Loyola University Maryland

Department of Psychology

Psychology Competency Examination

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What is the Psychology Competency Examination (PCE)?

The Psychology Competency Examination is a nationally standardized multiple-choice examination designed to assess a student's knowledge in ten areas of psychology. These areas include:

  • Abnormal/Psychopathology  (PY 202)
  • Developmental  (Group IV courses)
  • Experimental Design  (PY 291-292)
  • History and Systems  (PY 415)
  • Human Learning/Cognition  (Group III courses)
  • Personality  (PY 203)
  • Physiological  (PY 331 & 332)
  • Sensation and Perception  (PY 333)
  • Social  (PY 201)
  • Statistics  (ST 110, 210, or 265)

How was it developed, and how is it scored?

Area Concentration Achievement Test (ACAT) developed and score the test. Each examinee’s raw scores are converted to standard scores and are compared to a distribution with a mean of 500 and a standard deviation of 100.

How does the PCE affect students?

All psychology majors are required to pass all 10 areas of the examination or successfully complete remediation in order to be eligible to graduate from Loyola University Maryland.  Students are required to sit for the examination either in the spring of the junior year, or fall of the senior year at the latest; they must choose one of these two examination times (i.e., spring senior year is not an option, and there are no make-up examination times). Students are strongly encouraged to sit for the examination in the spring of the junior year, so as to have ample time to plan and complete any remediation, if necessary. Interdisciplinary majors must have taken at least four psychology courses prior to the spring of their junior year to be eligible to take the examination, and their scores will be assessed individually.

Beyond fulfilling this requirement for their major, students should utilize the PCE as an opportunity to supplement their GPA and transcript by showcasing what they know and have achieved in psychological knowledge.  In so doing, high performances overall or in particular subject tests can be showcased by students as they apply for jobs and graduate admission.

A passing score is deemed as a score of at least 300 or better on each subject area. Students whose scores fall below 300 (two standard deviations below the mean), in any area, are required to meet with the director of undergraduate education in psychology to plan remediation for the designated area(s). Possible remediation may include, but is not limited to: 1) taking a course in the subject area of difficulty; 2) independently studying material in the designated area and successfully passing a psychology department-administered multiple choice examination. Students whose scores are above 600 (one standard deviation above the mean) will be recognized as passing the examination with distinction, and those with scores above 700 (two standard deviations above the mean) will be recognized as passing with great distinction.

Should students study for the PCE?

Although the PCE is designed to assess knowledge learned in the 10 areas of concentration, and taking courses in the above areas should be adequate, students may want to review material in the above areas. This is particularly true if students have either 1) not taken a course in a given area, or 2) the courses were taken during the first or second years. A few study suggestions would be to review an Introduction to Psychology textbook, and/or review a study guide for the psychology portion of the Graduate Record Examination.

Is there a penalty for guessing incorrectly?

According to the ACAT website:

"If the answer is left blank, there is no penalty. An incorrect answer, however, will result in a penalty which is weighed differently according to the difficulty level of the item. The penalty is greatest for extremely easy items while it constitutes only about 10% of the value of an extremely difficult item. This weighing impacts much more greatly on those students who answer incorrectly items that the majority of students taking the ACAT answer correctly. An incorrect answer to an item that is often missed has far less impact. In general, we recommend that students attempt to answer questions if they are reasonably sure of the answer or can reduce the number of alternatives to 3 or less."

What if a student has a documented disability?

Students who have a disability that is documented with the office of disability support services (DSS) may request special testing accommodations for the PCE. Students should bring a letter from DSS to the director of undergraduate education in psychology at least three weeks prior to the designated testing date to request accommodations