How Universities use UCAT

How Universities use UCAT

Andres Mandol
9 minute read

Your UCAT score will be available at least several weeks before you have to submit your UCAS application, so you should make sure to take into account your results before making your final four choices. Hopefully you will have prepared sufficiently prior to sitting the exam and you will obtain the desired score for the medical schools of your interest, but you need to remain cautious and strategic until the end of your application process. If you felt insecure in your UCAT performance and picked universities that didn’t place as much value on the UCAT than others but ended up achieving a higher score than expected, you can absolutely revisit those choices and aim for a school that you were really interested to begin with but didn’t consider beforehand. 

The application process is a very dynamic process that is subject to change at all times and you need to be mindful of this. Ensure that you allow yourself the best opportunity to gain a spot in a place that will be suitable for you to spend such a large part of your life at.   Here at theMSAG we are dedicated to ensuring that students can receive the best support in their application journey.  We offer a Medical School Admissions Consulting Service with Dr Dibah Jiva, which can help you gain a better understanding of your strengths and weaknesses.  We also look at the way your application may be viewed by different medical schools, which includes your UCAT score, in order to ensure recommendations for the best fit for each and every one of them. 

Now let’s have a look at how exactly universities will be looking at your UCAT score to decide whether you will be invited to one of their interview slots during the second stage of their admissions process.

Some universities place a lot of weight on a candidate’s UCAT score and even introduce yearly cut-off scores which decide whether students will be shortlisted for an interview or not. Different universities adopt different approaches, with some requiring a minimum total score for the UCAT as a whole, e.g. students who have scored 3000 or above and a Band 2 in SJT or above can be considered for interview (remember that the UCAT comprises of four numerically scored subsections, each scored out of 900, which means that the total maximum numerical score a candidate may achieve is 3600). Other universities have an even more stringent approach in that they are particularly interested in your performance at particular subsections and might require you to have achieved not only a minimum total score, but also a minimum score in, say, Quantitative Reasoning. 

These requirements will be unique for every medical school and may change year on year. They greatly depend on the abilities and skills that medical schools expect from their successful applicants and may often closely mimic the outline of the curriculum set out by those particular institutions, in order to make sure that all accepted applicants will be able to meet those requirements and will thrive in the environment set out by these institutions. 

As we already briefly mentioned, some universities may introduce a cut-off score in order to help sift through the large numbers of candidates applying for a spot at their institution every year. Sometimes this decision will be guided based on the expectations these schools have from their applicants, whereas other times it can also simply be a tool to help narrow down the amount of applicants due to the limited capacity and availability of interview slots each year. These cut-off scores are not set in stone and are mostly driven by each year’s total cohort’s performance, taking into account the difficulty of that year’s test and distribution of scores. 

Another factor that can be quite important to take into account is the background from which you come and the classification your UCAS application will be put under. There are several types of categories that exist for the purpose of your medical school application: 

  • A “Home” student, i.e. a student from the same country as the medical school of choice
  • An “EU” student, i.e. a student either from a EU country
  • A “Rest of UK” student, if you are from another part of the UK, e.g. a student from England or Wales applying to University of Glasgow. 
  • Lastly, you may also be classified as an International student, which would mean that you come from abroad and from a country not part of the EU. 

Note that some universities or areas may group some of these classifications together, e.g. Scottish universities categorise Home and EU countries under the same heading, whereas Rest of UK and International students are considered in two further separate categories, whereas this may not be the case for universities in England. With ever-changing rules and regulations surrounding Brexit and our current climate, make sure you frequently check the status of your application, however, to ensure that it will be correctly classified and processed. 

Now that you have an understanding of what the different options for you as an applicant are, it is important to keep in mind that the same university may have different cut-off score requirements for the different classes of applications it receives each year. This is once again largely due to the number of applications the universities receive in an attempt to offer interview invites to their highest achieving applicants. 

Let’s take University of Aberdeen’s UCAT cut-off process as an example to illustrate all of these points. In 2018, the university expected a minimum total score of 2360 from its Home applicants, which would average out to a score of 590 per subsection. Given that there was no stringent requirement for a minimum result on any of the subsections, that would mean that you would have still been considered for a spot with a VR score of 500, as long as you had scored 680 in QR and 590 in the rest of the subsections. This number was lower for Rest of UK and International applicants for that year, at 2340 and 2300, respectively. 

Comparing these cut-off scores to the year before, we can see a decrease in requirements, as in 2017 the minimum total score requirements were 2380, 2440 and 2580 for Home, Rest of UK and International applicants, respectively. This was likely to reflect the difficulty of the exam, the overall performance by the cohort sitting the exam during those application cycles, as well as the demand towards their university each of these years.

This is not necessarily the case for all medical schools across the UK. There are many medical schools who do not have a set cut-off number that filters out successful applicants with an interview offer and only use the UCAT score as a general guide towards a candidate’s overall suitability, in conjunction with the rest of their application, which includes their school grades or previous university degree class, their personal statement, as well as their letters of recommendation. Some of these universities would place equal weight to all of these components and use a unique ranking system for their own institution to award interview offers based on your overall performance in all aspects of your application. 

Lastly, there are also universities that aim to use your UCAT score as almost an alternative to classic selection requirements, such as academic achievements. In other words, if you haven’t achieved the desired results in school that would normally be required by medical schools to be considered for an interview, but have performed exceptionally well at the UCAT and achieved a high score, this score may be used as a substitute to a traditional selection process and you would still be considered for an interview offer. 

There is no exact science behind how medical schools use the UCAT score to determine who gets an interview offer and who doesn’t. There are certain categories we can put different universities in in terms of how they approach the UCAT and the amount of weight each one of them puts on your performance in it, but even then these views are subject to change year on year, depending on the overall performance of the cohort of applicants or even current external affairs that one way or another may affect opportunities and results. Take this year, for example - our current pandemic situation has thrown a curveball on budding medical students and has made it incredibly difficult for many to sit, and by extension prove that they were able to obtain final year exam results, which are often the deciding factor between a conditional offer and a firm acceptance. Furthermore, the opportunities for shadowing and clinical experiences have significantly decreased. 

These unfortunate circumstances have made it increasingly difficult for prospective medical students to secure valuable experiences and enrich their CVs with activities that demonstrate commitment to medicine and realistic understanding of the profession. This may have a knock-on effect in the future, requiring medical schools to place even more value on objective scoring criteria, such as your UCAT scores. This is not necessarily the case at the moment, but it is a very good point used to illustrate the dynamic nature of the medical school application process and the increasing importance of staying on top of your research and seeking updates frequently.

We hope this information has been useful and has given you some good insight into the different ways your UCAT score may be used depending on the university you choose to apply for. For any other questions and concerns, do not hesitate to contact us at [email protected].

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