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UCAT stress – friend or foe?

UCAT stress – friend or foe?

So you have bought a package and started your practise. Well done! You are on your way to improving your UCAT score already. Now it is time to develop effective revisions skills that prepares you mentally and physically. Practise is no good if your nerves let you down. Even elite athletes at the Olympics who practise for years crumple due to nerves. Don’t let that be you!

Don’t save your exams! 

The most important thing to remember when doing UCAT practise is – DON’T “save” your practise exams until the last month. Doing that basically leaves you with one month of real preparation. Space your exams out evenly. Use them as markers for achievements and improvements – How much have I improved since my last exam? What kind of skills should I be developing now? 

In our previous article, we recommended that you set “assessment weeks” where a practise exam must be done that week. We reinforce it again here as we believe constant exposure to practise exams allows your mind to prepare for the actual exam. 

By doing practise exams throughout the year, you are also fine-tuning the way you approach the exam.

Doing drills and doing practise exams are completely different things: 

In a drill you are only generally doing one type of question, whereas in an exam, you may not know what type of question you are going to encounter next. Your mind will have to switch between different thought processes very quickly. 

You are generally more relaxed during a drill. During an exam, you will generally experience more pressure and nervousness. 

How do I get rid of test stress? 

While familiarity with test content is undoubtedly helpful, sometimes just doing practise exams is not going to make the stress go away. Some common causes of test stress include: anxiety, lack of confidence, being distracted and pressure to do well.

The truth is you are going to be stressed on the day of the UCAT, but that is not all bad news. A little bit of stress can actually be beneficial to your performance.

Consider the Yerkes-Dodson Curve:


We perform best when there is a moderate amount of stress placed on us. It allows us to think rationally, and actually enjoy what we are doing. On either side of that we have under-stimulation and over-stimulation, where negative emotions and general dissatisfaction take over. Don’t think of the UCAT as a draining experience, after all, it is part of the journey to achieving your dream career. 

Whilst this “optimum performance zone” may be different for everyone, we all have one and it is through practise and developing certain test tactics that allows you to find the zone where you are both calm and alert. 

Knowing vs Performing: 

Knowing and performing is not the same thing. “Knowing” is how well you understand the content. “Performing” is what you do with what you know. No doubt by the time you do the UCAT, you will know a lot of skills. But the real question that remains is how well you perform – that is, how well you utilise what you know. 

Keeping Calm: 

Your performance on the day hangs significantly on how your mindset is. 

You can be the nervous person who only thinks about failing or you can approach each question on the UCAT calmly. Don’t let external factors you can’t control affect you – the ticking clock, questions presented to you on the page, the weather, etc. Stress is caused by an individual’s interpretation of the events around them. In other words, you create the stress for yourself. 

A good question to ask yourself is: “what am I doing to myself that is making me feel so stressed out?” . This is the first step to recognising that you are causing yourself stress so you can identify the factors and fix them.

Common stress reactions: 

Knowing what some common stress reactions are can help you identify how you react to stressful situations, like the UCAT.

  • Physically tense
  • Thinking negative thoughts
  • Being continually distracted

When you are physically tense, your body is agitated so you can’t think clearly. 

Negative thinking can be the killer to the confidence boost that you need during demanding times like the UCAT. When you say you are not good enough, you are not supporting yourself. During the UCAT, your mind needs encouraging messages, rather than messages of failure. When you think negative thoughts – it is like giving up on yourself! In fact, these negative messages can create a self-fulfilling prophecy. That is, if you think you are not going to do well and you keep insisting on it question after question, you probably are not going to do well on the UCAT! 

Don’t let yourself let you down. 

When you get distracted during the UCAT, your mind cannot properly focus on the questions. This is decreasing your level of performance. 

What now? 

There is still time to mentally prepare yourself so you can get into that “optimal zone” where are you are alert and calm during the UCAT. When doing practise exams, try to sit in a way that relaxes your muscles so you are not physically tense. Instead of thinking negative thoughts, give yourself some encouragement. It does not have to be “bring it on! I am so good at this”. They can just be little things like, “I’ve done this before, so I know the method.” Finally, stay focused. Ignore other things happening in the room. Rather than worry about time ticking away, or other questions, just focus on the question you are working right now.

A final word: 

Remember, stress is going to be there during the UCAT no matter what, but if you remember to keep calm, focused and confident. You can at least make your UCAT experience a good one. 


Improving your Critical Thinking Skills
I don’t have time for the UCAT during year 12, sho...

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