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The UCAT is not an easy exam. It is intense both when you prepare for it and when you undertake it. It requires every ounce of mental concentration and effort to do well, even more so, for me at least, than my HSC 4 Unit maths exam. However, you need not be worried about this: the conditions apply to everybody and what determines whether you will do well in UCAT is if you can perform better than your peers. Always remember that a large portion of students are going into UCAT without proper experience of questions or experience of the conditions which ultimately puts YOU above them.
Here are five tips from my UCAT experience that allowed me to succeed.
This is fundamental. The UCAT contains a large variety of question types, some of which you will be better at than others. Find out which ones you can confidently breeze through and which ones need more work. Once you have identified weaknesses in your UCAT game, do not shy away from them. First read up on the theory needed to solve them (available on the MedEntry online platform), then practice until confident. This step should be one of the very first things you do in your UCAT preparation.
The UCAT is an exam that is more based on your ability to handle the pressure rather than technical knowledge. If you look at the UCAT questions, almost anyone could solve them rather easily if they could take as much time as needed. The trick is, that the UCAT does not allow you to have that, which is what makes it so difficult. In order to do well, you must arm yourself with experience in handling the pressure of the UCAT test. You will need to determine a pace to work at which you feel comfortable. Personally, I could handle UCAT Verbal Reasoning well and almost always finished with time to spare, which allowed me to go back and check some questions. On the other hand, I definitely had trouble deciphering graphs and tables quick enough in UCAT Quantitative Reasoning. The key to this is UCAT practice tests. I cannot emphasise enough how important practice tests are for getting used to the speed required for the UCAT. I believe this is the single most important part of UCAT prep. UCAT practice tests can be found on the MedEntry online platform. Another useful aspect of them is that each MedEntry practice test gives feedback on your performance and a UCAT percentile.
During the UCAT, it is guaranteed that you will mess up or think you messed up a few questions. You might also find out that you have taken too long and that you don’t have enough time to complete the rest of the UCAT subtest properly. What I mean by “Damage Control,” is that you should approach each UCAT subtest with the mentality of getting whatever marks are possible in the time, rather than doing each question properly which would be your natural instinct. In the situation where you are running out of time, you may want to guess particular questions in the UCAT subtest which you know you struggle with, in order to get at the easy marks later. Such questions could be those involving a particularly complex table, or a long passage, and this is where your knowledge of the various types of UCAT question is needed. I myself was forced to guess a few questions in the UCAT Quantitative Reasoning subtest that were part of a complex table that I wasn’t able to read quickly enough, so I could answer the easier, maths-related questions at the end of the subtest.
While you are sitting your UCAT, you will need to concentrate for the whole 2 hours in order to do well. This is not easy, and lapses in focus do sometimes happen. One of them could make the difference between performing excellently in a UCAT subtest or simply achieving a mediocre result. Doing UCAT practice tests and gaining experience will allow you to develop your laser-like focus. Also ensure you take the whole one minute between UCAT subtests to relax and clear your mind. It does not matter how badly you think you did, calm yourself down and prepare yourself for the next one. This will ensure you are better poised to maintain your focus for the next UCAT subtest.
Chances are you will be in your final year of schooling or university and will be preparing for your final exams. Making it into medicine requires good results so your workload from school will most likely be hefty. In order to maximise results, intelligent allocation is needed. I suggest that after finishing a section of school study, take a break such as exercise then get ready to do your UCAT prep. I spent 30 minutes to 1 hour each night working on UCAT questions and completed one full UCAT practice test every week. Just make sure you have a consistent schedule of UCAT study and stick to it. As the UCAT approaches it would be wise to ramp up the time spent preparing for it.
Remember, there is no secret formula for success in the UCAT; good results lie in the amount of practice you have completed, to increase your skills and experience. If you are losing motivation for UCAT preparation, just take a moment to think about the end goal and how badly you want to achieve it. When I first started UCAT training, I was a VERY mediocre student, however, through dedication and practice, I have been able to achieve the UCAT results I wanted. If you put in the time and the effort, you will be able to do well too.
Written by Jason, who achieved 98th Percentile UCAT
Jason is currently a Provisional Entry Medical Student.