Anytime I meet an applicant who scores well on the OAT, I ask him or her to write a how-to article on how he or she prepared to take it. This is such an article. You can’t get much better than the top score of 400 in every single section of the OAT!
Preparation to a Perfect Score:
How I Prepped for the OAT
by Bert Caine
I am not a traditional student…
I was in my 30’s, established in another profession and enjoying a productive, fun, and meaningful life in sunny Southern California.
But I knew deep down that I was not doing what I set out to do with my life…
I began college as a student at UC Riverside. I enjoyed and excelled at chemistry and biology. I knew even then that I had what it would take to be a successful optometry student, and that when one day serving my future patients, I would be dedicated to apply this same study ethic and attention to detail.
After 2 years I transferred to UCLA and completed a degree in biology. But my grades were not strong enough to get into optometry school.
It was then that the realities of life hit hard. I spend the next season getting myself squared away financially, and so I had to put my dream on hold…
But my desire to be an optometrist never waned.
I worked as a waiter, busboy, and grocery bagger before eventually finding a job teaching biology at a high school. After completing a master’s degree, finishing graduate school courses at night while teaching full time during the day, I finally had the time and resources to prepare for optometry school.
I leveraged everything I had in pursuit of my dream: brainpower, weekends, money, discipline, and focus.
Deciding to start all over again at community college, I took general chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, microbiology along with all the other prerequisites. Surprisingly I found a great deal of intellectual stimulation, challenge, peace, and sense of accomplishment to again be pursuing my dream of becoming the best optometrist I could possibly be.
I finally knew for sure, deep down, that it would be even more difficult for me to give up and quit than to keep moving forward.
How I Prepared to Take the OAT
Establishing a daily schedule of studying for the OAT was key. I began by reading about 2 to 3 chapters a day of the Kaplan OAT book and doing all the review problems at the end of the chapters. It took me about a month to finish this book.
I then invested in the OAT Destroyer books, including the math and physics supplements, I found the hundreds of practice problems to be helpful, and the detailed solutions to these problems gave me an even deeper understanding of the topics I needed to review. It took me another month to complete every problem and go over every solution, studying anywhere between 4 to 8 hours a day. I routinely did 20 problems a day and depending on my stamina, I did as many as 80 to 100 per day.
Watching Chad’s videos and printing out the problems associated with the videos was an excellent, comprehensive review of general college physics. Chad is an excellent teacher. The videos are broken up into individual sub-topics of 25 chapters of a year-long physics course. Try doing the problems on your own after following along on all the videos. If a particular chapter gives you trouble, review the videos and try doing the problem set again. You will find the time spent to be well worth it!
After spending a couple weeks shoring up my physics knowledge, I purchased the OAT Achiever, which is a package of practice tests. These computer-based exams were important as they helped me get used to taking a full-length exam under timed conditions. They were vital in alleviating test-day nervousness because the exams were designed to have the look and feel of the real OAT. They helped me to both learn to deal with the stressor of running out of time and to get accustomed to answering questions in one minute or less. Keep in mind that these exams are harder than the real OAT, especially the quantitative reasoning and physics sections. I recommend finishing the exams and then spending a couple hours going over the solutions.
I took 6 practice tests in the week leading up to my actual OAT exam.
Get yourself a small whiteboard with some dry erase markers for scratch work because when taking the actual exam, this is what you get at the test center. The idea is to simulate the actual OAT experience as much as possible, to eliminate any potential surprises on the day of your test.
As you go through practice problems and practice exams, you may find yourself re-reading certain sections of the Kaplan OAT book for a 2nd or 3rd time, which will reinforce any weak points in your understanding. Do not let yourself get frustrated by this. The alternative is going into the test center on the day of the real OAT and feeling unprepared.
Try keeping condensed notes of every single chapter in the Kaplan book, and adding to these notes as you re-read. The processing of information required to write important points down helps to form mental “maps” of concepts, which will serve you on test day. I filled out most of a 200 page spiral notebook with OAT notes, organized with paper tabs so I could access particular organic reactions or physics formulas easily.
YouTube is a great free resource of OAT study advice and practice problems.
Physics formulas, constants, and organic reactions should be put on flashcards. Before attempting practice problems, review these flashcards at least once a day. Bring them with you to your job, to the gym, or anywhere else where you may have some downtime, so you can get some quick studying done instead of wasting time on your cell phone.
To avoid scheduling conflicts, schedule your exam date at the Prometric test center a couple months in advance. You may find that the nearest test center is all booked up on the day you intend to take your test, as there are many other exams given at these centers. Also, having a firm date in mind gives you the motivation to stay on schedule and study hard in the weeks leading up to the test.
You may even want to practice a week in advance by just driving to the test center. I showed up an hour early to my test, just in case there were any problems or people in front of me in line.
You are given the option of wearing earplugs and/or earmuffs to make sure that little noises from other people taking exams in the same room with you are not a distraction. People will be typing, occasionally walking in and out, possibly even coughing and sneezing while you are trying to focus.
I found that during the test, my preparation served me well. The actual OAT was easier than the OAT destroyer practice tests, and the correct answers jumped out at me. Running out of time was not a problem as I had plenty of time to answer every single question. After taking a quick post- exam survey, I found that I had scored a 400 on every section of the exam, which was a surprise. I could tell that I did well, but I did not expect to be in the 99th percentile.
Studying for the OAT was overall a very rewarding experience. Do not let the sheer volume of review material overwhelm you. Give yourself a realistic study goal every day, and do not allow yourself to lose momentum. Establish benchmark dates on your calendar to keep yourself on schedule. It’s okay and necessary to take a day off now and then to recharge your mind, but it’s important to keep studying consistently at least 6 days per week.
I made it a priority to eat healthy food, lift weights and run/hike often, and let friends and family know what I was up to, and that in order to get your studying done, you will miss social and family events. No worries as they will be there to celebrate with you after you crush the OAT.
Stay positive and learn as much as you can from those who were successful at taking the OAT.
Most importantly, visualize yourself serving your future patients, allowing them to achieve the best vision possible and improving their quality of life. You will soon realize the OAT is actually a test of your self discipline and willpower to that end.
Success is a subjective idea that involves actualizing your potential as a human being and ultimately be of service to humanity. Staying true to your ambition and not letting go of your dreams is the only way to be successful.
As noted biophysicist Rosalind Franklin once said,
“In my view, all that is necessary for faith is the belief that by doing our best we shall succeed in our aims: the improvement of mankind.”
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