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One of the fastest growing fields in the United States is that of optometry. International students from all over the world are flocking to this lucrative field. In order to apply for optometry schools, students must take the OAT exam. The OAT exam is an important aspect of optometry school admissions and can make or break a candidate’s chance. So what is the OAT?

About the OAT

The OAT exam, or the Optometry Admissions Test, is a standardized test used by optometry schools and admissions committees to test the knowledge of potential applicants. The test is administered by the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry. The exam covers a number of different subjects including natural sciences, reading comprehension, physics, and quantitative reasoning. The exam is taken in a registered testing location, and is an online exam. This means that the test can be taken at any time. Test scores last for three years, and are then considered invalid. Test scores cannot be combined, meaning the score you get on one test section stays with the others.

The Importance of the OAT

Of the 21 certified optometry schools in the US, all require the OAT exam. It is one of the most important factors that admissions boards look at when making a decision. Most schools require students to have top scores in the 300 range, but the actual scores vary from school to school. Students who achieve a high score on the OAT are much more likely to be asked for an admission interview.

Taking the OAT

The OAT exam consists of four major sections:
  • natural sciences
  • reading comprehension
  • physics
  • quantitative reasoning

The test takes about 4 hours and 45 minutes to complete with two 10 minute optional breaks in the middle. Each of these sections is multiple choice. Timing is very important, and students should pay close attention to their pace. Students should be sure to attempt to answer every question in the allotted time period, or they could lose points. The test costs $226 and fees are not refundable.

Get Prepared

As with any standardized test, intensive studying of the potential course material is a must in order to do well. International students should divide their focus between all four of the main sections. There is an official OAT study book put out by the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry. These books teach the student about the OAT format as well as some important things to consider other than the course material. These books include practice tests that are can be graded and taken on a student’s own time. Most importantly, the book gives the potential test-taker insight into what the actual test will be like. One of the best sources for testing knowledge is the OAT examinee guide published by the ASCO which has several pages on course material and regulations. This guide can be found online for free. Other great assets to students are their textbooks that they used in courses like Biology and Chemistry.

Getting an OAT Coach

The practice materials stated above are great for a lot of students, but many others do best with one-on-one coaching with a certified coach. OAT coaches may be hard to find, but can be a real help. Students who know someone in the optometry field should inquire about potential tutoring and ask for advice about how the optometrist studied for their exam. By studying with someone who has personal experience, students get one on one help and can even get a study schedule focused directly on their needs and weaknesses when taking the exam. Students should also consult their college professors about potential tutors or coaches in some or all of the four sections of the OAT.

The Night Before the Exam

The importance of getting sleep the night before an exam should not be underestimated. By getting a good night’s sleep, a student will be well prepared for the tough mental work they will have to do the next day. Students should also make sure they have all the materials that they will need for the next day’s exam. Since the OAT is on whichever day the student so chooses, they have plenty of time to prepare and understand where they will be going. Students should make sure they are not bringing anything that is not allowed. It might be a good idea to lay your clothes out and have your breakfast close to ready to go.

While some may disagree, it is usually not the best idea to study heavily the night before the OAT exam. If you have prepared, then you have done enough studying over the past few weeks and months. Instead of studying, do something relaxing. Watch some television or read a book. Listening to music or surfing the internet is also a good way to relax. Try not to get worked up about the next day’s exam. Some people do best by just doing what they always do throughout the day. This way, your body is on its normal cycle, and you will not get too nervous or be unable to sleep. Most importantly, calm yourself down and do not think about the OAT too much.

Test Day Preparation

On the testing day, there are many things that a student must bring with them.

Government photo ID

With recent trends in testing frauds, testing officials need to know exactly who the person is sitting at each desk. For this reason, a government photo ID that contains a valid signature is required by all testing sites. This can include a Passport, driver’s license or other form of government ID.

OAT Admissions Ticket

Another necessary and important thing to bring is the OAT admissions ticket. The admission ticket is sent to a test takers e-mail usually weeks or days before the exam and is to be printed off and shown to testing officials before entering the testing area.

Test Taking Basics

  • Pencil & Erasers
  • Tissues
  • Food & Drinks

Caution: Because the test is proctored and in a secure site, there are several things a test-taker cannot bring into the location.

Students will not be allowed to bring books, papers, backpacks or handbags, calculators, timers or digital watches. All cell phones, beepers, pagers, or headsets are prohibited.

OAT Scoring

Students will be happy to know that there are no penalties for missing a question, meaning you should try to answer every question. The OAT test is scored from 200 to 400. The actual scores are on a scale format, meaning they are neither raw scores nor ranked percentiles. Each school may have a different requirement for their program, and understanding the score requirements of each area important for applicants. So what is the OAT? The OAT is an opportunity to begin a future career in Optometry, and a very important requirement in getting into top schools!

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