then take it earlier. You can only take the GRE once per calendar month. However, taking the GRE multiple times is not ideal and may work against you in applying for graduate school school.

    Register to take the GRE online at www.ets.org/gre. Each exam costs $160.00. Inquire about test fee-reduction plans if you believe you are eligible. The official score report is sent approximately 2 weeks after taking the test.

    The GRE Content

    Scoring is based on how you perform on each section of the GRE:  Verbal Score (200 to 800 points); Math Score (200-800 points); Analytical Writing Assessment (0 to 6 points). When you take the test, guess at answers you do not know - there's no penalty for incorrect answers.

    The GRE is divided into three sections:

    1.  Analytical Writing: third section, 90 minutes, two questions.  This section will test your ability to construct and put down your thoughts in a logical and coherent manner. You have to construct your analysis for or against a given argument in the test. It measures critical thinking and analytical writing skills, specifically the test taker's ability to articulate complex ideas clearly and effectively. There are two subsections:

    1. One Issue task: 45 minutes – Debate a given argument

    2. One Argument task: 30 minutes – Support an argument on a given issue

    2.  Verbal Reasoning: first section, 30 minutes, 30 multiple-choice questions.  Measures reading comprehension skills and verbal and analogical reasoning skills, focusing on the test taker's ability to analyze and evaluate written material, and tests the application of English vocabulary.

    3.  Quantitative Reasoning: second section, 45 minutes, 28 multiple-choice questions.  This section measures computation ability, problem solving and data interpretation and basic math. Speed is very important factor in this section. Measures problem-solving ability, focusing on basic concepts of arithmetic, algebra, geometry and data analysis

    Preparation

    Preparation for the GRE is extremely important and takes several months of dedicated work. For tips on preparing, view the bottom of this page.


Tips for Qualifying Exam Success

The qualifying exam that you will take to get into your professional school will be one of the hardest exams you will ever take. Here are some general tips for preparing for them as well as specific problems often encountered on specific exams. 

Preparation

  1. In general, complete exam preparation takes about 2-4 months of smooth study (3-4 for MCAT/PCAT, 2-3 for OAT/DAT/GRE). Pace yourself, since cramming is impossible. Develop a long-range schedule and make a study routine and stick to it. Make it a daily routine during a time when there are few distractions. Make a plan as to what material you will be covering. You should spend at least 5 hours each week, not including practice tests.

  2. Exam preparation should involve practice and recall methods. Effective preparation includes practice by mentally recalling the learned material and also through practice questions. Make this a daily exercise.

  3. Allot time for specific content areas, and be sure to focus on your weaknesses.

  4. Try to take a lighter class load during the time you are studying for the Exam . Begin studying after you have taken all the pre-requisite courses.

  5. The test focuses on general concepts, not specific questions. Dig up old class notes on biology, physics and general and organic chemistry to use as references. Re-read parts of your freshman biology book (about the cell, animal anatomy and physiology etc.) because it focuses on the overall concepts.  Consider cliff notes on subjects you find difficult.  Know calculus; the difficulty of this section is often underestimated, especially on the PCAT. For the MCAT especially, know that you won't be tested on rote memorization; they focus more on your knowledge base than specific details.

  6. Find study partners with whom you can share the misery.

  7. Consider purchasing a prep course to help you study. Ask around to determine which prep courses people have found useful and try borrowing the course's study materials from friends who have already taken it. For example, many pre-pharmacy students have had great success with the Dr. Collin's PCAT Prep Class and Self-Study Guide.

  8. Do some research to see which books are good study tools. For example, the 2010-2011 KAPLAN PCAT book gets high user ratings for chemistry and biology as does the Dr. Collin's PCAT Prep Class and Self-Study Guide, and the AAMC: MCAT Student Manual, Practice Items, and Practice Tests II, III and IV have also proven useful. They can be found at college bookstores or ordered online. It is highly recommended that you pick and choose several study books as each has its own advantages and disadvantages. Other options include AUDIOLEARN CD sets which lets you listen to the material while driving, lying down in your home, or from your computer. If you are an auditory learner, this product will definitely help you succeed.

  9. Begin taking practice tests. Some students take a practice exam before they begin studying, in order to prioritize what material needs the most review. At least 2 months before the examination date, begin taking a practice test each week under exam conditions, record your scores, and see what section needs the most work, and practice at least one essay a week. In the month before the exam, take two exams per week. Review each exam two times. For the MCAT, practice tests are available on www.e-mcat.com and www.aamc.org/students/mcat/.

  10. Practice writing a well-organized, complete essay in a limited amount of time. Previous essay topics can be found online, or you can practice from completely random prompts to get the motion down. Having a clearly defined Introduction, Thesis, 3 Supporting Body Paragraphs, and a Conclusion will allow you to do well on the writing sections. Focus on writing quickly, efficiently, and completely. Time is important here, and you don't want to waste any of it.

  11. Avoid shrugging off the verbal section of the MCAT. It's very difficult to score well on this section.

  12. Take as many reading/verbal practice quizzes as you can so that when you get the real thing, you will fly through them.

  13. Keep in mind that these exams are as much of a test of endurance and the ability to perform under stress as it is a test of critical thinking. Be prepared for lengthy mental stress.

  14. For the GRE:

  • Verbal Section Tips: Strong emphasis on vocabulary, though it does include grammar and reading comprehension. Increase your everyday vocabulary, both written and verbal. Actively search for new words. Learn roots, prefixes, and suffixes and apply them. Time your reading and comprehension speed. Work on succinct summaries of reading passages. Know the correct usage of the words. Focus on grammar basics and be brief.

  • Analytical Writing Tips: Get into the habit of organizing your thoughts logically on every topic that you face in your daily routine. Begin debating various topics with your friends and peer groups. Get into the habit of writing logical constructs on anything and everything, or use the sample questions found in various web sites for mock practice. As you get to write more and more on various topics your creativity and logical thought organizational ability will improve. So, if you feel that typing speed is an issue, devote some time to that as well. Try solving a few logic puzzles and games to prepare for the analytical portion of the exam.

  • Quantitative Section Tips: Review basic math such as geometry, algebra, proportions, fractions, percents, decimals, the order of operations and anything else you might have learned in high school math. Brush up on ratios and fractions, factoring, geometry, etc this part will not take long, but may not make you a pro. Take a few practice tests straightway to gage what you have picked up in your initial study. Analyze the scores to find out your weak areas and revisit those topics once more. Practicing builds speed, accuracy and most importantly your knack for numbers.

As you near the exam:


Week before the exam:

  • Rest your mind. Stop studying 3-5 days before the exam. By this point, chances are slim that you’ll be able to learn something new.

  • Make sure you go to bed early for the whole week leading up to test day, and get up early every morning, ready to work by 8:00 AM. Practice waking up and mobilizing your brain, and be able to do verbal reasoning questions at this hour.

  • Relax as much as possible during the final week, but don't become a couch potato. If you enjoy jogging, roller blading, riding your bike or lifting weights, then do that. If you don't engage in physical activities, then I suggest finding some activity that you can do (perhaps taking a 30 minute walk every day).

  • Eat healthy. If you don't already, then start now. People underestimate the importance of eating properly when it comes to optimal performance on exams. Remember, you want to have loads of energy and endurance on test day.

  • Think Positive! You'll be surprised what a positive mindset can do for you. 

  • Do not take any simulation tests the day before the exam, and do not do any practice questions the morning of the exam.

Day of the exam:

  • Make sure you locate the test center before test day. Eat breakfast! Get to the test center bright and early with pencils, pens, and erasers in hand. Food and drinks aren't allowed in the test room, but hard candy may take the edge off, especially if you have butterflies. Do not bring a calculator or anything with an alarm. Be considerate... no cell phones, pagers, etc. Don't berate yourself if you have trouble with a section. Just shrug it off and move on. It may be helpful to bring a lunch, especially if traffic is a concern. If travel is required, plan wisely.