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Distributed Practice and the UCAT: What you need to know Part 2


In part 1 of this blog, we looked at why it is important to study with distributed practice for the UCAT. In part 2, we will look at how to implement this into your UCAT plan.

How to implement distributed practice for UCAT

Here are some tips and strategies on how to best use distributed practice in your UCAT preparation (you can also use them in your secondary school and university study; or acquiring any skill for that matter):

1. Plan out a UCAT study schedule/timetable

This is an important step. You need to make time for your UCAT preparation, even if it’s a small amount. Make a timetable and slot in 15-30 minutes of UCAT preparation each day or every second day depending on how much time you have. Then follow this timetable and adhere to the tasks you have set yourself. You can plan your UCAT preparation easily using MedEntry’s UCAT study planner.

2. Actively acknowledge the information you have learnt during a UCAT study session

Take a couple of minutes to reflect on what you have learnt. If you are simply answering UCAT questions with no consideration to the broader scheme of the UCAT you will not make the most of your preparation. So, take a moment to reflect on what was difficult, where you can improve and things you should remember for the next time you sit down to do UCAT preparation.

3. Revisit old UCAT topics

Every now and then you should go back and review UCAT strategies and concepts you found difficult, consider why you found them difficult and if you have improved. It’s not about aimlessly repeating UCAT questions or drills, but retrieving those reflections you have made in the previous step, and reviewing what has happened since. You should keep a notebook to record your reflections.

4. Formative assessments

3 UCAT exams completed over a 3 week period will better reflect long-term improvement than 3 UCAT exams completed in consecutive days. Naturally, these assessments will be summative in results but reflect on them in a formative sense. See if your UCAT time management has improved, or if you are more comfortable with the UCAT strategies you’ve been working on. After these considerations move on to consider your UCAT percentiles and scores. These assessments should be signposts in your distributed practice journey, reminding you where you need to direct your UCAT studies and if you have improved.

5. Sleep!

Enormous amounts of research has been done demonstrating the relationship between memory retention/skill development and quality of sleep. So sacrifice the 2am study session or the gaming all-nighter for some quality sleep and you’ll reap the rewards in the long run.

6. Spaced learning

The final and crucial tip is to space out your UCAT learning. Don’t try and master all UCAT strategies in one 30 minute period. Give yourself time to absorb information. Remember, UCAT is a marathon, not a sprint. Start with a manageable load of information (UCAT strategies, tips and reflections) and move on to the next load once you are comfortable.

Why does the UCAT Consortium advise only 6 weeks’ preparation for UCAT?

There are many reasons why the UCAT official website and some others say that 6 weeks’ UCAT preparation is sufficient. They include:

  1. The UCAT consortium don’t want you to prepare and develop the skills required to succeed in UCAT: they just want you become familiar with the test environment so no one gets a competitive advantage
  2. Most UK students will be on their summer holidays in the weeks leading up to the UCAT so they have additional time to prepare. This is not the case in other countries, where the students will have demands of schoolwork. The UCAT consortium hasn’t quite understood this.
  3. Even for UK students, developing UCAT specific skills cannot be achieved in a few weeks: it takes longer. In a few weeks you can only ever aim to develop familiarity with the UCAT. Aptitude test designers pretend to believe in a ‘Fixed mindset’ rather than a ‘Growth mindset’ because it suits them.
  4. The UCAT consortium feels it will be a threat to the integrity of the UCAT test if they encourage long term preparation and promote coaching (for example, possible leakage of valuable questions from their limited question bank). This is the main reason why there is a general attitude of ‘it’s OK to get coached for school/university exams but not for aptitude tests’.

How will MedEntry help you implement distributive practice?

MedEntry has been preparing students for aptitude tests related to medical entry for over two decades. Over that time, we have developed an understanding of how to best prepare for tests such as UCAT. Because we know that distributed practice is the best way to prepare, we provide access to all resources immediately upon purchase, and access is provided right up to the end of the UCAT testing period. This means you can prepare for UCAT over an extended period of time, gradually developing and building up your UCAT skills. This will give you the best chance of UCAT success.

On the MedEntry Learning Management System you will find numerous tools to enable you to practice ‘distributed practice’ which you should now be eager to take on.

MedEntry also offers multiyear packages for those students who would like to start preparing in their earlier years of secondary school. Remember, the earlier you begin your UCAT preparation, the better!

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