The University Clinical Aptitude Test (UCAT) is a multiple-choice test that is required by the majority of medical schools in the UK and even abroad. The UCAT is not the type of exam that requires a particular type of knowledge: instead, it focuses on a range of reasoning skills of different domains to assess how you handle unfamiliar information of various kinds. Having said that, even though there isn’t any specific material to learn in order to prepare for the UCAT test and score well, you can certainly make sure that you are familiar with the concepts tested in each of the five subsets of the exam. This can help narrow your preparation if you feel or realise that you might not be as strong in certain sections. Let’s have a look at each of these five subsets and discuss them in greater detail.
The Verbal Reasoning (or VR) portion of the UCAT aims to test your ability to read and comprehend an unfamiliar piece of text. Then, you will then have to answer questions and evaluate statements that are based on the information in the text. It is important to ask yourself at each stage of the preparation process: why is this being tested? Why is this a relevant aspect to your suitability to study medicine? Not only during your medical training but when you become a doctor, you will often encounter unfamiliar pieces of information that you will have to be able to interpret and discern - and this goes both for research and academic writing, as well as clinical practice. Being able to critically appraise written information and identify critical factors on which to base your conclusions, learning to think logically and eliminate bias or prior beliefs is a good measure of clinical reasoning of a good doctor, which is what VR aims to test.
Decision Making (DM) is a comparatively new part of the exam that only got introduced several years ago, and was originally composed of four parts. DM is a slight mix that draws from the rest of the subsections in the UCAT in the sense that it assesses your ability to deal with both textual, graphical and image data. Ultimately, DM aims to test your ability to use logic and solve problems, so a lot of the questions that are seen in DM can be thought of as puzzles - some in the form of Venn diagrams, where you have to fit the correct numbers in the correct overlapping areas, others in the form of logic puzzles, deducing bits of information based on a given set of rules, and others - simple probability questions. The diversity of question types is certainly largest in DM, so doing some practice early on and gauging the various flavours that this subset can take is important in realistically assessing your strengths in it.
QR or Quantitative Reasoning has been dubbed the “Maths portion” of the UCAT exam, which is a rightful title, provided that it deals solely with calculations. Don’t let this deter you though, even if you aren’t a fan of Maths. The level of difficulty examined in QR corresponds to GCSE and is more interested in your quick thinking and efficient problem solving, than it is in figuring out solutions to complex mathematical equations. Similarly to DM, there can be a variety of question types examined in the QR, but percentages by far dominate the subset, so if you can only pick one type to master, make sure it is percentages. Other aspects covered by QR are geometry and life applications of maths, such as speed distance time questions and tax calculations.
Abstract Reasoning (AR) is one of the more notorious parts of the UCAT - students either love it or hate it, and with such polar opinions, it is interesting to know why. AR is all about testing your abilities to see patterns and deduce underlying rules based on the presented visual information in the form of various shapes and forms. Granted, some people are born with better spatial awareness and better pattern recognition skills than others, so you might discover that you find AR inherently easier than any other aspects of the UCAT. If that is not the case, however, that is fine, too, as this is a skill that can be easily picked up through repetition and continuous practice - once you know the types of patterns to look out for and solve enough example questions, you will start to notice them everywhere! Typical patterns include number of shapes, colours of shapes and directionality, amongst others.
Situational Judgement Test
Even if you aren’t too familiar with the different types of skills tested by the UCAT, you will have likely heard of the Situational Judgement Test (SJT), as this is something that you will have to sit not only in the beginning of your medical school career, but at the very end just before graduation as well. This is typically the most obvious part of the UCAT in terms of direct relevance to clinical practice, as it involves answering questions on theoretical, but often realistic, situations that can arise in a hospital setting and aim to assess your capacity to understand real world situations, important contributing factors and appropriate behaviour in response.
The goal of the SJT is to ensure that you will be a safe practitioner with a solid ethical foundation who can be trusted to do the right thing. Whilst there is no expected knowledge per se to do well at the SJT, there are several documents produced by the General Medical Council that outline the duties of doctors and medical students, which you might want to familiarise yourself with prior to sitting the UCAT, as they lay out in detail the values expected of medical professionals throughout their career.
These were, in a nutshell, the most salient points for each of the five subsets of the UCAT together with the highlights of the most high yield concepts that you would want to look into before you start your preparation. Let us reiterate this again, though - the UCAT exam has not been designed with cramming a lot of extra knowledge in mind, but rather with assessing skills and mental abilities you already possess, but which you are capable of improving and highlighting with some practice. So approach your preparation with this mindset and focus on getting as many example questions in as you can in order to ensure that you achieve a fantastic UCAT score. A great way to support your preparation is our UCAT course, which provides you with even more insight into the areas assessed by the exam as well as plenty of practice questions on the day. For further 1-1 support, you can also check out our UCAT tutoring service that matches you with high achieving tutors who have sat the UCAT themselves and can provide invaluable insight to a successful approach in the exam. Lastly, our UCAT question bank is a fantastic resource that allows you access to plenty of UCAT practice tests in mock exam conditions, which allows an objective assessment of your performance.
If you have any questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Good luck in your UCAT preparation!