The UCAT can be a very discouraging exam. Unlike school exams where the teacher expects top students to get an “A,” the UCAT is designed to measure tiny differences in ability. For example, a student in 2015 set the record for the highest UCAT score ever (3560), and no other student has ever scored that high.
|UCAT 90th Percentile|
Part of the reason no student has ever earned a perfect score is that the UCAT is highly “speeded,” meaning its design forces the test taker to go faster. On one hand, this makes the UCAT stressful for everyone. On the other hand, speeded tests are poor measures of students with ADD, ASD, dyslexia, and other learning differences. Such students should apply for access arrangements and stay positive. ADD, ASD, and dyslexia should not disqualify a person from becoming a doctor.
Plan your approach
Because the UCAT is speeded, everyone will run out of time. Many will tire out before the end. It is wiser to go at a reasonable pace and guess remaining questions, since there is no penalty for guessing. It is impossible to calculate how many questions a student needs to answer to get a “good” score, since scoring is relative. In 2020 a score of 2850 was in the 90th percentile, but in 2019 a score of 2800 was in the 90th percentile. Instead, students should practice setting a brisk pace that will take them to the end without burning out.
All long exams require endurance, but the UCAT is especially brutal. Students should be in good physical condition on the day of the exam. They should get regular sleep, eat healthy, and exercise. This will allow them to set a brisk pace and keep it up for longer.
Time all practice
Timed practice is very different from untimed practice. When a person is trying to solve a math problem as fast as possible, they can be messy, skip some steps, do more in their head, and will use a different process than usual. While this is most obvious with math questions, it is true for all types of timed questions. The benefit from untimed practice is little to none because timed questions use a different process. The only sections where untimed practice is ok are the sections that can be studied for as well as practiced for.
How much time per UCAT question?
- Verbal Reasoning (VR), 28 seconds per question
- Decision Making (DM), 64 seconds per question
- Quantitative Reasoning (QR), 40 seconds per question
- Abstract Reasoning (AR), 14 seconds per question
- Situational Judgement (SJ), 22 seconds per question
How to study for UCAT Quantitative Reasoning, QR
Students should make sure there are no gaps in their math knowledge and they know the quickest way to solve any given QR problem. A correct way to a solution is not the same as the fastest way to a solution. Students should practice but they should also learn techniques of mental math and shortcuts in problem solving.
How to study for UCAT Situational Judgement, SJ
Like the QR section, students can improve their score through focused study. One way is to watch medical dramas. ER, an older show that also launched George Clooney’s career, might be a good option because it was ultra-realistic. A more serious way to study is the ethical guidance published by the General Medical Council (GMC). Like QR, there are discrete, explicit principles which can be studied, and this study should be combined with timed practice. You may also choose to enrol for a class that will walk you through the basic concepts and strategies you need to know, such as the SJ class at Prep Zone.
Should you study for the other sections?
It is possible to make certain generalizations and derive strategies that can be helpful for any part of the exam and we teach these in our content classes. At the end of the day, timed practice makes the biggest difference for a student’s UCAT score.