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Why are there differences in the way Universities use UCAT for Medical Entry?

Use-of-UCAT

Some Universities offer medical entry programs for school leavers without the need for UCAT. These include Griffith University (which offers a ‘conditional entry’ program) and James Cook University.

Other universities have lower weighting for UCAT when assessing candidates for medical entry (for example, Auckland and Otago Universities). 

On the other hand, some universities use UCAT even for graduate entry medical programs (for example, WSU, Newcastle, Auckland and Otago), while others use GAMSAT.

Why do these differences exist?

Universities are autonomous (meaning self-governing) bodies and claim they have the right to decide on academic standards and entry criteria. Such decisions are left up to the Deans of medical schools. Since there is no objective measure of what makes a ‘good’ doctor, the Deans make decisions on entry criteria which they believe are best, in their view, at that time. 

When a new Dean arrives, they often change the criteria. For example, the Dean of the University of Queensland abolished interviews as a requirement in 2004, but a new Dean reinstated it for school leavers in 2020.

Variations in weighting for UCAT

Most universities weight UCAT as 1/3 of the entry criteria for medicine. However, some universities weight UCAT as low as 20% (at Adelaide university) and some weight UCAT higher (as in the case of WSU/Newcastle University). This again is due mainly to the personal preferences of the medical schools/their Deans.

Auckland and Otago universities have an even lower weighting for UCAT (15% in the case of Auckland and threshold only in the case of Otago). By increasing the emphasis on first year university GPA, these two universities can justify their non-school leaver type entry system. It also allows them to use their health science programs as conduits to medical entry, thus bolstering student numbers in their first year programs.

Universities which do not use UCAT

The cohort of students at James Cook University is mainly rural. For a variety of factors, the UCAT performance of the applicant pool for James Cook University would likely be weaker than that of other universities, which may have contributed to their decision not to include UCAT in the selection criteria.

In the case of Griffith university, it is difficult for them to compete with the University of Queensland. They therefore use ‘no UCAT’ as their competitive advantage. But don’t be fooled: Griffith has a subject called “Communication skills for medicine” which they claim teaches the same skills that UCAT tests. If you fail that, your place may be withdrawn (it has happened!).

 ‘Guaranteed entry’ pathways

Some changes are difficult to unscramble: for example, Stephen Leeder, the then Dean of the University of Sydney medical school, converted USyd medicine into a graduate entry program around 20 years ago. Having realised their mistake, the University of Sydney would like to convert back to a school leaver entry program (in order to attract the high achievers), but doing so would be very difficult. In fact most graduate entry medical schools belatedly realised that most students/parents prefer school leaver entry programs. Hence such universities introduced a ‘guaranteed entry’ pathway to compete with school leaver entry programs.

In summary, while there are differences in the manner in which UCAT is used, for most universities UCAT is a significant requirement for entry into medicine and dentistry. Thus, scoring highly in UCAT is important in achieving entry into your dream course.

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