Once you have decided that you want to apply to medical school, one of the first boxes you would need to tick off for your application to be complete is to register for and book the UCAT. The UCAT, short for University Clinical Aptitude Test, is an assessment format that is required by the majority of medical schools across the UK. Unless you’re submitting an application made up completely of the handful of universities that have a differing assessment requirement, you will find yourself having to prepare for the UCAT, which in itself can be a daunting experience, especially if you have little to no background knowledge of what to expect.
Furthermore we have found that one of the biggest aspects that candidates struggle with when it comes to preparation is figuring out a sensible timeline that will allow them sufficient time for practice whilst ensuring that they don’t burn out and over prepare, which can in turn cause them to underperform. “How long should I study for the UCAT” is a common question we are faced with all throughout the medical school application season and we have created this blog post to help assuage these concerns and give you a better overview of how to structure your time in order to achieve your desired results.
There are several factors that can affect the amount of time and the distribution of time you choose to follow when deciding on a UCAT study timeline. One important factor is whether you have other academic commitments or if you are starting your preparation during the holiday period or are taking a year out. If the former, you will find yourself more tight on time and it might be a better strategy to set aside a small amount of time consistently for a longer period, which will ensure that your other commitments don’t suffer. For example, if you have dedicated 15 hours of study time per week due to school or university commitments, it would be advisable that you set aside 1.5 hours of this for the UCAT. This would work better for you in the long run, as it would mean that you don’t have to sacrifice your other academic responsibilities and still allow yourself enough time to ensure that you keep up with school or university work. Of course this schedule also assumes that you start your preparation early, as this wouldn’t be sufficient if you only had several weeks to prepare prior to your test date.
This is why planning out your timeline early, even if you don’t actually start working on it until later, is crucial for ensuring that you don’t run out of time and can adequately prepare for the UCAT. If you, however, have more free time to spare and aren’t burdened by external academic commitments, then you could benefit from a more stringent schedule, in which you set aside a couple of hours every weeknight to study for the UCAT. This schedule would be tricky to do if you had to attend school or university, as it would essentially lengthen your active day by another 2 hours, which can get very exhausting after a while, but is quite doable if you have taken this time off and decided to dedicate solely on the UCAT.
There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to structuring your UCAT study time, as long as you find that it works for you and you tailor it to your own needs to ensure that you retain the information presented to you and you are able to learn from your mistakes. There are largely two different ways candidates approach the UCAT when they think of UCAT study schedules and we will explore both here, each with their pros and cons
One way you could tackle your UCAT schedule is to alternate the sections you practice each time you have dedicated to exam preparation. For example, if you decide that you will spend 2 hours a day every day from Monday to Friday on UCAT preparation, you can make every Monday your day for VR, Tuesday - DM, Wednesday - QR, Thursday - AR and Friday - SJT. Weekends can be used as rest days, reviewing mistakes made over the week or using them for timed mock preparation. This can be a well structured approach to your practice as it compartmentalises each subsection of the exam within a day, instead of attempting to tackle too many different things at once within the same study time.
This is very useful for people who have more time to spare per week on preparation, as they can truly see the effect of dividing their schedule into sections, based on which part of the UCAT they are tackling each day and also those who already have some knowledge of the exam. It may not be the most useful schedule for you if you are just starting out with UCAT preparation and have little background information on the different subsections and the skills they test, as it may feel that you’re just getting to grip with a certain aspect of it before having to move on to the next section on the next day - if that is the case, it may be more suitable that you spend a bit longer on a section until you feel comfortable with it before introducing more workload to the mix.
The second option you have when creating your own UCAT study schedule is to choose to focus on one subsection at a time. This is a particularly useful method for students who haven’t had much prior exposure to the exam format and are not familiar with the content of the different subsections of the UCAT. By focusing on just VR for the first week or so of your schedule, you can ensure that your focus is entirely on this aspect of the exam and you can take in as much in terms of strategy comprehension and example question practice, without worrying that you have to switch to a totally different discipline the following day and that you will forget this fresh knowledge by the time your next VR session is scheduled for, a week later. Once you have rotated a substantial amount of time through all 5 sections for as long as you feel is necessary to feel comfortable with the concepts tested, you can begin your timed practice. Whilst highly individual for everyone depending on their level of prior knowledge, the optimal time would likely be a week at most, in order to make sure that even when you move on to a different subject, you don’t forget what you have just learned.
Regardless of which option you choose and what study methods suit your study habits better, there is one thing these strategies have in common and that is consistent and prolonged question bank practice, gradually incorporating the timing element in it, too. Even though it will certainly be invaluable to spend sufficient time familiarising yourself with the format and learning strategies to tackle different types of questions, nothing beats good old-fashioned practice when it comes to achieving high performance at the exam. You will learn the most from making mistakes and reflecting on them, incorporating these lessons into future practice and allowing yourself to encounter all types of questions in order to make sure you are prepared for anything on the actual day. This is why you want to allow at least a couple of weeks of consistent practice under time conditions before the exam and remember to spend adequate time reviewing your mistakes and understanding how to avoid them in the future.
We hope you have found these tips on organising a UCAT study schedule useful and will be able to incorporate them into your own personalised preparation routine. Remember that we are always here to help you should you need any further support surrounding exam preparation. Our UCAT live online course is dedicated to helping you get to grip with the format of the exam and teaching you useful and strategies to tackle those questions efficiently and accurately, as well as offering you tons of practice too! For any other questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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