23 UCAT Verbal Reasoning Tips: Save Time and Boost Your Score

A lot of students find Verbal Reasoning (VR) hard.

It's the first section of an epic two-hour long exam, and that in itself creates some anxiety. You're immediately faced with a big block of text and a challenging time limit which can throw anyone off.

So how can you ace the VR section of the UCAT?

Top 5 UCAT VR section tips infographic

1. Learn about the timing

Each section of text is 200–300 words. The test itself lasts 21 minutes, so this is immense time pressure and reason enough to get on top of this section early.

During the test, you must read 11 passages, which each have four questions. In total, you'll answer 44 questions and have just 28 seconds per question.

Learn more about UCAT timing or read our UCAT FAQ.

2. Make sure you're doing targeted practice

One student got a 400 in the UCAT Verbal Reasoning, and couldn’t work out why.

She started practising months before and used UCAT practice tests and learning resources. 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.

3. Speed reading is crucial

Speed reading is not about consuming every word, but about extracting the information you need. It is the number one Verbal Reasoning technique as it is absolutely essential to success.

Check out key speed reading strategies for the UCAT:

Scan to find the question keywords and then read the following sentence.

Medify's speed reading technique for the UCAT Verbal Reasoning: identifying key words

Focus on verbs and nouns (the most meaningful words) to save time.

Medify's speed reading technique for the UCAT Verbal Reasoning: focusing on verbs and nouns

Scan in different patterns to try and consume texts faster.

Medify's speed reading technique for the UCAT Verbal Reasoning: zigzag reading pattern

4. When you make a mistake, take the time to find out why

If you don’t take the time to find out why you're making mistakes when revising, you can practise a lot but not improve your score.

Medify explains exactly where you went wrong in our UCAT simulations (available in our UCAT Online Course) to help you identify your weaknesses.

Remember, the questions you get wrong are often more important than the ones you get right. So keep a UCAT diary and see if you notice any patterns – this can apply to question types you're struggling with or specific errors you're making.

5. Find a quiet place to practise

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, so make sure you organise a quiet study space.

6. Familiarise yourself with the questions

Try some VR practice questions in our free UCAT practice test.

Once you’ve seen 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. 

7. Don’t read the whole passage first 

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 which is not a good idea.

Engage with the question first and then scan the text. 

8. Use your computer to practise

Since the UCAT is computer-based, practising with books will not give you the same experience.

Learning to navigate the test with the keyboard shortcuts and calculator will help save you precious seconds on the day.

UCAT Verbal Reasoning tip 6: Use your computer to revise

9. Know what the answers mean in the True/False questions

VR will sometimes try to catch you out. Remember the meaning of the possible answers:

  • True statements – follow in a logical way from the information given in the passage.
  • False statements – do not follow logically from the passage.
  • Can’t tell – there isn’t enough information given in the passage to say.

The takeaway is only consider the information given in the passage and disregard any existing knowledge or opinions! 

10. Take everything literally

Verbal Reasoning is not like standard reading. You have to approach it almost robotically:

  • Don’t take anything for granted 
  • Make no assumptions 
  • Be literal

Think to yourself, ‘Is the answer absolutely true or absolutely false?’. If it’s not clear, then it’s ‘can’t tell’.

11. You need to get through the questions fast! 

You have an average of just under 30 seconds per question, so there is no time to waste.

UCAT Verbal Reasoning Timing:  21 minutes, 44 questions, 28 seconds per question

12. Thirty seconds is an average, not a golden rule

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.

13. Sometimes you have to toss a coin 

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.

14. Keep calm 

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.

15. Don’t get stuck on hard questions

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.

UCAT Verbal Reasoning: Flag questions for review

16. If you're short of time, don’t miss the True/False/Can’t Tell questions 

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. 

17. Strongest opinion questions can steal your time

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.

18. Notice totalising language 

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.

19. Trust your first instinct

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.

20. Read the question carefully

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.

21. Introductions and conclusions are gold

Scan the introductory and concluding sentences in the below 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?

UCAT Verbal Reasoning: Selective reading - scan the introductions and conclusions

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.  

22. Find your weaknesses

Use the detailed feedback in our UCAT Online Course to find out which sections are causing you trouble. 

Then break it down even further: Do you continuously run out of time? Are you not familiar enough with the question type?

In this case, you would try working on speed reading and selective reading, and not just practise what you’re already good at, but really hone in on and repeat these problem questions. 

Find out how to use UCAT mock exams to pinpoint your weaknesses.

23. Use our VR Inference Trainer to practise locating key words 

Our 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 UCAT Online Course packages.

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.

Summary

  • Speed reading and selective reading are absolute musts.
  • You can’t delay your decisions, decide and then move on.
  • Recognise totalising language – it suggests a statement is false.
  • Introductions and conclusions contain most of the information in a paragraph. You can avoid reading a paragraph after skimming the introduction if it doesn’t contain the information you need.
Do you need help with preparing for the UCAT? Head over to our UCAT Online Course and we’ll get you signed up to guide you through the whole process.

We provide a huge bank of 20,000+ questions, 24 unique full mock exams, 40+ mini-mock exams, 50+ hours of video tutorials, and performance feedback. 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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