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8 November, 2023

What to Expect on OAT Exam Day

Are you taking the OAT soon and are not sure what to expect? In this article, we will discuss what to expect on the day of the OAT exam.
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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. Not only does the exam require a few months of preparation, but the OAT itself is quite long as well. As your test date nears, nerves will be high and it would be a good idea to know what to expect and be as prepared as possible. This way, you can maximize your exam performance and avoid feeling overwhelmed during the OAT. In this article, we will be discussing what you should expect on your OAT exam day – this includes before, during and after the exam.

πŸ“š Before the OAT


In my experience, the OAT was scheduled for 8:00 AM and I arrived at 7:30 AM to be safe. Depending on the location, the proctors will either let exam takers into the exam center as they arrive or let everyone in at once after more people have trickled in. On my test day, there were several people already waiting outside when I arrived at 7:30 AM, and we were not let in until around 7:50 AM.


Once you enter the exam center, you must go through the check-in process. Because we were allowed entry all at once, the order of checking in was determined by the order of arrival. This means I was checked in a bit later, and even though I still had the same total amount of time to take the OAT, my exam did not start exactly at 8:00 AM. Therefore, it would be a good idea to arrive earlier if you want to ensure you start the OAT at your scheduled time.

When checking in, you must provide 2 forms of identification. The primary form is a government-issued photo ID (such as a passport or driver’s license), while the secondary form must contain your signature (such as a credit card). Make sure your name on the two pieces of ID match to be considered valid pieces of ID. Afterwards, the proctor confirms the exam that you are taking and you are asked to sign to acknowledge and confirm your exam. You are given a key to a locker, which you can place your belongings into. I had brought my backpack and notes for last-minute review, which I put into the locker. We were not allowed to access our locker until after the exam, so we were also advised to place any snacks in an open cubby, separate from the locker containing our belongings. Once this is done, you must wait in the waiting area until a proctor calls and escorts you into the exam room. At this time, you can also use the bathroom if needed.

Once you are called from the waiting area, you must go through security before entering the exam room. Although this may vary a bit between testing locations, the general guidelines are quite strict. In my experience, I was asked to pull up my sleeves and pants, as we were not allowed to bring anything into the exam room. My glasses were checked afterward before walking through a metal detector. Some locations also take your fingerprint. Once security is complete, you are given a whiteboard and dry-erase marker. For my OAT, I was provided two pieces of laminated graph paper and a non-permanent black marker for scrap work. I had also brought disposable earplugs, which were checked by security and approved for me to bring into the exam room.

After checking in and going through security, you are finally allowed into the exam room. An exam proctor escorts you to an assigned cubicle, which contains a computer and noise- cancelling headphones. There are usually other people in the room taking a variety of different tests, so feel free to put on the headphones if you think you will be distracted by the clacking of the keyboard or clicking of the mouse.

πŸ“ During the OAT


Once you have sat down at your cubicle, it is time to begin. The exam starts with an optional 15-minute tutorial that covers how to use the online system. The tutorial does not take 15 minutes to complete, but you can leave it on and let the time count down if you need the extra time to calm your nerves. On the computer screen, there is a small timer in the corner and buttons for functions such as next question, previous question, mark a question (to come back to), and exhibit (to show a periodic table). During this tutorial time, you can also spend some time quickly jotting down any formulas you can still recall on the laminated paper. This might help in case you start to feel more overwhelmed and blank out during the exam. Also, note that when you need more scrap paper, you must raise your hand and wait for a proctor to come exchange your used papers for new laminated cards.

The Exam

The OAT 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 on to 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 first section is natural sciences, and the order of questions follows the order listed in the table above. Although there are 3 different topics involved in the natural sciences section, the 90 minutes encompasses all 3 topics. This means you really need to know your stuff or be sure to mark and skip questions to come back to later on. Try not to spend too much time on a question so that you answer as many as possible. During the 90 minutes, there is a pop-up on the computer to let you know that you are moving from biology to general chemistry and, later on, from general chemistry to organic chemistry. You must acknowledge the pop-up while the timer continues to count down. After the natural sciences, the second section is reading comprehension. Try your best to stay calm, as it is easy to feel overwhelmed when reading and trying to interpret the passages during this section. If you are looking for extra help in preparing for this section, take a look at our article OAT Reading Comprehension.

After getting through the reading comprehension section, you are given an optional 30-minute break. The timer automatically starts counting down from 30 minutes, and you must raise your hand for a proctor to escort you out of the exam room. Make sure to note the time that you leave because the exam will automatically move on to the next section once the 30 minutes are up, even if you are not at the computer. We would recommend that you take a break to get some fresh air, rest your eyes, grab your snack from the cubby, and stretch your legs. However, make sure not to take too long because you must go through security again before re-entering the exam room.

Once you are back from your break, the third section is physics. This section passes quickly, so again, make sure to skip questions that you are unsure about to avoid spending too much time on one question. Afterward, the fourth and final section is quantitative reasoning. This section passes by even faster, so just try to stay calm and work things out on your laminated cards.

πŸ“• After the OAT

After finishing up the quantitative reasoning section, the OAT is officially over. There is an optional survey after the test, which inquires about the quality of your testing experience and any feedback for testing center improvements. Once you finish or skip the survey, the computer screen will automatically display your test scores. Look over your scores and take a deep breath of relief because the test is now over and hopefully, you perform as well as you wanted to. You must then raise your hand and wait for a proctor to escort you out once again.

Once you are out of the exam room, you must return your laminated cards and marker, then grab your things from your locker. When you go to return your locker key to the proctor, they will hand you a physical copy of your unofficial OAT exam results. This is the final step, and you are free to leave afterward! Make sure you take some time to rest and treat yourself for working so hard over the past few months – the OAT is a challenging and grueling exam, so you deserve it!

For more information on the average OAT score and to determine how competitive your scores are, feel free to read our articles How Is the OAT Scored? and What Is a Good OAT Score? 

If you did not perform as well as you had hoped, remember that you can still figure out what went wrong, prepare for it again, and retake the test after 90 days – check out our other articles, How to Study for the OAT? and Retaking the OAT.