Medical schools want to accept some of the brightest minds into their programs, and extensive testing will be required throughout a student’s education to prove not only academic capabilities and critical thinking skills, but interest in working with others, as well. The type of exam a med student will take depends on the field he or she wishes to enter (dentistry, optometry, and so on). Each exam emphasizes a different area, and it can be helpful to understand these differences beforehand to make the most of your educational planning and aid your test preparation.
The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is a commonly required exam for entrance into medical school taken by more than 70,000 students annually. The exam has been part of the medical school admissions process for more than 60 years. The test is required by all medical schools in the United States (and most in Canada), and few will accept an exam score more than three years old.
The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) works together with its U.S. member schools to develop and administer the exam. The AAMC website —http://www.aamc.org/students/mcat/ — is also the official website for the MCAT exam and contains information about ordering practice tests and other beneficial materials, such as The Official Guide to the MCAT Exam.
The MCAT Exam
A standardized, multiple-choice examination, the MCAT tests a student’s proficiency in core areas such as biology, general and organic chemistry, and physics. Sections on verbal reasoning and general writing skills are also included to help encourage students from an array of backgrounds to consider a career in the health industry, as well as to prompt premedical students to explore subjects outside science.
As of 2010, the exam included 52 questions each in biological and physical sciences, 40 verbal reasoning questions, and two 30-minute essays. The essays test a student’s ability to develop a central idea for a topic; present ideas logically; and write clearly using proper grammar, punctuation, and syntax. A student should expect to spend nearly five and a half hours completing the exam and dealing with other testing particulars, such as taking an optional tutorial and survey, filling out the examinee agreement, and checking in.
In terms of test preparation, a prospective medical student’s undergraduate studies help ensure readiness for the MCAT exam; make sure to review your course notes, textbooks,and any other relevant materials to solidify your understanding of various scientific concepts. Additional preparation should include a review of the “Preparing for the Exam” section of the MCAT website, which also discusses the skills assessed in each exam section. Also consider taking the MCAT Practice
Tests for help determining where you may have weaknesses on the actual exam. According to the AAMC, medical school admission officers generally recommend that students take the MCAT the year prior to when they hope to enter medical school. After selecting a winter or spring testing date, students should be ready to submit their applications in the summer or early fall. Early test dates also allow sufficient time to retake the exam if necessary.
MCAT test dates are available between January and September of the calendar year. Students may take the test up to three times per year — and an unlimited number of times overall — but may only register for one test date at a time. Kaplan Test Prep advises students to consider carefully whether they retake the exam. Improving one’s score can be viewed favorably by medical school admissions boards, but continued poor performance in a subject, for example, could be a strike against the applicant.
Interpretation of MCAT scores can vary from school to school. Some institutions add the individual scores as one value, while others consider them separately. A student’s performance on a particular section of the test, such as biological or physical science, may also be compared with his or her grades in the same subjects.
If your ambitions after college include a career in dentistry, you will need to pass the Dental Admission Test (DAT) to start yourself on the right path. A good score on the DAT can mean a great deal in being accepted at the dental school of your choice. Admissions committees will match this score against your college record to determine whether your knowledge base is sufficient to have a successful dental career.
The DAT Exam
The DAT is conducted by the American Dental Association (ADA) and has been in use nationally since 1950. The test focuses on four areas: natural sciences, perceptual ability, reading comprehension, and quantitative reasoning. Before taking the exam, a student should complete at least one year of his or her college education; most have finished a minimum of two years of postsecondary schooling before attempting the test. Prospective dental school applicants should study biology and general and organic chemistry. Advanced biology and physics are unnecessary.
Students who need help preparing for the test can check the ADA website for samples of each test, which can aid in determining whether one has specific weaknesses to address before taking the exam; a full sample test is available for purchase, as well. The ADA has also supplied a tutorial to help students understand the mechanics of taking the exam. While these materials are intended to help a student’s performance on exam day, the ADA has been careful to note that extensive studying and preparation beforehand will be most critical to one’s overall test performance.
DAT exams are administered Prometric test centers around the country. The exam is solely computer-based. Before students can take the test, they must obtain a DENTPIN personal identification number. Use the ADA website — http://www.ada.org/dentpin.aspx — to complete this step. An application to take the DAT may be submitted no sooner than 12 months before a test date.
On your test day, plan to spend at least four hours taking the exam, and up to five hours if you choose to participate in the optional break and tutorial session. If an examinee is not happy with his or her test score, it is possible to test again once a 90-day waiting period has passed. Those who have taken the test three or more times require special permission to take the test again.
All dental schools require their applicants to complete the test, but the results of the exam are only one factor in whether a person is admitted to a particular program. The test score is based on the number of correct answers. Examinees are not penalized for guessing on the test. Scores range from 1 to 30, and a score of 17 is considered par with the national average. There is not a “pass” or “fail” score.
You will select the schools you want to receive copies of your DAT scores when you apply to take the exam. Official scores are made available to these schools three to four weeks after you take the test. Your test results become part of your permanent record, and there is no way to void them
The Optometry Admission Test (OAT) was created by the American Optometric Association as a means of measuring a prospective optometry school student’s academic ability and understanding of scientific information. All optometry schools in the United States require students to take the OAT before granting admission to their programs. While a good OAT score is important, the test is only one factor affecting whether a student is accepted to the school of his or her choice. According to the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO), which conducts the test, a student’s test scores coupled with a review of his or her college record are good indicators of how well he or she could perform in optometry school.
The OAT Exam
The ASCO recommends that students take the Optometry Admission Test after they have completed at least one year of college and the relevant science course material that will be covered on the exam. Most students opt to take the exam after completing at least two years of college. The exam, which is computerized, is administered year-round at Prometric test centers throughout the country. Students must apply to take the test and receive an electronic notification of eligibility before they will be permitted to take the exam.
On the day you are scheduled to take the exam, expect to spend a few hours at the test center. The OAT lasts 280 minutes, including 15 minutes each for an optional tutorial at the beginning of the exam, an optional break, and an optional post-test survey. The test covers four subject areas: natural sciences (biology, general chemistry, and organic chemistry), reading comprehension, physics, and quantitative reasoning. If you want to prepare for the exam beforehand, sample test materials, available at the ASCO website, can help you discover areas where you may need additional preparation before taking the exam. A sample tutorial is accessible, as well, to help you become familiar with the mechanics of taking the test. While these preparation materials can be helpful, ASCO has been careful to note that there are not shortcuts for this exam. Extensive study and class time are required.
Scoring for the OAT is based on the number of correct answers submitted on this multiple-choice test. There are no penalties for guessing on the exam. All exam scores are standardized to help schools compare students more fairly and generally range from 200 to 400.
You will receive an unofficial report of your score at the Prometric test center, and it will be checked for accuracy before it is made official. If a student is displeased with the score, he or she may retake the test an unlimited number of times. However, only scores from the four most recent test attempts will be reported to optometry schools. Examinees must wait at least 90 days between testing dates./p>
You may request that your exam scores be submitted to specific schools and colleges of optometry when you apply to take the OAT. ASCO recommends having a score sent to a school to which you may apply, even if you have not yet finished the formal application process.
The Pharmacy College Admission Test (PCAT) is considered the “official preferred test for entrance to pharmacy school.” Endorsed by the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP), the test is used by about two-thirds of AACP schools for entrance into pharmacy programs. (To determine whether the school to which you wish to apply requires the PCAT, see the information available at the AACP website.)
The PCAT Exam: What to Expect
The PCAT is divided into six content areas and seven separate subtests. The Verbal Ability section gauges a person’s knowledge of general, nonscientific words. The Biology portion of the test reviews basic biology, microbiology, human anatomy, and physiology. A Chemistry section covers principles found in organic and elementary organic chemistry. In the Reading Comprehension section, examinees are tested on their ability to comprehend, analyze, and evaluate passages of text related to science topics.
The Essay sections test a student’s language abilities with regard to sentence formation, usage, and mechanics. One of the writing tests is also an experimental item. The writing portions of the test present a health, science, social, cultural, or political issue. Examinees must offer a solution to that issue in their essays, and are scored on how well the essay is written and on whether the essay is long enough to sufficiently explain the student’s ideas. Remember that when taking the PCAT, you will encounter other experimental test items. These experimental portions may come in the form of multiple-choice questions throughout the test, or they could be found in a separate section. The experimental questions are being tested for use on future PCAT exams and will not count toward your test score. However, current examinees will not know which portions of their test are experimental, making it important to try to perform well throughout the entire exam.
When registering to take the Pharmacy College Admission Test, there are several things you should know. Choose a test date that will give you plenty of time to meet a pharmacy program’s registration deadline. Also, students should register early for the test because seating is granted on a first-come, first-served basis; no standby testing opportunities are available. Whether you take the test in the morning or in the evening is decided at a later date, once officials have ascertained the number of test takers that will be coming on a particular day. Additionally, it is helpful when you register for the test to already have an idea of what pharmacy schools you want to receive a copy of your scores.
An “acceptable” PCAT score can vary from one pharmacy school to another. You should contact the pharmacy schools to which you are applying for information on those schools’ particular scoring standards. In the event that you wish to retake your PCAT, know that examinees may sit for the PCAT a maximum of five times and must submit a written request to test again beyond that point.
Most graduate schools require applicants to their programs to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) test. The exam can help determine how prepared a student is to pursue an advanced degree and engage in graduate-level work. GRE scores are also used to help evaluate a student’s eligibility for financial aid, as well as for teaching and research assistant positions. According to the Educational Testing Service (ETS), the organization that develops, administers, and scores the exam, taking the GRE is quite common; more than 600,000 students from about 230 countries take the exam annually. The test has been part of assessing a student’s readiness for graduate school for more than 60 years.
Using GRE scores, admissions programs or fellowship panels are able to compare students from a range of educational backgrounds. The exam tests a student’s skills in three areas: analytical writing, verbal reasoning, and quantitative reasoning. The analytical writing section helps gauge a student’s ability to clearly and efficiently articulate complex ideas. The verbal reasoning portion of the test measures reading comprehension skills and ability to analyze written material, among other things. The quantitative reasoning portion of the exam helps test a student’s mathematical abilities using algebra, geometry, and data analysis.
Examinees may take the GRE year-round at computer-based test centers in the United States, Canada, and many other countri. In areas where computer-based testing is not available, the exam is administered in paper form. Thousands of graduate and business schools, along with departments and divisions within these schools, accept GRE test results.
GRE Exam Overview
Whether your score on the Graduate Record Examination is a “good” score depends on a number of factors, such as the field you are hoping to study and the standards set by the medical school to which you wish to apply. Find out what your schools of interest consider an acceptable score. Examinees have an option on their testing day to see and keep their test score or not. If a student chooses to see the score, it will be entered into his or her Educational Testing Service record. Those who elect not to see their score will not have it entered into their record. Score reports are sent to schools ten to fifteen days after the exam date.
GRE scores are valid for five years after the exam date. The ETS has suggested that students who do not know whether they will immediately enter grad school consider taking the test while they are still “in test-taking mode and knowledge is fresh.”
For students interested in attending medical school, common graduate school examinations include the Medical College Admission Test(MCAT), Dental Admission Test (DAT), Optometry Admission Test (OAT), Pharmacy College Admission Test (PCAT), and Graduate Record Examination (GRE). Each examination has specific test dates and locations. Check with the schools to which you are applying to learn more about specific admission tests required.
Medical School Admission Tests Take Thorough Preparation
Students may feel some anxiety about taking these tests successfully, but a multitude of resources exist at individual schools and other professional organizations to help students understand how the exams are scored and the subject matter covered. In many cases, it is even possible to take practice tests to see how the questions are worded and to learn additional test- taking strategies to improve your chances of scoring well on your particular exam.
Applying to medical school and taking necessary graduate school exams can be a long process, but with the right tools and advance planning, students can eliminate much of the stress and hassle they might associate with these events. The exams are a necessary component in helping graduate schools compare students from numerous schools and determine who could be successful in their programs. Take advantage of the resources available to you to make your preparations less stressful.