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Optimising your performance in UCAT: Lessons from Sports Psychology



Preparing for the UCAT is similar to preparing for a marathon: it requires training, preparation and strategies to optimise your performance on the test day. Just as an athlete prepares for a major sporting event, so you must prepare yourself to sit UCAT, which is one of the most important exams that you will face in your career.

We can learn much from athletes about optimising performance in UCAT, as outlined in this TED talk by Martin Hagger:

This talk discusses how highly successful athletes prepare themselves before a competition. The main points are summarised below, with an emphasis on how this is relevant to UCAT:

  • Motivation is an important element of success in any competition, including UCAT. One of the most effective ways to increase motivation is via goal setting. Goals should be SMARTER (Specific, Meaningful, Agreed, Relevant, Time-Specific, Engaging and Recorded).
  • Confidence is the key to performing to the best of one’s ability in all tests, including UCAT. There are various ways to improve confidence, including:
    • Reminding yourself that you have prepared for the UCAT and have sat trial exams similar to (and perhaps harder than) the UCAT
    • Performing a mental rehearsal in a quiet place (imagining yourself sitting the UCAT, imagining ‘what ifs’ or scenarios that may arise such as a new type of question)
    • Motivational self-talk (‘you can do this’, ‘I’m well ahead of others who have not prepared for UCAT’)
    • Calming self-talk before and during UCAT (reminding yourself ‘be calm’, ‘breathe’, ‘relax’)
    • Asking others (such as parents, siblings, teachers, friends) to provide you with positive feedback on your UCAT preparation, particularly in the final weeks leading up to the UCAT
  • Having a good understanding of the UCAT, including what it tests, how it is scored, and the strategies required to tackle questions is vital to optimise performance. These issues will be discussed in detail at the MedEntry UCAT courses.
  • Have a pre-performance routine that you plan to use before the UCAT. This may include listening to music, doing some quiet reading or chatting to friends – whatever you find best relaxes you.
  • Have techniques to manage your anxiety before and during UCAT. This may include focusing on your breathing, meditation, listening to music, or writing down your thoughts or fears about UCAT.

The UCAT is a competition, so treat it like one. The strategies outlined above have been used by champion athletes, and you can apply similar strategies to your UCAT preparation. Go get ‘em!

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