Top Tips for UCAT

RO Central Team - Tuesday, August 06, 2019
Posted 11 months ago


Hi all!

I know people will have taken their UCAT already, so I’m sorry if this advice is too late for some. Judging by the emails I’ve had, people seem to be struggling with lots of similar things. So, I thought I’d write a blog post to show that you’re not alone and there are methods of making this difficult exam a little easier.

As we know, the UCAT (known as the UKCAT until last year, when it started being used in Australia and New Zealand too) is a two-hour computer-based University Clinical Aptitude Test designed to select the best students for medicine and dentistry courses. It is considered in some way by most UK medical schools, however how they actually use your score in the admissions process varies. This can make applying quite tactical – low scorers will benefit from applying to different universities than high scorers (e.g. ones with lower UCAT cut-offs, or ones that don’t use it at all!). You will have time to make these decisions once you’ve got your score and before your application deadline on October 15 deadline.



The Sections:


Verbal reasoning
  Assesses the ability to critically evaluate information presented in a written form.
 44 questions in 21 minutes
Decision making
 Assesses the ability to make sound decisions and judgements using complex information.
 29 questions in 31 minutes
•Quantitative Reasoning
  Assesses the ability to critically evaluate information presented in a numerical form.
 36 question in 24 minutes
•Abstract reasoning
 Assesses the use of convergent and divergent thinking to infer relationships from information.
 55 questions in 13 minutes
•Situational judgement
 Measures the capacity to understand real world situations and to identify critical factors and appropriate behaviour in dealing with them.
 69 questions in 26 minutes



7 general tips for the UCAT


1.It is meant to be a difficult, time pressured test - you are not expected to get 100%. With this in mind, try not to spend too much time on each question. At 55 questions in 13 minutes for the abstract reasoning section for example, this is an average of 24 seconds per question. So, if you are spending more than 30 seconds on a question, consider just moving on! (You can work this out for the other sections too).


2.It may not be what you want to hear, but there is no quick fix - practise is the main thing that will help you succeed. When you run out of practise questions, ask around to see if anyone has any more (that are official and/or good quality). Re-attempting questions you have already done will help too.


3.The best way to work for the UCAT is little and often, taking regular breaks. As soon as you start feeling too stressed or overwhelmed, it is time to take a step back and return to it later!


4.If you haven’t done the UCAT yet and you have some friends who have, talk to them. This will give you a good idea of what to expect. However, don’t be disheartened if they say it’s hard or they did badly – everybody is different and will respond differently in the test situation.


5.When practising for and sitting the exam, don’t let one hard question get the better of you. You don’t have time to panic… just take a breath and move on. It’s only a couple of marks and shouldn’t be allowed to ruin the whole section.


6.It is hard for everyone, so don't panic. Practise is key, but not spending excessive amounts of time on each question and adopting certain strategic approaches will also get you far (more on this later). Do as well as you can, but remember, not getting a high enough score does not mean you will never be a doctor or dentist! It does mean that you might need to apply to different universities, or that you may need to spend some more time practising and reapply: not everyone goes into these courses straight from school.


7.Finally, here is a link to a live Q&A that we ran in May with several admissions test providers, including UCAT and BMAT. You might find some of the tips useful.




The dreaded sections...


Verbal reasoning
The main thing that trips people up in the verbal reasoning section is the speed. At 48 seconds per question, time is tight.


As such, you will not have time to read the entire passage. My strategy was to read the questions first, then skim read the passage, and scan for the answers. This means that you will use less time and you know what you’re looking for in the passage when you read it.


As with any multiple choice test, you should discount as many options as possible first. Once you’ve done this, don’t waste time deliberating between the final few – pick one and move on. Often, your gut instinct will be right.


You can also buy yourself time by answering the easy questions first and flagging others to come back to. Every question is worth one mark, whether it’s hard or easy. True or false questions tend to take the least time to answer.


I recently came across this blog article, which is helpful and reminded me of the techniques I used myself:


Abstract reasoning:
People are often daunted by the abstract reasoning. But, by using these techniques, you will be able to answer many more than you think.


My first trick was to use a mnemonic as a checklist of possible patterns. The one that I used was: SCANS:
Number of…


Other alternatives are listed here, along with what to do with these prompts:


Another good plan is to start with the simplest box - this will also follow the rule, but with fewer distractions, thus the pattern will be easier to spot.


If you have done this, have spent more than 30 seconds on it and still can’t get the pattern, consider flagging the question and moving on. Going back to it with fresh eyes may help you get the answer, or else another question may have given you new ideas.


As with all the other sections, lots of practise and reattempting questions you’ve already done will help you get used to the possible patterns.



A brief word on the situational judgement test (SJT)
It is worth getting to grips with this – as a fifth year medical student, I will have to do a SJT in January, and how I well I do is a big factor in which jobs I get for my foundation years!


The best thing to do to prepare is to read current General Medical Council (GMC) guidance like Tomorrow’s Doctors (or the equivalent guidance for dentistry). This will give you an idea of what values they think are important and how they should be prioritised. For example, confidentiality should always be a priority, unless patient safety is endangered.


Also, the GMC want doctors to avoid bringing the profession into disrepute, but in most cases, honesty and integrity should take priority. With a little reading and practise you should be able to spot which qualities of a doctor are relevant in the question and in which order they should be prioritised.


So there you have it, those are my best UCAT tips. A huge well done to everyone who has sat it so far and good luck to everyone who has yet to do so!


Please get in touch with me on if you have any questions or feedback, or just to let me know how your UCAT went. I’d love to hear from you.





Early Applicant Support Ambassador



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