Getting Started with the UCAT
What is the UCAT?
The majority of medical schools in the UK require you to take an admissions test called the UCAT.
The UCAT, or University Clinical Aptitude Test, is a computer-based aptitude test delivered by Pearson VUE. Until recently it was called UKCAT, so if you have know anyone who has applied for medical school in the past few years, this is what they would have called it. Some of you may already have taken your driving theory test in one of their centres.
Testing runs from July to October. You can only take the test once in a test cycle (i.e. you will have to wait for next year’s application cycle to resit the UCAT).
We recommend booking as early as possible, because spaces fill up fast. Booking early allows you to get a spot in a preferred test centre. A nearby centre reduces the risk of being late, potentially missing your test and even if you do make the test centre in time you might be physically exhausted.
You can change the date of your test if you think you aren’t ready – though if you’ve booked your test near the end of the testing period it’s highly unlikely that any places will be left.
We’ve found the best time to take the test is before any busy schedules, for example the start of school in September. Setting aside the minimum of a few hours a day and then busying yourself with school instead of taking a break will deplete your energy levels prior to the run up of your UCAT. So we suggest you take this test prior to school starting and giving yourself enough time before sitting. A minimum of one month of gradually building up your practice should suffice.
And practise you must! These video tutorials are here to help introduce you to the format, the style of questions and general advice on the logistics of the day, but practise is the best way to make sure that you achieve your best score possible.
There is no sure-fire way to score high in the UCAT. Each individual student has to develop their own technique and engage with the material to get a higher score than being hand-held through the process.
The UCAT assesses mental faculties deemed essential in the practice of medicine: verbal reasoning, decision making, quantitative reasoning, abstract reasoning, and situational judgement.
What follows is a very brief introduction to the types of questions you will encounter in this test. More detailed introductions to question types will be dealt with in future tutorials.
Each section has their own designated time duration separated by one-minute introductions.
It is important to note that time spent in each section is limited for that section only. You will not be able to carry over any of the time saved in an earlier section. For example, if you finish VR early you will not be allowed to carry over the extra time into the next section DM.
If you do find yourself having completed all the questions in a section, it is best to utilise all the time left to check your work or any questions you weren’t sure about.
Once you’ve ended a section, you cannot go back. The five sections follow on from each other sequentially – one after another until after 120 minutes you’ll have finished the test.
You will realise that timing is one of the most important factors in the UCAT. We’ll discuss this later. The most important factors for now are your technique and familiarity – so before you concern yourself with timing, let’s get you up to speed with what’s in the test first.
Here we’ll introduce you to some important terminology.
The questions in the UCAT are structured into question stems. These stems comprise of different things depending on the section – for example, VR stems will consist of passages of text, for QR charts, tables, etc.
Accompanying each stem will be a number of questions. You’ll be tasked with using the stem information to answer the question.
The number of questions per stem varies, but it is customary for VR to have 11 stems (or passages) with 4 questions each and AR to have five per stem, but in other sections the number of questions per stem varies from 1 to 6. The variations will become familiar to you when you practise.
Verbal Reasoning, VR
VR is the first section of the test.
The UCAT administrators state this assesses your ability to:
read and think carefully about information presented in passages and to determine whether specific conclusions can be drawn from information presented.
This is important because doctors read textbooks, research papers and clinical protocols. The ability to make inferences, judgements and conclusions rests on their verbal reasoning ability.
So in this section, you will have to answer 44 VR questions and in 21 minutes.
You will encounter two question types: reading comprehension and true, false and can’t tell questions.
Decision making, DM
The second section is DM.
The UCAT administrators state this assesses your ability to: apply logic to reach a decision or conclusion, evaluate arguments and analyse statistical information.
This is important because doctors must make good decisions despite being given complex information, and do so in a timely manner.
So in this section, you will have to answer 29 questions in 31 minutes. There are six question types named: drawing conclusions, logical puzzles, interpreting information, venn diagrams, evaluating arguments and probability.
It is important to know that this section was a new section from 2016. It wasn’t used then, but it will be used from 2017 onwards by medical schools in their assessment of prospective candidates.
Quantitative Reasoning, QR
The next section is QR, the maths section.
The administrators here state this assesses your ability to:
solve numerical problems.
Proficient data handling is important in medical science for reading and interpreting clinical data. You need not be interested in medical research to appreciate the importance of data handling, but it is still an important skill in day-to-day medical practice.
So in the UCAT, you will have to answer 36 questions in 24 minutes. There are four broad question types: Algebra, Statistics, Number and Geometry.
Abstract Reasoning, AR
The fourth section is AR.
The UCAT administrators state this assesses your ability to: identify patterns amongst abstract shapes.
Many students are often bemused with this section’s inclusion in the UCAT, but pattern recognition is important in clinical problem solving activities (i.e. diagnostics). In medicine, symptoms of diseases often overlap with one another, thus it is an important skill to recognise similarities but also key differences between diseases so that one can correctly diagnose their patients. We’ll talk a bit more about this in a later tutorial.
In this section, you will have to answer 55 questions in 13 minutes. There are four question types: Set A, B or Neither, Complete Series, Complete Statement and Set A or B.
Situational Judgement Test, SJT
The fifth and final section is the SJT.
This assesses your ability on: interpersonal oriented skills and ethical values rather than knowledge or clinical skills.
This is important because doctors are professionals who must be ethical and be able to work effectively in a team. Scandals have marred the reputations of the medical profession and hospitals this last decade. The SJT has emerged as a method to assess how individuals should behave in professional environments.
So in this test, you will have to answer 69 questions in 26 minutes. There are two question types: Appropriateness and Importance.
The remainder of the tutorials will introduce you to the Medify tools for preparing effectively with concise all-you-need-to-know introductions to each of the question types you’ll encounter in the test.
What’s most important is that you start practising as soon as possible. Developing your technique and familiarity is only possible by practising in true simulation of the test environment.