People call the UCAT many different things. Is it an IQ test? A personality test? In reality, it is about applying skills you have developed to solve problems. People say: “you’ve either got it or you don’t,” but like any skill, UCAT technique can be practiced and honed. One of my close friends is one of the naturally brightest people I know. He believed that you couldn’t really get better at the UCAT. Unfortunately, this had consequences when he did not study and thus failed to meet the threshold for his desired course. My point is that high performance in the UCAT is a result of the culmination of a variety of trained skills, all of which can be individually improved by practice and feedback. There are always improvements that can be made to your technique. By identifying your weaker areas, you can focus your time on these areas to make sure you have a well-rounded breadth and depth of skills. So, my advice to you: unless they’ve done the UCAT, do not listen to what others say, because a myth like the one my friend believed can be devastating.
Spending hours by yourself hunched over your computer doing question after question sounds a solid revision plan, right? We all have that one friend that brags about how much time they’ve spent doing this or that. Well, doing questions to prepare is a great plan, but it is your thought process behind WHY you are getting the questions right that is the most important part. Even more valuable are the ones you get wrong because, by getting a question incorrect, you have just identified something you would have lost marks for in your real UCAT exam. Take the opportunity now to learn from your mistakes so you will get it right when it counts! To really get the most out of your UCAT practice, keep a record of skills you are learning along the way. Just because you did it right once does not mean you will remember the skill forever. To help yourself improve faster, and to learn new skills, tutoring can really help. Having an experienced UCAT tutor (such as through MedEntry’s Diamond package) will improve your approach to questions and overall success because they can provide you with experienced advice on what truly works. Two brains are better than one!
Now you may be thinking, how is this a myth? Isn’t the test supposed to be hard? It is, but not because of the questions; it’s because of the time pressure. I believe that everyone would do well in the UCAT if they had unlimited time. Working it out by section, you have an average time per question of 28 seconds for Verbal Reasoning, 64 seconds for Decision Making, 40 seconds for Quantitative Reasoning, 14 seconds for Abstract reasoning and 22 seconds for Situational Judgement. Time pressure is the most difficult part of the UCAT by a long shot. Because of this, the most valuable skill you can learn from your UCAT practice is time management. Due to the different section time limits, your time management skills will have to vary depending on the section. For Verbal Reasoning, it is vital that you are a quick reader. To improve this skill you can use MedEntry’s exclusive Speed Reading Trainer, a Timing Trainer or even just doing tests with exam pressured time limits. For Quantitative Reasoning, I would never start with the passage when there’s a figure. First, I would look at whatever graph or table they have given me, and then I would approach the question with a framework already in mind of what I am being asked about. For Situational Judgement, I found there was enough time to check each of my answers. Time is not your friend, and any shortcuts you have will help you succeed. Shortcuts and strategies are discussed in detail in MedEntry’s UCAT Courses.
As a prospective medical student, you will be used to studying hard to get everything right. And this will have been helpful in getting you to the place you are now. But the UCAT is different. It is heavily time pressured, and there will be questions that you just won’t have the time or ability to figure out. Cut your losses early on when you realise it is a question that will either take you too long (all questions are worth the same amount, remember!), or you just have no idea what to do. Doing enough preparation before the UCAT will assist you in knowing what questions you are good at, and what you struggle with. Especially with decision making, there are certain types of questions that can be figured out with the same technique - the names, places and scenarios will have just changed, but the skill remains the same. After you have done a reasonable amount of practice, you will see these familiar patterns pop up. Skipping past the hard UCAT questions will allow you to get to the ones you can do fast and correctly, so you’ll make the most of the time you have. Get to know your strengths AND your weaknesses throughout your study so that you can approach the UCAT with a game plan specific to your abilities. MedEntry’s comprehensive feedback makes this easy. Make UCAT suit you!
Even if you’ve done all the UCAT preparation you can, the nerves of the day could still throw you off. Any existing nerves can be worsened by the discomfort of the unfamiliar environment that is the UCAT test room. My other exams were quite similar in terms of the set up. The UCAT throws a spanner in the works because you are seated at a desktop computer with laminated paper and a whiteboard pen. If you’re the sort of person that gets super nervous on exam day, and doesn’t like unfamiliar environments, then you should practice how you’ll need to perform. The only UCAT calculator you can use is a clumsy on-screen one, so when you are practising get used to using the number pad as well as +-*/. MedEntry’s exclusive numberpad trainer will help with this. Also remember that you cannot choose how much time you spend on each UCAT section and you’ll rarely have time to check your answers. Utilise the UCAT keyboard shortcuts to save yourself time as well; Alt N for next question, Alt P for previous question, Alt F for flagging. Do not use Alt E though, as this ends the section! You will be sitting relatively close to other students and you will all be using the same loud keyboards. You are given earplugs, but be aware of this before going in if you are someone sensitive to noise.
Written by Tim, a past MedEntry student who achieved 99th percentile in the UCAT and is now studying medicine