The UCAT Verbal Reasoning is hard.
It is the first section of an epic 2-hour-long exam, and that creates some anxiety. You are immediately faced with a huge block of text and a torturous time limit. It can really throw anyone off (check out tip 21 for a new tool to help deal with this problem).
So how can you ace the VR section of the UCAT?
Each section of text is between 200 and 300 words. The test itself lasts 21 minutes, which is truly immense time pressure and reason enough to get on top of this section early.
During the test, you must read eleven passages, which each have four questions. In total, you'll answer 44 questions and have just 28 seconds per question.
One student got a 400 in the UCAT Verbal Reasoning, and couldn’t work out why.
So what went wrong?
She didn’t approach the exam in the right way. Her strategy was to endlessly repeat UCAT questions from a book, making the same mistakes every time and failing to learn from them.
The trick is targeted practice, not just repeating random questions.
Learn more about effective UCAT preparation.
Speed reading is not about consuming every word, but about extracting the information you need. It is the number one Verbal Reasoning technique here as it is absolutely essential.
Key speed reading strategies for the UCAT:
B) Focus on verbs and nouns (the most meaningful words) to save time.
C) Scan in different patterns to try and consume texts faster (see the image below).
If you don’t take the time to do this when revising, you can practise a lot and stay at the same level. Medify explains exactly where you went wrong in our UCAT simulations, so take the time to make a note of the mistake.
Keep a UCAT diary and see if you notice any patterns. This can apply to question types you are struggling with or specific errors you are making.
Ollie Campbell, the CEO of Milanote, reported a 23% increase in company productivity after introducing quiet times into the working day.
VR is a very high-focus section, make sure you organise a quiet study space.
Once you’ve seen many hundreds or even thousands of questions, you will start to hone your analytical abilities and recognise repeating ideas within questions.
Start without focusing on the time limit and then build up to the required speed. Starting early helps you achieve gradual familiarity. Make no mistake: familiarity is power.
Reading before engaging with the question is a great way to run out of time. Time is the enemy here, and we need to treat it like a limited resource. Remembering specific sentences is very hard, so reading first will result in re-reading - not a good idea.
Engage with the question first and then scan the text.
Since the UCAT is computer-based, practicing with books will not give you the same experience. Learning to navigate the test with the keyboard shortcuts and to use the calculator will help you save precious seconds on the day.
The Verbal Reasoning section will sometimes try to catch you out. Remember the meaning of the possible answers:
The takeaway is: ONLY consider the information given in the passage and disregard your existing knowledge or opinion!
Verbal reasoning is not like standard reading. You have to approach it almost robotically.
Think to yourself ‘Is the answer absolutely true or absolutely false?’ If it’s not clear, then it’s ‘can’t tell’.
You have an average of just under 30 seconds per question, so there is no time to waste.
Many questions don’t take the full 30 seconds. Use the time you save to think more carefully about harder questions, which might require up to a minute.
If you're down to the last few minutes and you aren’t sure, try to eliminate the obviously wrong answers and guess between the last two.
50/50 odds are better than nothing.
Stress is the enemy of memory and quick comprehension. A 2016 report concluded that, while it is not a straightforward relationship, ‘stress before memory retrieval ... may directly affect performance at exams’
You have to find your VR zen.
If you find a question too hard, guess or flag it and move on. Questions are evenly weighted, so there’s no benefit in martyring yourself on a hard question.
If you move on, make a note of the question number and any points you have eliminated. This way you won’t be starting from scratch when you come back to it.
These questions are the quickest and often the easiest to answer. Don’t miss any out, especially in favour of harder questions like Author’s Opinion.
You have to select from a range of assertions echoing those made by an author. These can all be true, but some are truer than others.
Grey areas like this take some thought, as excluding possible answers is much harder.
Obviously practice helps here, but you also need to keep in mind that there may be easier questions you can answer when short of time.
Sentences like ‘No one likes the UCAT Verbal Reasoning section’ are an example of ‘totalising’ or ‘extreme’ language.
‘Many students have trouble with the UCAT Verbal Reasoning section’ is an example of more moderated language.
If you spot extreme language, it is likely that it is not the correct answer.
If you are short of time and need to guess, this would be a good place to start.
If you double check every answer, you are unlikely to finish the test within the allotted time. Once you’ve settled on an answer, move on to the next question. You can flag it in case there is some time left at the end.
Speed read the text, not the question. It is easy to miss out keywords when you rush.
Negative questions, like ‘which statement is NOT accurate?’, can easily be missed.
This is also true of ‘Except’ type questions and Author’s Opinion.
Scan the introductory and concluding sentences in the above image. Identify the purpose of each paragraph as quickly as possible.
Which would be most likely to contain information about the date the word 'vaccination' was first used?
The answer is the second paragraph, which saves you reading all of paragraph one for the information pertaining to the origin of vaccines.
This is a convention in writing, a paragraph has an introductory sentence to orientate the reader, and a final sentence to sum up the main point. It is particularly true for long paragraphs like those found in the VR section.
This is not speed reading, but selective reading, and can save valuable time.
Use the feedback on our software to find out which sections are causing you trouble.
Then break it down even further:
Do you continuously run out of time? Try working on speed reading and selective reading?
Are you not familiar enough with the question type? Don’t just practise what you’re already good at, hone in on and repeat these problem questions.
Find out how to use UCAT mock exams to find your weaknesses.
Our new VR Inference Trainer is a novel concept in UCAT learning. It helps you improve your speed reading in a more focused way than with UCAT practice questions alone and is included with all our UCAT courses.
You repeat the microskill of inference scanning until it becomes second nature, like a reflex. We tell you the word, you scan for evidence as fast as you can then click on the correct sentence. Your score depends on the difficulty level and your speed.
Think of it like a musician repeating a difficult passage until they can do it in their sleep.