Visit to AAMU and Preparation for Health School Admissions Tests (MCAT, DAT, PCAT, OAT)

by Dr. James L Flowers

December 20, 2009

I want to thank Dr. Razi Hassan for his tremendous hospitality during my stay at Alabama A&M University in Huntsville, AL. He and his staff were wonderful hosts. I must say I was impressed by the city of Huntsville and its critical role in space travel and with the university itself which has been educating students for over 125 years.

This was a totally new experience for me. Most of my trips have been focused totally on the MCAT. But, this time I was charged with teaching for the MCAT as well as the PCAT (Pharmacy), the OAT (Optometry) and the DAT (Dental) school admission tests. I found this both interesting and challenging.

Some of my thoughts are:

1) The science components may be used by all of the students with some differences. I found little difference between the science preparation needed for the DAT, OAT and PCAT other than physics which is only required for the OAT. As for the MCAT, if you take one year of really good biology (you do need to know photosynthesis for the DAT, OAT and PCAT), one good year of general chemistry, a solid year of organic chemistry, and one year of non-Calculus physics (only for MCAT and OAT), you WILL be prepared for all of these tests. The science of the DAT, OAT and PCAT would be helpful for general knowledge for the MCAT. But, the reason the MCAT’s science is more difficult is the interaction of the passage and general knowledge content on that test. I found that the OAT, DAT and PCAT actually had more difficult pure memory questions than the MCAT. Also, don’t be fooled by the lack of passages on the DAT, OAT and PCAT. What they had were essentially “mini-passages” as stand-alone questions which are equivalent to passage questions on the MCAT.

2) Reading comprehension is more difficult for the MCAT. The preparation is similar for all of these tests. Studying one, especially the MCAT, would be beneficial for the others as well.

3) Verbal abilities, ie analogies and sentence completion, are only for the PCAT.

4) Writing samples are found for the MCAT and PCAT but are slightly different. General preparation in writing would be helpful for both. The MCAT has a thesis/antithesis/reconciliation approach. The PCAT requires writing an argumentative and/or a problem solving essay. These would require somewhat different approaches and styles.

5) Mathematics is distinctly different on the tests. The MCAT math is submerged within the science questions mainly in the Physical Sciences. It is, by far, the simplest of all the math on the tests. The OAT and DAT are roughly equivalent in difficulty and both are much more demanding than the MCAT. There is no calculus or precalculus on the DAT or OAT. I found these questions to be moderately difficult, given that we want to be doctors, dentists, pharmacist and optometrists, and not engineers or physicists. By far, the most difficult math was found on the PCAT. This was partially because of the calculus, but there were just some very difficult questions on this test…so, beware in your preparation. Preparation for the MCAT math is about junior high school level; preparation for the OAT and DAT is at the high school level; preparation for the PCAT requires a first year college calculus course (unless you had it in high school) as well.

6) Finally, the Perceptual Abilities test is only found on the DAT and can be challenging. I introduced some, from what I was told, novel techniques which seemed to help the students.

Overall, I think I learned a lot as did the students. It appears to be possible to teach for all of these tests during the same general session. I am grateful for Dr. Hassan and his staff for affording me this opportunity.