What's Tested on PCAT Critical Reading?

The PCAT Critical Reading section is 50 minutes long and consists of 48 multiple-choice questions divided into 6 passages with 8 questions each. You have approximately 8 minutes per passage and 30 seconds per question. Because of the short time allotted for each question, getting as familiar with the structure of the Critical Reading section on the PCAT—and the types of questions asked—will put you in the best position to reach your score goal on Test Day.
To do well on PCAT Critical Reading, you will need to read critically and understand why the author presents certain information. Keep reading to learn how the section is structured and for tips to boost your performance.
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PCAT Critical Reading: Overview

The Critical Reading portion of the exam contains six short passages consisting of four to seven paragraphs and 500-600 words. Each passage pertains to an ethical, social, cultural, or political issue that affects one of the following topics:

  • Natural Science
  • Social Science
  • Humanities
  • Health
  • Nutrition
  • Medicine
  • Technology 

The intent of the author may be to inform, persuade, or speculate, but usually the author’s tone remains roughly neutral due to the nature of the content. Subtle clues may indicate an author is for or against certain ideas, but these opinions will rarely be extreme.
Outside knowledge of each field is not required to answer questions correctly, and the passages are meant to cover material you do not already know. However, familiarity with the general vocabulary and writing style used in each field can build your confidence and speed you up on the day of your official PCAT. Reading through recent editions of journals, such as the Journal of the American Pharmacists Association and Humanities, and magazines, such as Discover and Scientific American, will increase your familiarity with this type of material. 


Each of the six passages will be accompanied by eight questions for a total of 48 questions per section. Because you will have 50 minutes total to complete the section, allot approximately eight minutes per passage: three minutes for reading the passage and five minutes for answering the eight questions. This will give you approximately 35 seconds per question. 
Note: Neither every passage nor every question should take the same amount of time due to varying difficulty and length, so use these numbers as guidelines rather than hard rules. 


The PCAT Critical Reading section tests your ability to comprehend, analyze, and interpret reading passages. Questions are always about the corresponding passage—you do not need any outside knowledge. You are not necessarily looking for the answer choices that are the most factual but rather those that correspond best with the author and the passage. If you do have prior knowledge in a field, you must be careful not to apply that to the questions and instead only answer based on the information in the passage.
Here are Kaplan’s top four tips for PCAT Reading:
  • PCAT Critical reading Tip #1

    1. You’re not learning to read anything. This is not information you need to carry with you for years, months, weeks, or even hours. You just need to use it in the next few minutes, and you will even be able to refer to the passage when you need to.

  • PCAT Critical reading Tip #2

    2. You’re not reading to remember anything. If you try to remember what you read, you’ll rely on memory—which is notoriously faulty—and your mind will be taken up with what you’re trying to remember. That’s not helpful. Your mind needs to be open and focused on the really important parts of the PCAT: the questions.

  • PCAT Critical reading Tip #3

    3. You don’t need any outside knowledge or your own leaps of logic to read the passage well. All the correct answers are supported in the passage. As stated previously, if you use what you already know, you’ll be tempted to answer questions based on your own knowledge and not the passage. That’s a classic way to choose wrong answers.

  • PCAT Critical reading Tip #4

    4. You’re not reading to understand everything. After all, if there’s no question on the part you didn’t understand, it doesn’t matter anyway. So you’re not going to read and reread; you’re just going to keep moving ahead and let the questions determine what you need to reread.

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