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Super Advice from an OAT Test Taker!

What follows is a retrospective from an OAT test taker about the OAT.  It was originally posted on SCCO’s Facebook Group for Pre-Optometry Students:

This advice was given by a student who was accepted into SCCO. I don’t think she’d mind me telling you that she NAILED the OAT—she received excellent scores in every section.

As you read her article, I know you will benefit from this valuable information.

Advice from the OAT Test Taker:

I survived the OAT the other day and was happy with my scores! Don’t worry guys, it’s not as bad as it seems. I know some other students also mentioned that the actual OAT is easier than the OAT Achiever practice tests. My actual score was a lot higher than my scores on either of the two practice tests from the small Kaplan book or OAT Achiever.  I didn’t look into optometry until really late so I ended up cramming for the OAT in a couple of months (NOT RECOMMENDED) but here’s exactly what I did, hope it helps!

  1. I bought the Barron’s MCAT book for a general review of all the subjects. I bought Barron’s instead of Kaplan simply because it was $20 as opposed to $120, but I’ve heard Kaplan does a better review. If you have time and don’t want to spend money, I would recommend the Barron’s book and after going through it just go to a book store and look through the Kaplan book for things Barron’s didn’t cover. The biology section of Barron’s does not cover plants or zoology you you need another book or old gen bio textbook to cover those subject. Also, the review for physics and organic chemistry does not have a lot of explanation, so if you haven’t taken those subjects in a while (I took them over 3 years ago) You will need some other sources.
    The Kaplan OAT book that sells in the stores does not have any kind of review of the different subjects, but is a great source for practice questions and practice tests and has GREAT explanations of the questions, it’s $28 , available at B&N, and a must have.
    I got old text books for all the subjects covered from the school library and my sororities’ book collection. For chemistry and physics I didn’t worry about how new the books were, I just looked for really easy, basic, straightforward books (i.e. look for “Intro to” and “concepts of”).2009-09-wcc-118compressed and cropped
  2. Biology Section: Since optometry schools do not require a lot of biology classes, and microbiology might not be taken until the last semester, the OAT really focuses on general biology. I went through the Barron’s MCAT biology part section by section and wrote my own notes for every section highlighting main words to know so I could scan through them later and recall the main definitions quickly. I did the same for the plant sections of a general bio text (Thank you Thai! I never would have even thought about reviewing plants!). I also went through the big taxonomic groups of all the domains and listed out the key characteristics.
  3. General Chemistry: This was pretty straightforward, the Barron’s book gave the major concepts and it was just a matter of practicing the common chemical math problems, relearning orbitals, etc. I used a g chem. Text book for things I couldn’t remember.
  4. Organic Chemistry: I was petrified of this part because I haven’t taken organic chemistry in a really long time and forgot EVERYTHING I learned. I found a paperback book in the school library, “Foundations of Organic Chemistry” by Michael Hornby and Josephine Peach, part of the Oxford Chemistry Primers from 1993. It goes through the key concepts of O Chem and is super easy to follow. I wrote out all the equations from the books as a flow chart with a compound in the middle and lines jetting out to all the other compounds it can become with the reactants on the line. I also grabbed an old super basic o Chem text to cover Sn1, Sn2, E1, and E2 reactions. Pay special attention to reactions with names, the OAT loves those. The Oat also asked one question about NMR and one about IR, so know how they work and what the peaks are for C=O, -OH, and aromatic.
  5. Reading Comprehension: I didn’t have a lot of problems with this section because I’ve had the great opportunity of being forced to read a lot of scientific papers. I also took rapid reading which I think helped with this and school in general. Although it’s really tempting to answer questions as you read, I found that I scored higher and finished with extra time when I read the passage and then went to the questions. Practice doing reading comp paragraphs and questions different ways timed and find out what works best for you. If you are having a hard problem with this, ask your profs for some scientific papers to practice with.
  6. Physics: I grabbed an old physics textbook and went through all of the chapters that the Kaplan book said the oat covered. I wrote out all the concepts and highlighted the equations. After attempting the practice questions in the OAT book, I realized that the test covered ALL of physics, so I went back and went through the summaries of every chapter in the book , listed out all the equations, and rationalized the concepts of the equations. Also here’s a great point: YOU HAVE A BREAK RIGHT BEFORE THE PHYSICS SECTION. Bring a summery sheet(s) for physics (I used the MCATS summary sheets) to the testing center. You can look over the sheet and whichever equations you have a hard time remembering, walk back into the test, and write them down on your scratch paper. The section is very concepts based, and a lot of the “math problems” you can rationalize and eliminate all the answers except one.
  7. Quantitative Reasoning: The thing to remember is that this is not a math section, it’s a mathematical reasoning section. A lot of the questions can be rationalized out and approximated without doing any math – and you have less than a minute a question and no calculator. Be comfortable with fractions and percentages, the majority of the text is that. Also know that when they say “x percent of z is y” it translates to (x/100) * z = y Review basic mathematical concepts (MCATs book does this) and be comfortable with geometry and trig. Go back to all those Sin, Cos, Tan rules and standard triangles and memorize them. I was having a really hard time with this section so I went to a private SAT tutor. he went through the main concepts he teaches for SAT math, timed me going through a practice section per problem, then we went through the problems and rationalized how to find the answer or eliminate all but two answers in less than half a minute. A lot of the questions would take 5 minutes to do the math but you can easily eliminate a lot of answers. Also if you don’t have your times tables memorized you can write them out on scratch paper during the break.
  8. PRACTICE every time you finish a subject: After studying a subject I would do the practice sets from the OAT book. I then went through ALL the answers. Going through answers is a lot of bang for your buck (or time in this case) because it gives you a lot of information that could be asked on the real tests. I did the first practice set untimed and the second timed.
  9. After you finish studying all the sections it’s Practice Time. Do as many practice tests as you have time for, and practice doing the whole test with one fifteen minute break (it’s also an endurance test) I would do the test, mark what I got wrong, go back and try to get to the right answer without looking at the answer, then I would go through all the answers to learn as much as possible.

    General Recommendations I’ve learned from great people:
  • Try Studying at the LIBRARY: I always study there because there are no distractions, you see others studying, and can focus on the OAT while you are there…and leave it there. If you are worrying about the OAT all the time you are going to get burnt out without learning anything, I did my best to forget about the test and go on with my life and relax as soon as I left so I would be re-energized the next day.
  •  Don’t waste to much time on one concept – if you don’t get it move on, you don’t have to get every problem, you can always return to it later
  • On quantitative reasoning and physics – if it’s going to take a lot of calculations to do a problem, guess, mark it, and go on. You don’t want to spend a lot of time on one problem and miss easy questions because you run out of time
  • While practicing don’t worry about missing questions – you’re learning from every mistake and won’t make the same one on the real test!
  • Listen to YOUR body and TAKE BREAKS- if you’re burnt out you won’t learn anything and if you try taking too many breaks you’ll waste time. Just work hard but when you feel like you’re not remembering things take a real break – don’t sit there worrying, get outside and play, go to the gym, do something to get your mind off the OAT. I HIGHLY recommend taking one day off a week and not allowing yourself to think about school.

Good luck everyone!!!

Comments from Others: 
  • Be careful with taking notes/summary sheets to the exam! I had been told by a Kaplan instructor that it would be fine to look at notes during the break. When I did this for the physics section during my 15 minute break, I had my notes confiscated and my exam terminated. =( It was quite embarrassing and overwhelming. I had to speak with Prometric and then with the head of the OAT to get things cleared up. She said I had done nothing wrong, and I was able to retake the OAT, but the stress it caused and the hassle of clearing things up was a lot to deal with. I noticed the next time I went to the same testing center, they made a point to mention that notes of any kind would NOT be allowed during breaks. Perhaps it depends on the testing center?
  • I know that this option is not cheap, but it is one of the best ways to get exposure to the hundreds of possible OAT style questions, with answers and explanation of how to get to the answer. it also includes 6 road maps of organic chemistry that I found very  useful.

www.orgoman.com/oatdestroyer  For those  who are wondering how I did on the OAT…..before going through these problems, on practice tests I was getting 320 TS / 310 AA, after going through these practice problems, I got 380 TS / 370 AA on the real thing….these practice problems really helped…

  • During my break before physics, I did not look at my notes (wasn’t allowed to), but I did use that time to write down the physics equations I memorized beforehand on the little dry erase boards they provided me with. Apparently this is not allowed either, because the proctor came in and warned me– “No writing of ANY kind is allowed during the break.” So I guess if you wanted to doodle, you can’t do that either.
  • Thanks so much everyone for mentioning that different testing centers have different rules!!! Wow, I guess it’s important to just ask what the rules at your testing center are.
  • Get familiar with the format of a scientific journal’s articles would be my advice. Read them with a scientist’s mindset, employing critical thinking skills and anticipating outcomes as you read. Get used to reading articles on a computer screen which is very different from an article on a printed page.
  • Only one of the three passages on my test and on the practice tests had anything to do with optometry. The general format seemed to be one article on general science or a statistics heavy paper (physics, astronomy, chemistry, or social science), one article biologically based but not on optometry (a disease, zoology, animal behavior etc.), and one based on eyes. The practice articles for reading comp for the OAT and the DAT are super similar in structure to the ones on the real OAT test. The major thing is to not get bogged down by a lot of jargon and data.
  • Thanks for the feedback! Would there be an online scientific magazine that either of you would recommend?
    • I always just use Google scholar (googlescholor.com), just type in a topic you’re interested in (like a disease) and it will pull up a lot of scientific articles about it. Just look for free articles, your school probably has a search engine also to help find free articles (School librarians are SUPER helpful if you have problems finding free articles). The first time you read a regular scientific article you probably won’t have any idea what the authors are talking about, just search words you don’t understand in Wikipedia, and soon you’re get used to a lot of jargon! When I first had to start reading articles I Wikipedia searched almost every word and it would take a long time to get through it, but with practice it becomes a lot easier to read through!P.S. you can also search authors and universities to find research from your university, SCCO, or a specific prof.
    • How did everyone feel about the fact that calculators aren’t allowed? I’m working through the OAT Destroyer Physics section and I feel that the calculations are really holding me back. Also, where would one be able to find a list of the equations to be memorized for the physics section? Was this from a prep class or is it available to everyone?
      • As for not having a calculator, I hated it too, but remember that the test is made knowing that we won’t have calculators. There are a lot of concept questions, and the questions that would normally take a lot of calculations can usually be estimated or a lot of the answers can be crossed out because they don’t make sense, just keep that in mind and good luck!

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