Is it worth preparing for the UCAT?
The simple answer: YES.
The UCAT is a high stakes test held in the month of July for aspiring doctors and dentists. It is a two-hour computer based exam which tests a variety of different skills. Below is an outline for why intense preparation is necessary for success. Consider the following table outlining the time constraints in each section of the UCAT:
|Section||Timing||Questions||Timing per Question|
|Verbal Reasoning||21 minutes||44||28.6 seconds|
|Decision Making||31 minutes||29||1 minute|
|Quantitative Reasoning||24 minutes||36||40 seconds|
|Abstract Reasoning||13 minutes||55||14.1 seconds|
|Situational Judgement||26 minutes||68||22.9 seconds|
From the table, it is evident that no subsection within the UCAT provides candidates with more than a minute per question. Hence, it’s clear that time management and triaging are an absolute necessity to score well in the UCAT. This blog will outline how consistent preparation can foster these skills in UCAT test takers.
Reading and Comprehension
With the exception of Abstract Reasoning, all subtests within the UCAT will require you to read and interpret long bodies of text. Whilst Verbal Reasoning and Situational Judgement are the subsections which test these skills the most, quick reading coupled with good comprehension skills will also be of benefit when tackling Quantitative Reasoning and Decision Making questions. However, improving your reading speed without compromising accuracy is extremely challenging, and it is a trait which can only be acquired through consistent practice over a long period of time. For this reason, it is advised that aspiring medical students begin preparation for the UCAT at least 6 months prior to the exam.
Eliminating and Guessing
Solving each question in the UCAT within the given time is practically impossible, so guesswork will need to be employed when sitting the test. This is perhaps one of the hardest skills to develop, as it directly contradicts the lessons that students are taught at school. During year 12, students are encouraged to answer each question in their final exam - however, this strategy will only do harm when attempting the UCAT. In the test, each question is worth one mark, regardless of difficulty, so it is vital that you learn how to guess the more difficult and time-consuming problems so you can acquire marks on the easier, less time-consuming ones. In order to do this, you should expose yourself to a wide variety of UCAT style questions, as this will highlight which types of questions to avoid and which ones to answer. You can also flag difficult questions for review at the end of your timed section.
However, it must also be noted that guessing alone is not enough. Being able to make an educated guess is the best skill to equip yourself with when attempting the UCAT. Each question in each section is bound to have at least one option which is invalid, and recognising this and guessing accordingly can boost your chances of attaining a correct answer. Again, this too is a skill which is only acquired through consistent timed practice, and therefore it is obvious that preparation is necessary for a candidate to develop the skill of eliminating and guessing.
Test Format and Interface
The UCAT is a computer-based test so becoming familiar with the interface of the test can help you save valuable time on exam day. Though this may seem easy at first, it must be noted that the onscreen calculator and the flag for review system are often very challenging s to get used to. Here, the only way for a candidate to familiarise themselves with these aspects of the UCAT is by direct simulation. This can be achieved by completing practice tests that replicate the system of the UCAT. Furthermore, practicing with the tests provided by ACER can also be valuable, however there are only a limited number of these tests available online.
Ultimately, it is impossible to prepare for the exact types of questions that will appear on the UCAT, but that doesn’t mean you should not prepare for the test. There are many strategies that can help improve your time management skills and the ability to triage. Essentially, it is these skills and traits which separate the high achievers in the UCAT from those with a moderate score. Hence, preparation for the UCAT is highly recommended for anyone considering a career in medicine or dentistry.