How to Prepare for the UCAT

The UCAT, an aptitude exam that is required for most UK medical schools, is a big challenge to overcome and it can be the make or break of your application. Whilst you can’t revise for it in the same way as you would for A-Levels, proper preparation can be the difference between getting an interview at your dream university and being unsuccessful. In order to do well, it’s important to know how each section works and which resources you can use to prepare best.

What does the UCAT involve?

Many students go into the UCAT without a proper understanding of the exam style and number of each questions in each section. This puts them at a massive disadvantage, because they can’t ration their time properly, usually spending far too long in the first few questions of each section.

Understanding how long you have for each question helps you time yourself whenever you are doing practise questions with pen and paper. Try to do all practise questions in exam timing, spending 2 minutes on each question when you only have 15 seconds won’t help you much when preparing for the real test.

How to start preparing?

The best thing to do at the beginning when preparing is to complete a practise paper – this gives you an average baseline score and through that, you can identify which topics you should focus your attention on. After that, spread out your past papers across the time frame you are preparing for and use them to reflect on how you can modify the practise you are doing. I find that it is usually best to build up preparation for the UCAT across many weeks. This means doing perhaps a couple of hours of work every day for the first week, and then building it up by one or two hours per week. In doing so, you avoid burning out.

Which resources should you be using?

There are so many resources out there, and before long it’s easy to drown in all the different courses and books! The 1,250 UKCAT practise questions book is very useful. It’s brilliant for doing questions on the go. The questions in it are slightly more challenging than in the actual UCAT, which means you cans stretch yourself a bit more to make yourself ready for the exam.

At the end of the day, most people end up using similar resources – what really differentiates those who do well from those who do less well is how they use them. This is where tutors can step in – they can help you identify which areas you are weak in, and so which areas you should invest the most time in. Having a second opinion also helps in helping you see the bigger picture with your preparation – some students end up obsessing on making their performance on one section close to perfect. In doing so, they neglect the other sections, and so tend to do worse overall. On top of that, tutors can give you these little snippets of wisdom which can help you when you feel your score is plateauing, or you can’t make any more progress.

Top tips for each section

When it comes to VR, one of the biggest flaws of students is that they don’t read the question first. This leaves them reading the passage, having to read the questions, then rereading the passage to find the relevant information, which wastes time. Reading the question helps prime your brain for what information your looking for, so that when you read the passage, you can immediately select the important stuff, and forget about the rest.

In order to maximise your marks for decision making, it’s important to understand that decision making is quite broad and so tests lots of different elements. These elements can be categorised into deductive reasoning (your ability to make conclusions or inferences from texts), argument evaluation (selecting which elements of an argument can strengthen or weaken it) and statistical analysis. With argument evaluation, it might be useful to try some BMAT section 1 practise questions to really challenge yourself.

For quantitative reasoning, your speed on the online calculator can really affect your score. Make sure you are using the numeric keypad on the right-hand side of your keyboard – these will make calculations much quicker. It’s useful to spend a few days practising typing in numbers and functions quickly using the keypad – the more time you save on this trivial task, the more time you have to address the question!

Without a game-plan, abstract reasoning can be annoying since you can be just left there clueless with how to approach the question. Its best to approach it in a logical way. Spend the first five or so seconds seeing if you can identify the pattern in the sets presented. If not, go through a list of trends and differences in the sets by looking at colour, angle, type, size, position, edges, number, intersections and symmetry of the shapes.

Situational judgement is marked in a slightly different way but remains important. In general, its far less time pressured, which gives you the chance to read through the scenarios thoroughly. It’s advised to read through the GMC “Good medical practise” document to get an idea of what is expected of a doctor. This can give you a great foundation knowledge for approaching the situational judgement section.

Approach it all with a growth mindset

It’s important to approach the UCAT with a growth mindset. You can improve your UCAT score with focused and relevant practise, so it’s important to keep working hard. If you’re finding that you’ve plateaued and no longer improving, it might be useful to get a tutor who will give you a different perspective and find areas to improve which you may have missed.