Making Educated Guesses in the UCAT Verbal Reasoning Subtest

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Developing a guessing strategy for the Verbal Reasoning might sound strange but I assure you can make a huge difference when you are running out of time or have to deal with time consuming questions.

When some people hear the word “guess”, they think of surrendering. They imagine a frustrated student who simply throws in the towel and picks an answer at random. However, the savvy candidate realizes that guessing involves strategy too. Even when you cannot definitively select a correct answer, you can often eliminate several options that are obviously wrong. This approach is guessing done right. While you cannot earn a strong score on the verbal reasoning subtest by selecting answers at random, working the odds by removing wrong responses will boost your score more than you might think. Never resort to blind guessing too quickly when you get frustrated with a question; you’ll end up selling yourself short. Here are some helpful guessing strategies for the verbal reasoning test.

Strategy #1: Spotting Extreme language

Spotting extreme language can be used when narrowing down answer options. The golden rule when evaluating extreme language is as follows; soft statements tend to be True whilst extreme statements tend to be False (or Can’t Tell). For example, consider these two answer options, one states, “Technology may be responsible for the decline in GCSE grades” and another option states “The Internet is solely responsible for the decline in GCSE grades”. The first statement uses a softer tone with the use of the qualifier “may”, so it is more likely to be the correct answer than the second statement which uses an extreme qualifier “solely” (read more on evaluating extreme language). This approach can also be used when guessing on negative questions where you have to pick the option that is NOT TRUE, in this case you want to pick the option with an extreme qualifier.

Strategy #2: Pick ‘Can’t Tell’ Strategically

The verbal reasoning section is sprinkled with True/False/Can’t Tell questions. In situations where you have skimmed and mapped the passage and have good understanding of the main idea but cannot decide which of the options to pick, then go with the ‘Can’t Tell’ option. The reason you cannot decide on an answer is probably due to the information not being provided in the passage. If you feel that this is not the case, then consider quickly re-skimming the passage. It is likely you may need to combine multiple pieces of information or make inference from the text. Nonetheless, use clues (hints or words that the author uses to help define an idea) and a bit of common sense to pick between True or False. Remember, for a statement to be ‘True’ it must be directly stated or inferred from the passage. For it to be ‘False’ it must contradict text either directly or indirectly.

Strategy #3: Use Common Sense and ‘Prior’ Knowledge

As a general rule, always separate your external knowledge from the information provided in the passage and only use the latter to answer questions in the verbal reasoning subtest. However, it is important to realise that prior knowledge, i.e. knowledge obtained solving an earlier question from the same passage, is different from external knowledge. This strategy can be used to make educated guesses on time consuming questions – the idea is that you use prior knowledge gathered from attempting an easier question to guess difficult and time-consuming question-types (such as writer questions, except questions, inference questions, etc.) and move on. With abit of common sense you can narrow down answer options based on what you already know from the passage.

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