How to use the Keyword Method in the UCAT Verbal Reasoning Subtest

keyword method

The Keyword method is one of 200 strategies shared in the new UCAT Study Guide to help with improving your score in  the University Clinical Aptitude Test (UCAT).

The keyword method is one of the most popular techniques used by candidates to save time in the exam, it builds on the scanning method where instead of reading the entire passage, you first read the question and choose a keyword to scan for in the text.

Step 1: Read the question and pick a Keyword

Pick a keyword from the statement or question. This keyword will help you find the information you are looking for in the passage.

Step 2: Scan passage for the Keyword and carefully read the relevant sentence(s)

Scan for the keyword in the passage. When you find it, read/skim the surrounding sentences, i.e. the sentences before and after the keyword sentence. This small section of text should contain the answer. If necessary, read more sentences in the paragraph until you solve the problem.

Step 3: Pick an option

Eliminate the wrong answers and select the correct one.

There may be cases where you cannot find the keyword in the passage, in that case I would recommend quickly looking again in case you’ve missed it, also consider synonyms (e.g. ‘holiday’ may be found as ‘trip’ or ‘vacation’). 

Choosing a Good Keyword: Four Key Rules

1. Keyword should be seldom

When picking a keyword make sure it doesn’t appear too many times in the passage, because it will make it difficult to narrow down the information you need to answer the question.

2. Easy to find by Visual Inspection

Make sure to pick keywords that are easy to find by visual inspection – Dates, numbers, names and places make very good keywords.

3. Consider Alternative Keywords

Keywords do not necessarily have to be a ‘word’. It can instead be a ‘phrase’, or ‘made up’ from the idea or concept presented in the question. You can choose a different keyword if the first one isn’t working.

4. Consider Keywords in Answer Options:

For some questions in the VR subtest it may be more appropriate to search for keywords from the answer options to help eliminate wrong answers and pick the correct one.

Gauging the topic of the passage before carrying out the keyword method could help when choosing a relevant keyword. For example, imagine you had a passage about the rise of hip-hop music as the most popular genre of music. Each paragraph discussed the different eras, such as 80’s, 90’s and most popular songs in the last decade. Your Question:

In this scenario, a good keyword is ‘conscious rap’, and a weak keyword is ‘Hip-hop’ as it will be mentioned multiple times in the passage. This shows you the value of gauging the main topic of the passage before carrying out the keyword method.

How to gauge the passage: The quickest way to gauge the passage is by reading the first two lines of the passage. Feel free to adapt your reading strategy (page X) or skimming method (page X) accordingly to improve the keyword method.

Keywords Appearing Multiple times

When you find the keyword, carefully read the sentences around it. If you find a reference to the question information, then you can be generally satisfied that you have found the right section of text. However, be aware that the keyword may appear again later on in the passage, so do a quick scan to see if there is another reference of the information you are looking for. This is a common mistake many candidates make in the exam, they do not check for this. Always check for multiple appearances of a keyword or information that relates to the keyword.

Keywords that do not appear in the text

Sometimes the keyword will not appear in the passage. In this situation do not panic, as it is common in the exam.  You have to assess the text in the passage and decide on your approach appropriately. If you feel that the answer is hidden somewhere, try a different approach to find it:  Check again if you have rushed your search, it is sometimes worth scanning the passage again for the keyword. Also consider synonyms or rephrasing of the keyword. Alternatively, consider choosing a different keyword from the question. Be aware that the examiners might include questions that are beyond the scope of the text, if you believe this is the case the answer is ‘Can’t Tell’, choose this and move on.

Pros and Cons with the Keyword Method

The Keyword method is great for True/False/Can’t Tell questions. However, it’s not so great to solely adopt when answering other question-types in the exam (e.g. According to the passage, Except questions, Incomplete statements and Most Likely questions) as it may become too time consuming. It is more efficient to use it in combination with other techniques.

For more UCAT tips check out the rest of the blog and join our free UCAT Study Group. You can opt-in for our UCAT Virtual Tutor – 30-day Study plan designed to get you from zero to scoring in the top percentile within 30-days. For in-depth exam strategies and actionable techniques grab our new UCAT Study Guide, includes 200+ exam strategies and techniques for each subtest.