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What is the UCAT and what should I be doing now to prepare?

YOUR MEDIC FAMILY
April 28, 2020
What is the UCAT and what should I be doing now to prepare?

Hello everyone! My name is Rebecca and I’m a first-year medical student at the University of Glasgow.  I am your new virtual UCAT instructor guiding you through the minefield that is UCAT!  But for those of you enrolled onto summer school this year, I am also a UCAT Tutor, making sure that you get access to absolutely the best UCAT resources for your summer school (as I did when I was an applying student)! 

Some of you may know me from when I was an applying student. I was a school ambassador with Medic Mentor and I attended the Medic Mentor Summer School, going on to receive 4 medical school offers last year. I am now a scholar based in Scotland and have been helping to organise the medical leadership programme meetings. I took my UCAT in September 2018 and achieved a score of 3230 which put me in the highest scoring 1% for that year.

In this post I will be introducing the UCAT, updating you on the latest news regarding COVID-19 and making a few suggestions of things you can be doing during lockdown to help you with your UCAT.

So first of all, what is the UCAT? The UCAT is a two hour long, computerised test which “assesses a range of mental abilities identified by university medical and dental schools as important”.1 There are five sections to the UCAT: Verbal Reasoning, Decision Making, Quantitative Reasoning, Abstract Reasoning and Situational Judgement. Verbal Reasoning is a little like reading comprehension you get at school, Decision Making is a variety of logical and lateral thinking puzzles, Quantitative Reasoning is made up of maths problems, Abstract Reasoning is recognising patterns in sets of shapes and finally, Situational Judgement consists of ethical and professional scenarios. Although the entire test takes two hours, each individual section is timed separately. This means that timing is very tight for each question and learning to answer questions quickly enough can be a struggle for students.

However, this isn’t a reason to despair! With practice and sufficient preparation, you can learn to not only answer the questions, but do so within the allocated time. I will be going over my tips for time management in a later blog post.

Usually the testing season for the UCAT is from the beginning of July to the beginning of October. However, this may change as a result of COVID-19. In a statement released on the UCAT official website they have said that they don’t want to make any firm decisions about testing this year until schools return to normal. They fully expect testing to go ahead this year, however testing will probably start later than usual so the testing window will most likely be shifted.2This is unfortunately, all I can tell you about testing this year currently, however I will continue to check the website and will post an update should the circumstances change. You can keep up to date on any news on Twitter and Facebook @UCATofficial and on Instagram @ucatofficial and of course, you can check the UCAT website itself.

I can appreciate that given everything that’s going on, you may feel at a bit of a loss regarding the UCAT. Although I was fortunate enough to take my UCAT under more normal circumstances, I am going to attempt to make some suggestions of things you could be doing now to prepare.

The first point I would like to make is that I can appreciate that it may be tempting, now that you have more time than usual, to start using resources such as the UCAT website and Medify to practise some questions. However, I would not recommend this. You can’t ‘revise’ for the UCAT in the same sense that you would revise for you school exams as there is no content to be learned. This means that starting to prepare too far in advance is unlikely to give you an advantage. In fact, as the best way to prepare for the UCAT is regular practise nearer to the date of your exam, starting too early may mean that you actually ‘peak’ too soon and are performing at you best well before you take your exam. From my own experience and based on information on the UCAT website, I would advise practising regularly, for around 1-2 hours a day, 4 to 6 weeks before your test date. This allows you to spend a few weeks familiarising yourself with the question styles and then a couple of weeks practising your timing and exam technique (more on this in later posts!).

What you can be doing now, however, is building skills which will help you when it comes to practising for your UCAT. As Verbal Reasoning relies on your ability to read passages quickly, reading texts such as newspaper articles could be a good way of improving your reading ability. Verbal Reasoning passages cover a wide range of subjects from ancient history to astronomy. Therefore, having some insight into these topics may help you feel more comfortable answering questions on them as the information itself will not seem so alien. Now I’m not suggesting that you all now need to go and read up on everything as that just isn’t possible! However, I would encourage you to read up on topics (even non-medical ones) that interest you. Anything you find fascinating whether that’s philosophy or archaeology. Ted talks, particularly TED-Ed talks on Youtube are good (I will leave links at the end of this article) as they are very short and cover a wide range of topics. Documentaries of any kind are a fantastic resource too as well as ‘Little Histories’ books which are available on Amazon.

To help you with decision making, you could look into trying some logical or lateral thinking puzzles. I will be posting some puzzles like this on the UCAT Blog over the coming weeks!

For Quantitative Reasoning the best thing is to be confident with fractions, percentages and ideally mental maths as well. Although you have an onscreen calculator in the exam, it’s a bit clunky and you will save time if you are confident with times-tables and adding and subtracting in your head. Going back over some questions from early secondary school might be a help or even just asking your family or friends to ask you to quickly add up, for example, 64+21+73 in your head!

Abstract Reasoning is actually surprisingly like the Non-Verbal Reasoning section of the 11+ which some of you may have taken. For those of you who may not know, the 11+ is an entry test taken by 11-year-olds in order to be accepted into many grammar schools in England. Although the level of the 11+ Non-Verbal Reasoning tests is below that of the UCAT, you could always have a go if it’s something you enjoy. I have linked a website I found with a free test below.

Finally, as Situational Judgment assesses professionalism and your moral thinking, I would recommend some of the articles published by the GMC, in particular Good Medical Practice and Outcomes for Graduates. The GMC have even created an interactive resource called ‘Good Medical Practice in Action’ where you can work through some scenarios based on the principles of Good Medical Practice.

These are just some suggestions of a few things which you could be doing during lockdown to get you in the right frame of mind for your UCAT practice. These suggestions are by no means compulsory and I think the most important thing is that you do things that you enjoy. It’s completely up to you if you take any of my suggestions and what I wish to stress is, the most important part of preparing for your UCAT is the 4-6 weeks of intense preparation beforehand.

To conclude, I have suggested these resources merely for you to look into if you are looking for something to do which will help you build skills which I believe are helpful for the UCAT. If you decide to try out any of my suggestions, please comment and let me know what you think and please also share if you have come across any other interesting resources! It would also be great to maybe start a discussion about some of the new things you have read or discovered!

So my parting comments are simply, it is too early to sign up to question banks like Medify, Kaplan, The Medic Portal etc and start practicing because you are going to ‘peak’ too early.  You will need some UCAT practice for sure, but I will be doing a review on the best question banks out there, so that you are selecting the best UCAT question bank for your preparation.  This includes the bank that helped me score in the top 1% of UCAT in the country!

If you have any questions about the content of this blog, or even the UCAT generally, please post a comment below and I will come back to you with some answers!

Resources:

References:

  1. UCAT, UCAT Test Format, https://www.ucat.ac.uk/ucat/test-format/
  2. UCAT, COVID-19 (coronavirus) latest update, https://www.ucat.ac.uk/ucat/registration-booking/covid-19/

A little bonus footage for our UCAT Blog readers:  Rebecca Glendell, UCAT Guru, presents at a Get into Medicine Conference which was filmed in front of a live audience at the University of Stirling in January 2020.  She talks about her experiences of applying to medical school and why she chose Glasgow!

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