How to Prepare for the UCAT

07/07/20216 minute read
How to Prepare for the UCAT

The undergraduate clinical aptitude test (UCAT) is one of the most crucial elements of any aspiring medical student’s application to medical school.

The undergraduate clinical aptitude test (UCAT) is one of the most crucial elements of any aspiring medical student’s application to medical school. Forming up to one third of the entry requirements for students around Australia and New Zealand, the UCAT is designed to assess critical thinking, emotional intelligence and non-verbal reasoning through the following five subsets:

  • Verbal Reasoning
  • Decision Making
  • Quantitative Reasoning
  • Abstract Reasoning
  • Situational Judgement

For more information on how universities use your UCAT results, check out this blog!

Figuring out the perfect study strategy to cover all bases with this exam can be a minefield. Not only do students need to balance this with their ATAR/NCEA grades, but they also need to keep in mind that the UCAT selects for a particular set of skills, and not the ability of candidates to cram content into their heads (as most of you will be doing throughout high school and medical school anyway!). This blog will take a deep dive into the core reasons why you should be getting started on your UCAT preparation as soon as possible, and what strategies can help you to succeed.

The first thing to keep in mind is that the UCAT exam has no pass score. How well a candidate performs on the exam is expressed as a percentile which directly reflects how well said candidate has done relative to all others sitting the exam. For example, a percentile score of 95 means that a student has scored better than 95% of students, and worse than 5% of students. This being said, universities technically do not decide on an arbitrary cut-off for the UCAT before student results and applications are in. They execute a “top-down” approach, whereby they fill their medical school spots starting with the highest performers who preference said university first. The published cutoffs for each year are therefore retrospective and usually reflect the lowest UCAT score accepted that year.

When Should I Start Preparing?

So we know that the UCAT is competitive, as evidenced by the fact that your score is going to be a direct reflection of how well you shape up relative to the other 14,000 students sitting the exam at the same time as you. What do you do about this? The answer is simple. Give yourself a competitive edge. Start your research now, acquire MedView preparation resources, secure a mentor, and plan. It’s no secret that most students will forget about the UCAT until a couple of months before they are due to sit it. They will purchase some last minute question materials and cram for 3-4 hours per day in the lead-up time. Meanwhile, their grades at school will slip, their anxiety levels will rise, and they will be stressed, leading to poorer sleep, and overall worse performance on the day. Don’t be this student.

Understand that the fundamental pillar of preparation for any standardised exam is consistency, over a long period of time. This way, you develop skills, and the practice becomes part of your routine, and not something that disrupts it. This is analogous to the learning of a difficult piano piece over the course of a year. Practising every second day in manageable segments is going to be far more effective than cramming in multiple hours of practice per day in the two months leading up to the piano recital.

So the moral of the story here is: If you are at any point in your journey towards medical school, and know for sure that it is what you want to do, speak to an Academic Advisor and start your UCAT preparation with MedView now!

How Often Should I Practise?

3, 4 or 5 hours of practice per day is not only impractical, but also suboptimal. UCAT study should ideally be moulded around your school study, because more often than not, school exit scores or GPA will be the first thing that selection boards look at, before ordering candidates based on their UCAT score. As such, the amount of time that each student dedicates towards preparation for the UCAT will vary. Furthermore, preparation should be goal driven. This means that you should be setting yourself performance goals (e.g. five abstract reasoning questions correct today) as opposed to time-based goals (20 minutes of abstract reasoning questions today).

What Preparation Materials are Best?

First and foremost, every student should have access to a question bank, where they can work through questions from each subset of the exam at their own pace. This being said, the gold standard of preparation for any standardised test is mock (practice) exams and 1-1 mentoring/tutoring. The more you are able to simulate an exam setting, the less likely you will be to cave to the stress on the day. In this way, you act to normalise the process of sitting the UCAT for yourself.

With respect to tutoring, students should be attempting questions on their own first, then taking the more difficult questions to a tutor in an effort to learn more time-efficient and effective strategies for dealing with the curve balls in the exam. Even an extra 10 questions worth of personalised MedView tutoring that other students preparing for the exam aren’t getting, may push you miles ahead of your competition. Percentile-based scoring can work both for and against you in this way, so make the commitment and invest in a good tutor who could slide you from 60th to 90th percentile without even knowing.

Overall, it is crucial that students approach this exam with the knowledge of how competitive the UCAT is designed to be!