UCAT Preparation Tips
The UCAT is one of the most difficult tests students will face in their medical careers. It’s used by Medical School admissions teams to determine whether you have what it takes to thrive at your chosen university. As such, UCAT preparation is key and we have a wealth of resources to share with you to ensure you achieve the highest marks!
How to get started with your UCAT preparation
Test-taking can be stressful for everyone, even more so if your heart is set on attending a specific Medical School. Just thinking about preparing for your UCAT appears daunting, which is why we recommend you start prepping sooner rather than later to maximise your chances of success.
Begin your UCAT preparation at least six weeks before the exam to ensure you’ve covered everything and worked on your weak spots. This gives you enough time to understand the UCAT format and complete as many past papers as possible. A little bit of prep every day can work wonders.
Our Complete Medicine Programme offers you all the support you’ll need to ace the UCAT, including expert one-to-one sessions delivered by our specialised tutors — sharing the knowledge they’ve accrued from their own tests. You’ll also benefit from our intensive course and access to UCAT textbooks and past paper questions.
Preparing for each UCAT section
The UCAT consists of five separately timed tests focusing on different skills.
This is the most-pressured subtest of the UCAT and typically produces the lowest scores every year. Verbal Reasoning assesses your accuracy and speed of reading and is similar to a comprehension test at school. There are 44 questions to be completed in around 22 minutes.
You can prepare for this section by understanding the specific types of questions. These are either true, false, or free text ones. The latter means you’re given a question or incomplete statement and you need to pick the free text answer that best applies. You should learn strategies for answering these, such as identifying keywords and ignoring the extreme words like ‘always’ and ‘never’ as these can sway your answer.
Our Verbal Reasoning Top Tips include acting like a lawyer — carefully analyse the statements like you are in a courtroom before answering. Remember, you’re making decisions only on the information you’ve been provided.
This section contains questions designed to catch you out, so you must be well prepared. Decision Making is important if you’re planning to become a doctor as the role involves complex situations and difficult decisions. The subtest requires you to apply logic to make a decision, evaluate arguments, and analyse statistical information. You will need to answer 29 questions in around 30 minutes.
Most people struggle in this section due to a lack of practice. You need to be able to recognise assumptions, know how to approach Venn diagrams, and identify the maths behind problems. We recommend developing a clear strategy to approach each type of question (either multiple choice or yes/no) and draw diagrams where possible to help you better understand.
Quantitative Reasoning is the highest scoring section of the UCAT and requires your GCSE maths knowledge. Made up of 36 questions to be answered in 24 minutes, it tests your ability to solve problems with your numerical skills. You’ll be given data-led scenarios that are presented in various forms such as tables, graphs, and two or three-dimensional shapes.
Brushing up your mathematics skills and refreshing what you learnt at school is the best method of prep. You should familiarise yourself with the types of questions and feel comfortable understanding things like bus and rail timetables, surveys, sales figures, and percentage calculations. In the test, you’ll be able to use an on-screen calculator so we suggest utilising that while practising to get used to its functions.
This subtest focuses on spotting patterns and ignoring distracting information. To complete this you’ll need to come up with hypotheses and question judgements as you go along. You will be presented with shape-based patterns and sequences to assess your spatial awareness and reasoning. There are 55 questions to answer in just 14 minutes.
The key steps to tackling each question include looking at the simplest box, identifying the pattern, and then trying to match it to a test shape. Do as many practise questions as you can to see examples of the rules, such as working out the number of sides in shapes, number of angles, and any intersections. Try to avoid spending too long looking for a rule though, if you haven’t spotted one in 45 seconds, guess the question and move on. Our best Abstract Reasoning top tip is to learn the NSPCC method as it forces you to seek out a pattern, which is what abstract reasoning is all about.
This section differs from the rest of the UCAT. It assesses your personal skills including perspective, resilience, integrity, and adaptability, and you should approach this with a different mindset to other subtests. Situational Judgement is designed to test your ability to understand situations you may encounter as a medical student or doctor. There are 67 questions to be answered in 27 minutes.
The most important thing to remember for this section is that you’re referring to medical guidelines and not what you personally think is the best action. During preparation, we recommend reading ‘Outcomes For Graduates’ – a publication produced by the GMC (General Medical Council) to help you think in a professional way. Stepping into character can also be useful. Imagine yourself further down the line as a medical student and consider what you would do in certain situations.
Our Top Tips for UCAT Preparation
Practise as much as possible
Practise is the key to success, so make sure you are practising the UCAT as much as you can. This will help you feel comfortable with the format and confident with your answers. It will also allow you to identify any weak areas you may have, giving you time to improve. Use past paper questions and complete these in both untimed and timed conditions. The latter will help refine your exam process and ensure you can complete the UCAT in the time given. Timing is one of the biggest challenges of the exam so you must get it right.
Be aware of common mistakes
Making mistakes in your UCAT can be costly. The most common ones include failing to read the instructions properly, getting stuck on one question for too long, and becoming stressed, leading to a lack of composure. So, it’s essential you read the question and understand what is being asked of you before answering and remember to skip a question if you’re stuck — you can always go back later if you have time. And finally, keep stress levels low by taking breaks during revision, getting enough sleep every night, and eating a healthy, balanced diet.
Create a revision schedule and stick to it
Making time for UCAT revision is essential for you to pass the test with high marks. Our best advice is to create a revision schedule and stick to it as well as you can. Don’t attempt to cram stuff in at the very last minute. This approach will only increase anxiety and stress levels and may impact your performance. Instead, figure out how much time you have to study and schedule sessions into your diary. We suggest around 2 hours of practise a day. This can be done at any time that suits you, as long as it gets done.
Preparing in the lead up to your UCAT exam
You’ve likely been revising for a while now and your UCAT is just around the corner. We know how easy it is to feel stressed and nervous about your exam and the outcome, but if you’ve been consistent with your preparation there should be no reason to worry.
To perform well, make sure you eat something filling and nutritious the morning of the exam — an empty stomach might make you lack concentration and feel nervous. Ensure you get a good night’s sleep the night before, too. We also advise that you avoid cramming in any last bits of information on the day. This won’t be beneficial. If you’ve already done the prep, you should be ready to go without any concerns. If you are worried, we suggest writing down key bits of info so you can have a quick glance before entering the test centre.
Remember that you’ll be provided with a computer, noteboard, and marker. You are also allowed to use an on-screen calculator.
Good luck in your UCAT!
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