Why is UCAT so Hard?
2 months ago by Rob
Most current medical students and doctors would agree that UCAT is probably the hardest and single most important test that they ever sat in their career. Many students, especially those who do not prepare effectively, are shocked by the difficulty of UCAT. Some who do prepare become disillusioned by the difficulty of UCAT. So why is UCAT so hard? And what can you do about it? Read on!
1. UCAT is hard because it is very different to every other type of test you have sat
School and university exams test your knowledge and your ability to apply that knowledge. In contrast, UCAT is not a test of knowledge; it is a test of your generic skills. That is, it tests your ability to think, rather than your ability to memorise or to learn information. You most likely have never sat a test of generic thinking skills before, so the questions in UCAT will seem unfamiliar and difficult. Furthermore, UCAT is a computer-based test, a format that most students will not be comfortable or familiar with.
What can you do?
By exposing yourself over and over to the various types of UCAT questions, they will no longer seem so alien. The more you practice for UCAT, the more familiar and comfortable you will be with the questions, and the easier UCAT will seem. It is vital that you practice completing UCAT questions on an accurate computer-based platform to effectively simulate the testing experience.
2. You are put under extreme time pressure in UCAT
The aim of school and university exams is to assess how much you know, therefore you are usually given more than enough time to demonstrate this. You are probably used to finishing your school and university exams with plenty of time left over.
UCAT's aim is very different: it is to rank your performance against other UCAT candidates. Therefore, in UCAT you are intentionally not given enough time to answer all the UCAT questions. This can be very stressful for students, especially perfectionists, who are used to answering all questions correctly in school and university exams.
What can you do?
The mere knowledge that you will not have enough time to answer all UCAT questions correctly is, in itself, comforting. Many, many students have achieved 99th percentile in UCAT even though they have run out of time in one or more UCAT subtests. Understand this, become comfortable with the idea, and tailor your UCAT approach appropriately. This includes not spending too much time on difficult UCAT questions and being willing to make an educated guess when required.
3. You are competing against smart people in UCAT
The type of student who wants to get into medicine is, in general, very smart and motivated. You have probably never had to compete against such a tough cohort of students before. You are probably used to being top of your class! However, when it comes to UCAT, chances are you won’t be. This may sound harsh, but it is true and it is important to acknowledge it.
What can you do?
The knowledge that you will probably not be the ‘best’ compared to your peers when it comes to UCAT will immediately take the pressure off. You do not need to score 99th percentile to get into medicine! Aim high, but don’t become disillusioned if you are not receiving very high percentiles in your UCAT practice exams, particularly initially. Remember, it's hard to be in the top 20% when you are competing against medicine hopefuls!
Change your mindset and instead consider how you can take advantage of having smart people around you – form a UCAT study group where you can discuss difficult UCAT questions, learn from each other and make new friends!
UCAT is hard, but by keeping the above pointers in mind, you can create and maintain a positive, can-do attitude.