How Universities Use the UCAT (2020 updated)


If you’ve already picked up our study guide, thank you! If you stumbled upon this article without getting the book first, I highly recommend you click here to pick up a copy of the UCAT Study Guide to make sense of  the information provided.

Medical and dental schools part of the UCAT consortium use the exam differently – some look at your overall score, others look at individual marks, whilst a few consider the band score in the situational judgement section.

The key to increasing your chances of getting invited for an interview is by understanding how they use the UCAT. In this article we will explore the different approaches used by medical and dental schools use the exam.

Depending on how well your score goes pick your choices wisely. I recommend using the information in this article as a guide and double check the university websites for more information. The information in this post is sourced directly from the official UCAT UK university guide (Click here to download).

The truth of the matter is that a UCAT score good enough for admittance to one particular university might to be good enough for another. Each university  has their own approach to assessing UCAT scores – here are some of the methods used by medical and dental schools when assessing UCAT scores:

Method #1 – Overall Cut-off score system

This is basically where, in most cases, a  university would look at the overall performance of candidates in a particular testing cycle to set a minimum score. For example, they might consider the average total score achieved in a particular year and decide to set that as the cut-off. Any applicants that achieves below that average is automatically rejected.

Method #2 – Individual Score cut-off

Some universities have a cut-off marks for individual sections in the exam, regardless of how well your overall score might be. If you achieve below the minimum in a particular subtest they will reject your application.

Method #3 – Decile ranking system

This is quite common with universities that state that they do have a minimum UCAT score. This method basically depends on the overall UCAT performance of candidate in a particular year. The UCAT exam board uses a statistical approach called deciles to report the overall performance of candidates each year. A decile is any of nine values that divides data into ten equal parts so that each part represents 10% of the candidates in a given testing cycle. This statistical approach is descriptive and gives the exam board a good overview of the overall test performance each year, and some universities use this data to rank candidates that apply. For example, a university might automatically reject applicants in the 4th decile and below.

Method #4 – Point-based system

This approach is where universities award points to your UCAT score as well as entire application, the higher your score the more points you earn. However, most universities that use this system also award points to other parts of an application such as personal statement, academics and reference. Depending on how much weight UCAT scores hold, these universities might be a safer choice if you do not perform particularly well in the exam but excel academically. 

Method #5 – Situational Judgement banding

The Situational Judgement is the final section of the UCAT. Unlike the other subtests, you do not receive a score out of 900. Instead you are assessed from Band 1 to Band 4. Some universities automatically reject candidates that achieve a band 4 (lowest band).

So how do you make the most with this information?

Medicine and dentistry are very competitive – to give yourself the best possible chance of being invited for an interview find out how universities use the UCAT and assess an application – You must know which of the following  is the most important for your perspective choice:

  • UCAT
  • Academic Achievement
  • Personal Statement
  • Work Experience
  • Reference

Instead of just looking into your ideal choices, consider every medical or dental programme in the country. Understand how they each use the UCAT during their application process. It does take up alot of time doing this  – but you’ll be rest assured you are making the most informed decision based on the outcome of your UCAT scores. 

I recommend splitting your university choices into 3 groups, as follows:

First Group –  Your ideal Choices if UCAT score is well above  target. Your dream place of study.

Second Group –  Your choices if score is slightly below target. These are universities that take into account the UCAT but do not rely heavily on it.

Third Group – Your choices if you do not perform well.  These universities do not use the UCAT or rely little on it (Make sure you have a strong personal statement, academics, and good reference).

When I applied back in 2015, I actually shortlisted my 4 medicals and picked one university from the first group, two from the second group and my last choice was from the third group. By doing this I mitigated the risk of rejection. 

Bottom line – make sure to find out how your choices assess the UCAT before applying. Use this information to set a minimum target score during preparation, for a step-by-step guide to help with this grab your copy of the UCAT Study Guide.  

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