PCAT Writing Section

PCAT Writing Section

The Writing section of the test is your chance to demonstrate how adept you are at conveying a point clearly and concisely in essay form. Essays are assigned a score by two graders, each from 1–6, with 6 representing the highest score possible for a superior essay. Scores of 0 (invalid) are assigned to writing samples left blank, written in a language other than English, or completely off topic. The two grader’s scores are then averaged (rounding to the nearest tenth) to assign a final score.

Even if you do not consider yourself a strong writer, you can still master the basic skills the Writing section tests, especially if you follow Kaplan’s Five-Step Method for success on the writing sample. If you are willing to work and practice, then you can score a 6. The PCAT Writing section will require you to write a problem-solving essay in 30 minutes. A problem-solving topic will present a problem in the field of health, science, society, culture, or politics and ask you to write about a possible solution by performing four tasks:
  1. Explain the prompt.
  2. Suggest a solution and support it.
  3. Offer and assess alternative solutions.
  4. Wrap up with a strong conclusion.
These tasks should be accomplished in a unified essay that flows well, remains focused, and has minimal mistakes. Your essay will be assessed both for its ability to adhere to appropriate conventions of language (grammar, style, and usage) as well as its problem-solving capabilities (develop a logical argument with convincing support).

Kaplan 5 Step Method for the PCAT Writing Sample

Kaplan’s Five-Step Method, if followed correctly, will help you prepare an essay that meets, if not exceeds, expectations. The table below outlines the purpose of each step as well as the amount of time you should spend on each.
Step 1: Read and AnnotatePurpose: Clarify what the given statement or problem means.1 minute
Step 2: PrewritePurpose: Sketch out a sensible solution, counterexample, and resolution.6 minutes
Step 3: Clarify Main Idea and PlanPurpose: Make sure the main idea is stated concisely and that it is the centerpiece of your essay.1 minute
Step 4: WritePurpose: Build a unified essay based on your prewritten tasks.20 minutes
Step 5: ProofreadPurpose: Detect errors, especially those that affect clarity.2 minutes

Writing Sample Example

Discuss a solution to the problem of increased levels of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, and the possibility of global climate change.

Step 1: Read and Annotate

This first step may seem obvious but is essential. Don’t simply read the topic and immediately begin writing. Instead, take a moment to digest the topic in full, considering each word as a possible source of ideas. Note any key words or phrases. Certain terms can be interpreted differently; consider how you interpret each word in the context of the given topic, remembering that you must support your interpretation with concrete examples. Look at the topic from all possible angles and jot down as any notes you need.

Step 2: Prewrite

After you have a clear idea of what the statement means and how you will begin to explain it, you are ready to brainstorm different solutions and prewrite each implied task. This will help you solidify your interpretation of the statement and is the key to using your time effectively and writing clearly. Note that the first solution you think of may not be the easiest to write about or support with examples; coming up with multiple solutions allows you to choose the easiest and gives you ideas for alternative solutions, too.
Task 1: Explanation
Explain the elements of the problem, making sure to define key concepts and words in the statement of the problem. For example, based on the above prompt, it would be important to discuss the meaning of the phrase global climate change , the sources of greenhouse gases, and the relationship between such gases and climate change. Also discuss why greenhouse gases and climate change are problems and what additional issues may arise if they are left unchecked.
Task 2: Solution
Explain the key elements of your solution. Also provide a brief example that demonstrates your solution, such as when a similar solution was used to solve a comparable problem in the past. For example, you could state that other sources of energy need to be more widely employed to reduce the sources of greenhouse gases and support this solution with the example of the effectiveness of recent, smaller-scale shifts of some power plants from coal to natural gas or biomass. A strong writing sample also uses this task as an opportunity to explain and refute anticipated criticism by pointing out a potential weakness of an element of the solution but then providing a rebuttal. For the above solution, you might focus on the cost of implementing a new program but explain how this can be covered by carbon taxes on those entities that choose not to comply.
Task 3: Alternate Solution
In order to achieve the maximum score on your writing sample, you must also include one or more alternate solutions in addition to your main solution. These solutions should also be expanded upon with evidence and details but to a lesser extent than your main solution. For example, you might discuss changes individuals can make, such as driving less often, creating less waste, and purchasing energy-efficient devices.
Task 4: Conclusion
Finish your essay with a strong conclusion that shows why your main solution is the best of all those proposed. Use this opportunity to quickly summarize the overall issue and why it’s a problem. Include a solid closing sentence to leave a strong impression with your graders as they are assigning your score.

Step 3: Clarify Main Idea and Plan

If you have budgeted your time wisely in the first two tasks, you should have at least one minute left to clarify your main idea and to discard ideas that do not belong or that detract from the cohesiveness of your essay plan. As you review your plan, ensure that your ideas work together and that the primary tasks are balanced. This is your chance to envision how all the major points will work together and to plan the overall flow of your argument.

Step 4: Write

After formulating a great plan, actually writing your essay is often the easiest step. Use the ideas from your prewrite as your outline. Stay with the prewrite and be careful not to veer off track. Introducing a new idea, no matter how good, is a surefire way to start digressing from the central focus of the paragraphs and run out of time, leaving behind an essay that is incomplete and not cohesive. While writing, avoid language that is too complex and that could detract from unity. Start with a basic, four-paragraph structure with one paragraph for each of the four implied tasks. Use simple, straightforward language and strong reasoning.

Step 5: Proofread

Devote your last few minutes to correcting any errors that obscure your key points. The Kaplan strategy recommends at least two minutes, but this is a minimum. The more time you have to proofread, the better your essay will become. As you review your essay, look out for critical word omissions, run-on sentences, subject-verb agreement, and any other mistakes that make understanding your essay more difficult. Also correct any other spelling and grammar errors you notice, but ensure your initial focus is on the big picture. Although small typographical mistakes can affect your score, it’s even more important that your argument makes sense. Type your corrections accurately and delete only what you mean to delete. Do not use this opportunity to rewrite entire paragraphs or make other major changes to structure since you may run out of time and end up with a confusing essay.