Both the OAT and the MCAT are timed, standardized tests.

The Optometry Admission Test refers to the standardized test used by optometry programs when assessing a college senior or graduate’s readiness for graduate study. The Medical College Admission Test, on the other hand, is the test taken in preparation to apply to medical school. Though both tests are necessary steps for students hoping to specialize in health care relating to the eye, the tests prepare students for very different careers.

Optometry Versus Ophthalmology

Though ophthalmology and optometry both refer to sciences of the eye, an optometrist and an ophthalmologist approach the eye with different concerns in mind. Optometrists are trained in outpatient care and can expect to spend the majority of their career testing eye prescriptions for contacts and glasses. Despite attending graduate school after college, they will not be considered medical doctors at their program’s end. An ophthalmologist, unlike an optometrist, has attended medical school and completed an internship and residency. Ophthalmologists are therefore able to provide inpatient care to those with more complex eye care needs, like trauma recovery or diseases of the eye.

How the MCAT and the OAT Differ

The MCAT and the OAT are fundamentally different in terms of scope. The OAT is focused specifically on determining a student’s readiness for admission into an optometry program, while the MCAT tests multiple areas related to medical study in preparation for admission to a medical school. Both can be taken via computer, but the tests differ again in duration. The OAT takes approximately four hours to complete, while the MCAT requires nearly six.

When to Choose the MCAT

If you know that you want to pursue health care at the graduate level, and you’re committed to a four-year degree but have not yet committed to a specialization in the eye, the MCAT is likely a better choice than the OAT. The MCAT gives students access to a number of medical disciplines, allowing a much easier change in focus down the line than can be promised by programs accepting the OAT. Many people consider the MCAT a more difficult test, so the MCAT is an appropriate test choice for those who have undergone appropriate pre-med training and are prepared to spend several hundred hours studying for the exam.

When to Choose the OAT

The OAT is better suited to those who are not looking to work with patients needing in-hospital care under their watch. The OAT prepares students for advanced study, though optometry programs can be finished in as little as six years, including undergraduate study, which makes the OAT a good choice for those eager to join the workforce. Finally, the OAT places less weight on the verbal section than the MCAT does, so those who are less confident in their writing skills may feel more comfortable with the OAT.