PCAT stands for Pharmacy College Admission Test, and taking it is a requirement for anyone in the United States who hopes to enroll in a pharmacist program. The test is given several times a year at testing centers all over America. Test dates can change from year to year, so one should always check the official PCAT page for the official dates. Generally it’s given a couple times in winter, a couple times in summer, and several times in fall.

Taking the PCAT is an all-day affair, as the test itself lasts around four and a half hours, and test takers are expected to be there at least 30 minutes prior to the start time. (Anyone who arrives more than 15 minutes after the exam has started will be turned away, and will also lose all fees they’ve paid.) The exam contains two Writing requirements. One of them is experimental, but test takers will have no idea which one is experimental and which one counts.

There are five multiple choice sections on the exam: Verbal Ability, Biology, Chemistry, Reading Comprehension, and Quantitative Ability. Each of these has 48 questions, of which 40 are scored, and 8 are experimental and don’t count. Just as is the case with the Writing portions, test takers will not know which are which, and should assume that each question counts.

The Verbal Ability section lasts 30 minutes. Of the 48 questions in this section, 60% will consist of analogy problems, and the remaining 40% will be sentence completion exercises.

The Biology section is 30 minutes long. Of the 48 Biology questions, 50% cover general biology, 20% cover microbiology, and the remaining 30% are on human anatomy and physiology.

The Chemistry section is also 30 minutes. Of the 48 Chemistry questions, 50% cover general chemistry, 30% cover organic chemistry, and 20% cover basic biochemistry processes.

Reading Comprehension lasts for 50 minutes, and contains six reading passages. Of the 48 questions, 30% cover comprehension, 40% cover analysis, and 30% cover evaluation.

The Quantitative Ability section is 40 minutes long. The 48 questions in this section break down like this: basic math 15%, algebra 20%, probability and statistics 20%, precalculus 22%, and calculus 22%.

There is no “passing” score on the PCAT, as each pharmacy college sets its own standards when it comes to making admissions decisions. That being said, it’s one of the most difficult standardized tests in existence, and extensive preparation is a requirement for achieving a high score.


PCAT Practice Questions

Verbal Abilities


  1. patient
  2. hearing
  3. heartbeat
  4. doctor


  1. entree
  2. brunch
  3. appetizer
  4. plate


  1. greed
  2. money
  3. average
  4. accumulate

4. Marcia’s _____ voice caused not only people but also animals to _____ away from her as soon as she opened her mouth.

  1. melodious, shy
  2. cheerful, turn
  3. whispery, hurry
  4. strident, scurry

5. The material is so complicated that only the most _____ student is likely to _____ long enough to understand it.

  1. uncomplicated, meditate
  2. resolute, persevere
  3. intelligent, resonate
  4. ambitious, ratify


6. Which formula and structure are the same?

7. The sp3 orbital is a hybrid of

  1. three sp orbitals
  2. the 3s and a 3p orbital
  3. the s and three p orbitals of the same principal quantum level
  4. three p orbitals of one principal quantum level and the s orbital of the next

8. A molecular structure that is not superimposable with its mirror image isomer is called

  1. a geometric isomer
  2. a conformational isomer
  3. an enantiomeric isomer
  4. a structural isomer

9. Which of the following pairs of compounds are oxygen heterocycles?

  1. cyclohexanone and pyran
  2. ethylene oxide and furan
  3. dicyclohexyl ether and cyclohexene epoxide
  4. all of the above

10. The Grignard reaction between isobutyl magnesium bromide and cyclohexanone in anhydrous diethyl ether produces

  1. 1-(2-methylpropyl)-cyclohexanol
  2. cyclohexyl 2-methylpropyl ether
  3. 1-bromocyclohexanol
  4. cyclohexyl 2-methylpropanoate


11. The fact that birds and bats both have wings is an example of

  1. ontogeny recapitulating phylogeny.
  2. convergent evolution.
  3. adaptive radiation.
  4. punctuated equilibrium.

12. The reason penicillin and related antibiotics are not toxic to humans is

  1. mammals, but not bacteria, have enzymes called beta-lactamases, which can destroy these compounds.
  2. they cannot cross the cytoplasmic membrane of eukaryotic cells.
  3. penicillin inhibits protein synthesis on bacterial ribosomes but does not affect eukaryotic ribosomes.
  4. animal cells do not have a cell wall, which is the target for penicillin in bacterial cells.

13. Which of the following statements about the process of DNA replication is NOT true?

  1. The double-stranded DNA molecule is unwound by an enzyme that duplicates both strands at the same time.
  2. The replication enzymes are capable of proofreading the copy they make.
  3. Mutations can occur if the replication enzyme skips reading one of the bases.
  4. The duplicated double helices each contain one old strand and one newly synthesized DNA strand.

14. Which of the following is a consistent difference between viruses and bacteria?

  1. Bacteria only have a single chromosome; viruses always have at least two.
  2. Bacteria are surrounded by cell walls; viruses are not.
  3. Bacteria can specify enzymes for their own replication; viruses usually cannot.
  4. Bacteria are always larger than viruses.

15. Which of the following statements about the liver is INCORRECT?

  1. It plays a role in digesting lipids.
  2. It is a storage site for fat.
  3. It is a storage site for amino acids necessary for protein synthesis.
  4. It is a major site for the detoxification of blood.

Reading Comprehension

Directions: Read each passage. Then, choose the best answer to each question that follows.

Passage 1

Asthma is a chronic, long-term lung condition characterized by these four basic abnormalities:

  • narrow airways
  • inflamed airways
  • airways that are overly sensitive to particular triggers, such as certain medications, infections, irritants, allergens, exercise, and dry, cold air
  • the secretion of excess mucus in the lungs

In the past, explanations of asthma focused on what was happening within the lungs and the airways. An asthma attack was most often described as bronchoconstriction-the constriction, or narrowing, of the bronchial system, the muscles that surround the airways. Consequently, the aim of treatment was bronchodilation, or getting the bronchial muscles to relax, which allowed the airways to dilate, or open up. Inhalers provided bronchodilators, medication that caused this effect. A person with asthma who felt an attack coming on could expand his or her airways by using an inhaler that contained a bronchodilator.

This view of asthma led scientists to divide asthma into two types: extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic asthma was seen as being triggered by a foreign substance entering the lungs. Intrinsic asthma was seen as being triggered by some inexplicable process within the body that no one really understood. However, this explanation of asthma is no longer considered valid. Scientists now suspect that much so-called intrinsic asthma was actually triggered by a foreign substance that was just not identified.

More recent explanations of asthma suggest that it is a disordered immune response that causes cells to release certain chemical molecules into the airways. This view sees asthma as a disorder in which the body reacts and overreacts to stimuli in the environment. Some of these stimuli are not really dangerous, such as cold air and dust mites. Some of them may actually be dangerous, such as viruses and pollution. Therefore, what doctors used to call intrinsic asthma is now explained as the body reacting to a perceived threat.

No matter what it is that triggers an asthma attack, the body’s reaction to the stimulus is very harmful. As it deals with what it perceives as an attack by a dangerous foreign substance, the body goes into an asthmatic reaction. The bronchial lining-the tissues lining the airways-becomes inflamed. As it swells and turns red, it tends to narrow the air passages. Inflammation has another effect as well: it makes the passages supersensitive to perceived dangers. While a normal lung would ignore a speck of house dust, an asthmatic lung might react strongly to it. The airways of an asthmatic are chronically inflamed and therefore extremely sensitive to the wide variety of triggers that make them contract.

Does the use of bronchodilators help or harm the asthmatic? Many doctors now see the frequent use of bronchodilators as a problem, for they treat only the symptoms and not the causes of the condition. An asthmatic might rely on the bronchodilator to open up the airways, even as the lungs become increasingly inflamed. The more inflamed the lungs get, the tighter the airways get, and the more medication is needed to open them up. The asthmatic might end up using the inhaler more and more often, as its effects last for shorter and shorter periods. The danger is that one day the bronchodilator might not be able to open up the exhausted airways.

16. A good title for this selection would be

  1. “Changing Attitudes toward Asthma.”
  2. “Intrinsic and Extrinsic Asthma.”
  3. “Inhalers-Good or Bad?
  4. “Avoiding Asthma Triggers.”

17. A person with asthma has abnormalities in

  1. the airways.
  2. the lungs.
  3. the airways and the lungs.
  4. the bronchial system.

18. Bronchodilation can be described as

  1. constriction of the bronchial muscles.
  2. a disordered immune response.
  3. an abnormality of the lungs.
  4. relaxation of the bronchial muscles.

19. Which of the following is not a characteristic of asthma?

  1. narrow, inflamed airways
  2. high blood pressure
  3. overly sensitive airways
  4. excess mucus in the lungs

20. According to the article, scientists now believe that asthma

  1. is completely treatable by bronchodilators.
  2. cannot be treated by bronchodilators.
  3. can be divided into two types: intrinsic and extrinsic.
  4. is an overreaction to environmental stimuli.

21. The purpose of using a bronchodilator is to

  1. expand the airways.
  2. constrict the airways.
  3. cure asthma.
  4. zap any dangerous external stimuli.

22. The last paragraph suggests that

  1. bronchodilators do more harm than good.
  2. asthmatics should never use bronchodilators.
  3. the body builds up resistance to the medication in the bronchodilator.
  4. asthmatics cannot really be helped.

23. You can infer that the author would be in favor of

  1. encouraging more frequent use of bronchodilators by asthma patients.
  2. treating the symptoms and not the underlying causes of asthma attacks.
  3. developing more efficient ways of getting bronchodilators to work.
  4. preventive measures, such as the use of anti-inflammatory medications for asthma sufferers.

Quantitative Ability

24. Find the slope of the line 3x + y – 5 = 0.

  1. -3
  2. 3
  3. -3/5
  4. 3/5

25. Which of the following is a solution of the equation dy/dx = sec2x?

  1. y = sin2x
  2. y = cos2x
  3. y = tan2x
  4. y = tan x

26. Find the second derivative of the equation y = 2x3 + x3 + 3x + 4.

  1. 12x + 2
  2. 12x + 5
  3. 6x2 + 2x + 3
  4. 6x2 + 2x + 7

27. Find the value of cosθ . cscθ . tanθ .

  1. 0
  2. 1
  3. tanθ
  4. cotθ

Use the following diagram to answer Question 28:

28. Given ΔABC in the figure above, AC = 5, and the radius OD = 6.5. Find AB.

  1. 6.5
  2. 10
  3. 12
  4. 13

Answers and Explanations

1. D: The analogy is tool to worker. A carpenter uses a hammer just as a doctor uses a stethoscope.

2. B: In type analogies, one word in the stem names a category that encompasses the other. Just as a condominium is a type of dwelling, so is brunch a type of meal. You might have been tempted to choose A or C, but those are parts of a meal, not a type of meal.

3. A: This is another synonym-based analogy. Duplicity and deception mean about the same thing, just as avarice and greed do. You might have been tempted to choose D, which suggests something that an avaricious person might do, but greed is the better answer since it is a noun, as avarice is.

4. D: The placement of the first blank indicates that the correct word will describe voice, and the word away after the second blank suggests that people and animals were put off by Marcia’s voice and wanted to get away from it. Melodious and cheerful have positive connotations, so they can be eliminated as answer choices. Whispery is neither negative nor positive, but it does not suggest that one would want to hurry away. The best choice is D, strident, which means “screechy.” A screechy voice might make someone scurry, or scoot, away.

5. B: The placement of the first blank indicates that the correct word will describe student. Looking at all the answer choices, we can see that the first word in each pair could describe a student, so we need to look at the second word and begin the process of elimination. Ask yourself how a student would go about understanding complicated material. The only answer choice that makes sense is B, persevere, which means “to persist in spite of difficulty.”

6. D. The formula contains six carbon atoms and six hydrogen atoms. Structure a) corresponds to the formula C6H12. Structures b) and c) correspond to C6H8. Only structure d) of these possibilities corresponds to the formula C6H6.

7. C. Only the s and p orbitals of the same principal quantum level are sufficiently close in energy to combine and form the hybrid sp3 orbitals. The sp orbital is a hybrid of the s orbital and one of the porbitals of the same principal quantum level. Therefore, the 3s and one 3p orbital would form the 3sphybrid orbital, not the sp3 orbital.

8. C. Enantiomeric isomers, or enantiomers, are molecules that are identical in every respect but are non-superimposable mirror images of each other according to the orientation of substituents about a central atom.
Geometric isomers are compounds that differ in their geometric structure only, for example, cis– andtrans-2-butene.
Conformational isomers are the different shapes that can be adopted by a molecule, for example, thechair, twist and boat conformations of the cyclohexane molecule.
Structural isomers are compounds with the same molecular formula but different molecular structures, for example, C2H6O, which represents either ethanol, CH3CH2OH, or dimethyl ether, CH3OCH3.

9. B. Only ethylene oxide and furan are both oxygen heterocycles. The oxygen atoms in cyclohexanone and dicyclohexyl ether are not part of the cyclic structures, but are external to those rings.

10. A.

11. B: The evolutionary origin of wings in birds and bats is an example of convergent evolution, where the same structure arises independently in two distinct lineages to achieve the same function. The belief that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny, also known as Haeckel’s theory, is the notion, now accepted as false, that in development (ontogeny) animals go through all the previous stages of evolution (phylogeny) that preceded the origin of their species. For example, it was believed that mammalian embryos go through a fish phase. Adaptive radiation and punctuated equilibrium are both evolutionary terms related to speciation in response to environmental and genetic changes. When organisms find themselves in new environments, distinct species can rapidly evolve, a process termed adaptive radiation. Punctuated equilibrium is the hypothesis that rather than evolution being a slow and steady process, there are sporadic and rapid expansions in the number of new species in response to genetic alterations or environmental changes, such as ice ages.

12. D: The effectiveness of penicillin is a result of the fact that it looks to many bacteria like a component of their cell walls. The biochemical machinery that assembles the cell wall is inhibited by penicillin and related antibiotics (beta-lactams and cephalosporins). When treated with these agents, bacteria can’t construct a cell wall. The absence of a cell wall makes bacteria fragile and susceptible to lysis when exposed to solutions where the salt concentration is lower outside the cell than inside (hypotonic solutions). Animal cells, which lack a cell wall, and even plant cells, which have an entirely different cell wall structure, are unharmed by these antibiotics.

13. A: The structure of the double helical DNA molecule is termed “anti-parallel” to indicate that the bonding process between the sugars and phosphates, which make up the backbone of the DNA molecule, runs in opposite directions on the two strands. Since this would require a DNA synthetic enzyme, called a DNA polymerase, to add nucleotide monomers in two directions at the same time, it is impossible for one enzyme to replicate both strands. Most DNA polymerases can backspace and remove an incorrectly inserted nucleotide in a process known as proofreading. Sometimes mistakes are not corrected. In those cases where an extra nucleotide is inserted or a base is not copied, a mutation-termed a frameshift mutation-will result. The process of DNA replication is termed semi-conservative, indicating that each strand of the double helix is used as a template for a new copy of the other, complementary, DNA sequence.

14. B: Bacteria and viruses each represent a large group, and members of each vary widely within their respective groups in a number of ways. While most, but not all, bacteria have cell walls, there are no examples of viruses surrounded by anything like a cell wall. While bacteria generally specify most, if not all, of the enzymatic machinery to replicate themselves, viruses typically cannot. However, some rather complex viruses, such as the herpes virus, do carry into cells some of the enzymes for replicating their own genetic material, although these mechanisms are rare. While it is almost always the case that the genetic material of bacteria is present as a single DNA molecule, the hereditary material of viruses can be either RNA or DNA. Viral genetic material can also be a single DNA molecule, as it is for the HPV virus that causes genital warts or in other cases, such as the influenza virus.

15. C: The liver plays many important roles in digestion and metabolism. Its most direct role in digestion is the production of bile, which helps break down lipids. The liver is also the site of storage for carbohydrates and fats (but not amino acids), which serve as a reserve of metabolic energy. In addition, as blood flows through the liver, it is detoxified by the conversion of ammonia, a product of protein breakdown, to urea. The liver also directly renders many toxins harmless through the use of specific oxidative enzymes.

16. A: The answer to a question about the title of a passage has to be broad enough to cover the entire passage. Choices B, C, and D are wrong because, although the author does mention these issues, they are not the main focus of the article. The phrases “in the past,” “this view of asthma,” and “more recent explanations of asthma,” which begin several paragraphs in a row, indicate that choice A is the best summary of the passage and is the correct answer.

17. C: The bulleted list of abnormalities that characterize asthma provides the answer to this question. While choices A and B are partially correct, choice C is more encompassing. Choice D can be eliminated, as the bronchial system is not mentioned in the bulleted list.

18. D: Paragraph 2 provides the answer to this question, in the explanatory phrase following the wordbronchodilation, “or getting the bronchial muscles to relax.” Choice A can be eliminated because the word constriction means the opposite of dilation. Choice B can be eliminated because it is asthma itself, not bronchodilation, that is called a “disordered immune response” in paragraph 4. As for choice C, it can be eliminated because the bronchial system is separate from the lungs.

19. B: While it is true that a person with asthma might also have high blood pressure, the high blood pressure is completely separate from asthma and would be treated differently. Furthermore, high blood pressure is not mentioned in the article.

20. D: Based on information in the last paragraph, choices A and B can both be eliminated. The wordcompletely is the giveaway in choice A-while asthma symptoms can be treated by bronchodilators, thecauses are not treated. Choice B is obviously wrong because bronchodilators are used to treat the symptoms. Choice C can be eliminated because it describes an outdated view of asthma.

21. A: Knowing that the root word dilate means “to become or make wider, larger, or more open” leads to choice A as the correct answer. None of the other answer choices is supported by the information in the article.

22. C: In the last paragraph, the clause “its effects last for shorter and shorter periods” supports choice C as the correct answer. It is clear that choices A, B, and D are incorrect, since bronchodilators are of some use to asthmatics who are in the middle of an asthma attack. 23. D: It is clear that choice A is incorrect, since the author says that the “frequent use of bronchodilators” is now seen as a problem. Choice B can be eliminated, as the author sees treating the symptoms rather than the causes as the basic problem with the use of bronchodilators. Choice C is clearly wrong, as the author never touches on this subject. Choice D, the correct answer, is supported by the last paragraph of the article.

24. A: The easiest method is to rewrite the equation in slope-intercept form, which is y = mx + b ,
where m is the slope: 3x + y – 5 = 0 ⇒ 3x + y = 5 ⇒ y = -3x+5
Here, it is clear that the slope is -3.

25. D: By definition, the first derivative of tan x is sec2 x. The first derivative of an equation is represented by the expression dy/dx. There is no math to do in this problem. This simply requires you to remember trigonometric definitions and representations.

26. A: To find the derivative of an equation, multiply the exponent of a term by its coefficient to form the new coefficient and reduce the value of the exponent by 1 to form the new exponent. A term that is a constant becomes zero when taking the derivative.

y = 2x3 + x2 +3x + 4 ⇒ y’ = 2(3)x3-1 + 1(2)x2-1 + 3(1)x1-1 + 0
⇒ y’ = 6x2 + 2x + 3
This is the first derivative. To get the second derivative, find the derivative of :
y’ = 6x2 + 2x + 3 ⇒ y” = 6(2)x2-1 + 2(1)x1-1 + 3(1)x1-1 + 0 ⇒ y” = 12x + 2
This is the second derivative and the correct answer.

27. B: This problem requires you to remember the trigonometric reciprocal and ratio identities:
cscθ = 1/sinθ and tanθ = sinθ/cosθ
Substituting these identities in the original problem, we get
cosθ . cscθ . tanθ = cosθ . 1/sinθ . cosθ/sinθ = 1 when the sin and cos terms cancel out.

28. C: Any triange inscribed in a semicircle is a right triangle, therefore ΔABC is a right triangle, and ∠A is a right angle. The radius is given as 6.5, so the diameter, CB, is then equal to 2(6.5) = 13. If you recogize this as a 5-12-13 right triangle, you are done. Otherwise, use the Pythagorean formula to solve for AB:
(AB)2 + (AC)2 = (CB)2 ⇒ (AB)2 + 52 = 132
⇒ (AB)2 + 25 = 169 ⇒ (AB)2 = 144 ⇒ AB = 12