Friday, July 31, 2009

Studying for the PCAT

I have had some inquires as to how I studied for the PCAT considering the sizable change in my scores the second time around. I shall describe my method, but first I must offer a disclaimer.

I'm a science geek. When I learn something interesting in class, it sticks with me. Thus can tell you to use a Lindlar catalyst to go from an alkyne to an alkene and to use H2 and a palladium catalyst to go from an alkyne to an alkane. I remember vividly viral replication and the fact it can follow a lytic or lysogenic path. I remember how and what the kidney filters and replaces at its various stages.

Again, I am a nerd. All I need is a very brief refresher and it all comes pouring back out of my brain. I know not everyone is like this, thus why I am offering this disclaimer.

I used mainly the Kaplan 2008-2009 PCAT prep book. The book is quite good, but it does have some faults. For one, there are some incorrect answers in the back off the book which will drive you nuts at times. It only glances over O Chem and I felt it under prepared me for the quant portion of the test.

That being said it is a great reference for all the other sections of the test. If you're comfortable with what you know, you may only need this book. Personally I like to cover every single base and then some before I go into a test like this.

Therefore I went to Barnes and Noble and picked up a couple of Spark Notes book. First I picked up a book on biology found here. It covers virtually everything you'd cover in general biology and A&P. I never really had a class on plants, due to falling into a crack in our bio dept, so I used this heavily to prep for that. It's not detailed by any means, but it covers a good deal of information.

Next I picked up these two books, one on Pre-calc and the other on stats. In reality I probably did not need these (although I needed to brush up on trig) but it provided good practice for the test. Part of the challenge of the Quant portion is being able to quickly do calculations and being able to distinguish which answers are illogical. You should be able to do trig, division and basic stats problems very very quickly. In reality you do not have much time to spend on a particular problem.

I brought those three books with me virtually everywhere I went for two weeks reading through them and quizzing myself. At night, I would come home and hit up the Kaplan book to cap off the night.

Generally I would go section by section in the Kaplan book being slow and methodical. If there was a concept I vaguely remember or didn't understand when I remember it initially, I made note of it and after the section researched it further. I have kept virtually all of my pre-pharmacy course books which greatly helped with this part.

I know some of you are going, he started studying with two weeks to go? He's nuts! Hear me out.

I have studied for every single test in college in this manner. And I cannot sit and study for hours and hours on end. You know those kids who go to the library when it opens and leaves when it closes? That's not me.

I have learned to study in spurts. Hit the books really hard for 45 min to an hour and then leave them. Go screw around on the internet, go to the store, but do not touch the books. I try not to even think about it. Usually this break lasts for a half or so and then I go back to studying. I repeat this method again and again until I'm comfortable with the material.

And since I usually remember about 3/4ths of the material from the first time around, I don't study until it gets closer to the test date. I will get test anxiety and wind up burnt out if I start studying sooner. I simply cannot study for a test in that manner.

Finally purchase at least one of the practice tests from Pearson. Next to the Kaplan book, they are the best thing you can use to study. They generally reflect the type of questions of the test and will give you a really good ballpark for how prepared you.

As for the test make sure you're well-rested, eat breakfast and at the break time (this was my undoing the first time) and above all remain calm. I am lucky in that I am a fast test taker. Usually I am the first one done at a test and, in this instance, it allowed me to go over the whole section twice to check for errors. In taking it the second time I learned how to properly pace myself and I was able to whip out answers more quickly due to, I think, being more relaxed.

I know I probably study in an atypical manner, but I figure this should help answer some questions. If anyone has anymore either shoot me an email or leave a reply in the comments field and I will do my best to answer it.


Anonymous said...

Thanks, this really helps. My study pattern is a bit similar.

*>Jewels<* said...

Thanks for this post! I used to think I was crazy because I'd study material for an hour and then leave it alone. Stretch my legs, do laundry or whatever, then go back to it. You retain more when you give your mind a break from it. Some people feel if they push through any material for hours, it makes them better. I'm glad to see I'm not the only person that knows it's okay to take a break.

Anonymous said...

thank you so much. i take the pcat this month and ive been stressing. this gave me alot of ideas. and your pcat scores that you posted gave me a great deal of hope.