You will find a list of answers to common questions about standardized test prep below.
If you will be studying for the MCAT or DAT, be sure to download the documents with detailed test prep tips that are posted at the bottom of this page.
Most healthcare-related professional schools require candidates to take a standardized entrance exam. Refer to the Quick Facts guide for your profession to identify the entrance exam you will need to take for your intended profession.
We also encourage you to refer to the official website for the appropriate test to learn more about the topics covered on the tests, the availability of test dates (for some, you can schedule your test at a testing center nearly any day of the year; others are offered only on certain days scattered throughout the year), and registration information.
If you are taking the GRE:
The GRE General Test is not science based; in fact, it covers topics that are similar to those on the ACT and SAT. Accordingly, you can plan to study for and take the GRE whenever you have time available to prepare for it. As noted above, however, you should not take the test too early; many schools require that your standardized test scores be no more than 2-5 years old.
If you are taking the DAT, OAT, PCAT, or MCAT:
The DAT, OAT, PCAT, and MCAT are all science-based exams, which means you will not be ready to start studying for them until you have completed the appropriate college science courses.
You should schedule your courses and intended application date to allow for a dedicated study period of 300-400 hours after you have completed the relevant coursework. Refer to the Quick Facts guide for your intended profession for more details on strategic timing.
For the science-based standardized exams (DAT, OAT, PCAT, and MCAT), the average amount of time dedicated to test prep among those who earned competitive scores nationwide is 300 - 400 hours. (Remember: this study time comes AFTER you have already completed science courses that you will be tested on.)
For the GRE, which does not require science review, the test prep period is commonly ~150 hours.
Your test preparation should include the following elements:
- Reviewing the relevant science topics (except for the GRE)
- Lots and lots of practice problems
- Taking 7 to 8 full-length practice tests, under realistic testing conditions.
You should plan to take the real test only once. (But you should take at least 7 or 8 practice tests before you walk into the “real” test for the first time!) Admissions committees will be able to see all of your scores from “real” tests. Although different schools have different policies on handling multiple scores (some will use only your more recent scores, some will use only the scores from the test date when your total score was highest, and some will average all of the scores), most will take into consideration the number of times an applicant took the test before earning a competitive score.
By all means, if you prepare carefully but then “bomb” the real test, you should take it again when you are ready. (Note that some tests impose a mandatory wait time, often around three months, before applicants are allowed to re-take the test.) But there is no sense in taking the real test when you know you probably aren’t ready yet. Applicants who take the test many times before earning a competitive score will need to be able to explain what happened; you need to be able to demonstrate that your approach to preparing for the test involved good judgment, not a “let’s see what will happen” approach.
How will you know when you are ready? As stated above, you should take the time to prepare thoroughly, taking 7 to 8 full-length practice tests, before you take the real test. If you are taking a commercial test preparation course, be sure to take at least one or two official practice tests (that is, released directly by the testing service) as part of your preparation, as scores on the commercial test preparation exams are not always a reliable indicator of how people will perform on the real exams. You will know that you are ready for the real test when you are consistently scoring slightly above your target score on two to three practice tests in a row. (It is common for people to score slightly lower on the real test than they did in practice, so allow for that.)
Especially for the science-based tests, you will need to put in a lot of time to reviewing your science coursework, but many test takers are surprised to find that one of the most challenging sections is actually the reading comprehension section (CARS on the MCAT). It is important to prepare just as carefully for this section of the test as you do for the other sections because professional schools have found that reading comprehension scores are the best predictors for future success in professional school.
Are you surprised by that finding? The explanation is two-fold: First, students in healthcare-related professional programs spend many hours per week reading, so being able to read quickly, for detail, is important. Second, it is important for healthcare professionals to be able to quickly sort out important information from distracting information. When you talk to your patients in the future, they will tell you their stories about what has led up to their need for your care; some of the information will be essential to your determination about how to treat the patient, and the rest will not be. Accordingly, the reading comprehension sections of the standardized entrance exams for healthcare-related professional schools test not only your ability to read quickly for detail, but also your ability to sort out distracting information from essential information.
It is most common for post-baccs to study on their own for the standardized entrance exams. Students who study on their own typically do just as well as students who take a commercial prep course, provided they actually put in the same amount of preparation.
That said, if you feel you would benefit from a more structured environment, you may find it is worth an investment in a commercial test preparation course. Two things to consider when contemplating whether to take a commercial prep course:
- The courses can provide structure to your study effort, by assigning review readings and practice problems for homework, as well as by scheduling dates for taking full-length practice tests. Of course, you will only achieve results if you actually do all of the assigned homework and practice tests. Be prepared to spend three times as many hours per week on test prep homework as you spend in the test prep classes.
- The courses for the science-based exams are not intended to teach you science concepts for the first time, but to review and practice what you have already learned from your college courses. You may cover the equivalent of one semester in a week or two, so they are not an effective substitute for coursework you have not yet taken.
All of the standardized entrance exams have provisions for Fee Reduction (sometimes called Fee Assistance) for students who are economically disadvantaged. In some cases, if you are approved for Fee Reduction for the standardized exam, you will automatically also receive Fee Reduction for the common application service, but this policy varies by profession. (In other words, you may also need to apply separately for Fee Reduction directly through your centralized application service.)
To become eligible for Fee Reduction, you will need to submit paperwork and become approved before you register for the test, so you should start this process early if you think you might qualify. See your test’s website for details.