Overwhelmed about your OAT and unsure of the best way to prepare? 😨
This is totally normal. This blog is designed to help you calm down and focus on how to crush your OAT test! With a good plan, the right resources, and little dose of hard work, you can do totally do this! 💪
Hi! My name is Zack. I took the OAT recently. I was a non-traditional student (I worked for several years in between undergrad and applying) and I was absolutely terrified of relearning chemistry after not having taken it for 5 years!
Despite my chemistry-phobia, I did well on the OAT (top 12%; 350 AA – see score report). I was granted interviews each of the 10 schools I applied to, and accepted to each of the 3 schools I interviewed with (SCCO, UAB, and Salus). I am now a 2nd year student in the Scholars 3 Year Program at Salus University in Pennsylvania.
ABOUT THE OAT
The OAT (Optometry Admissions Test) grades you on 6 different subjects:
General Chemistry (GC)
Organic Chemistry (OC)
Reading Comprehension (RC)
Quantitative Reasoning (QR)
Each subject is scored on a standardized scale out of 400 points. A score of 300 equates to the 50th percentile in that section. There are no deductions for incorrect answers. Thus, you should always fill out every answer option – it doesn’t hurt you to guess!
In addition to the 6 individual scores you’ll receive above, you’ll get an Academic Average (AA) score, which is the most important number. The AA is the mean of your scores (i.e. AA = (BIO + GC + OC + RC + P + QR) / 6), rounded to the nearest integer.
The average AA for acceptance across all optometry schools is approximately a 320. This is just an average though – you can certainly get accepted with lower OAT scores depending on the strength of the rest of your application and where you apply.
Many schools also have cutoff minimum OAT scores. Each school has a different cutoff, and some have no cutoff.
It is generally favorable to show consistency across all OAT subjects (demonstrating that you are well-rounded) rather than a very high OAT score in one OAT subject offset by a very low OAT score in another.
The OAT consists of 4 sections: Survey of Natural Sciences, Perceptual Ability, Reading Comprehension, and Quantitative Reasoning. The test will take you just about 5 hours to complete, not including transportation to and from the test site, checking in, etc.
|OAT Administration Schedule|
|Optional Tutorial||15 minutes|
|Survey of Natural Sciences||90 minutes|
|Reading Comprehension Test||60 minutes|
|Scheduled Break (optional)||30 minutes|
|Physics Test||50 minutes|
|Quantitative Reasoning Test||45 minutes|
|Optional Post Test Survey||15 minutes|
|Total Time||5 hours 5 minutes|
OAT test dates are offered year-round through the Prometric test centers, but I recommend registering early – seats tend to fill up quickly and it’s common for the next available seat to be up to 2 months away!
The majority of students study for the OAT while enrolled in classes, in the summer between junior and senior year. They start studying around April and take the test in the summer, around June through August. It’s challenging, but it isn’t anything harder than what you’re going to do in optometry school; consider it a test run!
I’d recommend taking an easier course load during the semester if possible, and starting studying around late March, planning for a July OAT test date. That way you start studying while in school, then finish up finals, and can dedicate some time just to the OAT towards the end during the schedule. You can also reschedule the test to later in August if needed. It’s more important to take the OAT when you’re ready rather than early.
Lastly, the OAT exam is the same difficulty throughout the year; there is no advantage if your OAT test dates are during the summer or winter.
Here are the 5 things I found most helpful to get a great score on your OAT:
1. Have a dedicated period of time (~2-3 months) just to study. The OAT is a ton of info. You need all the brain space you can get. If possible, try to have as few other commitments as possible during the time you’re studying.
2. Do lots of practice problems. You can spend countless hours watching videos and re-reading notes. But in the end, you need to know how to solve problems.
3. Review what you got wrong. It’s all about QUALITY over quantity. If you do a thousand practice problems but never review what you got wrong, you’re not really learning.
4. Stick to a tight schedule. You shouldn’t be wasting time thinking about what you should be doing. Check out the OAT 10-Week Study Schedule that I used:
5. Pick the right OAT Test Prep. Half of the battle is picking the right OAT Test Prep Resource. I used the OAT Version of DAT Bootcamp. Use code OAT2020 for 10% off your subscription
This is a very resourceful group while you study for the OAT, and it’s free! I recommend signing up for two reasons:
First, if you ever have a question on a scientific topic, practice problem, or something about the OAT, it’s very likely that someone on there will help you out.
Second, you can help out other people with their questions. You remember 10% of what you read, but 90% of what you teach. Even if you don’t know the answer to someone’s question, look it up and explain it to them. You’ll learn something new, it’ll stick with you for a long time, and you will have actually helped someone else out.
Physics was by far my strongest subject going into the OAT. I got straight A’s in undergrad in Physics at UC Santa Barbara and 90th percentile in the OAT Physics section of the exam.
For even the most physic-phobic students, here’s the strategy to dominate the OAT physics section.
ABOUT THE TEST
Content & Timing
You will have 50 minutes to complete 40 physics questions. You do not have access to a calculator. Although there is no “official weighting guide,” I’ve found that Kinematics (which I define to include Units, Vectors, Statics & Dynamics) makes up a very large portion of the test (potentially up to 40%!). Thus, I highly recommend that you master Kinematics to do well on OAT Physics.
How to Study in General
The OAT physics section is weighted towards calculation problems (versus conceptual). As such, you should weight your study time towards practicing calculations (versus relearning the physics concepts).
You need to do practice problems. Lots of practice problems. Period. I’ve never heard someone say “I did too many practice problems,” but I’ve certainly heard people say “I spent way too much time rereading the chapters in my textbook.”
How to Learn the Equations
Via the OAT version of DAT Bootcamp, you have access to a free comprehensive 9 page physics equation sheet. This equation sheet is your best friend! The physics section is all about knowing what equation to use, and how to use it.
You will need to know all the equations, but I recommend against memorizing them via brute force. The best way to learn them is through actually using them while solving practice problems.
You can think about using the equation sheet like using training wheels. For the first 50% of studying, simply refer to the equation sheet whenever you are solving a problem and can’t remember an equation. Then, slowly wean yourself off the equation sheet until you can recall them as needed.
Reverse Engineer to Solve (Almost) Any Physics Problem
In large part, the steps to solve most OAT physics problems are the same:
- List what you are trying to solve for (let’s called this “X”)
- Write down your given variables
- Write a rough sketch (if applicable)
- Ask yourself: “what information do I need to be able to solve for X?”
In many cases, this is where you will need to recall a specific formula. Keep “reverse engineering.” If to solve for the horizontal distance a ball is thrown off of a cliff, you need to determine the time the ball was in flight, ask yourself the same question. “What information do I need to be able to solve for the time the ball was in flight?”
Eventually, you will reach a point where you have the requisite information, and you have solved your problem!
- Last, do a quick sanity check.
Does it make sense that your answer is negative? Does it make sense that your weight in an ascending elevator is greater than in the elevator at rest?
ON TEST DAY
Time to Crush
The OAT physics section comes directly after your break. You will have just completed 100 Bio, Gen Chem, and Ochem problems, along with 50 reading comprehension problems. You will be mentally and physically tired. Make sure you eat a good lunch, relax, and if you’d like, get a little glucose to your brain for the last stretch. Note: you may spend 5-10 minutes checking back in to the test, so make sure you plan accordingly to be back in your seat on time. The physics section will start immediately when your break is over.
If You’re Tripping, Mark for Skipping
The most score-improving advice I ever received regarding the physics section was to skip problems that are taking too long. A good rule of thumb is that if you’re spending more than a minute on a problem, mark it for review.
Don’t let your ego get in the way. The worst thing for your score is to spend 5 minutes on a problem. Even if you finally get it (and what if you don’t?) you will have wasted valuable time and brain power for the rest of the test.
- Have kinematics DOWN
- Do lots of practice problems.
- Slowly wean yourself off of the equations sheet
- Follow the reverse engineering strategy to solve any problem
- If you’re spending more than 1 minute struggling with any problem, mark it for review.
May the (Mass x Acceleration) be with you!
You can find the OAT Physics Equation sheet, OAT physics practice problems, and full-length OAT practice tests DAT Bootcamp (OAT Version). Use Code OAT2020 for 10% off your subscription
OAT TEST PREP
Applied to school: December
Studied for OAT Exam: Jan 1 – March 15
Took OAT Exam: March 15
Accepted into Schools: early April
Step #1: I spent hours and hours researching OAT test prep material
A quick google search for OAT study guide, OAT practice test, or OAT test prep yielded less results than I would have expected. Not as many people take the OAT test as the MCAT, so big companies don’t seem to care as much about the OAT test. I could do Kaplan OAT (starting $1300 for the most basic version, going up to $5000+ for the most advanced – yikes! 😨 ) or Mometrix (which looked like it hadn’t been updated since the 1990’s). I ended up stumbling upon DATBootcamp.com, a test prep site for the Dental Admissions Test. The DAT and the OAT test are exactly the same (both administered by the ADA) except that the OAT test has a Physics section in place of one of the DAT sections.
I was a little hesitant, but Bootcamp had really solid reviews. Also it was the only online subscription based service I found with exam-like practice questions and solutions (that wasn’t $1300 or ancient looking). My favorite part was that it had a detailed 10-week study guide, with what to do every day, day by day. THIS was the structure that I needed.
So I ended buying a Bootcamp subscription, along with OAT Destroyer + Physics Destroyer and the ~$40 Kaplan OAT book.
Step #2: I stuck to to the study schedule
From January to the beginning of March, I did nearly EXACTLY what the Bootcamp study schedule told me to do. It was great. I didn’t have to do any of the thinking (besides about the sciences, of course 🙂 ). I took every Sunday off from studying.
I spent about 5 hours a day studying. 2-3 hours in the morning, and 2-3 hours in the afternoon. I made it a priority to take breaks throughout the day and exercise in the evening.
For Physics, anywhere there was the DAT extra section, I studied Physics instead. The Kaplan OAT book was pretty good for reviewing physics.
About a week before the test, I took the official ADA OAT practice test. It costs $100, but I’d definitely recommend using it.
Step #3: The Day Before the OAT Test
I didn’t do any studying the day before the OAT test. I exercised, got a massage, and did a little light reading. I think this is super important. You’ve learned pretty much everything you’re going to learn at this point. Cramming the last day will make you stressed and probably do way worse on your test. Take a deep breath, relax, and just have fun the day before your test.
Step #4: The Day of the OAT Test
Ah, it’s here! I didn’t sleep as well as I’d have liked, because I was nervous. But I ate a big breakfast (OAT-meal :)) and drove over to the test site at around 8am (my test started at 9am). My main recommendation is to bring food for lunch, because it’s a long day of testing. Make sure you have all your information (ID, etc.). It’s a bit surreal once you actually start taking the test. Because of all the practice tests I did, I almost went into autopilot. Don’t go on your phone during lunch (I don’t think you’re even allowed to) but try to relax and decompress as much as possible. You’ve still got a big portion of the test after lunch, so pace yourself.
Step #5: Immediately After the OAT Test
My brain is absolutely fried. Your unofficial scores pop-up right when you’re done taking the test, so I knew I did well. I was in a blissful delirium. I was planning to go to the gym, but I took a hardcore nap and ordered Dominoes instead. It felt like I had earned it.
This is one of the first questions people ask themselves when they begin to study for the OAT is “should I self-study or take an OAT prep course?” It depends on your studying style. There are students who are successful both ways.
One of the advantages of a commercial OAT prep course, like Kaplan OAT, is that it’s all preset and designed ready to go, so there is no work on your side to research what to do and what to study.
The downsides are
- Price Tag – It can be quite costly at $1300+
- Stale Material – Big companies tend to reuse the same material year after year, and not improve their product much over time
The advantages of self-study are:
- More Affordable – It’s significantly more affordable and provides better OAT prep course materials.
- Score Better – Most importantly, I think students that self-study score better because they motivate themselves to study, and thus take ownership of their study experience.
The downside is that you can get off course if you don’t have a good plan, so you’ll have to spend time designing your own study plan.
To overcome this, you could use a site like DAT Bootcamp (I’ve linked this to the OAT Version). You can use our 10 Week Study Schedule that tells you exactly what to do every day, but is much more affordable than a typical commercial OAT prep course. Use code OAT2020 for 10% off your subscription.
Knowing which OAT test prep courses are right for you is half the battle. Here are the main resources I’ve either used or heard of, ranked in order.
1) DAT Bootcamp
DAT Bootcamp? I thought we were talking about the OAT?
Yep, you heard me right. When I was preparing for the OAT, I was lucky enough to find DAT Bootcamp. The DAT (Dental Admissions Test) and OAT are both administered by the ADA, and are nearly identical. The only difference is that the OAT has a Physics section in place of one of the DAT sections.
So I used DAT Bootcamp to study for the OAT for Chemistry, Ochem, Bio, Reading Comp, and Quantitative Reasoning. Bootcamp was exactly what I needed. What I liked about Bootcamp::
- There are tons of exam-like practice questions and solutions for you to learn from.
- Built in 10 week OAT Study Schedule
- Bootcamp is founded and run by students, for students, so they truly care about how YOU do on the test.
You can go here to try the OAT Version of DAT Bootcamp for free! When you create an account, you can access a portion of the material for free. To upgrade, it costs $497 for a 90 day subscription You can get 10% off your subscription if you use this code: OAT2020
Here’s a score report from a recent student I saw who used the OAT version of DAT Bootcamp, Theresa:
Other people love Bootcamp too. You can also see other reviews of DAT Bootcamp here: https://datbootcamp.com/customer-reviews/
2) Chad’s Videos
Chad’s videos are generally very liked by all students I have talked to, and have been directly recommended to me by admissions officers. The best part … they are free! (well, there is a small fee if you want his quizzes included). I don’t think they constitute a full OAT test prep resource, but I’ve heard of lots of people using them to supplement their other resources.
3) Kaplan OAT Book
The Kaplan OAT book is pretty good. I used the Kaplan OAT book as a supplement to help me study for the OAT. The book comes with 2 OAT practice tests, which are pretty realistic. The OAT practice tests alone are worth $40. Even with the OAT practice tests, the book in itself is not really enough to do well on the OAT unless you are a genius or really want to go super low-budget.
The Kaplan OAT test prep courses start at $1300 and goes up to $5000+. I don’t think this is a wise investment when there are other solutions that are equally good if not much better for way less.
4) OAT Destroyer
The OAT Destroyer is a popular print-only set of questions for all OAT topics. OAT Destroyer + OAT Physics will run you about $315. If I had to go back again, I don’t think I would use Destroyer because the questions are much harder than most you’ll see on the actual OAT. It’s not like you’re wasting your time, but your your time could be better spent doing more realistic problems and getting them down solid. In the end, I think this would be more beneficial for your score (and your sanity).
ABOUT OPTOMETRY SCHOOL
Whether you’re in a 3 or 4 year program, the first 6 months or so of optometry school are TOUGH. Mainly it’s just a lot more info and more classes at once than undergrad, so you need to be way better at time management. It’s not that the classes are harder per se for a 1st year optometry student. In fact, learning ochem for the first time is probably harder than most of my first year classes. But overall, it is definitely tough.
Having good friends in your program is critical. You may feel not “on top of it” when you first start, and this is totally normal. Make sure you prioritize making good friends in your first few months. Everything is more manageable when you’re going through it with a friend. Here is me and some of my friends in my program 🙂
In terms of studying in Opto school, the best advice I have received is to be strategic. You can’t learn every single piece of info like you did in undergrad. Focus on what is most important as a 1st year optometry student.
If you want to get a sense of a “day in the life” – a bunch of my friends have written about their typical days here.
You can totally get here. I believe in you. It is totally worth all your effort – you can do this!
Just figuring out the optometry school requirements is a difficult process in itself! Rather than going to each school’s website, you can view an aggregated list of optometry school requirements for every school here.
If you want to get a sense of what GPA you’ll need to meet the optometry school requirements, you can view the statistics on the most recent entering class here.
In terms of pre-reqs, Anatomy, Physiology, and Biology 1 are the classes that have helped me most in my first year of optometry school. Optometry school is pretty Biology heavy (so far at least).
My path to optometry was a rough and winding one. When I was in undergrad at UC Santa Barbara, I considered the idea of going to medical school or into physical therapy. I did about half of my pre-optometry requirements while at UC Santa Barbara. But when I graduated, I wasn’t mature enough to commit to a career for my whole life.
So I took a job working at Oracle (a big tech company near San Francisco). I learned a lot, but honestly, I hated it. I hated being behind a computer screen all day. I wanted to help people one-on-one. So I got a career coach (to be honest – one of the best decisions of my life) and interviewed dozens of people in different professions to learn about different career options.
Around this time, one of my family members was having issues with double vision, so he went to see his optometrist. His optometrist, along with neurologists and ophthalmologists, ended up finding out that my family member had Multiple Sclerosis. I was very sad to hear the news. I thought it was so strange that you could find out about something in the brain through your eyes. I started talking to and shadowing optometrists… and the rest is history.
Frequently Asked Questions
I had a student reach out to me recently with a 3.1 GPA, and she was worried how that would affect her chances of getting into optometry school.
I understand her concern, and maybe you are feeling the same way. I think it is super common to wish your GPA was better. So I wanted to share my thoughts on this topic.
1. Don’t spend your time worrying, spend your time improving your application // I know this is easier said than done. But what’s done is done. If you have more time in school, try to boost your GPA. If you haven’t taken the OAT yet, put all your energy into CRUSHING it. But at the end of the day, what’s in YOUR control is to do your best going forward.
2. Crush the OAT // In my interview with him, one of the Dean’s called the OAT “the great equalizer.”And you’ve got to see it from the school’s perspective. GPA’s can vary from school to school. But the OAT is standardized across all applicants. I firmly believe that a solid OAT score “overrules” a “weaker” GPA. If you put 2-3 months of solid effort into it, I strongly believe it is possible for most people to score 320+ on the OAT, which I think would get you an interview at quite a few schools.
3. Focus on your top 5 schools // If you look at the statistics on the most recent entering class, you’ll see that GPA and OAT overages vary widely across the different optometry schools. Focus on the top 5 schools you’re going for, and try to get yourself to at least average for those schools (not for every school under the sun). Also, you’ve got to remember, AVERAGE means they do accept a solid chunk of students BELOW these numbers. Of course, you want to give yourself the best chance, but don’t rule yourself out because one of your numbers isn’t where you would like it to be.
In my experience interviewing, your GPA, but more importantly, your OAT score, are thresholds that schools look at for who they’re going to take for an interview. HOWEVER, Once you’re there, personality, confidence, desire to work hard, and maturity matter way more.
You are way more than any number could describe. Don’t be guided by fear of rejection, but by your passion to learn, grow, and one day help patients. There will most certainly be bumps, but everything else will follow 🙂