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Optimising your health for UCAT: What I learned from getting the flu two days before my UCAT exam and other lessons

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Imagine you’re a hardworking student. You have consistently studied for the UCAT for several months and you are feeling pretty well prepared for UCAT exam itself (hopefully this is not too hard for you to imagine ?). Maybe you have a week before exam day and while you are beginning to feel the nerves of the situation, you are really not too worried. Because why should you be? You have studied hard. You have completed or come pretty close to completing your UCAT tuition course. You even went to one of those famous two day MedEntry workshops with the mighty Dr Ray Boyapati. What’s the worst possible thing that could happen? Two days before the exam you get the flu…not good.

This is more or less the situation I found myself in last year and believe me; It’s not fun. Amid the nausea, red eyes and runny nose you find yourself desperately emailing every person you can possibly think of, going back through your emails to find those registration codes that you probably deleted and shaking your fists at the sky asking “why have you done this to me world?”

But what can you do? Sit in bed feeling sorry for yourself and fail the UCAT? No, of course not, you adapt and do what you can to fix the situation. Hopefully you will not have to go through this drama but luckily I did so I can tell you what I learned.

1. Be conscious of your health

In the era of COVID-19 it is all the more clear that we need to be careful about preventing transfer of viruses. So in the weeks and days leading up to UCAT you certainly need to be conscious about washing your hands regularly, especially before meals, and trying not to touch your face. Although you won’t be doing any plane travel at the moment, is evident that these viruses can spread easily on a plane so for those sitting UCAT in future years, be careful with plane travel.

Further steps you can and should take before sitting the UCAT to optimise your health include regular exercise, maintaining a healthy diet and creating a good pattern of sleep. You have to be well rested for the UCAT exam.

               *Note: If your UCAT exam begins at 8am then you will probably need to get up at about 6am on exam day. Given that most of the UCAT exam period coincides with the holidays you will probably not be accustomed to getting up at 6am. So in the week before UCAT (yes, the whole 7 days) set your alarm for 6am. I know it is not how you wanted to spend your holidays but you need to build a habit so you won’t be caught off guard on UCAT test day.

2. Take a break from studying the days before your UCAT exam

I’d just about finished all my resources before I got sick because I was intending on sitting the UCAT exam in the following two days. All of a sudden I had another week to go and almost no resources left with which to occupy myself. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I took a break and only studied for 30 minutes to an hour each day, just lightly reading over some notes or UCAT questions with all percentiles turned off.

So just like you taper off when training for a major sporting event, do the same with your UCAT preparation because it helped me enormously. The UCAT exam is basically a marathon for the brain so you need to be careful about not burning out.

3. Know what happens if you need to reschedule your UCAT exam

Hopefully this isn’t information that you will need to use, but if it is, don’t worry: stay calm. Here is what needs to happen: start sending out emails to the UCAT ANZ team and Pearson VUE customer support services. Pearson VUE is the organisation which actually runs the UCAT exam so you’ll be dealing with them primarily. Let them know what your situation is and what you would like to do. You also need to get a letter from your registered health practitioner – quickly. Go to your GP or someone else you know as soon as possible. The letter needs to outline your illness and why you are medically unfit to sit the UCAT exam.

Once you’ve got this covered and dug up your order number and registration ID from when you booked your UCAT exam date, relax. Give PearsonVUE a call and find someone to talk to and they’ll get it sorted out. When it happened to me, I sorted it out within 48 hours with a combination of email and phone support. So don’t worry, it will work out!

4. Book an earlier time

This one is for the future students sitting the UCAT, because it is too late now to change testing dates for 2020. You may be under the impression that you should book a UCAT exam time at the very end of the UCAT testing period so you can squeeze in as much study as humanly possible. Not only is this not a good idea, but if you are planning on needing to cram for the UCAT you should probably be changing your approach.

My reason for booking an earlier time was security. In the hypothetical situation that you do get sick, you will want to move your UCAT test to later on; when you are no longer sick. You cannot do this, however, if your UCAT exam is on the last day of the UCAT testing period. Additionally, to give you an idea of how booked up the UCAT test gets: there was still two weeks left in the testing period when I tried to reschedule, yet there was only ONE appointment time in the whole of central Victoria that was free. So, it is not that easy to rebook a UCAT test and it would be a lot harder if you are doing so later on in the UCAT testing period.

Hopefully you will not have any of the sort of dilemmas that I did, but if you do now you are prepared. For the vast majority of you, the key takeaways from this blog should be to stay healthy, look after yourself and be in the best state of mind you can be for the UCAT exam. I wish you all an enormous amount of luck for the UCAT and I hope that your hard work will reap deserving rewards!

Written by Jeremy, who achieved 98th centile in UCAT and is currently studying medicine at Monash university.

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