Chemistry on the PCAT includes general chemistry, organic chemistry, and biochemistry. For many students, the Chemical Processes section is one of the most challenging due to the wide variety of content knowledge and skills required. However, despite its breadth, the chemistry knowledge required is not nearly as in-depth as what is taught in undergraduate courses. And, unlike those of other tests, Chemical Processes questions are all multiple choice. That means you will not be expected to, for example, predict the products of an organic chemistry reaction from the top of your head or determine the correct reaction conditions to get from one molecule to another out of infinite possibilities. Together, these facts mean you will be able to improve in the Chemical Processes section quickly with judicious studying and practice.
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The Chemical Processes Section
Just like the Biological Processes section, the Chemical Processes section has a total of 48 questions and a run time of 45 minutes. Approximately 50% of the questions are discrete, and the other questions are associated with passages that are 150–300 words long and have four questions each. Spending only two minutes reading each passage allows you to spend 35 seconds on each question. Organic chemistry and biochemistry questions tend to be faster to answer than general chemistry questions, which often require more written notes, so use 35 seconds as the average rather than a set rule for every question.
Since many of the Chemical Processes questions require lengthier tasks, such as completing calculations and balancing reactions, keeping track of time and making good decisions about which questions to skip and mark for later in the Chemical Processes section is especially important. Most test takers will not be able to fully complete all of the questions in this section. However, by using efficient strategies and making educated guesses, you will be able to mark a reasonable answer for every question. Never leave any question blank since there is no additional penalty for wrong answers. Instead, when your first assessment of a question indicates that it will take longer than 60 seconds to complete, mark the question, make an educated guess, and move on. If you follow the Kaplan timing guidelines, you will have a couple minutes at the end of the section to review your marked questions. If you end up not having enough time to go back to all of your marked questions, you’ll still be able to rest assured that you chose an answer for every question and that you did earn points for the questions you were able to take the time to work through.
Studying Chemistry Content
The chemistry you will see on Test Day blends theoretical knowledge with practical application. For the PCAT, knowing the reason why intermolecular bonds form is just as important as being able to calculate the energy required to break them. You may be tempted to study general chemistry, organic chemistry, and biochemistry separately, but the best test takers are able to integrate that knowledge to answer even the most difficult chemistry questions.
Therefore, when confronted with a new equation, don’t focus only on how to perform each mathematical step. Instead, also consider what each variable truly represents, the proportionalities that are implied, and the reasons behind those relationships. Having this conceptual understanding will not only help you answer questions but will also make memorizing equations easier. With this kind of background knowledge, you may be able to determine the correct mathematical relationship to use on Test Day even if you can’t recall the formula to use.
To facilitate learning the material this way, intersperse learning content with practicing questions. While studying, take breaks between topics to complete one or two practice questions, review relevant material from your online tests, or memorize important equations. By utilizing a variety of resources, you’ll see the material from different perspectives and gain a deeper understanding.
Furthermore, once you’ve finished a topic, take some time to reflect on how that knowledge connects to what you’ve already learned. If you form a narrative describing how an atom is formed, attaches to other atoms with intramolecular bonds to create a molecule, and connects with other molecules via intermolecular forces to determine its phase of matter, then you’ll be much more likely to remember the material and apply it on Test Day.
Finally, don’t study each topic in complete isolation. A strong general chemistry foundation makes learning organic and biochemistry much more manageable. Many of the same reaction types are seen across all three fields of chemistry, so what you learn for one topic will help you with others. And, although much of the chemistry content is unique to the Chemical Processes section, overlap with other sections does exist. For example, some concepts from molecular biology and biochemistry, such as metabolism, can be found in both the Biological Processes and Chemical Processes sections. When you first begin studying for the sciences, it’s generally best to treat the sections as separate, but true mastery comes when you’re able to integrate strategies and content from individual sections across the entire PCAT.
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