How to Study for the OAT

The OAT is designed to predict success in the first year of optometry school, so it’s a high-speed, time-intensive test. In order to put yourself in the best position to achieve your goal score, you’ll want to make sure that you have a solid plan for how to study. Building an organized, targeted study calendar and sticking to it is key to giving you the confidence and structure you need to succeed on the OAT.
[ RELATED: What’s Tested on the OAT? ]


Your personal study plan for studying for the OAT will need to be based around your commitments, your personal prep needs, and your time to Test Day. The total amount of time you spend studying each week will depend on your schedule, your starting content and critical thinking mastery, and your test date, but it is recommended that you spend somewhere in the range of 150-250 hours preparing before taking the official OAT.
One way you could break this down is to study for three hours per day, five days per week, for three months. But this is just one approach. You might choose to study six days per week (though be sure to give yourself at least one day off each week) or for more than three hours per day. You might study over a longer period of time if you don’t have as much time to study each week. Or you might find that you need more or fewer hours based on your personal performance and goal scores. 
No matter what your plan is, ensure you complete enough practice to feel completely comfortable with the OAT and its content. A good sign you’re ready for Test Day is when you begin to earn your goal score consistently in practice.

Creating a Study Plan

Building a Calendar
The best time to create a study plan is at the beginning of your OAT prep. This will likely take an hour or more; take the time to thoroughly build your study calendar as it will be a fantastic tool to keep you organized and on track to be fully prepared by your OAT Test Day. You can use a planner, keep track using an interactive online calendar, or use a calendar app on your phone/computer. 
Once you have your calendar, write in all your school, extracurricular, and work obligations: classes you’re taking, work, meetings, etc. Then add in personal obligations: appointments, lunch dates, family and social time, etc. As part of your personal obligations, be sure to schedule in specific time for family and friends, working out, or other hobbies and extracurricular activities. Making an appointment in your calendar for downtime or hanging with friends may seem strange at first, but planning social activities in advance will help you cope with your busy schedule and help you strike a happy balance that allows you to be more focused and productive when it comes time to study. Plus, our brains need some rest to process all of the learning they do.
Once you have established your calendar’s framework, add in study blocks around your obligations, keeping your study schedule as consistent as possible across days and across weeks. 

Tip: Studying at the same time of day as your official test is ideal for promoting the best recall, but if that’s not possible, then fit in study blocks whenever you can. 

Next, add in full-length practice tests. For each practice test scheduled, set aside five hours to take the test and then another five hours the next day to thoroughly review the test. You should plan to take at least three full-length practice tests over the course of your OAT prep. (You get two online practice tests with the purchase of OAT Prep Plus 2019-2020 and seven practice tests if you take a Kaplan OAT class.) Plan to take your first practice test at the beginning of your prep. Kaplan offers a free, realistic practice test for the OAT that will also give you a detailed score analysis. You can use your results to establish a baseline for comparison and to determine which areas to focus on right away.
Study Blocks
To make studying as efficient as possible, block out short, frequent periods of study time throughout the week. From a learning perspective, studying one hour per day for six days per week is much more valuable than studying for six hours all at once one day per week (studying binges are typically not effective). Spacing out your prep allows your brain time to consolidate its new memories, and seeing the material repeatedly over a longer period of time makes recalling information on Test Day easier and faster.
We recommend studying for no longer than three hours in one sitting. In fact, three hours is an ideal length of time to study: It’s long enough to build up your stamina for the five-hour OAT, but not so long that you become overwhelmed with too much information.
Within those three-hour blocks, also plan to take 10-minute breaks every hour. Use these breaks to get up from your seat, do some quick stretches, get a snack and a drink, and clear your mind. These breaks will allow you to deal with distractions and rest your brain so that, during the 50-minute study blocks, you can remain completely focused. Taking breaks more often than this, however, can be detrimental; research shows that becoming fully engaged in a mentally-taxing activity generally takes ten minutes, so if you stop to check your email or social media, talk with your roommates, or grab yet another snack every ten minutes while studying, you will never be completely engaged and will not be using your time effectively.
If you would like to study for more than three hours in one day, space out your studying with a significant break in the middle. For example, you might study for three hours in the morning, take a two-hour break to have lunch with friends, then study for another two hours in the afternoon. If you are unable to study for a full three hours in one sitting, shorter amounts of time can work as well, but you’ll get the most benefit from studying if you immerse yourself in the material uninterrupted for at least one hour. 


Goal Setting
The OAT covers a large amount of material, so studying can initially seem daunting. To put studying more into your control, break the content down into specific goals for each day and each week instead of attempting to approach the test as a whole. A goal of “I want to increase my cumulative score by thirty points” is too big, abstract, and difficult to measure on a small scale. A more reasonable goal is “I will be able to recite all of the digestive enzymes by Friday.” Goals like this are much less overwhelming and help break studying into manageable pieces.
Once you’ve established your short-term goals, you will want to achieve them as efficiently and effectively as possible, which means making the most of your study time. Always take notes when reading and practicing. Whether you are studying on your own or with an expert teacher or tutor, practice active learning: jot down important ideas, draw diagrams, and make charts. Highlighting can be an excellent tool but use it sparingly. Active participation increases your retention and makes rereading your notes at a later date a great way to refresh your memory.
Focus on Areas of Greatest Opportunity
If you are limited by only having a minimal amount of time to study before your OAT test date, focus on your biggest areas of opportunity first. Areas of opportunity are topic areas that are highly tested and that you have not yet mastered. You can use your results from your practice tests to determine which areas are your biggest opportunities and seek those out.
Practice, Review, and Tracking
Leave time to review your practice tests, questions from practice sets, and your notes throughout your studying. You may be tempted to push ahead and cover new material as quickly as possible, but failing to schedule ample time for review will actually throw away your greatest opportunity to improve your performance. The brain rarely remembers anything it sees or does only once. When you build a connection in the brain and then don’t follow up on it, that knowledge may still be in your memory somewhere but not in the accessible way you need it to be on Test Day. When you carefully review notes you’ve taken or problems you’ve solved (and the explanations for them), the process of retrieving that information reopens and reinforces the connections you’ve built in your brain. This builds long-term retention and repeatable skill sets—exactly what you need to beat the OAT.
While reviewing, take notes about the specific reasons why you missed questions you got wrong or had to guess on. You can do this by hand, or create a spreadsheet. Keep adding to the sheet as you complete more practice, and periodically review it to identify any patterns you see, such as consistently missing questions in certain content areas or falling for the same test-maker traps. Here’s an example of an error log:
SectionQ#Topic/TypeWrong Answer ChosenWhy I Missed It
Chemistry42 Nuclear Chem. Opposite Confused electron absorption and emission
Reading Comp2DetailOpposite Didn’t read “not” in answer choice; slow down.


In the end, you want to:

  1. Personalize your studying to be as effective as possible for you individually
  2. Follow a specific calendar that contains your study blocks and breaks
  3. Make the most of those study blocks by focusing on your areas of opportunity

In this way, you’ll learn more and at a faster rate than you could otherwise. Sticking with your efficient plan leads to effectively learning the material you need to ace the OAT—this way, you can do well the first time and not need to study for the test again. Being committed now will definitely pay off in the end.
[ NEXT: What’s a Good OAT Score? ]