Kaplan's Five Basic Principles of Test Expertise

On some tests, if a question seems particularly difficult, you spend significantly more time on it, since you'll probably be given more points for correctly answering a hard question.

Not so on the PCAT. Remember, every PCAT question, no matter how hard, is worth a single point. There's no partial credit or "A" for effort. And since there are so many questions to do in so little time, it wouldn't make sense to spend 10 minutes getting a point for a hard question and then not have time to get a couple of quick points from three easy questions later in the section.

Given this combination—limited time, all questions equal in weight—you've got to develop a way of handling the test sections to make sure you get as many points as you can as quickly and easily as you can. Here are the principles that will help you do just that.

Feel Free to Skip Around

One of the most valuable strategies to help you finish the sections in time is to learn to recognize and deal first with the questions that are easier and more familiar to you. That means temporarily skipping those that promise to be difficult and time-consuming, if you feel comfortable doing so. You can always come back to these at the end, and if you run out of time, you're much better off not getting to questions you may have had difficulty with, rather than missing out on potentially score-raising material. Of course, since there's no guessing penalty, always select an answer to every question on the test.

This strategy is difficult for most test takers; we're conditioned to do things in order. But give it a try when you practice. Remember, if you do the test in the exact order given, you're letting the test makers control you. But you control how you take this test. On the other hand, if skipping around goes against your moral fiber and makes you a nervous wreck, don't do it. Just be mindful of the clock, and don't get bogged down with the tough questions.

Learn to Recognize and Seek Out Questions You Can Do

Another thing to remember about managing the test sections: PCAT questions and passages—unlike items on the SAT and other standardized tests—are not presented in order of difficulty. There's no rule that says you have to work through the sections in any particular order; in fact, the test makers scatter the easy and difficult questions throughout the section, in effect rewarding those who actually get to the end. Don't lose sight of what you're being tested for along with your reading and thinking skills: efficiency and cleverness. If Sentence Completion questions are your thing, skip right to them when you start the Verbal Ability section.

Don't waste time on questions you can't do. We know that skipping a possibly tough question is easier said than done; we all have the natural instinct to plow through test sections in their given order. But it just doesn't pay off on the PCAT. The computer won't be impressed if you get the toughest question right. If you dig in your heels on a tough question, refusing to move on until you've cracked it, well, you're letting your ego get in the way of your test score. A test section (not to mention life itself!) is too short to waste on lost causes.

Use a Process of Answer Elimination

Using a process of elimination is another way to answer questions both quickly and effectively. There are two ways to get all the answers right on the PCAT: Knowing all the right answers, or knowing all the wrong answers. Since there are three times as many wrong answers, you should be able to eliminate some if not all of them. By doing so you get to the correct response, or at least increase your chances of guessing the correct response. You start out with a 25 percent chance of picking the right answer, and with each eliminated answer your odds go up. Eliminate one, and you'll have a 33 1/3 percent chance of picking the right one; eliminate two, and you'll have a 50 percent chance; and, of course, eliminate three, and you'll have a 100 percent chance. Remember to look for wrong-answer traps when you're eliminating. Some answers are designed to seduce you by distorting the correct answer.

Remain Calm

It's imperative that you remain calm and composed while working through a section. You can't allow yourself to become so rattled by one hard reading passage that it throws off your performance on the rest of the section. Expect to find at least a few killer questions in every section, but remember: You won't be the only one to have trouble with them. The test is scaled to take the tough material into account. Having trouble with a difficult question isn't going to ruin your score, but getting upset about it and letting it throw you off track will. When you understand that part of the test maker's goal is to reward those who keep their composure, you'll recognize the importance of not panicking when you run into challenging material.

Keep Track of Time

Of course, the last thing you want to happen is to have time run out on a particular section before you've gotten to half the questions. Therefore, it's essential that you pace yourself, keeping in mind the general guidelines for how long to spend on any individual question. Have a sense of how long you have to do each question so you know when you're exceeding the limit and should start to move faster.

So, when working on a section, always remember to keep track of time. Don't spend a wildly disproportionate amount of time on any one question or group of questions. Also, give yourself 30 seconds or so at the end of each section to select answers for any questions you haven't gotten to.