Hi, I’m Sam. I’m a physiology graduate, healthcare assistant and volunteer. I’ve sat the UCAT twice and improved my score from 2500 to 2940. I’ll be starting graduate entry medicine at Newcastle in September 2019.
So, you’re thinking of sitting the University Clinical Aptitude Test (UCAT), formerly known as the UKCAT? Good on you. For many, this is the first step towards your application to medical or dental school. I’ve sat the UCAT twice, once in 2017 and again (more successfully) in 2018.
I didn’t really know much about the UCAT before 2017. All I’d heard was that it was hard. I took to google to find out a little more about it and I felt a little overwhelmed. There’s so much conflicting information on the internet. There were some people on The Student Room forums saying that you couldn’t revise for the exam and that it just took common sense. Other websites were suggesting courses and books to help you to study. What do you do?
Fast-forward to 2019, I’m here to tell you that you CAN prepare for the UCAT. Here are my top tips for improving your score.
Which medical or dental schools do you want to apply for? Do they actually require the UCAT or do you need to sit another exam like the BMAT or the GAMSAT? Does the university you want to apply for place a lot of weighting onto your UCAT score? Do you meet the other requirements for this course?
2. Plan Ahead
UKCAT registration opens on the 1stof May and testing starts in July, ending on October 2nd. The UKCAT Consortium advises that you book your test earlier on in the testing cycle in case you need to reschedule the exam date for later on (think last minute holidays or feeling ill). It’s also a little cheaper if your test date is before September due to lower demand. There is no difference in the content of the UCAT between these months.
3. Scheduling Revision
Despite what some cocky 17-year-old with a superiority complex on The Student Room says, the UCAT is not something you can cram for the night before the exam. I personally gave myself 6-weeks of studying time in 2018, whereas I only gave myself 2 or 3-weeks in 2017. I tried to do an hour or two of studying most days. Two weeks prior to the exam, I was lucky enough to be in a position to take some time off work and bumped my studying up to 3 to 4 hours a day. Don’t spend 10 hours a day studying, you’ll not take in the new information and you’ll burn yourself out.
4. Starting Revision and Choosing Resources
I call it revision, it kind of is, it kind of isn’t. Some of the things you’ll have learned in school (hello basic maths that you thought you’d never use again) and some things you’ll never have considered before (I’m looking at you, Abstract Reasoning).*
*A quick side-note, if you don’t know the layout of the UCAT, take a look at the official website.
I recommend starting at the official UCAT website and using their FREE practise tests and question banks. This will help you get a feel of the subtests and style of questions, but they are a finite resource.
If you type ‘UCAT course’ or ‘UCAT book’ into google and you’ll be bombarded with options. Do you pick a course? A book? Neither? Both? The first time I sat the UCAT I used ISC Medical ‘Get into Medical School – 1250 Questions’ book. I think a friend had recommended it to me. Now, I liked the book. Or so I thought. I found the questions were much harder than those in the actual exam, which was kind of good in a way but it also meant I spent a lot of time fretting and worrying over answers to equations that I’d never actually do in the exam itself. I also found it difficult to tell how much time I was taking per question whilst using the book to study.
Last year (2018) I purchased a 4-week access pass to medify.co.uk and still believe it was one of the best investments I’ve made in regard to medical school. Medify provides thousands of questions across all sub-sections so you’ll never run out or get the same question twice. The questions are pretty similar to those you’d find in the real exam. Plus, it shows you the time it took to answer questions and compares you to other users, so you can see how you’re getting on.
5. Struggling in Certain Areas
As your revision goes on you’ll notice you’re better in some areas than others. You’ll also prefer doing some subtests over others. I actually found DM quite fun, but I found VR boring.
During my first time sitting the UCAT I made the mistake of focusing on the subtests that I was good at in the hope that they would help boost my score. Last year, I took the opposite approach and actually worked on my weaknesses. It sounds simple, but I hear of so many people neglecting their weaknesses because they don’t like seeing the red incorrect answer boxes. For me, I felt that AR was my biggest weakness. In 2017, I spent minimal time working on my AR because I thought there was nothing I could do to improve. In 2018, AR was my second-highest score.
6. Quick tips and Helpful Formulas
- Work through the answers or tutorials step by step, you’ll get used to the way things are worded if you give yourself enough time to revise.
- Take the time to learn common formulas and patterns in AR and QR, there are loads of YouTube tutorials for this.
- For VR, the most effective method for me was to read the question then to skim read the answers for keywords. I’d then skim read the text until I came to a keyword, where I’d go back and read the sentence properly. From there I’d decide if I needed to keep reading or if the answer was correct. Brush up on your GCSE maths and mental arithmetic. I really don’t consider myself a ‘maths person’ but it is probably the easiest area to improve in. I’ve listed some of the basic formulas I used below:
- Area of a circle = πr2
- The circumference of a circle = πd
- Pythagoras theorem: a2+ b2 = c2
- The volume of a cuboid = l x h x w
- Change in percentage = (new number – original number)/original number
- You’ll also need to know how to convert currency (e.g. £ to $) and distances (e.g. km to miles). Learn the speed-time-distance triangle.
- You’ll learn to spot patterns or ‘triggers’ in AR. This comes with practice so don’t lose heart. Some days you’ll be really good and others you’ll wonder how it’s possible. I made a poster for myself with the common patterns on, which helped me recognise them until I learned them. I’ve listed a few triggers below:
- Arrows: Usually all point in a certain direction, all but one direction, or at a certain shape.
- Letters and Numbers: Treat these as shapes, don’t think ‘oh they’re all vowels’ or they’re all odd/even numbers’. They are usually related to symmetry.
- Clocks: Again, treat these as shapes; look at angles between hands, multiply the minutes by hours, odd vs even hours etc.
7. My Scores
Finally, here’s a little table comparing my 2017 score to my 2018 score.