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! 💪
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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:
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
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.
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, especially using the OAT Version of DAT Bootcamp, 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 🙂
🤔 **** Realize: what questions is the school trying to answer, using the interview? **** 🤔
- Is this person a weirdo?
- Is this person actually motivated to be an optometrist?
- Has this person put thought into their decision, and also gotten enough experience to make an informed decision?
- Will this person be able to handle the rigor of grad school and get good board scores for the school?
1) Don’t be a weirdo 🤪
From my experience – most schools use the interview process as a way to make sure you’re a normal, likeable person. I don’t think you have to blow people away with your incredible answers.
Want to stand out from the rest of the interviewees? I know this is easier said than done, but don’t seem so nervous. Have a normal conversation with the interviewer like they are a human being. You’re not putting on a show, you’re just having a chat. Ask them a bit about their life, their story, etc. Make eye contact. Take a deep breath, and smile 😄
2) Focus on your purpose ⛳
Without getting too flowery / idealistic, have a really good answer that proves why you decided to get into optometry, and what you hope to accomplish as an optometrist (one day). A tangible story, with some emotional component, would be GREAT to throw in here.
3) Explain how you came to make your decision to be an optometrist 🤓
Make it really obvious that you obtained the experience, advice, and put some serious thought into this decision. Again, a tangible story, with some emotional component, would be GREAT to throw in here (are you seeing a pattern? 🙂 )
4) Show tangible examples of how you have handled tough things 💪 (both academically and personally)
Once the school decides they “like you” as a person, and that you’re in the field for the right reasons, they want to make sure you can handle the difficulty of school, and get them good board scores.
If you haven’t finished school / taken your OAT, focus on doing the best you can there. Personally, I think the OAT is more important than GPA. I’d say try to have at least a 3.0 GPA and then crush the OAT (I recommend using the OAT Version of DAT Bootcamp to study for the OAT).
If you’ve already finished school / taken your OAT, and you’re worried that your GPA and / or OAT scores are lower than you’d like – that’s out of your hands by the time you go to the interview However, chances are that if you’re being asked to interview, the school is probably happy with your GPA / scores, and just wants to make sure of #1-3.
If you’re still feeling like your #’s aren’t “good enough” what you CAN do is project confidence and point to your strengths / how you’ve improved over time (** show growth, don’t give excuses**)
For example, one student I worked with was an ICU Neonatal nurse for 3 years, but felt like some of her OAT scores were lower than she’d have liked. That kind of experience is SO VALUABLE and a great data point to bring up to demonstrate your time management, professionalism, etc. etc. that show you can handle a rigorous course load. [UPDATE: She was recently accepted to SCCO! Read about her story here]
Hope this helps! TRY TO HAVE SOME FUN IN YOUR INTERVIEW 🎉 🙌 🍾
P.S … here are some additional helpful interview resources 📝
This is a loaded question 😋
I’ll let the experts speak directly on this one. I think these are two excellent videos to watch, that convey the opinions of several optometry school admissions directors (*heads up, the first one is long (1+ hrs) but worth your time)
ALSO – I would recommend emailing (or calling!) Dr. Jane Ann Munroe, Dean of Admissions at SCCO. She is a ROCKSTAR and so helpful. Really, you should be reaching out to the admissions team at any school you’re interested in 1) to build a relationship with them and 2) so you have a good idea of what they’re looking for.
See Iris Lizet’s experience interviewing @ UIWRSO:
🤔 **** Realize: what the school is trying to learn about you , using the personal statement? **** 🤔
From Dr. Jane Munroe, Dean of Admissions at SCCO: “You want to demonstrate that 1) you are personable and compassionate 2) enjoy solving problems, that 3) you want to take on the professional responsibilities of being a doctor and 4) that you communicate clearly and concisely.”
I think the central thesis of your essay should answer “Does this person want to take on the professional responsibilities of being a doctor”? To break this into chunks:
- Is this person actually motivated to be an optometrist?
- Has this person put thought into their decision, and also gotten enough experience to make an informed decision?
- Will this person be able to handle the rigor of grad school?
Then, throughout your essay, you should weave in stories and evidence of the other 3 components Dr. Munroe mentions (you care about other peopple and enjoy interacting with them, you love solving problems, and you can communicate all of this clearly and concisely)
Accodingly, here is how I would structure the paper:
1) Focus on your purpose ⛳
Without getting too flowery / idealistic, have a really good answer that proves why you decided to get into optometry, and what you hope to accomplish as an optometrist (one day). I think this should start with a tangible story, with some emotional component. Paint a picture for the person reading your essay.
Remember, a lot of students talk about how they were a high myope and went to the optometrist often. While I don’t disagree that this is a good reason to get into optometry, you might want to think of something to differentiate yourself (maybe telling the story of a patient you worked closely with, or a family member). At a minimum, I would connect your personal experience this to how you realized some problem “bigger than yourself.”
2) Explain how you came to make your decision to be an optometrist 🤓
If number #1 is explaining why became interested, #2 is making it really obvious that you obtained the experience, advice, and put some serious thought into this decision. In my opinion, this should be a logcial flow from your story in #1. This is literally telling the story of your shadowing experience: the patient’s you saw, the doctors you watched and spoke with, and how all of this reaffirmed your decision and made you want to double down on pursuing your dream.
3) Show tangible examples of how you have handled tough things and grown from them 💪 (both academically and personally)
Once the school decides they “like you” as a person, and that you’re in the field for the right reasons, they want to make sure you can handle the difficulty of grad school. And not just the intellectual difficulty, but the personal / emotional difficulty such an experience
This is NOT an area to 1) brag or 2) complain. Let the experiences speak for themselves. You’re basically trying to get across “I understand that to achieve anything meaningful takes sacrifice and perservence. Here are some stories of how I’ve sacrified and perservered up to this point. I am someone that values growth and genuinely incorporates feedback.”
For example: you’re going to get a lot of feedback from your “preceptors” (doctors who you report to when first seeing patients) and it is crucial that you can take their critique without 1) taking it personally or 2) being overconfident and thinking you always know best
Here is another helpful article: https://optometryadmissions.com/2018/07/12/five-dos-and-donts-of-writing-your-optometry-school-application-essay-from-optometrystudents-com/