Fifty years of educational research shows that effective learners (for UCAT or other learning) have one - preferably all - of the following six characteristics.
Basically, this is Newton’s First Law of Motion in action in the academic, cognitive, psychosocial, attitudinal and career-preparation dimensions of your education: a body will remain at rest, or in motion in a straight line, unless compelled to change its state or direction by an outside force. In your educational life, the outside force challenging your present ideas, beliefs, perspectives or educational environments different from those that you hold or can accept. The outside force may also be people who differ from you in significant ways. This is important in UCAT, as it requires thinking skills that are very different from what you have learned in school and university.
Whatever its nature or source - in or beyond the classroom - if the challenge is not so minor it is barely noticed, or so overwhelming it is quickly rejected, it opens the door to broader or deeper knowledge, to the reformation of ideas or beliefs, to the adoption of more differentiated and complex understanding. Thus, when approaching your UCAT study, it would be best to tackle progressively harder questions.
You must engage with the challenge, investing energy in resolving the tension between new and old that the challenge has introduced. Over the past half century of research on education, the most persistent finding has been that learning is not a spectator sport. For the turtle to advance, it must first stick its neck out. For learning to occur, you must engage the challenge meaningfully. The higher the level of engagement, the greater the educational benefit. This means active learning, not passively receiving information about UCAT.
Educationally effective experiences are more likely in environments that stimulate exploration, examination, experimentation and risk-taking, where “failure” is acceptable, even expected. Supportive environments provide encouragement and appropriate guidance to help you persist and succeed. Support mechanisms can come from yourself, your family, friends, teachers, staff at MedEntry, other MedEntry students or your UCAT workshop lecturer. Whatever its forms or origins, support facilitates continuation of the learning or developmental momentum a challenge has sparked.
“Support” does not, however, mean you being coddled or dumbing down what is to be learned. Support provides whatever you need to engage the challenge and benefit educationally from resolving the tension the challenge created. Together, a challenge and support make an educationally effective experience possible.
For most of your educational life, you have probably been engaged in passive education, learning primarily through memorization and recall. With active learning, you often work on problems for which no correct answer or solution exists. Experiential approaches are more effective overall and promote such skills as problem identification, critical thinking, evaluating evidence and alternative ideas, and tolerance for ambiguity. All of these skills are essential to develop for UCAT success.
Your learning and development may be a solitary activity, like reading, studying or witnessing an event. More often, however, the challenge occurs when you engage with others, such as peers or mentors. Some challenges may be more cumulative than catalytic, as when you adopt (or reject) peer group or other’s values, attitudes and behaviors. A group may also provide support for resolving challenge-generated conflict. Hence UCAT study groups are a very effective way to learn.
Having “opportunities to reflect” is a vital, research-based characteristic of effective teaching and learning. Indeed, reflection is one of the specifications for problem-based learning, diversity experiences or teaching. It is essential to take time to reflect on your UCAT study – what are you doing right and what are you doing wrong? How can you improve your performance for the next UCAT practice exam you attempt?
If you follow the six evidence-based tips above, you will improve the effectiveness of your UCAT study and will see a boost in your UCAT performance. MedEntry uses all six principles in our UCAT workshop and online learning services, meaning MedEntry students can be confident that they are learning in the most effective manner.