The University Clinical Aptitude Test (UCAT) is an assessment tool used by the majority of medical schools in the UK, as well as some in Australia, New Zealand and Italy. Whilst most medical school candidates will have at least heard of the UCAT prior to the beginning of their application, there is often confusion as to how the test is structured and how the different sections compare in content with each other. This is largely due to the fact that the different subsections contain a variable number of questions each and they all last a different amount of time. This can get very confusing to prospective students, especially as this means that they have a different average per question to fill the entire section.
We have used this opportunity to systematically present you with the UCAT test structure as of 2021 and outline in detail the number of questions, the total amount of time allocated per section, as well as how that translates to the average number of minutes per question for each of the five subsections. We will also talk about the main aim of each of these sections and the skills they assess.
The UCAT is a computer-based exam that consists of five subsections, namely Verbal Reasoning, Decision Making, Quantitative Reasoning, Abstract Reasoning and Situational Judgement Test.The exam takes a total of two hours, though not evenly distributed across subsections. The majority of the UCAT is almost entirely in the form of multiple choice questions, with the exception of certain parts of Decision Making and Situational Judgement Test, where you might encounter a drag and drop type of questions, which we will talk about in more detail in the respective sections below.
When you register for the UCAT, you can choose between several different timing options - the standard UCAT or an extended version that grants you extra time in the case of a disability or medical condition. For specific and detailed information on the different types of extended exams you may be entitled to, make sure to check the UCAT’s officialAccess Arrangements page.
The Verbal Reasoning (VR) section of the exam is always the first part, which consists of reading unfamiliar pieces of text and answering questions based on their content. This subsection tests your critical thinking and deductive reasoning based on written information.
VR consists of a total of 44 questions and a total of 22 minutes, the first minute of which is given at the start for instructions. This leaves you with 21 minutes to answer all 44 questions, which on average would mean that you’d have just under 29 seconds per question. While the numbers add up, this calculation is not exactly right. You also need to be aware of the fact that you will encounter a total of 11 text passages, and you will need to answer 4 questions per passage, adding to a total of 44 questions in VR. So, you would also need to factor in some time allocated to reading or skimming through the passage as well, which would actually leave you with less time on average per question.
This is not necessarily a negative thing, as your familiarity with the text will make it much easier to answer the questions and if you didn’t give yourself enough time to read through the information, you would probably end up needing a lot longer than half a minute to answer each question. So factor in this time when first beginning to practice VR questions!
DM or Decision Making is a section that has been fairly recently introduced to the UCAT and is there to assess your ability to make logical decisions based on complex information as well as your ability to solve problems. As we already mentioned, most questions are in a multiple choice format, but you will also encounter “Conclusion drawing” type questions, where five statements related to a piece of written or visual information will require you to evaluate their patency. You will therefore need to drag and drop either the option “Yes” or the option “No” across each of these statements to decide whether the conclusion does or does not follow.
DM consists of only 29 questions, a lot less in comparison to VR, and is allocated a generous 31 minute limit (32, counting the one minute for instructions at the start). We’re sure you can already work this out - but you get over a minute, or precisely 1 minute 4 seconds per question. This certainly feels like luxury compared to all other sections of the UCAT, but there is a reason for this.
All questions in DM are standalone questions, i.e. there are no stems made up of a single text or graph that are then referred to by a group of 2 or more questions. So if you are able to save some time on VR or QR by the fact that you only have to familiarise yourself once with a written text or a graph in order to answer 4 questions, this is not the case for DM. Each question needs to be viewed separately and new calculations or deductions have to be made each time. So whilst it feels like a more relaxed section, it is not one to underestimate and you will likely need most of the allocated time in order to answer all questions successfully.
Quantitative Reasoning (QR) is the “maths” portion of the UCAT that essentially tests your ability to evaluate numerical data. The total number of questions you will encounter in the QR subsection is 36 and you will be given 24 minutes to complete them. This translates to exactly 40 seconds per question.
Once again, this is not entirely true, even though it is accurate. QR is widely known for incorporating a wide variety of questions in terms of difficulty. Some are extremely easy and only take less than 10 seconds to be answered, whereas others include lengthy calculations (though not complex - remember, the highest expected maths level to do well at the QR is GCSE) that take upwards of a minute. Things even out in the end, with some questions taking considerably less and some - a lot longer than 40 seconds. This theoretically should mean that whilst you might be pressed for time, you should be able to answer all questions successfully. However, it does carry an implication to your strategy - you need to learn to recognise quickly whether a certain question will take you a short, average or a long amount of time and plan accordingly. If it is the latter, a good idea would be to flag that question and move on to more manageable ones. Luckily, there aren’t too many of the lengthy hard questions per QR section, so you will have plenty of chances to catch up and get back to those at the end.
Abstract Reasoning (AR) is the penultimate section of the UCAT and it is one of the most controversial aspects of the exam. Some people love it and others hate it, but people rarely sit in the middle in their opinion of AR. This likely has something to do with the content examined by this section - with a lot of visual data in the form of different shapes and colours, it tests your ability to detect patterns and use convergent thinking to deduce information.
AR gives you a total of 13 minutes in order to answer a whooping 55 questions, allowing you just 14 seconds per question. This sounds extremely overwhelming at first, so let us break it down.
A vast majority of the questions you will come across in AR will be grouped in 5, with each group relating to the same patterns of information. This means that if you take a minute or two with each of these patterns and figure out the rules governing their shapes, you will be able to answer each of the relating five questions in much less than 14 seconds. Similarly to VR, therefore, it really pays off to spend some time at the start of a stem familiarising yourself with the data you are meant to evaluate in order to ensure efficient and accurate answers down the line. It takes a little bit of practice to master, but it really is the best way to ace these tricky and time consuming UCAT sections!
Lastly, we are going to talk about the Situational Judgement Test (or SJT), which is one of the more well known parts of UCAT. This is likely because final year medical students also sit a similar SJT exam at the end of their studies, which has been talked about a lot in the media in recent years. SJT provides you with ethical situations and aims to test your ability to understand such tricky real life situations and respond to them appropriately.
The SJT consists of 69 questions and allows 26 minutes in total for the entire section. This means that on average you get approximately 22 seconds per question. Even though this might seem a little short, it is actually a fairly generous allocation, so let us explain.
The scenarios in SJT relate to a group of questions, which can be anywhere between 2 and 5 per scenario. The scenarios themselves are very brief and take less than a minute to read through. Once you have finished reading the text, you only need a couple of seconds to answer each question pertaining to that text. While at the beginning of your preparation, some questions might seem tricky or confusing, once you have gained a bit of confidence and practice, most questions become fairly straightforward and quick to answer. So people often find themselves with the most time to spare at the end of the SJT compared to any other subsection of the UCAT, allowing them time to go back and reread some of the more dubious questions again.
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