Set your heart on medical or dental school?
The UCAT is one of the many hurdles on your way, and despite being an aptitude test it is not something that can be undertaken without preparation.
This article highlights the most important UCAT prep tips to help you get past this challenging barrier to entry.
What’s the first step towards acing the UCAT?
A great place to start is an in-depth knowledge of each section:
Note: UCATSEN (see Question #22) has +25% time limits .
Constantly checking the time during the test will cost you. To stay focused, create time stamps, which work like milestones for your progress.
The easiest approach is to memorise how long each section is as well as how many questions it contains (see the table above) and then divide them time and questions into four equal sections (see below). This way you can keep tabs on your progress.
You can use the time before the test starts or the 1 minute you get to prepare before each section.
Here’s an example, using the Verbal Reasoning Section that requires you to answer 44 questions in 21 minutes:
How can you succeed in the UCAT without a fixed syllabus?
The simple answer is practice questions. The more you do, the better your score will be. Try some free UCAT practice questions.
There’s nothing like practising under timed conditions to get used to the time pressure of the UCAT. Sitting mock exams at regular intervals also allows you to monitor your progress objectively.
Medify just doubled the number of full mock exams to 41 and the total questions to 20,000, so you’ve got plenty to work with.
As you work your way through our UCAT practice questions, you’ll build your own personalised data bank. This will help you create your own strategy for how to approach the exam.
If you are a maths whizz, Quantitative Reasoning might be a breeze for you, but what about Verbal Reasoning?
Doing questions without taking any time to reflect on how you did isn’t going to work. After doing a set of questions, make sure you take the time to look at what you got wrong and why.
Everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses, and the easy way to identify yours is with data.
Medify allows you to review your performance for each section, as well as the specific question types within each section. What’s more, your average score is compared to other students preparing for the UCAT - after all, the exam is also marked comparatively. You can then work specifically on your weaker areas to maximise the efficiency of your UCAT preparation.
You also get a comprehensive overview of which sections you’ve attempted and how many questions you’ve answered. This helps you stick to your practice schedule.
Timing statistics let you compare your time-per-question with the average Medify user.
On top of that, you also get video guidance when you answer a question incorrectly under test conditions.
If the time pressure becomes too much during your practice sessions, only answer 80% of the questions in a section and guess the remaining 20%. There’s no negative marking or penalty for wrong questions in the UCAT.
This gives you extra time on the questions you are focusing on, which means you have a better chance of getting them right. Getting 80% of the questions right will still get you a really high score.
For example, if you’re struggling with Verbal Reasoning, attempt only 35 questions, as this will afford you 36 seconds per question rather than 28 seconds.
Try doing 100% of the questions and then 80% to see what difference it makes to your score.
As the UCAT is computer-based, there are lots of handy keyboard shortcuts that can save you time.
Learn these shortcuts and practise using them when you do mock exams and practise questions. You want to commit them to muscle memory.
From 2021, you can also use your keyboard to select the answers in the UCAT. For example, if you think that an answer to a question is ‘C’, you can press ‘C’ on your keyboard, which can be faster than using your mouse to select the answer. Note that the drag-and-drop questions must still be answered using a mouse.
Find out more about UCAT shortcuts.
Aim to start your preparation at least 8 weeks before your UCAT exam date. This will give you enough time to prepare for the exam whilst balancing your other commitments, including school study and work experience.
Give yourself a target number of questions to answer and mocks to do.
Let’s say you want to do all 21 of Medify’s Full Mock exams and 40 Mini Mocks. At a rate of 3 per week, it will take you 20 weeks to finish your preparation. And that’s a minimum.
That would be an intense schedule, and most people learn better when information has a chance to sink in. Leaving time between mocks helps you learn between attempts. Be sure to balance quantity and quality in your revision strategy.
Many students prepare for less than 20 weeks, and often just for 4-6 weeks, but you need to make an honest assessment of your abilities.
We can help with this. Once you’ve tried a mock, we offer you feedback on your performance. Use this to assess what you need to focus on. If you did very poorly on several sections, consider leaving more time to revise.
Similarly, if you have a slightly nervous disposition, consider giving yourself more time. Stress doesn’t help anyone!
Some students take up to a year to allow the information time to sink in, and every student’s needs are different. Just concentrate on what’s right for you.
Once you’ve worked out how many weeks you need, set yourself daily and weekly targets. Be realistic, as it’s easy to get carried away when you start before life gets in the way. Factor in breaks, days off, weekends, and unexpected events.
A typical example might be 10 weeks of preparation and a target of 400 questions per week. That means you’d have to do 80 questions per day in addition to making notes on your progress, wider reading and doing the prep course itself.
Take a look at the SMART goals infographic below.
Go into detail with your plan. As you learn, prioritise certain sections and even subsections in a way that will allow you to achieve the best results. You might find ‘Author’s Opinion’ questions particularly challenging in the VR section, for example. Medify lets you choose the type of questions you practice to make this easier.
Don’t worry if you’ve left your UCAT preparation a little late. It’s possible to prepare for it in 4 weeks, but it’ll mean cramming a lot of information and is likely to leave you very stressed.
Make sure your goals are SMART:
Setting unrealistic goals, like getting 900 in your first mock exam after only a week of preparation, will only knock down your confidence and make it difficult to stay motivated. Realistic goals increase motivation as you tick them off your list.
Always remember why you’re doing the UCAT: because you want to go to university, study medicine or dentistry, and make tangible differences in people’s lives.
Keeping the bigger picture in mind will help you stay focused and motivated throughout your UCAT preparation.
Even though there’s no textbook to revise from, there’s some reading that you should do in order to prepare yourself for the test.
The most important thing to read is The Good Medical Practice Guide from the GMC. This has invaluable information on how doctors should conduct themselves and is really important for the Situational Judgement section, as it forms the basis of how you should respond to the scenarios.
Medify also has a comprehensive blog and admissions guide, which provides a lot of information about the exam and getting into medical or dental school. Bookmark it as a resource.
Additionally, in your run-up to the exam, spend 15 - 20 minutes a day reading news articles, as this will aid you in the Verbal Reasoning section. After skim reading the article, reflect on what its main conclusion was.
Reading books about medicine and dentistry can also give you an insight into day-to-day life in these professions. Try Medify’s top five books to read before medical school.
Booking your test early means that you have a greater choice in UCAT exam dates, so you’re more likely to find one that works according to your plan. It’ll also give you more time to plan your sessions.
Knowing when you have to undertake this challenge is key for mentally preparing yourself, so don’t delay.
Check the important UCAT 2021 dates for registration and booking information.
How much screen time have you had today?
Probably too much. Taking a break from screens is important. As well as reducing the strain on your eyes, it helps to improve your physical and psychosocial health.
The good news is that you can practise some of the skills required in the UCAT without a screen.
Here are some UCAT skills you can practice in your spare time:
There is no substitute for actual UCAT practice, but immersing yourself in ‘UCAT thinking’ can help you improve the necessary skills and reduce the potential stress from repeating the same type of activities too many times.
Just as mixing it up with no screens can help, trying different sorts of apps to improve your UCAT skills can give you a huge boost.
Our QR and VR skills trainers give you points as you build your foundations in a game-like environment. Through repetition they build certain important skills into your muscle memory.
Taking a break from UCAT mocks and practice questions can actually increase your productivity.
Succeeding in the UCAT is really just a case of getting the hang of it. Take each low score as an opportunity to learn what you need to focus on.
Maybe you need to work on your timing for VR or need to learn the types of patterns for AR so you can spot them faster.
Adopting a growth mindset can be the difference between losing your motivation and turning early failures into success.
We see questions like ‘how long do I need to prepare for the UCAT?’ or ‘which UCAT section is the hardest?’ all the time.
What’s the problem with these questions?
Everyone’s different. We all start off at different levels and often finish at different levels. Just because you struggle with something doesn’t mean you won’t ace it in the long run.
By extension, this means that just because a peer is acing the mocks, it doesn’t mean they will outperform you. Having grit is about learning from your mocks and doing whatever it takes to be on point during the exam itself. Comparing your scores with others all the time will only cause you to feel more anxious and unmotivated.
Yes, the UCAT is about comparing your score with others, as this affects your likelihood of getting into medical school, but focus your time and energy into your preparation and into your exam.
One of the best sources for UCAT preparation materials is the online bank of official UCAT questions, but there aren’t many questions there, so you’ll very quickly run out of practice material. Medify’s UCAT course contains 20,000 questions, by far the largest UCAT resource in the world.