Prepare for the UCAT with courses across the UK

UCAT · Feb. 25, 2019

UCAT Test: Essential Knowledge for the UCAT

So, you have made the decision that you want to study Medicine. You are now on a path that, following several years of dedicated study, will lead you to one of the most rewarding and enriching careers available. Kudos! 


The next step is to choose which medical schools to apply to. The score you achieve in the entrance exams you take can strongly influence the schools you opt to apply to. It is vital that you play to your strengths – having 3 A*s won’t necessarily compensate for a low score in these exams. The most common exam used by UK medical schools is the University Clinical Aptitude Test (UCAT). The way in which the medical school uses the UCAT score is hugely variable, and cut-offs (if such are used) can vary considerably each year depending on cohort performance. The UCAT does not contain any curriculum or science content and instead focuses on exploring the cognitive abilities, reasoning skills, and logical thinking of applicants - all of which are vital attributes for a doctor to possess. 


UCAT structure

The UCAT is a multiple-choice exam and consists of five subtests. They are discussed in full in our UCAT Courses with explanations of what each section is testing and how best to approach them in the time allowed.

Verbal reasoning

This section involves reading 11 passages of text, each of which will have 4 questions associated with it. The questions are designed to assess the ability of candidates to weigh up the information they are given and make inferences based on this. For instance, you may be asked to complete a sentence based on the text or to say whether a statement about the text is true, false or unclear. These skills are important for doctors who are required to assimilate large amounts of information on a regular basis and make accurate inferences based upon it. They are also required to communicate in a clear way with both doctors and patients. 

Quantitative reasoning

This section is designed to assess problem-solving skills and will also ensure candidates possess numeracy skills equivalent to a good pass at GCSE level. A simple on-screen calculator is provided. There are 36 questions in this section and most of these will be in sets of four, associated with a specific piece of data, such as a graph, table, chart, etc. For example, a candidate may be given various details about a flight, including: 

  • The departure time of a flight The total flight time The time zones of the origin and destination of the flight

You would then be required to calculate the local landing time. All doctors are required to perform calculations as part of their job and the ability to understand and manipulate data is vital for keeping up-to-date with the newest research.

Abstract reasoning

This section possibly inspires the most fear in those sitting the test. It involves identifying patterns in a series of images and inferring what the next picture will be based on this pattern. This is based on the need for doctors to be able to see patterns in signs/symptoms and to weigh up the reliability of the information with which they are presented.
ucat-abstract-reasoning

Decision making

This section is designed to ensure successful applicants are able to make decisions in complex situations – as doctors are required to do on a daily basis. It features 29 questions, each of which will be based on a piece of text or numerical data – a calculator is provided, albeit on the computer itself, not a handheld device. Some questions involve “yes/no” answers, while others are multiple choice.

Situational judgement

The situational judgment test (SJT) measures your capacity to understand real-world situations and to identify critical factors and appropriate behaviour when dealing with them. This type of questions assesses integrity, ability to use perspective, team involvement, resilience and adaptability – vital skills for doctors. It features 69 questions associated with 22 scenarios and requires you to consider how appropriate various options are or how important certain factors are in making a decision. No medical knowledge is required.

UCAT timing

Timing is a key skill that we recommend you practice well before your test. Being able to time yourself effectively in the UKCAT is absolutely vital, as there is very little time available to answer each question. The time distribution across the different sections is highlighted in the table below: 

Section

Items

Standard test time

Time per question

Verbal reasoning

44

21 minutes

38s

Decision making

29

31 minutes

65s

Quantitative reasoning

36

24 minutes

40s

Abstract reasoning

55

13 minutes

15s

Situational judgement

69

25 minutes

20s

As you can see, there are strict time constraints for each section of the UCAT, often leaving you with mere seconds per question. The key is to ensure you answer every question. If you don’t know the answer to a question within a few seconds, try to guesstimate and move on to the next one. If you have time, you can then return to it at the end. There is no negative marking for wrong answers, so ensuring an answer is provided for every question is vital. Comprehensive tips and advice for UCAT exam technique are covered in full detail in our online UCAT preparation course in the form of video tutorial series. 

ucat-time-schedule

UCAT scoring

Each of the first four sections is marked based on the number of correct responses. No marks are deducted for incorrect answers. How you perform on one question does not influence other questions you are presented with. As the number of questions varies between the four cognitive sections, it is not possible to make a direct comparison of the raw scores. Raw scores are therefore converted to scale scores that share a common range from 300 (lowest) to 900 (highest). Summing individual scale scores of the four cognitive sections generates a total scale score that ranges from 1,200 to 3,600. The test is designed so that an “average” applicant will score 600 in all sections for a total score of 2,400.


Within the fifth section, the Situational Judgement Test, full marks are awarded for an item if your response matches the correct answer and partial marks awarded if your response is close to the correct answer. Raw scores are then expressed in one of four bands, with Band 1 being the highest. Alongside their band score, candidates will be given an interpretation of this performance. 


As the SJT is a measure of non-cognitive attributes, universities will consider it in a different manner to the cognitive subtests. Some do not consider it at all, while others are only interested in this section of the UCAT. For further information regarding the UCAT scoring, you should visit the UCAT website. 

Tips for test day

Having sat the UCAT myself, I know how stressful it can be. The first thing to do when sitting the UCAT is make sure you know where the test centre is and arrive with plenty of time to spare! There is nothing worse than arriving stressed and hot because you’ve been running around town looking for the test centre for 30 minutes, believe me… Most centres will allow you to bring a bottle of water in with you for the computer based test – I would strongly recommend you do so as you will be sat there for some time. On the other side of that coin, make sure you have used the toilet before you go in! 

You may find people around you sitting different tests – these centres are used for a wide variety of assessments, including driving theory, but don’t let anything else distract you. The centre will be very quiet and you will be separated from other candidates by dividers. Try to stay calm and take a few minutes to settle your thoughts before you go in. Just think, everyone who is currently at the medical school you want to go to has sat the UCAT admissions test and if they can do it, so can you! Focus on each question as they come, make sure you don’t run out of time and everything will go fine. Just remember, even if the test goes badly, there are plenty of schools who don’t use the UCAT and others that only use it in borderline cases, so don’t despair! For full and detailed information on how each school uses the UCAT, why not buy our book? We have one for undergraduate applicants and one for graduate applicants, which will tell you everything you need to know about every medical school in the UK!

Practice for the UCAT with a real life simulation 

In conclusion, the UCAT is designed to be a test of aptitude rather than a test of academic strengths and weaknesses, however, preparation can substantially improve an applicant’s score. The best strategy for achieving a high score is practice, and the best way to get practice are mock exams! Try to do at least a few mock tests under realistic timed conditions, as that will not only help you practice questions, but will also give you an idea of what the testing experience will be like on the day. Knowing what to expect from the real test in advance will hopefully remove some of the anxiety prior to the day. 

The test assesses a wide range of mental abilities and behavioural attributes identified by universities as important skills for their candidate medical students. Luckily for you, theMSAG is at hand to help you prepare for this exam! We offer a range of resources for applicants wishing to ace this exam – from 1-on-1 tutoring to an online UCAT course and online question banks. For more information on this, feel free to contact us at hello@theMSAG.com

gerens-curnow

Mr Gerens Curnow

Mr. Gerens Curnow is a Medical Student from the University of Exeter. He is the winner of the Educator Development Committee Award from the Association for the Study of Medical Education.  He has given lectures to 70-100 A-level students on medical school applications. Additionally, he is the author of three of our Medical School Application Guidebooks.


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