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Optimising your performance in UCAT: 5 Lessons from Sports Psychology


Preparing for the UCAT is like preparing for a marathon: it requires training, persistence and strategies to optimise your performance on UCAT test day. Just as an athlete prepares for a major sporting event, so you must prepare yourself to sit UCAT, which is one of the most important exams that you will face in your career.

We can learn much from athletes about optimising performance in UCAT, as outlined in this TED talk by Martin Hagger:

This talk discusses how highly successful athletes prepare themselves before a competition. The five key points are summarised below, with an emphasis on how this is relevant to UCAT:

Understand the test

It is vital that you have a solid understanding of UCAT. This includes what it tests, how it is scored, and the strategies required to tackle each UCAT subtest. Understanding UCAT removes the fear and apprehension associated with the test, enabling you to perform at your best. These issues are discussed in detail in the MedEntry UCAT Course.

Motivate yourself

Motivation is an essential element of success in any competition, including UCAT. One of the most effective ways to increase motivation is via goal setting. Goals should be SMARTER (Specific, Meaningful, Agreed, Relevant, Time-Specific, Engaging and Recorded).

Students who may not succeed in standard high school tests perform well in UCAT simply because they are highly motivated. They understand the importance of UCAT and take steps to improve – via practice, working on their weaknesses and reflection/discussion of UCAT questions.

Cultivate confidence

Confidence is the key to performing to the best of one’s ability in all tests, including UCAT. There are various ways to improve confidence for UCAT test day, including:

  • Reminding yourself that you are well prepared for the UCAT and have sat and survived UCAT practice exams which simulate the live UCAT
  • Motivational self-talk (saying to yourself: ‘you can succeed in UCAT’, ‘I’m well ahead of others who have not done quality prep for UCAT’, ‘I will be a doctor’)
  • Asking others (such as parents, siblings, teachers, friends) to provide you with positive encouragement and feedback on your UCAT preparation, particularly in the final weeks leading up to the UCAT and on UCAT test day

Have a pre-performance routine

High performing athletes often have a pre-performance routine that they engage in before an important competition. This helps them control their environment, provide stability, and enhance focus.

Develop a pre-performance routine that you plan to use before the UCAT. This may include listening to music, doing some quiet reading or chatting to family members – whatever you find best relaxes you. Performing a mental rehearsal in a quiet place is also an important part of the routine. This may include imagining yourself sitting the UCAT and succeeding, as well as imagining ‘what ifs’ or scenarios that may arise.

Manage stress

Stress interferes with performance, so it is essential that you manage stress both in the lead up to UCAT and on UCAT test day. You can do this by:

  • Engaging in calming self-talk before and during UCAT (reminding yourself: ‘be calm’, ‘breathe’, ‘relax’)
  • Focusing on your breathing or meditating
  • Writing down your thoughts or fears about UCAT

The UCAT is a competition, so treat it like one. The strategies outlined above have been used by champion athletes, and you can apply similar strategies to your UCAT preparation. Go get ‘em!

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