Academic journal article American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education

Understanding and Interpreting Pharmacy College Admission Test Scores

Academic journal article American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education

Understanding and Interpreting Pharmacy College Admission Test Scores

Article excerpt

To fairly and accurately interpret candidates' Pharmacy College Admission Test (PCAT) scores as listed on their official transcripts, it is important to understand how these scores reflect candidates' performances on cognitive tasks involving the identification, interpretation, analysis, and evaluation of information assumed to have been covered in pre-pharmacy science, math, and general education coursework. This paper attempts to facilitate this understanding by explaining how candidates' responses to PCAT test items relate to their scaled scores and percentile ranks and how their writing scores reflect their performance. This paper also suggests how differences between candidates' PCAT subtest scores may reflect different personal experiences, educational backgrounds, and cognitive abilities.

Keywords: admission, assessment, PCAT


The PCAT is a norm-referenced standardized test developed by NCS Pearson, Inc, to measure content knowledge and cognitive abilities that pharmacy schools consider to be essential for success in their programs. In an effort to ensure the continuing relevance and usefulness of the test for assessing candidates' prerequisite knowledge and skills, the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy PCAT Advisory Committee works closely with Pearson to review annual score data and to suggest periodic revisions to the contents of the test. These efforts are intended to ensure that the PCAT accurately reflects current pharmacy school prerequisite requirements in the sciences, math, and language arts, and that candidates' scores accurately suggest their abilities in these areas.

Immediately upon completing the PCAT at a Pearson Vue test center, candidates are given a preliminary score report. After Pearson verifies that no irregularities occurred that could have affected candidates' performances, and after candidates' essays have been scored, each candidate receives an official score report, and each school designated by the candidate receives the candidate's scores either on a printed official transcript directly from Pearson or electronically from the Pharmacy College Application Service (PharmCAS).

Each official score report and official transcript lists the following information for a candidate's most recent PCAT test results: scaled scores and percentile ranks for the current four multiple-choice subtests: biological processes, chemical processes, critical reading, and quantitative reasoning; a composite scaled score, indicating an average of the four multiple-choice subtest scaled scores, and a composite percentile rank; a score for the writing subtest and a mean writing score representing the average score earned by all candidates taking the test during the 12 months prior to the candidate's test date. The official transcript also lists the candidates' four most recent previous PCAT scores earned during the past 5 years.

The PCAT scaled scores are standardized scores that represent equal units on a continuous scale, ranging from 200to600, with a designated mean and standard deviation (originally established in 2004 as 400 and 25, respectively). These scaled scores are derived from candidates' raw scores, which are the number of items answered correctly for a given subtest. The use of psychometric procedures to equate raw scores on a common scale also facilitates the determination of percentile ranks ranging from 1-99, which represent the percent of candidates who received a scaled score lower than a given score in the current norm group, which is the 64,652 candidates taking the PCAT for the first time from July 2011 through January 2015.

Because they represent equated scores, scaled scores earned for a given subtest during one PCAT test administration are comparable to scaled scores earned for the same subtest during other test administrations, even though different forms of the test are administered. Unlike scaled scores, the percentile ranks are comparable across subtests because they are based on performances relative to the current norm group. …

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