UCAT is an extremely time pressured test. You will have less than 30 seconds to complete each question. Some sections, particularly Verbal Reasoning and Situational Judgement, will require you to read passages of text. Speed reading is therefore an important skill to master to succeed in UCAT.
The following reading efficiency techniques can boost your reading rate. But even if your rate is fine, these techniques will help you boost comprehension and concentration, both of which are key to UCAT success.
(i) Mechanical Approach
You’ve probably seen speed-readers moving their hands down a page as they rapidly read the material, the theory being that their eyes follow their hands. The problem with this approach is that it doesn’t force your eyes to keep up with your hand. When your hand has reached the bottom of the page, your eyes may still be on the first paragraph. Of course, this approach is even more difficult on a computer monitor.
Some reading centres have machines that look like sheet music holders, with pieces of metal that move down over the reading material. The rate of descent can be adjusted so that as readers become more practiced, they increase the rate and read a little faster.
You can do the same thing with a piece of opaque paper, moving it down over your reading material, forcing yourself to read at the very edge of what’s comfortable. If you do this a few times, you’ll find that you quickly increase your rate. You won’t be able to do this when you’re actually taking the UCAT, of course. This is a way to practice your reading before the UCAT.
You’ll also find that this technique may help you break a couple of bad habits that plague some UCAT test-takers, such as ‘spiralling’.
Spiralling: Some readers tend to read a paragraph and then go back up and reread some of the same material: sort of top-to-bottom-to-middle-to-top and back to bottom. This isn’t very efficient, of course, because you’re reading most of the material twice. It also messes up your sense of where things are in the passage because in some sort of mystical (but not very helpful) way, everything comes both before and after everything else. The mechanical technique prevents you from spiralling.
(ii) Units of Meaning
When we listen, speak, and write, we process language in units of meaning - groups of words that make sense together. For instance, if you ask a friend “What time does the movie start?” you generate the question as, at most, a couple of elements: “What time” and “does the movie start?” You’re not thinking and speaking a word (or syllable) at a time. Your friend also hears the question as one or two elements. We write the same way.
But when most of us were learning to read, we were taught to break words into sounds and syllables. This may be fine when you’re just learning to read, but when you’re processing reading material as an adult, you should process it the same way you speak, listen, and write: in units of meaning.
Look at the following example. These few sentences contain more than 60 syllables, which means 60 stops for readers processing the material phonetically. Here’s how you might process the same material in units of meaning.
The Germanic invaders of Britain / were individualists / not dwellers in towns. / The point needs no elaboration / because the contrast between / the material civilisations / of north-west Europe / in the fifth century / and the cities of Italy and Greece / is obvious.
So you’re stopping fewer than a dozen times instead of more than 60: a 500 percent increase in efficiency. And, just as important, because you’re reading in units of meaning instead of phonetically, you’re forced to concentrate and comprehend actively, so you won’t get to the end of a paragraph and realise that even though you “read” each word, you don’t remember anything about what you looked at.
A good way to think about reading in units of meaning is to imagine that you’re dictating a passage to someone else: you would automatically read it in units of meaning!
(iii) How to Practice
The best way to practice these techniques without using up test materials is to find passages of about 500 words written at about the same level as UCAT materials from magazines such as The Economist, BRW, TIME and Newsweek.
Spend about 2 minutes in two or three sessions practicing these techniques. Most students find that they increase their efficiency - their speed, comprehension, and concentration - quickly and painlessly.
The MedEntry UCAT ANZ preparation course has additional strategies to improve speed reading.