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Didn’t do well in UCAT? Here’s how to bounce back in four steps

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The UCAT is one of the three criteria for most undergraduate medicine schools in Australia, and often holds equal weighting to ATAR. The UCAT may determine whether or not you receive an interview offer at certain universities, so many students put in the extra mile to maximise their UCAT results. There are many factors that can influence performance in UCAT, and receiving a lower mark than expected may feel like all our efforts have gone to waste. I’ve been there before, and although it may feel like the end of the world (I certainly felt that way), I can assure you that it is possible to bounce back.

My Story

Preparation for my first UCAT exam consisted largely of the following:

  1. Attempt UCAT question
  2. Write down the correct answer and explanations
  3. Repeat

I finished writing a whole book of UCAT questions and answers, spent hours doing the same thing, and thought that the quantity of UCAT questions I was completing was what mattered. When I did the UCAT exam, I immediately knew that I hadn’t performed well, and ended up achieving roughly 75th percentile.

The second time I prepared for the UCAT, I started by re-evaluating my previous performance. I changed my UCAT preparation and changed the quality of my efforts. This time when I sat the UCAT exam, I came out feeling pretty good about it, and received 99th percentile!

So how did I overcome the feelings of failure and improve my score from 75th percentile to 99th? I adopted the 4 Rs: Recognise, Reflect, Re-evaluate and Refine.

Recognise

As high-achieving students, receiving a low mark is likely to have a negative impact on our emotions, especially in such a high-stakes exam. These could be feelings of failure, inadequacy, low motivation, poor self-esteem, and maybe even depression. These feelings are unique to each of us. Likewise, the period for which we experience these emotions can vary from weeks to months. For me, it lasted about 2 months. Whilst we are often told to be resilient, it is equally important in the initial stages to recognise and embrace our negative feelings. Giving ourselves time to understand and accept our experiences is vital for maintaining our mental health, and building resilience. Remember that it is completely okay and valid to take a break from UCAT preparation, and more than likely you deserve it!

“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently”

Reflect

After I’d spent time swimming in my emotions, and had started to feel better, it was time to get back up on my feet and begin the process of reflection. A great way to start this is to reflect on your motivation for pursuing medicine and remember your “why”. Some of these questions include:

  1. What is your purpose?
  2. What drives you every morning when you wake up?
  3. Why do you want to do be a doctor?

These are big, open-ended questions, but taking the time to reflect on your purpose is important to getting back on track. Often, without intent, our actions don’t go as far as they could have. Again, there’s no timeline for how long you should spend reflecting. You could use this period to find immediate motivation and jump into UCAT prep again, or you could use it to slowly get back into the mindset of where you need to be, while still be taking a break from your UCAT study.

Re-evaluate

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Before you begin your preparation, it is critical to re-evaluate your previous UCAT performance, and the methods you undertook in preparation for the exam. Consider the exam itself as well as your strategy during UCAT preparation, and identify points of weakness to improve on this time around. Some questions to ask yourself include:

  • On a UCAT exam level:
    1. Which UCAT subtest did I most struggle with? Was it because of time pressure or was it because I didn’t understand the questions?
    2. Which UCAT subtest was my strongest?
    3. How did the time pressure feel and how did I manage my time?
    4. How did I feel on the day? Were there any external factors that may have influenced my performance, before and during the exam? This may include factors such as concentration, stress, mindset, even hunger or needing to go to the bathroom!
  • On a UCAT preparation level:
    1. Were my UCAT study methods effective?
    2. Did I fully understand the thought process behind every UCAT question?
    3. Did I practice enough timed UCAT mocks?
    4. Did I practice consistently?
    5. What did other people who succeeded do that I didn’t?

To answer the last question, it is a great idea to talk to people you know who did well in the UCAT, whether they are people in your grade or above. If you don’t know anyone personally, you can ask a UCAT tutor. This can also help you identify any additional gaps in your UCAT preparation that you may not have previously recognised.

Refine

Once you have identified your strengths, weaknesses, and how you plan to improve in specific areas, the final step is to refine a study schedule to implement the changes you want to make. Remember that small blocks of UCAT study spread consistently across the week/month/year is much more efficient for your progress than large blocks of random UCAT study. Keep yourself accountable, and if you struggle with that then find yourself an accountability partner or UCAT study group! At this stage, hopefully you are in a more positive mindset than where you were previously. It is also really helpful to include positive affirmations in your daily routine to keep motivated, disciplined, and optimistic about your abilities.

Whatever your mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.”

Final Words 

The process of getting into medical school can be physically, emotionally, and mentally draining. Make sure you take care of your health throughout your journey, and give yourself breaks when necessary. Look out for yourself, and those around you, and remember that getting into medical school is very much achievable. As long as you continue to give your best efforts, you’ll make it in, one way or another.

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Written by a past MedEntry student who scored 99th percentile on her second attempt at UCAT and is currently studying medicine.

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