27 UCAT Decision Making Tips: Save Time and Boost Your Score

Thinking about UCAT revision? In this article, our UCAT experts explain how to boost your score in the Decision Making (DM) section. 

There's a wide variety of questions in Decision Making, and the section can be tricky to master. Get into good habits early to give yourself the best chance of success.

Check out our UCAT FAQ for a comprehensive overview of the test
Medify's top UCAT Decision Making tips infographic

1. Understand the question types

Take time to familiarise yourself with the style of questions. There are different conventions associated with each question type and as you practise, you’ll notice patterns emerging.

The questions make more sense when you can try them yourself, so don't forget to take our free UCAT practice test
Question types in UCAT Decision Making: Logical Puzzles, Syllogisms, Interpreting Information, Venn Diagrams, Probabilistic Reasoning, Recognising Assumptions

2. Understand the timing 

You have 31 minutes to answer 29 questions. 

  • Work out how you want to use this time relative to your skills. There's more flexibility to do this in the DM section due to the time per question and an even distribution of question types. 
  • Aim for an average of one minute per question in order to have time to go back and review flagged questions. 
  • Learn your averages for different types of questions as DM questions vary greatly in difficulty. For example, a question which is just looking for a number should probably take under 15 seconds, while others will take a full minute. 

Learn more about UCAT timing.

3. Work simple first

While you are ruling out options, start simple and work up to more complex relationships.

This means you are less likely to get entangled in complicated situations, which lead to mistakes.

4. Read the question carefully

The question guides you to the piece of information you need to extract from the text. Its phrasing can be tricky and you can easily miss key words, such as ‘not’, ‘must’ and ‘or’.

Speed reading questions to save time is not advisable.

UCAT Decision Making (DM) Example Question - do not miss key words such as 'must'

5. Don’t dive straight into the data/diagram

The data/diagrams are likely to contain lots of information, most of which won’t be relevant. 

Until you know what is being asked, there is no point analysing this information (this is the same in the UCAT QR section).

6. The aim is the answer, not the diagram

Perfectionists beware: The aim is to get marks by choosing the correct answer, not to answer the question fully. 

Just as it's not important to fully solve the puzzle in Logical Puzzles, it's not important to find the perfect diagram if you have ruled out all the other answer options.

7. Don’t forget the details in the text 

When looking at diagrams, tiny textual details can be very important.

They can change the entire meaning of the information presented (especially when the diagram does not have a legend).

Read the text: a diagram comparing numbers of various butterfly species at different altitudes

8. Use your laminated notebook

Use your brainpower to think, not to remember. If you need to remember something, note it down to avoid confusing yourself.

Careful notes assure you remember numbers correctly and remind you which answer options you’ve ruled out.

9. Organise the information you have logically and clearly

We all make strange choices when we rush our notes, and this is one area where a little care is needed.

For example, in a question that presents six individuals with six different coloured bedrooms, all horizontally arranged, it would be confusing to draw the information vertically. This could create that split second of confusion that leads to a mistake or causes you to lose your train of thought.

The same applies if you are unable to read your writing or understand what your shorthand or symbols mean. Students commonly slip up when using initials for names. This is recommended and can save time, but don’t use the same initial, such as a ‘C’ for Charlie and Claire. This can mean redoing your working. It is better to use ‘Ch’ and ‘Cl’, for instance.

Keep refining your notes as you practise.

A sketch of a tidy UCAT whiteboard

10. Keep a diary 

When practising, note down the question type whenever you make a mistake. Review this regularly and study areas of weakness as you discover them. Did you know Medify’s UCAT Online Course provides averages for each section to automate this process?

You can also note down why you got the question wrong to see if you can establish further patterns.

Decision Making is the section with the biggest variety of question types, so your diary is especially important. 

In the UCAT zone: a Venn diagram with UCAT practice, UCAT diary and targeted learning

11. Flag it

If you think you're going to spend too long and get nowhere, flag and move on. 

Some questions are enticing and trap you into trying to solve them. It’s a bit like the tip-of-the-tongue sensation. Ultimately, this can prevent you from finishing, so keep to your time limit!

12. Watch out for qualifiers 

Qualifiers, such as 'must' or 'might', sometimes appear in your answer options and are crucial indications of the amount of evidence required to prove something.

An answer option with a soft qualifier, such as 'might' or 'could be', is more likely to be correct than a strongly-worded answer.

13. Remember, perspective is relative

Some puzzles are based on houses/rooms or the direction objects are facing relative to your perspective. 

Keep in mind that a line of houses is in a different order if you view it from the street facing the front or the back of the house. UCAT practice questions can help you get the hang of this.

A drawing of two people looking in different directions to illustrate the importance of perspective in the UCAT DM section

14. Follow the logic in the question

For syllogisms and interpreting-information questions, only put yes if the statement logically follows. If you're making assumptions that don't logically follow then the answer is ‘no’.

‘No’ means you can’t definitively draw that conclusion. 

Remember your GCSE science: correlation doesn’t mean causation, so be careful about how firmly you draw conclusions on the basis of the evidence given.

Infographic to show importance of following the logic of the question in UCAT Decision Making

15. Don’t delete your workings

If you make progress on a puzzle but don’t get to the answer, do not rub out your workings. This could save you valuable time when you come back to it.

There is space to save the workings for several questions as you will be provided with a laminated notebook (and can request an additional one if needed).

16. Don’t miss any questions 

There is no negative marking in the UCAT, so make sure you answer every question. It can be tempting to regularly flag and move on, but you need to practise until you get a sixth sense for when it’s really time to flag.

It doesn't make sense to leave questions that can be guessed.

17. Before you start the test, try this timing trick

  • Note down the time you have available
  • Then roughly halve the questions (14) and halve the time (16 mins)
  • Finally, halve the questions again (7), and halve the time again (8 mins)
  • Put this in a corner of your notebook

As the timer counts downwards, it can be difficult to keep track of where you should be. If you have these timings, you can quickly work out how behind or ahead of schedule you are without getting flustered.

This trick can really pay off. If you’re aware that you have a few spare minutes in hand and are close to answering a tricky question, you’ll know it’s worth spending the extra time to crack it!

Get more UCAT preparation tips.

18. Be prepared to use the calculator

Some students like to use the calculator for Venn Diagram questions to add up the various sections immediately, rather than writing them down in the notebook. Use Medify’s practice tests to find out whether this method works for you. 

You can use the memory shortcuts to save multi-step calculations.

19. Familiarise yourself with keyboard shortcuts

Keyboard shortcuts can be used in all sections. Here’s some examples:

  • Alt+P = return to a previous question
  • Alt+N = move on to the next question
  • Alt+F = flag a question for later

20. Look for the words ‘before’ and ‘after’

Some puzzles involve houses in a row, days of the week, or other lists with a specific order. These can have clues like ‘The brick house comes after the wooden house’, which can appear to be useless if you don’t know where the wooden house is located, but look closer:

The wooden house comes before the brick house, so it can't be the last in the row. The brick house comes after the wooden house, so it isn’t the first in the row.

21. Start puzzle questions by writing down the information you are provided with

The key to puzzle questions is understanding how to get the information you need from the information you have. 

This is much harder for anyone to do in their head and can create a mental word soup which slows you down.

Don’t be put off by the length of time it takes to make decent notes, as it will enable you to arrive at the answer more accurately, and probably more quickly.

22. Come up with your own method for solving puzzles 

This is where practice really comes in. With experience, you can develop your own unique methods. Everyone differs slightly in their approach to complex working, and knowing what works for you is invaluable. Some tools to use are:

Grids – a clear way to represent complex information quickly is in grid form

An example of using grids to organise information in the UCAT exam

Neat sketches of the problem – helps to establish order and to visualise

Example of neat sketches

23. Recognising Assumption questions are not about the opinion you agree with most

You need to choose the argument that is most objectively valid, rather the one that most aligns with your point of view. 

The most objective argument is usually associated with evidence and/or qualified language, and not with assumptions or opinions.

An example question for the UCAT Decision Making section
Which of these answers presents evidence and/or more qualified (less totalising) language?

24. Don’t miss the Recognising Assumption questions 

Just like True/False/Can’t Tell questions in the VR section, these questions are often the fastest to complete.

If you have little time to spare and are wondering which question to answer, it’s a good idea to concentrate on these to maximise your marks.

A UCAT practice question for the DM section

25. You can use Venn diagrams for syllogisms

Syllogisms can seem like a complete jumble of words. By drawing a Venn diagram, you turn a random sentence into a clear and easy-to-follow diagram.

You can use this to confidently select the correct answer.


Company A produces energy drinks. All energy drinks contain at least 500 mg of caffeine, but company A adds 100 mg of taurine to all their energy drinks. In order for an energy drink to reach the US market, it must pass safety tests by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

A Venn diagram representing the number of energy drinks sold compared to drinks with more than 500mg caffeine

26. Adapt Decision Making’s spatial equations

Spatial equations can be turned into algebraic equations to make your working easier.

Assign a letter to every shape, as below, then complete the equation.

A tip for UCAT DM section - assign a letter to each shape to make your working easier

27. Use Medify's UCAT question bank 

The only way to become truly comfortable with Venn diagrams and probabilities is through consistent practice and exposure. These question types are very common in the DM section, so they are key to increasing your score.

Decision Making question types are more predictable than other sections, so you really can get ahead of the game with a targeted UCAT preparation course such as our UCAT Online Course.

It provides 24 unique full mock exams, 40+ mini-mock exams and 50+ hours of video tutorials. We've also upgraded our UCAT mock exams 13-24 and revised our practice question bank to enrich your preparation journey.

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