The UKCAT is a two hour computer based exam that is taken by applicants to most medical and dental schools – so if you’re applying to medicine you will probably need to sit the test.
The questions for the UKCAT are randomly selected from a big bank – this means that students can sit the exam at different times as each test has different questions. Testing takes place over 3 months, between early July and October, and you can book your test at anytime within this period.
You register to sit the test online where you will be able to select a time slot. I recommend that you sit the test in late August or early September – this gives you plenty of chance to prepare. Don’t leave it till after August as you’re likely to get bogged down with school work then!
The test is split into five sections, verbal reasoning, decision making, quantitative reasoning, abstract reasoning and situational judgment.
Verbal Reasoning is essentially a reading comprehension test, with questions based on passages. This is a test of accuracy and speed of reading. It’s a good idea to read the question before the long passage – this way, you know what information to search for in the text.
Decision Making tests your application of logic and approach to problem solving. There are different styles of question, so make sure you are familiar with each and think in a logical step-by-step approach.
For the Quantitative Reasoning section, the maths is usually straightforward but can involve complex or multi stage calculations under time pressure. There is an on screen calculator, so make sure you get plenty of practice using it.
In Abstract Reasoning you match shapes to the set they belong to and complete sequences. This tests your pattern recognition skills and rewards a clear thought process. By learning a structured approach like the UniAdmissions NSPCC system, you make it easy to spot the patterns quickly.
The Situational Judgment section tests your ability to make decisions in a clinical environment. To perform well, you must understand the role and responsibilities of a medical student. To get started, read professional guidance like Tomorrow’s Doctors from the GMC to gain familiarity with the key concepts.
The ukcat is tricky as it was developed to help universities differentiate between highly qualified applicants. The idea was to create a pure aptitude test, something that you can’t be prepared for. However UKCAT’s own research shows that better preparation improves your end result. I.e. With the right focus you can score very well in the test.
Preparing well for the ukcat is hard work but the results are well worth it. Start out by learning about the styles of question in the test and make sure you know the theory behind how to answer them. This is particularly important for unfamiliar question styles like the Abstract Reasoning section – so learn the basics before diving straight in.
Then, start answering questions at your own pace. Take as much time as you need to answer each question, and always be sure to check the worked answers after so you continue to improve.
Finally, put yourself against the clock and answer the questions at the correct pace for the test. This is very important, as the fast pace is the hardest part of the ukcat. Use all your speed tips to answer questions as quickly as possible. If any are particularly hard, just make a guess, flag for review and move on – all questions are weighted equally, so much better to move on and answer three easy questions than be stuck answering one hard one.
It is much easier to prepare if you practice little and often. It is best to start early, ideally in July but certainly by early August. That way, you will have plenty of time to work through practice questions, build up your speed and to incorporate time-saving techniques into your approach.
Remember that the route to a high score is your approach and practice. Don’t fall into the trap that “you can’t prepare for the ukcat”– this COULD NOT be further from the truth. With knowledge of the test, some useful time-saving techniques and plenty of practice you can dramatically boost your score.
Work hard, be persistent and do yourself justice. Good luck!