The UCAT Exam Structure

The UCAT consists of 5 sections with each containing a series of questions that must be completed within the given time. Learn what they are and what to expect.

Author: Rob Needleman

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What are the different UCAT sections and subtests? What do they test and what should I expect?

The UCAT is more than just a medical Admissions Test. It has 5 different subtests used to help Admissions Tutors identify if you are a suitable candidate for studying Medicine or Dentistry at their Medical School.

So what are the different subtests and what will come up? We outline and share insights into each UCAT subtest below. 

What are the UCAT sections?

The UCAT or “University Clinical Aptitude Test” is sat by most students applying to study Medicine or Dentistry in the UK. It is more of an aptitude test than an academic test and it tests abilities such as Problem Solving and Critical Thinking.

As shown in the table below, the UCAT is made up of 5 sections: Verbal Reasoning, Decision Making, Quantitative Reasoning, Abstract Reasoning and Situational Judgement. Let’s go through each section in more detail. 

ucat sections table graphic

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1. Verbal Reasoning

All things considered, you have roughly thirty seconds to answer each question, but you can’t answer anything until you’ve read a ~750 words long passage of text.

The questions themselves aren’t linguistically difficult, but they may require you to understand the transitive properties of elements in the text e.g. the first paragraph may talk about A and how it relates to B, the second paragraph relates B to C, so what about A is to do with C?

This section is probably the one where timing is the most brutal, and the limiting factor is the time taken to properly read the passage.

Don’t expect the answer to every question to be available as a direct quote from the text – some interpretation is necessary. Questions may ask about specific details that you may not have properly acknowledged, so refer back to the text when figures are involved.

With that in mind, the best advice is to learn to speed read. Practice as much as you can on reading as quickly as possible whilst still understanding the text. Also, make sure you practice reading on a computer, it’s not the same as reading on paper.

2. Decision Making

Decision Making was introduced in 2017, replacing an older section called Decision Analysis. This section lasts 31 minutes and there are 29 questions; this means roughly one question a minute. You will be presented with questions that refer to text, charts, tables, graphs or diagrams.

As a general principle, drawing diagrams is extremely helpful in this section. It helps you visualise data that is written in text. For example, if a question speaks about compass directions, draw a simple map that follows the rules. If the question is talking about categories, then draw a Venn diagram that simplifies your thought process.

The questions are designed to assess how you use information and data to, unsurprisingly, make a decision – an essential skill of a good doctor. The questions can be broken down into six main styles:

  1. Logical puzzles
  2. Syllogisms
  3. Interpreting information
  4. Recognising assumptions
  5. Venn diagrams
  6. Probabilistic reasoning

3. Quantitative Reasoning

The maths itself is not any more difficult than GCSE level, but questions may require several calculations to be made in quick succession. There is also a lot of interpretive analysis, so make sure you’re comfortable with pie charts, bar charts and the like. Currency and unit conversions are also common.

With these questions, it’s essential that you keep track of units! The exam is multiple-choice, and possible answers will often have similar values with different units – don’t be put off, learn to keep track.

If, like me, your mental arithmetic is terrible, fear not for you have access to a rudimentary calculator. Unfortunately, it isn’t a physical one, but rather a desktop application. It only has basic functionality.

My best advice for this section is to practice calculations on this calculator. Find an extended keyboard (one with a separate number pad) and get comfortable using it. The faster you get with this, the more precious seconds you’ll be able to spend without fiddling with a mouse or keys.

4. Abstract Reasoning

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.

Common rules include looking at the number of sides in shapes (odd vs even or something in that vein), the number of angles, or intersections etc. Don’t spend too much time looking for a rule, if you haven’t got it in the first 30 seconds, guess through the question. Natural intuition may help.

Also, your rule need not be perfect. Often, full rules may have further nuanced parameters, but the general idea is good enough to get you 80%. Experience is probably the most useful in this section.

5. Situational Judgement

Situational Judgement, or SJT, tests the qualities required to work in healthcare. This might be ethics, your ability to work in a team or integrity. It is a psychological aptitude test.

This section consists of 20 scenarios with 67 items; each scenario has 3-6 items. You have 26 minutes to complete this section, which translates to around 22 seconds per item. This is the last section, so you may begin to fatigue. Make sure you stay focused and be careful to mark the intended answers!

There are two sets of answers for items in the SJT:

  • Appropriateness – this will be from “very appropriate” to “very inappropriate” with two choices in between.
  • Importance – this ranges from “very important” to “not important at all”.

This section benefits from practice as you will begin to understand the types of questions and answers that frequently appear. Read through the Good Medical Practice too as this will help with your selection process. 

If there are several people mentioned in the scenario, make sure your answer relates to the correct person. You must think about what you should do rather than what you would actually do. A general rule of thumb to follow for this section is to always put patient safety first, acting in the patient’s best interest.

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