Deconstructing the UCAT

30/03/20225 minute read
Deconstructing the UCAT

Whether you are attending Otago or Auckland University, the second component of your application process to medical schools in New Zealand is the UCAT (University Clinical Aptitude Test). In Auckland, this exam comprises 15% of your application.

However in Otago, it is only a threshold that needs to be achieved to be offered a place at medical school. Most of the time the threshold is the 20th percentile or above. This is an achievable standard for the vast majority of students, but it does get overlooked and students don’t end up achieving this threshold. In 2019/2020, of the students applying for medicine at Otago, approximately 50% did not reach this threshold, meaning that their entire year was jeopardized.

The UCAT Structure

The UCAT is an online exam. It is two hours long, comprising approximately 250 multiple-choice questions. Unsurprisingly, students find time management extremely difficult and the UCAT is designed around this. The MCQ is further divided into five main sections (see below). Each of these sections has its own time limit, and time cannot be transferred between them!

Section 1: Verbal Reasoning

  • You will be provided with a 300 - 350 word non-fiction text with four subsequent questions

  • It involves reading comprehension with particular emphasis on skim reading and locating important information in a body of text

  • You will have on average 29 seconds per question

Section 2: Decision Making

  • It involves data interpretation from numerous graphics. It also may include logic puzzles and forming coherent arguments

  • The questions are typically easier than other aspects of the exam, but finding the relevant information from cluttered and irrelevant sources can be difficult

  • You will have on average 64 seconds per question

Section 3: Quantitative Reasoning

  • It involves simple arithmetic, current exchanges and understanding of basic mathematical concepts (e.g., mean, mode and median)

  • The questions are quite straightforward, however, the interface with the on-screen calculator is very slow and clunky with no memory function

  • You will have on average 40 seconds per question

Section 4: Abstract Reasoning

  • The pattern sections involve identifying changing elements in a sequence of shapes and predicting the next outcome.

  • Changing variables include: shape, size, colour, gradients, symmetry and movement around edges

  • This section is renowned for its time constraints - 55 questions in 13 minutes! That equates to 14 seconds per question

Section 5: Situation Judgement

  • This is the section that is closest to “being a doctor”, and it is a favourite among students

  • It tests your emotional intelligence by asking you to judge the most appropriate response in various clinical and university settings

  • You have on average 25 seconds per question

How to prepare for the UCAT

Attaining an excellent UCAT score is achieved by developing key skills for each section through regular practice and active reading. These skills are best taught in a 1:1 tutoring format. This is where MedView comes in! With our courses, you will be coached by a private tutor and gain access to Synapse - an online question bank with over 2,500 questions and answers! Your tutor will be able to monitor your process and cater tutoring sessions to your weaknesses.

To maximize your UCAT score, participation in a workshop is a great way to bring all the skills and practice together. MedView has two courses available that cater to different study habits: 

  1. Long Course - this course starts in March and concludes in late May. These workshops run every weekend. Content is covered slowly and in more detail than in any other course. This results in arguably better preparation, but comes at the cost of distracting resources from the study of core papers throughout the year. 

  2. Short Course (Summer or Winter) - this intensive course is offered in January or July prior to the UCAT exam. I opted for this option as personally, as I wanted to dedicate all my attention to the core papers in semester one, and then move into intensive study for the UCAT over the semester holiday period. However, some students may find this option to rush without additional support. So my suggestion would be to use this course alongside private 1:1 tutoring hours.