The following is a guest post from Sophia Stone at our partner, Next Step Test Preparation. Next Step provides representative PCAT practice tests and an online PCAT class.
If you ask 10 pre-pharmacy students what their favorite subjects are, most of them will probably pick chemistry or biology. After all, pharmacy is right at the intersection between chemical compounds and how they affect the human body! But that doesn’t stop biology from being one of the tougher sections of the PCAT – mostly because it’s so broad. PCAT biology covers everything from molecules and cells all the way up to the 11 physiological systems of the human body. This article will break down what exactly you need to know with 48 essential, must-know questions you should make sure you can answer before Test Day!
The PCAT takes about 3.5 hours to complete, and on Test Day, the first thing you will do is write a 30-minute essay in response to a prompt. After your essay is out of the way, you will then move on to the 4 multiple-choice sections of the test: Biological Processes, Chemical Processes, Critical Reading, and Quantitative Reasoning. That means that Biological Processes is the first multiple-choice section you’ll encounter.
In this section, you’ll have 40 minutes to complete 48 questions. Most of these questions will be discrete, stand-alone questions, but there will also be about 5 passages each associated with 4 questions. Keep in mind that 8 questions in this section are experimental questions – in other words, 8 questions in this section will not be graded, but you will have no idea which ones! That means you should do your best on every single question but hope that the ones you missed are experimental items.
|Writing||1 prompt||30 min|
|Biological Processes||48||40 min|
|Chemical Processes||48||40 min|
|Rest Break – 15 min|
|Critical Reading||48||50 min|
|Quantitative Reasoning||48||45 min|
205 min (+ rest)
- 50% general biology (about 24 questions)
- 20% microbiology (about 10 questions)
- 30% human anatomy and physiology (about 14 questions)
Now we’re going break these down further one-by-one. Here are the 48 essential, must-know questions that you should make sure you can answer to rock PCAT Biology on Test Day:
General Biology – 24 Questions
Cellular and Molecular Biology
- What are the structures and functions of the following organelles: nucleus, endoplasmic reticulum (smooth and rough), Golgi apparatus, mitochondrion, lysosome, and peroxisome?
- What are the three major types of fibers that make up the cytoskeleton, and what are their functions?
- What are the similarities and differences between passive transport, diffusion, osmosis, facilitated diffusion, primary active transport, and secondary active transport?
- What are the differences between peptide and steroid hormones in terms of their structures, receptor locations, immediate effects on cells, and duration of their actions?
- Can you draw what happens during each of the stages of mitosis?
- Can you draw out the differences between what happens during mitosis and meiosis?
- What do the structures of DNA and RNA contain, and how do they differ?
- What are the functions of each of the molecular players involved in DNA replication: DNA polymerase, DNA primase, DNA ligase, RNA primer, helicase, topoisomerase, single-stranded binding proteins, leading strand, lagging strand, and Okazaki fragments?
- How is DNA transcribed into RNA, and what post-transcriptional modifications take place?
- What are the 3 steps of translation, and what post-translational modifications take place?
- What are the definitions of the following mutation types, and what are their consequences for proteins: point mutations, missense mutations, nonsense mutations, silent mutations, and frameshift mutations?
- What are the 4 levels of protein structure, and how do denaturants affect each level of protein structure?
- Can you draw the graph of a reaction over time without and without an enzyme present, and label the energy of the reactants, the energy of the products, the overall energy change, and the activation energy?
- How do competitive, noncompetitive, and uncompetitive inhibitors affect the Vmax and Km of an enzyme?
- What is the purpose of glycolysis, and what are the major reactants and products?
- What is the purpose of the Krebs cycle, and what are the major reactants and products?
- What is the purpose of the electron transport chain, and what are the major reactants and products?
Diversity of Life Forms
- What are the differences between alleles and genes, and phenotypes and genotypes?
- What are the outcomes of crossing RR × rr, Rr × Rr, and RrPp × RrPp via Punnett square analysis?
- How does each type of inheritance pattern appear on a pedigree: autosomal dominant, autosomal recessive, sex-linked dominant, and sex-linked recessive?
- What are examples of the following types of natural selection and evolution: stabilizing selection, disruptive selection, directional selection, speciation, divergent evolution, convergent evolution, and adaptive radiation?
- What forms of carbohydrates are present in the human diet, how are carbohydrates broken down and absorbed in the digestive tract, and how are they stored in the body?
- What forms of lipids are present in the human diet, how are lipids broken down and absorbed in the digestive tract, and how are they stored in the body?
- What forms of proteins are present in the human diet, how are proteins broken down and absorbed in the digestive tract, and how are they stored in the body?
Microbiology – 10 Questions
- What are the major structural and functional differences between prokaryotes and eukaryotes?
- How do each of the following terms describe the structure and life cycles of bacteria: nucleoid, pilus, cell wall, capsule, flagellum, coccus, bacillus, spirillum, peptidoglycan, and binary fission?
- How do bacteria exchange DNA via transformation, transduction, and conjugation?
- How do each of the following terms describe the structure and life cycles of viruses: viral capsid, bacteriophage, retrovirus, lytic cycle, and lysogenic cycle?
- How do each of the following terms describe the structure and life cycles of fungi: mycelium, hyphae, chitin, spores, yeast, lichen, asexual reproduction, and sexual reproduction?
- Can you draw the cell walls of Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria and describe how each appear with Gram staining?
Infectious Diseases and Prevention
- How are each of the following types of vaccines made, and which should not be given to immunocompromised patients: conjugate vaccines, inactivated vaccines, live attenuated vaccines, and toxoid vaccines?
- Who benefits and who is harmed in the following types of symbiotic relationships: commensalism, mutualism, and parasitism?
- What can healthcare professionals do to decrease the risk of antibiotic resistance?
- Can you draw out the structure of an antibody and label the following: heavy chain, light chain, constant domain, variable domain, and antigen-binding sites?
Human Anatomy & Physiology – 14 Questions
Structures and Systems
- How do osteoblasts, osteoclasts, and osteocytes each function to remodel bone, and how are their activities affected by the hormones calcitonin and parathyroid hormone?
- Can you draw out a neuromuscular junction and label all the steps between the action potential arriving at the neuromuscular junction and the contraction of the muscle cell?
- What are the similarities and differences between skeletal, cardiac, and smooth muscle?
- Can you draw out a sarcomere and identify the following parts, also indicating which shrink when a muscle cell contracts: actin, myosin, A band, H zone, I band, M line, and Z line?
- Can you map out a branching diagram that displays the following divisions of the nervous system: central, peripheral, sympathetic, parasympathetic, somatic, and autonomic?
- Can you draw out a diagram of a neuron’s membrane potential over the course of an action potential, identify which ion channels are open during each part of the action potential, and label where depolarization, repolarization, and hyperpolarization occur?
- Can you diagram the flow of blood through the following parts of the circulatory system: left ventricle, right ventricle, left atrium, right atrium, aorta, pulmonary artery, pulmonary vein, superior/inferior vena cava, systemic circulation, and pulmonary circulation?
- What are the functions of each of the following blood cells and components of blood: plasma, erythrocytes, platelets, leukocytes, B cells, CD4+ T cells, CD8+ T cells, neutrophils, eosinophils, basophils, macrophages, monocytes, and mast cells?
- Which antigens are present on the red blood cells of individuals with the following blood types, and which antibodies might they produce against donor blood: type A+, type B–, type AB–, and type O+?
- Can you draw out a graph that shows respiratory volumes when a patient breathes normally, then inhales as much as possible, and then exhales as much as possible, and label the following: tidal volume, inspiratory reserve volume, expiratory reserve volume, residual volume, vital capacity, and total lung capacity?
- Can you draw the oxygen-binding curve for hemoglobin and describe how the curve shifts under the following conditions: high pH, high temperature, low 2,3-BPG, and fetal hemoglobin?
- Can you draw out the digestive tract and label each organ with its function?
- What hormones are produced by the following organs, and what are their basic functions: hypothalamus, pituitary gland, pancreas, parathyroid glands, thyroid, adrenal glands, ovaries, testes, pineal gland, heart, and small intestine?
- Can you draw out the structure of a nephron and label the functions of each part of the nephron?
If you can answer every one of these questions, you’re bound to ace PCAT Biology! You might not have realized this, but answering these questions requires you to use active learning techniques, such as free recall of information or drawing out metabolic pathways from memory. If you weren’t quite sure of some of these answers, bookmark this article for later and check out some free PCAT resources or ask a PCAT expert at the next free PCAT webinar. Also, check out our other blog posts for more study guides and PCAT tips…and happy studying!