20th December 2023
Applying to medical school can be stressful. From personal statements to deciding on a university, each step of the process can be daunting. One essential part of the medical school application process is taking the UCAT. Also known as the University Clinical Aptitude Test, the UCAT can play an important role in your application, making it overwhelming for some students.
Fear not! Here, at PreMed, we have compiled a list of our top tips for UCAT success, along with some resources we recommend you use to achieve a score that reflects your abilities. Show admissions tutors your best by applying these tips to your UCAT preparation!
The UCAT is a standardised test for admission into medical and dental programmes, utilised by universities across the UK. Taken between June and September, students can opt to take the UCAT either from the comfort of their home or in an examination centre. It is recommended that you book your exam as early as possible by registering online. This is to ensure you get first pick of the available dates and can plan your UCAT preparation accordingly.
The purpose of the test is to assess the cognitive abilities of an individual. There are 5 sections to the UCAT to measure this, including:
You must ensure you take the UCAT before applying to medical school, as this is a requirement for many UK universities! Your UCAT score will only be valid for one admission cycle, meaning you will have to resit the UCAT if you reapply to medical school another year.
The key to success in the UCAT is to prepare. It is recommended you begin your preparation anywhere from a year before you intend to take the test to 8 weeks before your exam date. This number varies massively as it depends on how you prepare for an exam and find the balance between preparing for the UCAT and your studies.
As long as you set aside a reasonable amount of time to prepare for the UCAT, you will have the same chance of success as someone who has spent a year revising.
It is not just about the amount of time you spend preparing. The way you spend your time is also crucial in achieving a higher score. Here, we have listed our top tips for making the most out of your preparation time to ensure you are revising effectively.
The first thing you need to do before anything else is to take a look at the different sections within the UCAT. There are 5 different sections you will complete: Verbal Reasoning, Abstract Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, Decision Making and Situational Judgement.
Understanding the ins and outs of each section will enable you to use your time wisely during the exam. Knowing how long you get for each section, how many questions you have to complete and what type of questions will appear in each section will help you map out your time during the test. The answers to these questions are:
The best way to be successful in your UCAT is to practice as much as possible. Start with practice questions to get the hang of how the questions are phrased and develop strategies to tackle different questions. Once you have built up your confidence, try timing yourself and sticking to the suggested time frames. This will give you a better idea of what the test will be like on the day.
When you have perfected your time management, move on to mock tests a few weeks before your exam date. This will give you a real taste of what the exam will be like and if you need to adjust your timing and strategies further. Practice makes perfect, so it is best to complete as many questions as possible before the big day!
Simply practising, however, is not enough. You should also reflect on your results to see where you went wrong. The questions within the UCAT can be complicated at first, so it is a good idea to look at the questions you got wrong and see what the solution was. This will allow you to see if any patterns or strategies can be implemented to make answering the questions easier.
By knowing what your strengths and weaknesses are, you can apply your time more wisely to specific sections of the UCAT. For example, you may excel in Verbal Reasoning but struggle with Numerical Reasoning. This could guide your UCAT preparation to focus more on Numerical Reasoning. However, you must remember to not forget about Verbal Reasoning as you don’t want to fall behind in this area later on. It is important to find a good balance between focusing on your weaknesses and practising your strongest areas to ensure you become a well-rounded candidate.
Timing is one of the factors that can let students down. The UCAT is fast-paced, so sticking to the given time frames is essential in completing each section. It can be daunting to hear you only have 14 seconds to answer one question in the Abstract Reasoning section, but with practice, you can perfect this.
Instead of focusing on the exact amount of time per question, why not try setting time targets instead? For example, in the Verbal Reasoning section, setting yourself the target of answering 11 questions in 5 minutes and then 22 questions in 10 minutes could be a more effective strategy for keeping track of time.
It is easy to compare yourself to others, especially if your friends are also applying to medical school. Remember, everyone is different. It may take you more time to get the hang of the UCAT questions than your friends, but this doesn’t mean you are any less likely to get a high score. As long as you practice and can see improvement in your preparations, you don’t need to worry about competing with others.
Preparing for the UCAT can be a long and sometimes tedious process, so it is crucial to keep yourself motivated. One way of doing this is to implement some SMART targets. These targets are more useful than your typical goals as they are more detailed and enable you to set a time frame. SMART stands for:
By setting yourself measurable targets to achieve in a given time frame, you are being realistic, which means when you achieve these targets, you will feel more confident and motivated to carry on. Taking small steps with a target in mind is better than making giant leaps with no end goal.
You’re not completely on your own when it comes to preparing for the UCAT. There are plenty of resources, both online and offline, that can help you achieve a high score. To make the most of your UCAT preparation, try some of these effective UCAT resources.
It might seem obvious, but all the information you need about the UCAT is available on the UCAT website. This is a key source for all the general information you need to know, such as key dates, the test format, and the logistics of the UCAT. Not only this, but the UCAT website also offers a free online Question Bank filled with the types of questions you may encounter on your exam day.
Plenty of UCAT guides and blog articles are available online from multiple sources. Remember to make sure you only take information from reliable sources! Here, at PreMed, we have several articles about the UCAT. From a UCAT Guide to Applying to Medical School, we have everything you need to know to get you through the medical school application successfully.
As mentioned earlier, practice makes perfect! This means finding as many questions as possible to practice with, trying different techniques, and familiarising yourself with the format of the questions. From free resources to subscriptions, question banks are available to you all over the internet, so make sure you use this to your advantage.
You don’t have to just read your information. If you find it easier to learn visually or audibly, you might like the sound of YouTube videos. There are plenty of informative videos created by UCAT experts and previous UCAT candidates that can help you find the best strategies for tackling specific questions. Remember, these people have been through this before, so they can offer insights into the UCAT.
For people who would like some more structure and support, one-on-one UCAT tutoring could be for you. Having a tutor dedicated to you and your UCAT journey could give you more structure for your UCAT preparation and offer a more personalised experience. Using scheduled sessions, you will have time dedicated to preparing for the UCAT, reducing procrastination and increasing your motivation.
There are a range of books that are highly recommended by past UCAT candidates, including:
Depending on the book you choose, there may be a focus on practice questions or theory and strategy. It is suggested you use a mixture of questions and theory to have the most success in UCAT preparation. Practice questions are great, but understanding how to answer them efficiently will make all the difference when completing the UCAT.
Having a focus when preparing for the UCAT is essential for making the most out of your time. Here, we have listed some key things to prioritise when looking at each section of the UCAT to help you score higher.
Reading the passage first before the question is easy, but this is only a waste of time. By looking at the question before reading the passage, you can skim the article for your answer, saving you time.
There are a couple of different variations of questions in this particular section. From “True or False” to “Most Suitable” questions, the type of question asked will affect how you attempt to answer. For example, a “True or False” question is more straightforward, whereas a “Most Suitable” question would require some interpretation.
Given the time restrictions, you may panic and just select the first correct answer you see. However, there are better ways to tackle these questions. It is important to read all answers carefully before choosing your answer, as you may need to choose the “most appropriate” answer. This would mean you have to choose the most correct answer.
Learning strategies and techniques are the most important for this particular section. The Abstract Reasoning section includes various shapes, numbers, arrangements, and colours that might seem like a lot at first glance. This is why you should try to find any common patterns in your practice questions to see if there is a strategy you can implement to help you answer the question quicker and more accurately.
In times of stress, it is easy to forget everything when you walk into the room. That is why creating some form of mnemonic is a good idea to help you remember the key strategies you have been practising. A mnemonic such as SCAN (Shape, Colour, Arrangement, Number) could make or break how well you perform in this section.
You might feel like you need to check all your answers with a calculator for the quantitative section of the UCAT, but this isn’t the case! Time spent typing numbers into your calculator is not spent answering other questions. You should trust you know the answers to simple calculations and not panic.
With the UCAT being an online test, it may be easier to learn keyboard shortcuts rather than using your mouse to click from place to place. Some examples of shortcuts include:
You can also select your chosen answer using your keyboard rather than using your mouse. For example, if you want to select answer A, you can simply tap A on your keyboard, and your selection will be made. The time saved by using keyboard shortcuts could give you more thinking time for the questions.
Unlike the Verbal Reasoning section, you should read all the information given to you to find the answers. This section focuses more on the important arguments within the text, so you must read and understand what the given abstract tells you.
This section provides you with the answer within the text. It is, therefore, vital you read the text thoroughly to find the answer instead of making assumptions because you couldn’t find the answer. Read and reread the information to ensure you didn’t miss anything.
This tip can also be used for any of the sections of the UCAT. If you are running out of time, make an educated guess by removing any clear incorrect answers and taking your best guess with the remaining answers. Remember, you are not penalised for any incorrect answers, so it is better to answer all the questions rather than leaving them blank if you have the time to do so.
The Situational Judgement section of the UCAT focuses on understanding how you would deal with different situations. A good way of practising for this section is to read the “Good Medical Practice” Guidelines. These guidelines show how doctors should conduct themselves and what might be the best action given different ethical dilemmas.
In this section, you may be asked to rank your answers from least to most appropriate. This means sorting the answers could be difficult, especially when deciding the order of the middle answers. Allow yourself some extra time when considering the answer to these questions to ensure you have carefully read each answer and weighed the pros and cons of each statement.
It may seem like a long journey before you get to your UCAT test day, but all the effort and work you put in will be worth it. By following our tips, utilising all the resources available, practising as much as possible and making the most of your time, you will increase your chances of scoring high on the UCAT. We are with you all the way!
The UCAT isn’t the only thing you need to consider for your medical application, however. Other elements are just as important, such as your personal statement and gaining sufficient medical work experience. At PreMed, we offer a range of medical school application guides, interview tips, and medical work experience courses. If you need some work experience to enhance your med school application, book a course today!
The UCAT is used to measure the cognitive abilities of applicants. There are 5 test sections, including Verbal Reasoning, Abstract Reasoning, Decision Making, Quantitative Reasoning and Situational Judgement.
Taking the UCAT when applying to medical and dental programmes in the UK is compulsory. You must take the UCAT between June and September before applying to medical school, the year before you intend to start your medical programme. UCAT scores are only valid for one admission cycle.
A UCAT score above 2600 (650) is considered good, and scores above 2760 (690) are considered competitive. You should not worry if you have scored below this number; however, universities have different methods of assessing applicants. This means a lower score may not be detrimental to your med school application if you have good GCSE grades and are predicted high A-level grades.