If you are a prospective dental or medical student, you probably know that there is a very high chance you might have to sit the UCAT (UKCAT) as part of your application. The University Clinical Aptitude Test (UCAT), previously the UKCAT, is the most widely accepted medical school entrance exam across universities in the UK and abroad.
The UCAT is a multiple choice time-pressured exam and while there is no theory you can learn in advance that can help in your preparation, there are certain techniques and strategies you can master, which you can apply both in your practice questions and on test day, to achieve a high UCAT score. Below we have compiled our best strategies for a high score on the exam, so make you have familiarised yourself with them before you start your UCAT preparation.
While they all test your problem-solving skills in their own respective area, each of these subtests has its own set of techniques that are required to answer the questions correctly.
For example, a good technique for the Verbal Reasoning subtest is to scan the text for keywords when trying to decide whether a statement is true or false or it cannot be determined from the text. In Abstract Reasoning, you will be presented with groups of shapes and asked to decide which test shape fits the pattern - if you know what types of patterns you are looking for, you will quickly figure out the relationship and pick out the best answer.
Make sure you have familiarised yourself with the specifics of each subtestand you will be able to answer UCAT questions accurately in no time - a good place to start is joining a UCAT Course, which covers these and more strategies on how to answer UCAT questions.
Learn how to recognise each question type
Once you have identified all strategies pertaining to the five separate subsections of the exam, you will need to be able to apply them in the right circumstances. In order to do that, you will need to be able to identify the type of question you are dealing with and what answer strategy that question requires.
For example, if you are practicing your Quantitative Reasoning and you come across a question that is presenting information in percentages and fractions and asking you which of the two values is bigger, you need to be able to identify that this is a question type dealing with conversion of fractions and percentages and use that strategy to solve the problem. Being able to quickly spot the question type and decide on a solution to use will help you in using your time efficiently, which, as you know, is of the essence in the UCAT.
Identify your strengths and weaknesses
Having learned to spot the question types you will come across on the UCAT and familiarised yourself with the different tips and tricks on how to tackle each one of them, a good next step would be to give a mock UCAT practice testa go and review it carefully at the end, taking note of everything you got right and everything you got wrong. Is there a pattern to the questions you kept getting right or wrong? If you were able to identify a pattern of a particular question type that you consistently answer accurately or inaccurately, you will likely have found what your strengths and weaknesses when it comes to the UCAT are.
This is a useful step in your UCAT preparation, as doing this as early as possible will give you plenty of time to focus on your weaknesses and spend more time practicing those types of questions. Whenever you get something wrong, always make sure to go back to it and review the reason why it was wrong and understand what the correct answer is and why. That way the next time you encounter a similar question type, you will know what the correct answer is.
Focus is paramount
Even though there are definitely a few strategies you can implement when sitting the UCAT, at the end of the day there is no new material to learn and all you need is your sharp mind and focus. Plenty of mistakes are made by simply not reading the question correctly or not taking your time identifying all relevant data presented in the question. Often times the UCAT likes to trick you by asking you a negative question, for example, “Which one of these statements is not supported by the text?”, rather than “Which one of these statements is supported by the text?”.
Failing to notice that extra word might cost you a correct answer, so always make sure you read the question carefully and not fall into the traps that the UCAT might be setting up for you. Also make sure that you get plenty of sleep the days leading up to test day and that you have practiced sitting a mock test in similar exam conditions, eliminating all distractors, allowing your mind to focus entirely on the exam in front of you.
Ultimately, the best results come with significant practice, and the UCAT is no exception to this rule. The more you have practiced answering similar question types, the more familiar you will get with the format of the exam and the strategies required to solve the questions quickly and efficiently. Also make sure you have sat through at least two mock exams under realistic exam conditions, including keeping strict time limits.
The UCAT Consortium has a few practice papers, which you can have a go at and our UCAT course offers a large question bank to supplement your preparation. A lot of the questions that you will encounter in the UCAT are not difficult and with a little practice, you will quickly get the hang on answering all of them correctly, but the other aspect of the exam that you need to be aware of is the timing - a lot of times lower UCAT scores are accounted for not by a large number of incorrect answers but lack of time to answer all questions.
That is why it is important that you keep practicing answering UCAT questions under real timed conditions and learn how to manage your time effectively in order to always be able to answer all questions in the exam.
We hope these techniques regarding your UCAT preparation were helpful and you will soon be ready to tackle the exam. Good luck in your preparation and if you have any questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to contact us at hello@theMSAG.com.
Giulia is a graduate medical student at the University of Glasgow. She previously studied Neuroscience at King's College London and completed her Cognitive Neurobiology and Clinical Neurophysiology at the University of Amsterdam.
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