PA-CAT vs GRE: What You Need to Know for PA School
Standardized tests have always been a part of the application process for becoming a physician assistant, and the GRE was the only test around when I was going through applications. While the MCAT is sometimes accepted, it often isn’t a preferred requirement by programs, but the PA-CAT is a similar knowledge-based test focusing on the main prerequisite subjects required for PA school. Here are some similarities and differences between the GRE and PA-CAT and how and when to prepare.
As a pre-PA coach, I’ve been getting more and more questions about the PA-CAT since it launched, with the main one being, “What is it?” With the ever-changing application process for PA school, it’s important to stay up to date on changes to requirements with each of the programs you plan to apply to.
I applied to PA school 10 years ago, and if you asked me to predict how the process would change, my guess would be more standardization between prerequisites, testing, and deadlines. That hasn’t been the case, as programs have even more variety in requirements now.
With schools receiving thousands of applications, they use various standards when going through the applicant pool, and programs determine their particular requirements based on what they think will result in the most successful students. These prerequisite requirements can change even between cycles as schools try to fine-tune the process.
What Is the GRE?
Traditionally, the GRE has been used as an application factor for PA programs. Since PA school is a master’s level program, it is common for a standardized test to be a requirement. The GRE is a strategy-based test focused on basic math in the quantitative section and vocabulary skills in the verbal section. A writing section is also included but not typically important for PA programs. There are also specific subject GRE tests, but for the purposes of applying to PA school, only the general test is required.
While the GRE has been a common requirement for many years, there is still a lack of significant data to show a direct correlation between GRE scores and success in PA school or passing the PANCE (the standardized test required at the end of PA school).
What Is the PA-CAT?
More recently, the PA-CAT was developed specifically based on the typical prerequisite requirements of most PA schools. The topics covered include anatomy, physiology, general biology, general and organic chemistry, biochemistry, microbiology, behavioral sciences, genetics, and statistics.
While that may seem more intimidating than a strategy test, there are some benefits as well. The PA-CAT can help identify areas you may struggle with before starting PA school. It’s also scored in the same way as the PANCE, so PA schools are using this exam to see if there is a correlation in performance on the PA-CAT and more success in PA schools.
While PA schools want you to do well in their programs and graduate, the average attrition rate (amount of students dropping out of PA programs) is 6.7% in 2019 according to PAEA Report 35. A knowledge-based test like the PA-CAT may be a way for programs to distinguish which students will complete PA school since the rigor of undergraduate courses can vary.
Another benefit to the exam is an opportunity to show another strength on your application if you have a below-average GPA or a rough semester freshman year. The PA-CAT could prove to be a strong marker that schools look at when holistically assessing applicants.
GRE vs. PA-CAT
How do these two assessments compare in terms of subject, length, cost, scoring, and other categories? Let’s compare!
|9 science subject areas: |
General and organic chemistry
|Length||6 sections over 3 hours and 45 minutes|
1 writing section
2 verbal reasoning sections of 20 questions
2 quantitative reasoning sections of 20 questions
1 unidentified, unscored section
|240 questions over 4.5 hours|
Subjects tested randomly
|Test Location||Prometric testing sites or at home||Prometric testing sites or at home|
|Cost||$205 with 5 school recipients|
Additional schools $27/each
|Fee Reduction Program||Yes||In development|
|Rescheduling Options||$50 fee when more than 4 days before||Between 5–29 days before exam for $50 fee|
More than 29 days before exam with no fee
|Scoring||Quantitative and verbal sections scaled between 130 and 170 with scaled percentile provided|
Writing on scale of 0–6
|Scaled scoring between 200 and 800|
|Score Longevity||Scores valid for 5 years||Scores valid for 2 years|
|Results Timing||Unofficial score given on test day|
Official results sent in 10–14 days
|Up to 8 weeks|
|Testing Limits||Up to a max of 5 times in 12 months, every 21 days||Up to a max of 3 times in 12 months, every 6 weeks|
|Savanna’s Recommended Study Time||1–3 months before exam||3–6 months before exam|
|Study Resources||Multiple books and flashcards available|
Online resources like Magoosh and GregMat
|Registration includes video review and practice exams|
Partnered with Rosh Review to create practice Qbank
So where do you go from here?
Check program websites before signing up for any exams. Once you identify the testing requirements that need to be fulfilled, make a study plan using trusted resources. Find an accountability partner and try to spread your test prep out to keep the knowledge fresh until test day. Good luck!
About the Guest Author
Savanna Perry, PA-C, is a dermatology physician assistant in Georgia. After receiving a bachelor’s in biology at the University of Georgia, Savanna attended Augusta University for PA school and graduated in 2014. Recognizing the need for more awareness of the PA profession, Savanna started The PA Platform as a resource for aspiring PAs, offering podcasts, videos, and blog posts along with pre-PA coaching.
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Get a little more clarification
The GRE is a standardized test focusing on math and verbal skills. It's commonly required for many PA school applications.
The PA-CAT focuses on the typical prerequisite requirements for most PA schools: anatomy, physiology, general biology, general and organic chemistry, biochemistry, microbiology, behavioral sciences, genetics, and statistics. This exam can help you identify areas you struggle with before PA school, or it can demonstrate your knowledge and make you a stronger applicant.
Find out more differences between the two exams at PA-CAT vs. GRE: What You Need to Know for PA School.
- General Biology
- General and Organic Chemistry
- Behavioral Sciences
Read more about How to Crush the PA-CAT Exam with Rosh Review Practice Questions.