UCAT Quantitative Reasoning (QR) is a section that divides students – there are the adept mathematicians who breeze past it and then there’s the not-so-number-savvy students.
The good news: there is always room for improvement. A lot of this test is about having a solid understanding of the fundamentals. Read on to learn how to lay these foundations and improve your score.
The fact: Most students find the majority of QR questions easy. You are tested on basic concepts like percentages and rates, not integration or complex numbers.
The mystery: Then why don’t most students score highly in this section?
The answer: Time, time and time. When you only have 40 seconds per question, you don’t have time to think deeply about how to approach the problem - you just have to ‘get it’ it as you read the question. These tips should help you just ‘get it’ more often.
The UCAT QR section asks GCSE-level maths questions around the key areas of percentage, proportionality, rates and averages.
Focus your UCAT revision around these mathematical concepts, giving particular attention to the areas that you don’t feel that confident in.
Answering 36 questions in 24 minutes gives you 40 seconds per question.
Remember that this is an average - some questions can be solved in under 30 seconds whereas others may take a minute or longer due to their difficulty or requirement for multiple steps.
Develop mental calculation skills to save precious time that can be used to tackle the harder questions.
The UCAT has an inbuilt calculator (Medify’s calculator is identical).
When you face a question outside the scope of your mental maths skills, pull out your onscreen calculator.
Have you ever wondered what those ‘M’ buttons are on the calculator? These are memory functions.
This is often useful for multi-step questions.
The number pad is ergonomically designed to increase efficiency when typing compared to the horizontal number keys.
Use a keyboard with a number pad for your UCAT practice, as you will have access to one in a real exam.
For questions involving a number of mathematical operations, the whiteboard and pen provided at the test centre can be useful for jotting down key intermediate working steps.
There is no negative marking in the UCAT. For difficult questions, narrow down your choices and guess the answer before moving on.
It is easy to become obsessed with getting a question right and dwell on it for minutes, when you could’ve answered three other questions!
If you face a question that you have no clue how to solve, have a quick guess, flag it, and move on. Flagging allows you to revisit a question at the end of a section, if there is time left over.
When you solve practice questions regularly, you soon realise that many questions have a pattern. It’s then just a matter of recognising which numbers to pull together.
At first, start working on your practice questions without worrying about the time limit. Gradually increase your speed and build momentum towards your UCAT exam.
Some UCAT QR questions require you to interpret data from graphs (e.g. histograms, pie charts, line charts) and tables.
Get into the habit of interpreting data presented in TV news, magazines, newspapers and other media outlets to weave UCAT preparation into your daily life.
Know how to convert common fractions to percentages and vice versa to save time:
Always be mindful of your units and become familiar with the common minute-hour equivalents.
Interest compounds over time and a 5% return in one year does not mean a 10% return in two years. The return in the second year will be the original amount x 1.05 x 1.05.
There are often distracting answer options that don’t include the compound interest.
Questions involving tax brackets are often featured in the QR section. The key to understanding the tax bracket is knowing that you don’t calculate the tax at a flat rate.
Instead, the first specified portion of the income is taxed at a low rate (or no tax), and the next specified portions gradually get taxed at higher rates.
For example, in England and Wales, the following rates apply to taxable incomes:
Based on the above tax bracket, the tax payable for a doctor earning £170,000 would be:
Total tax payable = £0 + £7,500 + £40,000 + £9,000 = £56,500
Know the formulas for the areas and volumes of common shapes.
Most people are prone to making mistakes under stress. For example, you might forget to enter a decimal point in the calculator.
You need to stay calm throughout the question-solving process:
The graph below shows that some stress is good. Performance actually increases with stress until an optimal point. After that, performance drops off rapidly. The key is to channel your stress into targeted exam practice, and realise when you need to take a step back.
Practise answering UCAT QR questions under timed, pressured conditions to accurately diagnose your weaknesses.