PCAT vs. MCAT: Similarities, Differences, and Which Test Is Easier

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If you’re considering a career in health care, which standardized exam should you take: the PCAT or the MCAT?

The MCAT, or Medical College Admission Test, is in many ways the “gold standard” for admission to nearly all medical schools in Canada and the United States. The MCAT is written by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) and tests students’ knowledge of topics like the biological and social sciences, along with analytical reasoning, reading comprehension, and problem-solving skills.

The PCAT, or Pharmacy College Admission Test, is written by the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP). It is specially designed for admission to pharmacy colleges, usually in Canada and the United States. This exam tests aptitude in many areas, such as critical reading and writing, biology, and quantitative skills.

Choosing between the PCAT and the MCAT is a major decision. In this article, we’ll break down the major differences between the two exams, from content and format to length and difficulty, to help you decide. 

The PCAT vs. MCAT: Major Differences 

Here’s a high-level breakdown of the key differences between the MCAT and the PCAT in terms of purpose, format, scores, cost, and other basic information.

  MCAT PCAT
Purpose Admission to medical schools in North America, Australia, and the Caribbean Islands Admission to pharmacy colleges in North America
Format Computer-based test Computer-based test
Length About 7 hours and 30 minutes About 3 hours and 25 minutes
Cost About $310.00 About $199.00
Scores 118-132 for each of the 4 sections; total score 472-528 200-600
Test Dates Offered from January-September each year, usually around 25 times Usually offered in January, February, July, September, October, and November
Sections Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems; Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems; Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior; Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills Writing; Biological Processes; Chemical Processes; Critical Reading; Quantitative Reasoning

MCAT vs. PCAT: Content Differences 

The PCAT and the MCAT are similar in terms of their overall test areas, including reading comprehension, biology, chemistry, and math. You’ll have to review many of the same subjects to do well on either exam, and you can’t use a calculator on either test. 

However, there are a few key differences. The MCAT includes physics questions, which aren’t covered on the PCAT. Moreover, the MCAT’s biology questions are widely considered by students to be more advanced, more complex, and more in-depth overall. The new MCAT also includes sections on psychology, sociology, and human development and behavior. 

Another major difference between the two exams is that the MCAT focuses more on passage-based questions. The PCAT relies on your background knowledge of certain subjects, whereas the MCAT will require you to read longer passages and use analytical and critical reasoning to answer questions based on those passages. If you have difficulty synthesizing and digesting large amounts of information quickly, the MCAT may be more of a challenge for you. 

Finally, there are a few logistical differences between the PCAT and the MCAT. The MCAT takes much longer to complete on exam day than the PCAT, and students report that they don’t have to prepare for as many hours before taking the PCAT. You’ll receive an unofficial score report right after taking the PCAT, while you won’t receive your MCAT scores for about 30-35 days. 

Which Test Should You Take?

The MCAT is generally considered to be more difficult than the PCAT. The biology questions are more advanced, and there’s no physics on the PCAT. You’ll need to come into test day with more background knowledge to take the MCAT. The PCAT is also much shorter than the MCAT and less expensive. Overall, it’s likely a much easier and more convenient test. If you’re sure you’d like to attend a pharmacy college, the PCAT is probably a better choice. 

The caveat, of course, is that the PCAT is highly specific. It’s only applicable for admission to pharmacy colleges. The MCAT is used for entry into a much wider variety of medical fields. If you aren’t sure if you’d like to attend a college of pharmacy and may want to pursue another area in the medical field in the future, you may not be able to use your PCAT scores for admission.