UCAT 101: What it is and how to ace it

The University Clinical Aptitude Test (UCAT) is an admissions test used in the selection process by a number of universities in the UK, Australia, and New Zealand for their medical and dental school programmes.

Unsurprisingly, the test is extremely challenging, with a high number of questions within the two-hour time constraint. There is no formal pass mark, although you will naturally want to score as highly as possible.

Don’t panic if you feel unprepared though. There are several things you may do to get ready for the test of a lifetime — here is our comprehensive guide to the UCAT.

Why is the UCAT used?

The first reason UCAT is used is that there is a large pool of applicants for medical and dental schools. Many of these have impressive credentials, such as stellar personal statements, good references, and high predicted grades, meaning universities need another technique to assess the students applying for their courses.

Secondly, the UCAT was developed to evaluate traits valued in the medical and dental fields, such as the ability to think critically, empathise with others, and exercise abstract reasoning. Although getting a high score on the UCAT is no easy feat, doing well on this exam can help you stand out to medical and dental school admissions committees.

Do I have to sit the UCAT?

If you want to study medicine or dentistry — then yes! However, a small number of institutions prove to be the exception to the rule.

Although 34 UK universities presently use the UCAT examination method, a few, such as Oxbridge, Brighton and Sussex, and University College London, employ the BMAT (The BioMedical Admissions Test).

In fact, only two universities, the University of Central Lancashire and the University of Buckingham, use neither testing technique.

What is the format of the UCAT?

The UCAT is a two-hour computer-based multiple-choice examination. It has 225 questions divided into five subtests: four cognitive tests and one assessing your professional demeanour. Each has a maximum time allowance, as shown below:

  • Verbal reasoning: 44 questions/21 minutes
  • Decision making: 29 questions/31 minutes
  • Quantitative reasoning: 36 questions/25 minutes
  • Abstract reasoning: 50 questions/12 minutes
  • Situational judgement: 66 questions/26 minutes

Taking the UCAT requires an online registration and £70 fee, however low-income and disadvantaged students may be eligible for a bursary.

How should I prepare for the UCAT?

Meticulous time management is critical for acing the UCAT. The subtest on abstract reasoning, for example, will require you to answer 50 multiple choice questions in 12 minutes. Which, if you’ve done the maths, means you are allocated a mere 14.4 seconds to answer each question.

Take practice tests

The best way to prepare is by taking advantage of the official practice tests that are available. This will allow you to overcome the intense time constraints you’ll be working under, and give you experience focusing for two hours without a break. You may find it helpful to go through these papers without a timer first, and then return to them under more test-like conditions once you’ve built up some confidence.

Enrol in a prep course

If you’re feeling the strain, enrolling in a prep course can help you feel more prepared, get you used to the exam’s format, and enable you to establish ways to answer the questions in each distinct subtest. You will get the most out of any workshop if it is given by an instructor who has taken and passed the exam themselves.

6Med, for example, provides a number of UCAT courses throughout the academic year. These are run by Oxbridge medics and are “designed to help you get the score you require to attend your top choice medical school.”

While the UCAT is, to put it mildly, a challenge for many, success is within reach for those who put in the time and effort to prepare. Good luck!

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