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Why 6 weeks preparation isn't enough for UCAT


UCAT Consortium Universities (UCATCU) claim that intensive, sustained preparation for UCAT is not necessary. They advise that 6 weeks of preparation is sufficient for UCAT. There are many reasons why UCATCU make such claims. To give yourself the best chance of succeeding in UCAT, it is important that you are sceptical of these claims. 

UCATCU’s claims are designed to discourage students from undergoing extended UCAT preparation. Just as some elite schools, universities and hospitals provide a better service and 'value-add' more, reputable UCAT preparation institutions such as MedEntry do the same to your UCAT score. But admitting this fact goes against the philosophy of UCATCU: that the rationale for use of UCAT is that performance in it is not affected by socio-economic class, unlike school grades.

UCATCU’s stance apparently seems 'validated' by students who 'claim' they have only used the UCATCU’s 'free resources' in preparation for UCAT. In fact most students who make such claims have undergone extensive paid UCAT preparation but do not admit it for various reasons (for example, appearing less ‘smart’, not wishing to contradict UCATCU’s claims, preferring to tow the official line).

Another reason for UCATCU to downplay the importance of preparation for UCAT success is that they fear it may lead to diminished integrity of the test due to possible item (question) "leakage". As a thought experiment, if UCATCU had an unlimited (infinite) number of UCAT questions, they would actively encourage intense and prolonged UCAT preparation because that would enhance the 'generic thinking skills' of students!

UCATCU further claims that the UCAT practice materials provided by them are free. In fact, it is not – it is simply built into the UCAT test fees. UCAT registration fees are AU$305 or AU$380 (outside AU/NZ) and about AU$135 for UCAT UK (Not usable for AU/NZ Universities). So why do they charge so much for a computerised test? Nothing is free and the cost of the 'Free UCAT prep resources' they provide comes from this expensive registration fees.

Australian and New Zealand students tend to perform better in the UCAT because they prepare for UCAT on average for about 6 months, rather than 6 weeks, as in the UK. In fact, it is quite common in Australia for students to start preparing a year or two in advance, because the benefits of developing the skills to do well in UCAT also flow into their academic study, resulting in better performance in school / university results.

Research shows that IQ can be increased by up to 15 points (a massive one standard deviation) through appropriate and sustained training (‘We can boost IQ’, Stankov and Lee, J Intell, 2020, 8, 4; 2018, 6, 11). Given that UCAT is not a pure IQ test, one can expect even greater improvement with practice in tests such as UCAT which are at least partly achievement tests. Research shows that improvement through practice comes mainly from three sub-components of sustained attention: perception of an item; mental operation to solve an item; and the motor reaction to indicate a response to an item (J Intell, 2019, 7, 12).

The first step in succeeding in any test and in life is to become a critical thinker. A good start is to be critical of UCATCU's claims. For more information, start by researching 'brain plasticity' and 'growth mindset'.

So when the UCAT Consortium, UCAT students or others tell you that you only need 6 weeks to prepare for UCAT, be sceptical! The best way to succeed in UCAT is through regular, sustained, distributed practice.

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