UCAT (University Clinical Aptitude Test): What You Need to Know
The University Clinical Aptitude Test is a computer-based examination that takes 2 hours to sit, and it is used by the majority of UK medical and dental schools.
It used to be called the UKCAT, and if you know anyone who has applied for medical school in the past few years this is what they would have called it.
It tests aptitude rather than academic ability. Questions examine your cognitive abilities, attitudes and behaviour, not school curriculum or science content, although maths plays an important part.
The UCAT aims to increase fairness in the selection of students, and attract applicants from a wide background, including under-represented social groups.
Does my school use the UCAT?
Check the UCAS website.
When do I need to take the UCAT?
Before you apply to your medical or dental school/university.
We recommend booking as early as possible because spaces fill up fast. Testing runs from July to October, and you can book up to 90 days in advance.
There are around 150 test centres in the UK, so hopefully, there’s one close to you. Book early to get a spot in your preferred test centre. Avoiding a long journey to your test reduces the risk of being late and missing your appointment, resulting in expensive re-booking or missing out on your chosen courses this year.
Re-booking is an important consideration: unexpected circumstances such as family emergencies may cause you to change your exam date. If you took an appointment at the end of the testing period, it’s highly unlikely that any places will be left for a second try.
If you’re reading this well in advance of applying for medicine, and have the available funds, consider taking the UCAT a year early as a mock exam. The experience will help you prepare and know exactly what to expect in the year of your application. To get the most out of a mock test, prepare for it as if it were the real thing.
Can I re-sit?
You can take the UCAT once per year.
Do I need to practise?
The UCAT organisers claim the test ‘does not draw on any particular body of knowledge that candidates can learn in advance’. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t prepare. Indeed, according to a UCAT survey, the highest UCAT scorers spend 21–30 hours preparing.
Preparation removes the ‘fear of the unknown’. You’ll feel more confident, having seen similar questions before and taken mock tests, and you will also feel less anxious. Taking control of these emotions sets you up for the test – on your terms. You need to be familiar with the style, format and nature of the questions, so that you aren’t surprised on the day. Also, with more practice you will become faster at answering questions (which is very useful when under time pressure) and better at recognising patterns and developing strategies for reaching the correct answer.
In addition to this free guide, we offer a popular UCAT online course providing practice questions and mock exams, all with question timing and performance feedback.
Sections of the UCAT
The UCAT currently consists of five sections, each with a different number of questions, question style and marking system. These are: Verbal Reasoning, Decision Making, Quantitative Reasoning, Abstract Reasoning and Situational Judgement.
Each section aims to test a different component of cognition. Verbal Reasoning, for example, tests your ability to quickly process information by answering comprehension questions based on short passages. In similar fashion, Quantitative Reasoning aims to test your mathematical abilities, whereas Abstract Reasoning tests your ability to recognise patterns and abstract logic. Situational Judgement tests your judgement of medically relevant situations. Finally, Decision Making is a new section that aims to test your ability to apply logic to specific situations to reach a decision or conclusion.
|Section||Time (+1 minute for instructions)||Number of questions|
|Verbal Reasoning||21 minutes||44 questions on 11 passages|
|Decision Making||31 minutes||29|
|Quantitative Reasoning||24 minutes||36|
|Abstract Reasoning||13 minutes||55|
|Situational Judgement||26 minutes||69 on 20 scenarios|
As noted, each section also has an extra minute for instruction, but you can’t look at any of the questions during that time, so it’s best used to rest and should not be factored into the actual test time. It will be clear to you from the table above that for many of the sections you will have less than a minute per question, which is why it’s so important to practise. This is so that you will not be caught off guard and will have prepared strategies for each test. With some practice, the time is manageable and can be used to your advantage to gain an edge!
The marking for each section differs. Although Decision Making did not used to be scored, it is now. Each section apart from the Situational Judgement test is marked out of 900, although this isn’t directly calculated from your percentage score. Rather, it is standardised so that the average for each section is around 600, although the actual average can vary slightly each year. The Situational Judgement section, in comparison, is marked in bands, where band 1 is the highest and band 4 is the lowest.
Questions are weighted equally
Some questions in the UCAT are more difficult than others, but they are all of equal point value.
Focus on getting as many right as possible.
Because of the equal weighting of marks, a good strategy is to go through each section answering all the easy questions first. Any that appear too difficult or convoluted on first pass can be ‘flagged for review’. Once you have answered the easy questions, you can spend any remaining time for the subtest attempting the harder ones. This is safe in the knowledge that you’ve already secured some points on the easier questions that you are quite capable of getting right. This would not be the case if you tackled each question in the order it occurs in the question paper.
As there is no negative marking (i.e. no penalties for wrong answers), it’s a good idea to guess the answers that you are unsure about, or which you don’t have any time to concentrate on. After all, you have nothing to lose.
If you are eligible, you can apply for a bursary between May and September each year. The bursary voucher is valid until mid-October. Check the UCAT website for the exact dates on a given year. Note that only UK and EU students are currently eligible and that you will need to provide supporting evidence. It takes 5 working days to issue vouchers, but apply as soon as possible to be sure you get your voucher in time.
Applying early means one less thing to think about, and gives you the opportunity to chase up the application if there are any problems. Remember to keep an eye on your email spam folder, in case your UCAT bursary email ends up there.
Already taken the UCAT this year?
You can only use a bursary to pay for the UCAT if you apply before sitting the test. If you have sat the UCAT, and have a bursary that you can’t use, then you can apply for a refund: contact Pearson VUE.
What time of day is best to sit the test
What time of day should you take the UCAT test? It depends on whether you’re a morning person or not. If you are, then, by all means, choose a time in the morning when you know that you will be wide awake and ready to take a long exam. However, many young adults should consider booking an afternoon test slot. Book early so that you get the time you want, avoiding the need to travel and arrive early in the day before you’re really awake. An afternoon slot will allow you to wake up and get into the swing of things before sitting the long exam.
Advice varies on whether it’s best to relax, take some exercise or look over test materials again before the exam. We assume by now that you’ve taken enough exams to know what does and doesn’t work for you, and will leave it to you to decide what’s best for you.
If you do decide to practice before the exam, keep it light: go over your mnemonics, and try a few percentage questions or whichever kind of question you’ve been practising, to allay any lingering anxieties. We advise against taking any full-length mock exams on the day of your real test, as you’ll still be tired from that when you come to sit the actual UCAT.