The PCAT is a standardized test which is an entry requirement of the pharmacy schools across the US. It is a challenging test and a lot of preparation need to go in to come out at the top. Before a test no amount of study seems to suffice. There is always so much to cram, so much to revise and so much to learn that you don’t know how to use your last few days leading up to the test.
Last minute studying can either leave you completely confused and a bundles of nerves or used intelligently to help you feel confident. Incorporating some simple tips while you prepare in the very last minutes will help you maximize your score.
Your last minute preparation should actually start much before your last minute arrives. During the time you are preparing for PCAT employ different strategies to ensure an impressive score. Like we said, studying enough is never enough. During the last few days, due to the mounting pressure, you might feel you have forgotten everything you have learnt. Methods like mind mapping can be a huge step to help you retain the information.
The concept of mind mapping or spider diagrams is actually quite simple. It is about linking topics together and can be used for nearly all the sections of the PCAT, including problem solving, condensing material and planning essays. Once you have decided upon which pattern suits you best, spider diagrams is a quick and easy, if dirty, way to memorize various linked concepts. The reason why we tell you to determine which pattern suits you most is that you cannot work on someone else’s diagram. People have their own ways of linking concepts and the last thing you want is to get lost in someone else’s links. It is far better to draw out your own maps while you are studying because this serves two purposes. One, at the study phase it helps you clearly chalk out the things you learn, and while drawing the map when you get stuck and don’t know what links where, you know which parts you need to understand better. Secondly, the map you draw will not only be a tool to gauge your understanding of the concepts right then, but once you know how you are linking material, the diagram can be a huge help later when you need to brush up your material but don’t have the time to go through the entire book. A sample mind map might look like this:
The way this student has worked out a schematic representation might seem complicated to you. What you can do therefore is create your own diagrams for similar topics, either online or in pencil on a pad to make sure that when you are studying last minute you do not need to revise from a book. A look at a similar diagram should brush up your concepts in a precise manner. Another huge advantage of having spider diagrams or mind maps such as this is that you can store a good deal of information in one diagram. If you have studied well enough you know that it is possible to create links between different concepts and then put all of them together to create one whole spider web. A mind map can help you put all your study material in such diagrams and do away with the panic when the sheer volume of words in the book makes you think there’s a mountain to be scaled.
Another great tool to work on your PCAT last minute studies is through the use of flash cards. Flash cards use the process of active recall: you answer when you are asked a question. The concept behind Flash cards is as simple as it can get. Wikipedia defines Flash cards as “A flashcard or flash card is a set of cards bearing information, as words or numbers, on either or both sides, used in classroom drills or in private study. One writes a question on a card and an answer overleaf.” We suggest you make these flash cards when you are studying during the prep phase so that you can use them at the last minute PCAT preparation stage. Then you can employ the spaced repetition process, which is reviewing information at increasing intervals, to revise your study material. You can create your customized flash cards, according to your priorities. It could be formulae, or any other concept that can be fitted into a question and answer format. The other option is to create online flash cards. The benefit of using flash cards is that you can decide which ones you need to revise at any given time. You don’t have to plod through the entire book to locate one answer that you need at the moment.It saves time and makes visual recall so much easier when you need it most.
THE METHOD OF LOCI
Another great way to memorize things when you are running short of time is the method of loci. It uses mental imagination to encode and retrieve a list of words from your memory in serial order.
In simpler terms, the method of loci uses visuals to recollect a series of words. Suppose you need to memorize how cells make proteins. Now imagine your room and start placing the words at specific areas in your room or associate things in your room with those words,. For example, the bed is where transcription occurs. Then on the computer RNA processing takes place, and then at the printer the translation happens. So when you have to remember how a cell makes proteins, mentally walk through your room. You get off the bed, feed something on to the laptop and then get a printout. So you know that the processes that a cell uses to produce proteins are RNA transcription, RNA processing and translation, in the correct order.
The principle behind this is that our unconscious acts as a repository from our past. By associating what you learn now to events or places, you can improve your short and long term memory and spend no time trying to remember anything on the day of your PCAT.
THE BLACK-RED-GREEN METHOD
The Black-Red-Green method helps the student to ensure that the question posed has been dealt with comprehensively after taking every aspect into the consideration.The student underlines relevant parts of the question using three distinct colors (or some equivalent). Black represents ‘Blatant instructions’, i.e. something that definitely must be done; an indubitable or obvious instruction. Red is a Reference Point or Required input of some kind, usually concerns theory, definitions, cited authors terms, etc. (either unequivocally referred to or strongly suggested). Green denotes Gremlins, which are understated signals one might easily miss, or a ‘Green Light’ that gives a cue on how to proceed, or where to place the emphasis in answers.
Too many students tend to miss one or more of these parts of a question, and end up marking a wrong answer because they missed or did not understand the question correctly. Do not fall into the trap. The PCAT is used as a filter to mercilessly weed out those candidates that may not be right for Pharmacy colleges.
Everything said, keep in mind some of the age-old advice given to test takers. There is no way studying last minute is going to get you over the line in PCAT. The last minute passes like a greased lightening. Yet, revise you must, and employ any tools or strategies to prepare, but on the day before the test don’t sweat it. Go for a swim, sleep, read or watch a movie. Avoid alcohol by all means and turn up for the test with the killer confidence of a student who knows he is going to ace the test.