5 Tips for Acing UCAT (from someone who succeeded on their second attempt)
5 months ago by Chris
I remember walking out of the UCAT exam centre, the first time I had sat the UCAT, in a state of disbelief. Not because the UCAT exam was incredibly difficult or out of my depth, but rather the opposite: I had actually found the exam reasonable and doable, yet I was devastated with my UCAT score.
In the months leading up to the UCAT, I had been in the throes of in-school assessments and leadership responsibilities at school. This meant that I had shoved my UCAT prep to the side, hoping that by focusing on other things now, that would free up time for UCAT preparation later. Spoiler alert: you never really have free time in your final year of school, ever. There is always more you can be preparing, reading or learning, and it never feels like the ‘right’ time to switch from schoolwork to UCAT preparation.
And so, I never really did.
The week of the UCAT came around and I was dreading it; finally taking heed of the politely prodding MedEntry emails telling me I hadn’t looked at the UCAT online learning platform for months on end. I opened up the online UCAT platform and was utterly overwhelmed by the sheer amount of UCAT preparation I had neglected to do. So, I shut the browser, cried for a bit and then ignored UCAT again until the day before the UCAT rolled around. I decided I really had to do something even if that was just reading through a list of UCAT Abstract Reasoning patterns or attempting a syllogism or two. I think you know how this story ends – I went into the UCAT exam knowing I hadn’t prepared, having accepted my defeat, but coming out, nevertheless with a 71st percentile – not at all competitive, but by no means terrible.
I resolved then and there that if I had another similar chance again, I wouldn’t waste it – I knew that with adequate UCAT preparation, I could have aced such an examination. Fast forward to the next year, I decided to take a gap year and actually give myself a fair shot. With MedEntry’s help I did ace it, scoring 99th percentile, with an overall cognitive UCAT score of 3130. Now I’m studying undergraduate medicine at my dream university – Monash.
So, as someone who’s sat the UCAT twice, and used two radically different methods of preparation each time, I would say that I have a pretty good idea of the recipe to score poorly in the UCAT, and the recipe to scoring incredibly well, and I’d like to share the latter one with you.
Here are my five pieces of advice for scoring well in the UCAT:
1. Mindset is your most underrated asset
The way I viewed UCAT the first time round and the second time round couldn’t have been more different. Granted, in my final year of schooling, I had a lot on my mind and in the gap year, it was easier to prioritise UCAT. However, I genuinely think had I not seen UCAT as this towering, impossible exam the first time round, I wouldn’t have been as hesitant to attempt UCAT questions, and I would have found that I was able to improve and master questions.
Trust me when I say that I have felt overwhelmed by the prospect of sitting this exam, where you have 12 minutes to answer 50 questions in the UCAT Abstract Reasoning, where the UCAT Verbal Reasoning passages feel impossibly long, where the UCAT Decision Making logic puzzles seem mind-boggling. And to top it off, most of the people sitting the UCAT exam are high achievers, trying their hand at getting into the most competitive courses and universities in the country. It’s terrifying, I know, and it seems like you just can’t win.
But I’ve found it true that positive self-talk can go great lengths in improving your confidence, or at the very least, in helping you see reason. Even if you wouldn’t consider yourself prodigiously smart, that’s okay because regardless of what you’ve heard: you can study for the UCAT – the skills are learnable, and in a reasonable amount of time. Back yourself!
2. Be systematic
Winners and losers have the same goals – what separates the two is systems. And in the UCAT, that system is your method of UCAT preparation. Have a timetable, a study plan, an accountability partner – whatever has worked for you in the past and apply it to the UCAT; it’s really not that different to how you’d approach another exam. Consistent, frequent UCAT preparation is the only foolproof way to ensure you score well – there is no substitute for plain hard work.
3. Every second counts
You’re racing against time, so capture every second you can. In the actual exam, you have a minute between each UCAT subtest – use that minute to your full advantage, whatever that looks like for you. I was quite frazzled during UCAT Verbal Reasoning section – reading is a strength of mine and I was somewhat banking on doing well – but I could tell that I hadn’t. So, in the one minute between Verbal Reasoning and Decision Making, I closed my eyes and gave myself a pep talk – reassuring myself that I had put in the hours and hours of UCAT preparation and that it would indeed see me through to the end. It worked, and I attribute my score of 870 in UCAT Decision Making to that positive self-talk.
I also found it really valuable to be familiar with the shortcuts of the UCAT keyboard for forward, back and flag functions, as well as being familiar with a numlock keyboard to increase my efficiency in using the calculator.
4. Don't overlook SJT
In this ever-changing landscape of virtual interviews, and interview offers being sent out solely based on UCAT scores, I would emphasise paying attention to UCAT Situational Judgement – universities change their selection criteria frequently and you never know when a university might decide to use it.
It’s very tempting, after having gotten through the first four UCAT subtests, to let down your guard a bit and relax during UCAT Situational Judgement, but see if you can keep the momentum up for just a little longer – that way, you know you put your absolute best foot forward once you’re outside of that exam room.
5. Reflect and recalibrate often
Whether this is in the form of journaling, or tracking your UCAT scores, you should have some form of historical data which you can analyse and evaluate to shape your UCAT preparation techniques going forward. MedEntry provides helpful analytics on the online UCAT platform.
I also found it really rewarding to journal and notice and challenge any negative self-talk, and to track my UCAT scores over time to see my improvement and celebrate my wins. It’s also a really wonderful thing to be able to look back at your journey when you’re finally in Medicine (or dentistry) – wherever you had dreamed of being!
Written by Anya, who achieved 71st percentile on her first attempt at UCAT and improved this to 99th percentile. She is currently studying medicine at Monash University.