Demystifying the UCAT: Your Comprehensive Guide

10/11/202317 minute read
Demystifying the UCAT: Your Comprehensive Guide

Written By Team MedView
Reviewed By Callum Chalmers (Currently studying Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery - MBChB at University of Auckland)

Working towards a career in medicine or dentistry? Well, you're most likely aware that the University Clinical Aptitude Test (UCAT) is a crucial stepping stone in this journey.

But, what does it actually involve? And what can you do to set yourself up for success? Knowing how best to tackle UCAT preparation, when to start, and where to access helpful resources can be overwhelming.

We're here to make this process a little more straightforward — our comprehensive guide explores the ins and outs of the UCAT, including the exam structure, advice on how to prepare for each section and what to expect on testing day.

What is the UCAT?

The UCAT is an important assessment that is used in the university admissions process for medical, dental and clinical science degrees.

The test, which is used in Australia, New Zealand and the UK, helps universities select applicants who hope to have clinical careers by evaluating their mental aptitude as well as their critical thinking, problem-solving and decision making skills.

Unlike other exams like GAMSAT, which includes an essay element, the UCAT tests cognitive abilities through a multiple choice format.

Who can take the UCAT?

You're eligible to take the UCAT if, at the time of the exam, you are undertaking or have completed the final year of secondary schooling or higher. This means that students in Year 11 in Australia are not eligible to sit the test.

Those who have commenced or completed an undergraduate degree are also eligible but it's important to note that not all undergraduate programs that require a UCAT will offer places for non-school leavers.

What universities require the UCAT?

There are 15 universities in Australia that require UCAT scores — some of the top universities in this list include:

  • The University of Adelaide
  • Curtin University
  • Monash University
  • The University of New South Wales
  • The University of Queensland

Learn more about these institutions and the requirements for landing an interview off in our UCAT cut-off score university guide.

Structure of the UCAT

This 2-hour long computer-based test includes 228 questions, which are divided into 5 separately timed sections. Each section of the UCAT is scored on a scale of 300 to 900.

The total cognitive section score is derived from the sum of your individual scaled scores from the first 4 sections, ranging from 1200 to 3600.

Here's a look at each subtest and what is involved.

1. Verbal Reasoning

The first section, Verbal Reasoning (VR), assesses your ability to critically evaluate information presented in a written form.

The VR subtest contains 44 questions, a 1-minute instruction section and a 21-minute test time. There are 4 answer options per question in this subtest and correct answers are worth 1 mark each.

In 2023, a score of 720 was in the 90th percentile, which is necessary to be considered competitive for a medical school interview.

2. Decision Making

The Decision Making (DM) subtest looks at your ability to make sound decisions and judgements using complex information.

The DM subtest contains 29 questions, a 1-minute instruction section and a 31-minute test time. For multi-statement questions, there are 5 options per question in DM and 4 for the regular questions.

Questions with 1 correct answer are worth 1 mark, while multi-statement questions, on the other hand, are weighted as 2 marks. Although, 1 mark is awarded to partially correct responses on the multiple-statement questions.

A score of 750 in DM is the 90th percentile for 2023.

3. Quantitative Reasoning

Quantitative Reasoning (QR) gauges your ability to critically evaluate information presented in numerical form.

The QR subtest contains 36 questions, a 1-minute instruction section and a 25-minute test time. There are 4 answer options per question in QR and correct answers are worth 1 mark each.

To land in the 90th percentile for QR in 2023, you're looking at a score of 800.

4. Abstract Reasoning

Abstract Reasoning (AR) evaluates your use of convergent and divergent thinking to infer relationships from information.

The AR subtest contains 50 questions, a 1-minute instruction section and a 12-minute test time. AR questions include 4 answer options and each question is worth 1 mark each.

The 90th percentile score for AR in 2023 is 820.

5. Situational Judgement

The Situational Judgement Test (SJT) assesses your capacity to understand real world situations, while also identifying critical factors and appropriate behaviour in dealing with them.

The SJT contains 69 questions, a 1-minute instruction section and a 26-minute test time. There are 4 answer options for per question in the SJT and full marks are awarded for responses match the correct answer. Partial marks are awarded if your response is close to the correct answer.

Those with scores of 820 landed in the 90th percentile for the SJT in 2023.

Interestingly, many universities don't tend to consider the SJT within the admissions process, instead preferring to test this skill in the interview process.

Despite this, the SJT is still a necessary part of the UCAT.

What score do you need for medicine?

While this score fluctuates from year to year, for the 2023 admissions cycle, students with a score that surpassed the 90th percentile were more likely to be successful in the medical school interview process.

Gaining an interview is understandably competitive and as a result, you need to aim for a score of around 3100 to be seriously considered. Read our guide on what score you need for medicine for more information on how this process works.

How to prepare for the UCAT test

Now that we've covered how the exam is structured, it's time to think about your approach to UCAT practice and preparation. The most important part of your preparation process is creating a study plan.

You'll want to determine what you strengths and weaknesses are and where you should be spending your revision time.

To do this, we recommend setting milestones for when you'll complete mock exams and to use the results from these practice tests to determine what to study in between.

Importantly, you don't want to create a study plan that is unrealistic because you won't end up sticking to it. Try to craft a plan that will work for you and complete at least 10 full timed mock exams before you sit the UCAT to give yourself the best chance of success.

If you're not sure how best to tackle this, MedView Spark has an easy to follow study plan feature that can help you prepare and achieve success.

Our learning platforms includes the following:

Personalised study plans

Based on your practice results, our MedView team of medical school students and medical professionals can see what you most need to work on and create a plan based on this.

Progress tracking

Using our unique algorithm, we can accurately predict your UCAT score, which helps you focus your study time and turn weaknesses into strengths.

Practice questions

We have over 4,500 practice questions ready and waiting for you to try your hand at. Plus, we have practice exams you can work on, helping to make you lightning fast at answering questions while also building your confidence to become exam-ready.

UCAT-friendly interface

We have created our platform to mimic the UCAT experience — right down to the keyboard shortcuts and calculators — so things will feel comfortable and familiar when it comes time to sit the real thing.

Plus, you can also access a bunch of free and helpful resources — including insights from current medical students and MedView Admission Experts on the pathways and requirements to successful admission into medical school — via the MedView website.

How early should you start preparing for the UCAT?

Commencing UCAT prep as soon as possible is crucial for success.

For Aussie students, it's recommended that you start preparing between Year 10 and 11. For New Zealand students, between Year 11 and 12 if aiming for Australia and between Year 12 and Year 13 if aiming for NZ.

The skills tested in the UCAT take time to build — especially if you're starting from a low baseline. Without a doubt, the hardest part of preparation is balancing consistent UCAT practice with your schoolwork.

Starting early and using periods like school holidays to devote to UCAT preparation means you (hopefully!) won't feel as stressed during school and can give each the time and dedication they require.

Is there a recommended time to take the UCAT?

There isn't an optimal time to take the UCAT as all dates are technically equal. You have a 6-week window so work out the best time for you during that window.

In saying this, we recommend trying to schedule your test window for before you go back for term 3 of high school, or semester 2 of university, to avoid having to miss school and study and become overwhelmed.

How to register for the UCAT

Registering for the UCAT is a 2-step process — simply create an account and then book your exam via the Pearson VUE system.

Bookings are generally open for a couple of months each year (generally from March to May) and costs around $325 for those taking the exam in Australia and New Zealand. Tests taken overseas cost $395.

It's important to know that a late fee of $85 applies if you book after May 18, so try not to be late!

Once you've locked in your exam date, you'll receive both a booking confirmation email and a payment confirmation email. For more information, check the official UCAT ANZ website.

Strategies for preparing for each UCAT subtest

While regularly trying your hand at a UCAT practice test is an important part of your preparation, there are other activities that can also be helpful.

To help you work towards the highest UCAT score you can possibly achieve, we're looking at the best ways to prepare for each UCAT subtest.

Verbal Reasoning

The secret to succeeding on the Verbal Reasoning subtest is enhancing your speed and understanding when reading.

This exam checks a student’s capacity to analyse written material critically, so going through practice questions while building up one’s ability for rapid reading should help them conquer this part of the test with greater effectiveness.

Our tips for preparing for the VR subtest:

  • Practice speed reading every single day — try reading 1-2 news articles, time yourself and then see how much you can recall from the article
  • Practice various speed reading tricks and see what works best for you — remember that everyone's brains work differently so it's important to find the method that suits you
  • Analyse questions after you've finished a practice exam — wrong answers are usually based around certain tricks like using information outside of the passage or saying 'all' when they mean 'most'; make a list of these tricks to look out for when you're stuck on a question
  • Download a vocabulary app on your phone to help you learn new words daily

Decision Making

When tackling Decision Making questions, it's important to recognise the primary facts of a problem and look at all possible outcomes carefully before deciding what step should be taken next in order to understand deeply what your task actually demands.

To get proficient in this area one needs constant practice, solving sample inquiries with help of process elimination approach will make handling UCAT test-related decision making easier.

Our tips for preparing for the DM subtest:

  • Practice drawing diagrams for logic puzzles, Venn diagrams and probability questions
  • Make a list of common tricks in Syllogism, Recognising Assumptions and Interpreting Information questions and have a mental checklist in your head for when you get stuck

Quantitative Reasoning

Maximising your precision and speed on the Quantitative Reasoning section of the UCAT exam is essential for success. This part tests how well you can analyse numerical data presented in both verbal and written form.

Our tips for preparing for the QR subtest:

  • Practice mental maths every day — try using an app on your phone or computer
  • Make a list of key formulas (especially those you struggle with) like calculating percentage change or unit conversation and memorise it
  • Practice keyboard shortcuts for the calculator
  • Give yourself 4 calculator tokens each time you do a practice exam and deduct one each time you use the calculator
  • Pay attention to units and scales for tables and graphs and make a mental checklist every time you see one
  • Challenge yourself during your school maths class and try to do as many problems as you can without relying on a calculator

Abstract Reasoning

Solving abstract reasoning questions requires using convergent and divergent thinking to deduce relations from the given information.

To make it easier, try to hone your skills in spotting patterns with number sequences, arrangements of shapes/colours/sizes, symmetry or reflection.

Our tips for preparing for the AR subtest:

  • Make a list of every pattern you come across throughout your practice
  • Turn that list into a mental checklist you run through each time you see a new question
  • Memorise how many sides particular shapes have — for example, a star has 10, an arrow has 7 — as this saves you counting during the exam

Situational Judgement

For the UCAT exam, you need to be well-prepared for the Situational Judgement subtest. It requires proficiency in understanding real life scenarios and showing correct behaviour based on your analysis of these situations.

Our tips for preparing for the SJT:

  • Each question is centred around a moral dilemma — for example, patient safety versus patient confidentiality — so use practice questions to build a hierarchy of these morals and commit them to memory
  • Look out for factors that might changes this hierarchy — for example, the number of people affected and your relationship to the person —and factor this into your hierarchy so you can build a logical way of determining the correct answer

We understand the process of applying to medical schools is not only complex and confusing but it’s more competitive than ever before! So, if you'd like external support on your journey to the UCAT, MedView can help.

MedView Education takes med school admission to a new level through personalised admission support, application review, entrance exam and interview tutoring, and extracurricular mentoring for students in Australasia.

We understand that each student is different, so the services we provide are always personalised to your individual needs.

UCAT test day tips

With an understanding of how the test works and ways to approach preparation, let us now take time to go through some important tips for the day of the UCAT.

If you're wondering what you can and can't bring into the exam, and what the testing environment is like, we've got you covered.

What to bring

On the day of your UCAT, remember to take with you a valid photo ID (pick from the list of permitted ID), as well as your appointment confirmation email from Pearson VUE (either electronic or printed).

The only items you're able to take into the exam include religious apparel, headwear that is worn for medical reasons and small hair clips or hairbands that are less than half an inch wide.

There is also a list of permitted Comfort Aids, including eyeglasses and certain medications, that are allowed during the test. Be sure to check this for any specific items you might need.

Checking in at the UCAT testing centre

You're expected to arrive 30 minutes before your UCAT appointment time in order to go through the check-in process. It's important to note that if you're more than 15 minutes late for your appointment or you miss the test, the cost of the UCAT won't be refunded.

If you happen to arrive early for your appointment, you may be offered to begin your test before your official exam time, if a workstation becomes available. If you don't wish to start earlier, you can decline and wait for your appointment time.

On the flip side, test centres can run behind at times, so you may have to wait to begin and you could start the UCAT after your original appointment time. You'll still have the full 2 hours to complete your exam, it may just begin later than first thought.

When you arrive, the check-in process for the UCAT will go as follows:

  • Your ID will be checked
  • You'll be asked to read the UCAT ANZ Examination Rules and then sign to confirm that you understand and agree
  • A digital photograph will be taken of you by a staff member
  • Your personal belongings (including your mobile phone, keys and wallet etc) will need to be placed in the lockers provided
  • Staff will conduct a visual inspection of your clothing and Comfort Aids to ensure non-permitted items aren't being taken into the exam room

Test experience

Once you're in the testing room, you'll be assigned a desk that contains a PC and a keyboard as well as a laminated notebook and a pen. If the latter items aren't on your desk, you can raise your hand and ask a staff member for these.

Once you test has kicked off, you are under exam conditions and you'll be monitored using CCTV and/or an in-person test invigilator.

Remember that your exam can't be paused, so while you are permitted to take bathroom breaks, you will lose precious time on your test. If you need a break to use the bathroom or take medication, raise your hand to notify the staff members present.

The best approach is to not use the bathroom during the exam (you want to maximise every minute you have) so be sure to use the bathroom before you head into the testing room.

Once you've finished your test, simply raise your hand so your invigilator can end your exam and escort you out of the testing room.

When are your UCAT results released?

While the lead up to the UCAT can feel like an incredibly long process, the good news is that your exam results are delivered pretty quickly.

You can expect to receive your results within 24 hours of completing your test.

You'll receive an email from Pearson VUE within 24 hours with instructions on how to access your UCAT ANZ Score Report in your Pearson VUE account (which you created when making your exam booking).

Summary

In order to pursue a career in medicine or dentistry, preparation for the UCAT test is paramount.

Having an understanding of its layout and design as well as making a tailored study plan while perfecting each section are all essential parts that can help you achieve success in this exam. Best of luck!

Frequently asked questions

Is UCAT a hard exam?

The UCAT is undeniably a challenging exam. Its basic content combined with the time pressure creates a difficult test that works to set students apart.

What is UCAT exam in Australia?

The University Clinical Aptitude Test (UCAT ANZANZ) is a 2-hour, computer-based admissions test used by universities in Australia and New Zealand to assess students’ ability to interpret numerical and written information related to important qualities for medical professionals.

How many subtests are there in the UCAT test?

The UCAT test comprises 5 subtests, namely Verbal Reasoning, Decision Making, Quantitative Reasoning, Abstract Reasoning and Situational Judgement. Each is important to measure one’s ability before entering medical schools or universities.

How early should I start preparing for the UCAT test?

As early as possible. For students in Australia, it's recommended that you start your UCAT preparations between Year 10 and 11.

Not sure where to start? Book a free consultation with our MedView advisors if you'd like more guidance on this process.