How to Stop Running out of time in the UCAT Verbal Reasoning Subtest (A Slow Reader’s Guide)

running out of time verbal reasoning

In almost all cases there is a pattern when reading text in the UCAT verbal reasoning subtest, find what’s slowing  you down and work on it to improve your speed in the test.

The timing in the verbal reasoning subtest is extremely frustrating. Last year I did a quick survey on the blog and asked students that struggled with the subtest what they thought was the main reason for them achieving a low score. One of the most common responses that stood out was along the lines of “I’m a slow reader, so I’m never able to finish in time”. Even though speed reading it beneficial, it in no way guarantees that you will excel in the subtest. There are several different ways to approach questions, and the optimal strategy for one student may be the worst possible approach for another. In reality, for slow readers the skill to doing well on the VR subtest is the ability to skim passages while retaining meaning. You can learn to skim through practice, none the less there are two main strategies you should adopt to help reduce the likelihood of running out of time in the VR section. As you adopt each strategy work on your ability to skim passages to pull out key information from text to save time.

Strategy #1: Practice Monitoring Your Time

The first step to improving your ability to finish the verbal reasoning subtest is to keep track of your time. The best ways to do this is by recording how long you’re taking to answer each question-typeand being aware of the average time you take to complete an entire test i.e. 44 questions.

Know How Long You’re Taking per Question-type

During practice If you find you’re taking too much time on a particular question, mark it and come back to it in review. But what is “too much time?” Well, it depends how you look at it, the VR subtest is made up of 44 questions expected to be completed in 21 minutes, so that would mean you have about 30 seconds per question or about 2 minutes per passage, since the test is made up of a set of 11 passages with 4 accompanying questions. When reviewing a practice test, mark questions or passages you end up spending a long time on. Really break down what stumped you about the question. Was it the wording of the question? The type of question (most likely, except or inference)? Were you just tired and misread the passage, so you didn’t know the answer? There is always a pattern, find it and fix it.

Know Your Average Time to complete VR test 

The best way to find this out is by doing a full VR test untimed and tracking how long it takes you to complete it at your own pace. You’ll need a timer, but my advice is to avoid checking the time until you complete the subtest. It is essential that you treat it like the real UCAT, make sure you are not distracted, do not pause the timer or take any breaks until you complete the subtest. Once you know your average time, begin cutting it down by doing timed VR practice.For example, if it takes you 60 minutes to complete a VR subtest at your own pace, try to shave a little bit of time off the subtest each time you practice. Continue cutting a minute or two until you get down to 21 minutes. If at any point your accuracy drops severely again, pause and practice at that time constraint for a while until the accuracy comes back. Say you manage to get your timing in VR down from 60 minutes to 45 minutes whilst maintaining an 80% accuracy average, but then went down to a 50% average at 40 minutes. Continue to practice at 40 minutes until you’ve fixed the issues and your accuracy goes back up.

Strategy #2: Practice Different Reading Passages and Answering Questions

Practicing verbal reasoning questions over and over won’t necessarily make you a faster reader. But it will make you better at reading the passages in a way that will help you answer the questions more efficiently. Because every person process information differently, I can’t tell you the best way for you to read verbal passages you have to figure this out on your own. If your current approach isn’t working, you might want to consider switching it up. There are three main approaches to choose from:

Read the questions first: Determine which details you look for in the passage by reading the questions first, then jumping back to the passage to find the answer.

Skim, then attack the questions:Quickly read through the passage to get a sense of its content, structure, and purpose, then approach the questions. Finally, return to the passage to get any more detailed information required by specific questions.

Read the whole passage in detail: In my opinion this isn’t practical in the live test, however it’s good to adopt during practice to identify accuracy issues during an untimed test.

The more familiar you get with reading passages and answering questions, the more you’ll be accustomed to the test and the better you’ll know what to pay attention to and when to use which strategy. You might find that a reading strategy works better for a particular question-type, if you can think of other ways to keep yourself from running out of time give it a try during practice. As always, you should only use strategies that work for you. Read more on reading strategies for the verbal Reasoning subtest.

More Helpful tips for Slow Readers

1. Read for meaning rather than sound

Reading without vocalizing has a lot in common with listening to someone speak. When someone speaks, you hear the words, but you only hear them in connection with whatever thoughts and ideas the speaker is trying to convey. The same is true of reading without vocalizing: You read words for meaning, not sound. You see the word on the page and respond to its meaning without the intermediary step of hearing the word’s sound. You don’t read the words as words — you read units of meaning (like ideas, thoughts, and descriptions) whose building blocks happen to be words.

2. Stop your vocalization motor

To prevent your lips from moving when you read and disengage your vocal system, try putting your mouth to work at something besides reading. Chew gum, or, if your lip movements are especially pronounced, place a pencil or pen between your lips as you read.

3. Work on Reading Concentration

All reading requires a certain amount of concentration. In the UCAT however, requires sustained, forceful concentration because when you read quickly, you do many things at once. As you see and read the words on the screen, you also remain alert to the main ideas that the author wants to present. You have to think along with the author and detect how she presents the material so you can pin down the main ideas. As you read, you have to read with more perspective and separate the details from weightier stuff. You have to know when to skim, when to read fast, and when to slow down to get the gist of it.

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.