Career & Professional Development > Health Professions Advising > Admission exams: preparation and more information

Most health care graduate programs require some type of standardized entrance exam as part of their application selection process.


It is recommended that students approach preparation for taking these tests as taking a 3-credit class and plan accordingly. How many hours would you spend in class for such a course? How many hours would you spend outside the class preparing for a 3-credit class? How do you take notes and how do you prepare for a test, etc.? Students need to determine what their study schedule will be and prepare for these admission tests three to six months prior to taking the test.

Your preparation methods for these admission tests may be one or more of the following:

  • Reduce your semester course load by the appropriate number of credits. If you anticipate taking an admission exam in the spring semester, you should decrease your course load (course requirement in the fall semester) by the appropriate number of credits in order to adequately prepare.
  • Study your textbooks and notes from the relevant courses. You may wish to use an outline such as the one printed in the MCAT Student Manual to help you structure your review and a commercial book of practice exams to familiarize yourself with the question format.
  • Purchase a set of review materials and practice examinations. Set up a schedule for weekly review and practice exams, and adhere to it.
  • Enroll in a commercial coaching course such as Kaplan or Princeton Review. If you elect this method of preparation, be sure to attend all classes, and do not stop there. Visit the Test Center as often as possible to work on practice tests and review the correct answers. Fees for commercial courses run over $1500. You have to find out if reduction in the cost is available to students receiving financial aid from the university.

Many students may inquire whether HPA endorses any particular method of test preparation. HPA does not endorse any particular method of  test preparation. Students know their own study habits and level of motivation better than any advisor. Through self-discipline, a commercial guide and other self-help materials there is an opportunity for tremendous cost savings. But if you are convinced that you will be better prepared if you take a commercial course, then you may want to consider taking one.

Applicants should plan to take the appropriate exam only once and NEVER TAKE THE EXAM UNLESS YOU HAVE FULLY PREPARED. You should only retake the exam if you were not adequately prepared the first time or if you had a bad experience that day. Most applicants do not change their score unless they significantly change their preparation for the retake.

Dental Admission Test (DAT):

Dental schools require the DAT for admission. The test consists of four distinct areas; Survey of Natural Sciences (Biology, Gen Chem, and Organic Chem), Perceptual Ability, Reading Comprehension and Quantitative Reasoning. A score of 20 and above is considered competitive. Students should strive for at least an 18 or higher on the Academic Average and Total Science portions of the test with no significantly lower score in a single area. We encourage you to make your first attempt between April and May of your application year. This test is self-scheduled and offered throughout the year at various testing centers. The results are immediate. A 90-day window is required between testing attempts and students must submit a new application and fee for each re-examination. Check the American Dental Association > Dental Admission Test website frequently for up-to-date information.

Medical College Admission Test (MCAT):

Both allopathic (MD) and osteopathic (DO) programs as well as most Podiatry (DPM) programs require the MCAT. Scores which are more than five years old are generally not accepted and a student is allowed to take the exam a maximum of three times during a year. As a general rule, students should strive for a combined score of 30 without a significantly lower score in any one subject area (10/10/10 – Biol Sci/Physical Sci/Verbal Reasoning). The test is offered between Jan – Sept each year and students are encouraged to make their first attempt by April of the year they plan to apply. You may not be registered for more than one test at a time and application windows typically open ~120 days prior to the test date. Test results are received in approximately 4 weeks. Check the Medical College Admission Test [MCAT] website frequently for up-to-date information.

Optometry Admission Test (OAT):

The OAT is the required test for optometry school — each school sets their own standards for admission review. The test consists of four parts; Survey of Natural Sciences (Biology, Gen Chem, and Organic Chem), Reading Comprehension, Physics, and Quantitative Reasoning. Generally a score of 320 to 340 or better is considered competitive as the median is 300 and represents the 40-52 percentile. Students are allowed to take the OAT an unlimited number of times but should allow 90-days between testing dates. Like the DAT, this test is self-scheduled and the results are immediate. Check the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry [ASCO] > OAT website frequently for up-to-date information.

Pharmacy College Admission Test (PCAT):

The PCAT is the pharmacy school admission exam and consists of five scored sections; Verbal Ability, Biology, Reading Comprehension, Quantitative Ability, and Chemistry. The test is scored on a scale of 200-600 with the mean falling between 340 and 460. Your score will be given in the form of a percentile based on the strength of the applicant pool. For example, if your percentile score is 60, it means that you scored higher than 60% of the other test takers. Scores in the 80 percent and above are considered by most schools as competitive. A student may take the PCAT no more than five times. The PCAT is offered four times a year Jan, June, August and October. Check the Pharmacy College Admission Test [PCAT] website frequently for current information.


The GRE is the admission test for students seeking master or doctoral level degrees in programs such programs as Physical Therapy (PT), Occupational Therapy (OT), Nursing, Physicians’ Assistant (PA) and Veterinary Medicine programs. The test is made up of three sections: Verbal, Quantitative, and Analytical Writing. A scaled score within a range of 200-800 is provided for the verbal and quantitative sections. A score of 0-6 is given for the writing section. Scores vary and there are general as well as specialized tests. Check with your school of interest as to their competitive scores. The test is self-scheduled and should be taken by the spring of the year that a student is planning to matriculate into a health profession school. Check the GRE website frequently for current information.