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Getting into Medicine

My top tips for the UCAT exam

These are my tips for the University Clinical Aptitude Test, following these tips got me a score of 3030 and interviews at the three universities I applied to that required the UCAT.

Please note: the example questions included have been adapted from official UCAT bank questions, they are not a representation of the level of difficulty you should expect (these are a bit easier than the average question) but of the style of some of the questions you can expect.

The University Clinical Aptitude Test or UCAT is an online exam required for certain university courses, particularly a lot of Medicine courses. This year (2020), testing is between the 3rd August and the 1st October. As everything is subject to change at the moment due to COVID it’s important to stay up to date with official news on the UCAT website.

If you’re taking the BMAT as well – check out this post for tips!

This year they’ve made it possible to take the exam at home or at a test centre, make sure you fully research both options, and make your decision based on which is the best for you.

How to prepare effectively

  • Start your preparation early and most importantly BE CONSISTENT. It goes without saying that the earlier you start, the more time you have to prepare, but it also depends on how consistent you are. There’s no point doing loads of work early on but do nothing in the two weeks before the exam.
  • Prepare the right way. If you can, use an online learning tool such as Medify. This is an online exam so there’s no better way to simulate the questions.
  • Book your test early, and for a time that’s best for you. If you’re an early bird like me, book it in the morning, whatever time of day YOU work best. Booking your test early means that you’ll have more options of when you can take your test.
  • Start by learning the style of questions and how you’re going to approach them, but move on to working in a timed manner very quickly. Sometimes how you would normally approach a problem won’t work when under this much time pressure.
  • Make sure you’ve done at least a few full mock tests before you sit the real one. Two hours is a long time to stay focused, so you need to practice staying focused for that long.
  • KEEP TRACK of your progress. You will fluctuate a little between tests as some sets of questions are easier than others, just make sure the trend is generally improving. Track your progress for individual sections as well not just the overall score, this will help you focus on areas that require the most improvement.

Check out this post for other great resources that I found useful when applying for medicine

Scheduling your preparation

After you’ve booked your test, make a note of the date and work out how long you have to prepare. Work back from the test date and make a list of dates that you want to have achieved certain checkpoints by. I studied using Medify, which I would really recommend, which had timed mini mocks (a single section) and full mocks.

Eg.

  • 20th July – Today’s date
  • 1st August – Start doing mini mocks
  • 15th August – Do, or have done, the first full mock
  • 15th September – Have done all mini-mocks and full mocks
  • 29th September – TEST DATE

This is just a rough example of something you should put together in order to stay on track with your preparation. It can be super detailed, with checkpoints for nearly every day, or vaguer, like the one above. You may find that you need to adjust it slightly when you start practicing and get used to what kind of workload you can manage.

Taking the test

The order of the actual test is Verbal Reasoning, Decision Making, Quantitative Reasoning, Abstract Reasoning, and lastly Situational Judgement. It may help to get used to practicing the sections in this order closer to the end of your preparation to get your brain used to what’s coming up next.

Make use of the one minute given to read the instructions for the next section. Even if you don’t need to read the instruction (I recommend you do though) you can use this as a small break to rest and reset before the next section. Just make sure your mind doesn’t wander too much so you’re ready for when the next section starts.

If you feel like a section didn’t go very well, DON’T PANIC. That section is only worth one-quarter of your total score. Try and just move on, otherwise the negative emotion could affect your performance on the rest of the test.

The Flag tool

Make use of the flag tool. You might use this in a different way to me, the way I used it even between sections was different, but as a general rule this is how I used it:

  1. On the first pass through the questions, answer anything that is easy/quick to do, and flag anything that you’re unsure of.
  2. On the second pass, attempt to answer all the questions, again flag anything you are unsure of
  3. If you have time, go back and attempt/check the flagged questions.
  4. Always keep an eye on the time

Verbal Reasoning

  • This section has 44 questions to answer in 22 minutes (this includes one minute to read the instructions).
  • Learn to skim read whilst still taking in important information. The more you practise the easier you’ll pick up what type of information you’ll need. Practise skim-reading news articles or blog posts! Look out for words such as most, least, cannot, some, except.
  • Read the question first and then skim read the passage. Look out for dates and people’s names then read around these sections.
  • Don’t be afraid to use the ‘can’t tell’ option. It can be really easy to just put ‘false’ to certain statements but if you don’t specifically see the information you need, then the answer is probably ‘can’t tell’.
  • Don’t use any outside information – only answer based on the information given in the passage, and not anything you might know from other sources.
  • I personally found that the passages in the actual UCAT exam were more difficult to read, but were shorter than those on Medify.

Example Question

Example Verbal Reasoning Question (yes it is an adapted blog post of mine)

Below I have highlighted the sections that mention when work experience was taken. Even though it states the ages that the author did work experience, it doesn’t say what year of school, this means that we can’t put ‘True’. Because the text also doesn’t specifically say that the author didn’t do work experience in year 10, we have to put ‘can’t tell’.

Decision Making

  • This section has 29 questions in 32 minutes (including one minute for instructions).
  • Don’t be afraid to draw tables and diagrams on your whiteboard. Sometimes there might be too much information to keep in your head, and drawing it out helps you visualise it better.
  • You might not need to resolve the full problem to answer the question, so remember to look at the question and answers first.
  • Make educated guesses, even if you don’t have time to work out the answer, you might be able to make an educated guess based on the answer options and some good estimations. Don’t leave anything blank as it’s not negatively marked, so you don’t lose anything by getting it wrong.
  • I would personally say that this section was around the same level of difficulty as Medify.

Example question

This question is adapted from the Pearson UCAT website question bank

Below I have shown how I would work out a question like this:

Quantitative Reasoning

  • This section has 36 questions in 24 minutes (including one minute for instructions).
  • This section tests your knowledge of numerical data, tables and charts. It’s really important in this section to KNOW YOUR WEAKNESSES. E.g. if you’re really bad at conversions (even after your preparation) leave the questions with conversions in until the end, don’t waste time trying to work them out.
  • You should also leave questions that require multiple calculations until the end unless they’re super simple and you’re really confident.
  • When prepping for the exam, you should practice: conversions, times tables, rounding and you need to know some specific area and perimeter formulae.
  • PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE. If you’re not naturally good at maths, this section can be really daunting, so practice as much as possible to avoid getting stuck completely and it affecting the rest of your exam.
  • During the actual exam, you should try minimise your calculator use, you will waste lots of time pressing the on-screen buttons, so really only use it when you absolutely have to. This can go against your normal instincts (In my A-level maths exams I would be putting 20/4 in the calculator just to be extra sure) but you need to have confidence in your mental maths abilities. This is why it’s really important to practice your times tables.
  • I found that this section in the actual exam was slightly easier than the mocks on Medify.

Example Question

Below I have shown my working out for a question like this:

Abstract Reasoning

  • This was the section that I struggled most with whilst prepping, and there’s a LOT of questions in quite a short time frame. This sections has 55 questions in just 14 minutes (including one minute for instructions)
  • For this section, you need to find a rule that applies to the sets of shapes and then use this rule to answer the questions (the rule shouldn’t have ‘or’ or ‘at least’ in it, it will be more specific than that)
  • The good news is that each ‘rule’ will have multiple questions, so as soon as you work out what the rule is, you will be able to answer a few questions very quickly.
  • There are three types of abstract reasoning questions:
    • Type 1 – Does this box belong to Set A, Set B or neither
    • Type 2 – Which box is the next in the series
    • Type 3 – A is to B as C is to X
  • Even though there are different types of questions, the SCANS method can work for them all.
  • SCANS is a mnemonic that helps you remember what you should look out for to determine the rule.
    • Shape – Do all the shapes have even numbers of edges?; Does one set only have quadrilaterals?
    • Colour – Are all the squares a certain colour?; When a shape is on top of another is it one colour, but when it is underneath it’s another colour?
    • Arrangement – Is the smallest shape always in the bottom right corner?; Are squares always left of circles?
    • Number – Are there always 6 circles and 3 triangles?; Is the number of squares always double the number of hexagons?
    • Size – Are squares always the smallest shape?; Is the smallest shape always in the top left corner?
  • The more practice you do, the more rules you’ll pick up, so again practice is the only way forward.
  • Always look at the simplest box first, all of the boxes in the set will follow the rule, so it makes sense to look at the simplest first.
  • When doing Type 2 questions (sequence questions), look at one shape at once. E.g. track what’s happening with the triangle first, is it getting bigger, or smaller, or rotating 90 degrees or changing colour?
  • Use the minute before this section to jot down SCANS (and any other words that might help) to remind you during the section.
  • I personally found that this section in the real exam was easier than on Medify.

Example Question

Answer:

Situational Judgement

  • This section has 69 questions in just 26 minutes (including one minute to read the instructions)
  • You can prepare for this section a lot: start by reading the Good Medical Practice by the GMC, which is full of information on how Doctors should act.
  • In this section you will be given a scenario, followed by some options of actions you can take, you must rate these actions in terms of appropriateness or importance.
  • The more practice you do, the more rules you’ll learn but these are just a few:
    • Patient safety should always come first
    • Never undermine public confidence in the NHS and medicine in general
    • Never lie/cheat/ or do anything illegal
    • Follow the patient’s wishes
    • If you have issues with colleagues, try to work it out with them before speaking to someone more senior
    • Don’t rely on others to report something inappropriate or illegal
  • You should judge each answer option independently, just because you’ve said another option in ‘very important’ doesn’t mean that this one isn’t ‘very important’ as well.

Example Question

Below I have explained the reasoning behind this answer:

After the test

  • The good thing about this exam is that you get your results straight away, there’s no nervous waiting period. (This is only if you take the test in an exam centre, I believe that if you take it at home that it takes up to 24 hours to get your results).
  • Before you look at your results, remember to breathe! Even if the scores are not what you wanted, there’s always a way forward. Universities use your UCAT score in different ways with different weightings, so it is not the end of the world!

I hope that this post was useful to you, if you have any questions please comment on the post or you can message me privately on the contact page. Don’t forget to check out other posts on getting into medical school

Best of Luck!!


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