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6 November, 2023

How to Study for the OAT?

The Optometry Admission Test (OAT) is a challenging exam that takes significant preparation. In this article, we will discuss the different aspects of how to study for the OAT.
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The Optometry Admission Test (OAT) is a standardized and computer-based 5-hour long exam required by most optometry schools for admission. It is made up of 4 general sections: natural sciences, physics, quantitative reasoning, and reading comprehension. The natural sciences portion is broken up into 3 subsections: biology, general chemistry, and organic chemistry. Each section is allocated a certain number of multiple-choice questions that must be completed in a specific amount of time before moving onto the next section. The number of questions and time allocated for each section are shown in the table below:

    Section    Number of Questions        Time allocated    
Natural Sciences 100 questions (40 Biology, 30 Chemistry, 30 Organic Chemistry)90 minutes
Physics40 questions50 minutes
Quantitative Reasoning40 questions45 minutes
Reading Comprehension50 questions60 minutes

The OAT is weighed heavily in optometry schools’ admission decisions, so adequate preparation should be done to increase your chances of being accepted. Certainly, this 5-hour long exam is not one you can cram last minute for. Because of the length and breadth of knowledge required for this exam, how you prepare for it is crucial to determining how you will perform. In this article, we will discuss 7 important factors to consider when studying for the OAT.

1️⃣ Study Style

Before you begin studying, figure out how you best study and retain information. There are different learning styles – visual, auditory, reading and kinesthetic – so you want to figure out how to most efficiently learn or review information for the OAT. This way, you will not be wasting time trying out different learning styles while trying to learn the information at the same time.

2️⃣ Study Material

Building off the first factor, the type of study material you use for the OAT largely depends on how you study. There are many different test preparation courses available in different forms, so we would suggest you consider factors such as the cost, location and structure of programs offered by different companies. These courses are offered on various platforms, including online self-studying, physical books for self-studying, in-person classes with tutors, and a mix of online and in-person methods. It would be best for you to consider the amount and format of material you would receive in return for the fees you must pay, as well as the teaching style and length of the programs and how well they would align with your learning style.

3️⃣ Starting Point

Even though the material tested on the OAT is covered by first and second-year level undergraduate science courses, everyone starts at a different level of knowledge when studying for the OAT. Therefore, we would suggest you search around and do some practice questions from each section of the OAT to figure out where to start, where you need extra reinforcement and which areas can be tackled later on.

4️⃣ Study Time

After figuring out what study material to use, you should consider when you are planning to take the exam and how much time you need to prepare for it. Most applicants take the OAT right after their second year, but it is also common to wait a year and take it after their third year of undergraduate studies. Students usually take general science courses (biology, chemistry and physics) in their first two years of undergrad, which generally align with the prerequisite courses for optometry school and the material that will be tested on the OAT. Therefore, the knowledge will still be fresh in your head after second year, and you will be doing more review as opposed to relearning of information if you take the OAT right after that school year. However, OAT scores expire after 2 years. Students typically apply for optometry school during their fourth year of undergrad to attend optometry school right after obtaining their bachelor’s degree. Therefore, some students might want to take the OAT after their third year instead, in case they are not accepted into optometry school in their first application cycle and must take another year after their bachelor’s to apply again. At the same time, students must wait 90 days before retaking the OAT if they are not happy with their initial scores – therefore, taking the OAT right after your second year could also work in your favour if you are not content with your first test score and want to retake it in the following summer before you apply for optometry school.

Regardless, you want to figure out when you want to take the exam, so that you can work backwards from the test date and allocate enough time to study for it. Most students study for 3-4 months and take the OAT at the end of summer. Studying can also be doable in 2 months, but this will be up to you as you know yourself best and how much time you really need. Make sure to allocate enough time to cover all the material, but also try not to drag out your studying for too long. Studying for the test is a long and grueling process, which is why it is best to do so during the summer when you are not taking any summer classes. However, you also want to avoid burning out, especially right before the next school year begins.

5️⃣ Study Plan

With a test date in mind and an idea of how much time you need to study for the exam, the next step is to come up with a study plan. It would be best to have a test date scheduled so that you have something to look forward to and can better hold yourself accountable. Your study plan can look different, depending on what study materials you have chosen. There are 6 overall sections on the OAT so you can separate your studying into 6 general sections, and then break it down further into smaller chunks that are less overwhelming. For example, if you are following a physical book with chapters, or a program with sections broken down into individual topics, you can allocate a certain number of chapters or topics to each day. This ensures that you have doable goals that can be reached, allowing you to stay on track without feeling too overwhelmed.

As for the order of topics that you cover, this is entirely up to you. Some people tackle each of the 6 general sections separately, while others do a topic from multiple sections per day. You know yourself best, so do what works for you to make sure you have a good understanding of all 6 sections by the time you reach your exam date.

Aside from covering material from the 6 sections, make sure you also allow time in your study plan for practice questions, practice tests, and time for review. Practice questions are essential for long-term retention of information, so it would be a good idea to do a few practice questions a day after covering new material, or allocate a chunk of time at the end of every week to do some practice questions. As your test date nears, full-length practice tests are also very important. This gives you an idea of what to expect on the day of the exam, as well as which areas you still need to work on. Even more, you want to set aside some time to review your practice questions and tests. This is probably one of the most important parts of your study schedule, because you want to figure out where you went wrong and identify your knowledge gaps, to ensure the mistakes are not repeated. Reviewing your mistakes will help you retain information and build up a long-term knowledge base, which is essential for the OAT. When you see the questions you got wrong and figure out why they are incorrect, you can also find supplementary content videos or notes to make sure you fully understand the material before moving on to other topics. There is no point in doing endless practice questions if you are not identifying and improving on your weak spots, because you will likely make the same mistakes again.

Personally, I took the OAT in August 2019 and self-studied throughout the summer after my second year of undergrad. I used a physical book and split up the chapters to set a goal of covering 3 chapters a day. During this designated study time, I read through the information and completed practice questions, while making and doing lots of flash cards for any memorization-based content. Instead of covering chapters from multiple sections at the same time, I went through all the chapters of one of the six sections before moving onto the next. The order of sections I covered was determined by how well I knew the information – I started with my weakest section first (general chemistry) and ended with the section I was least worried about (reading comprehension). After going through the 6 sections, I also allowed myself time to briefly review each section again. In the last 2 weeks before my exam day, I alternated between one day of a full-length practice test, and one day of reviewing my practice test mistakes from the day before, as well as studying any other supplementary information if needed.

6️⃣ Gearing Up for Test Day

In the last few weeks of studying, there are multiple things you can do to best prepare yourself for your test day. We mentioned doing lots of full-length practices to prepare you for the length of the exam and amp up your endurance, but it is also important to set good habits during this time. The OAT exam starts early in the morning, so you want to get into the habit of waking up early and starting your practice test at the same time as you would write the actual OAT exam. Even more, you want to simulate the testing environment. When you take the OAT, you are in a room with other people taking a variety of different tests. The library is a good place to replicate this environment because it is generally quiet, but you will also get used to the occasional chatter, cough or clacking of keyboards when other people are typing.

7️⃣ Mental Health

Last but not least, make sure to take care of your mental health. With your studying spread out over multiple months, it can be very easy to burn out. Be strict with your routine, which includes making time for yourself. Aside from scheduling which chapters or topics to cover each day, and which sections you cover across multiple weeks, it’s also important to schedule out regular break times and self-care days – whether this means going out with your family or friends, or just staying in and doing something you enjoy for a day. Both studying for the OAT, and the OAT itself, requires endurance. This is something you can build up as you prepare for the exam, but can only be done if you spread out your studying and stick to your study plan while making sure you are sleeping and eating well. Even more, reaching out to your university’s pre-optometry society or other students in the same position can help provide a support network as you prepare for the exam together.

👉 Conclusion

Having gone through the study process and taking the OAT myself, I hope these 5 factors help provide insight on how to best approach and study for the OAT. All that’s left to do now is study for the OAT and put in the work. Good luck!

For more information on the OAT, feel free to read our other articles on the following topics: How Is the OAT Scored, What Is a Good OAT Score, When to Reschedule Your OAT, and Retaking the OAT.