Article from Siddhartha Matcha, a Kaplan UCAT Teacher & 3rd Year Medical School student at the University of Cambridge.
The UCAT is considered difficult primarily due to the time constraint; remember, it’s not a content-based exam like many of you will have faced (e.g. A levels). Aptitude tests such as these were designed to assess your ability to work with speed and accuracy. You’d think practising for the UCAT under timed conditions would be greatly beneficial, right? While this is true LATER in your UCAT preparation, it’s probably a good idea to do a few things BEFORE you begin timed practice;
1 – Fully understand the timing of each section of the UCAT
There are 5 sections to the UCAT; Verbal Reasoning, Decision Making, Quantitative Reasoning, Abstract Reasoning, and Situational Judgement. In that order. Each of these sections has a different number of questions and different amounts of time in which to complete them. 1 thing that will remain the same; the timing will be tight in EVERY section. The first thing you should consider doing before beginning timed practice is to “know your enemy”. Find out (and memorise if possible) how much time you have in a section, how many questions there are in that section, and then work out how much time you should be spending per question. For example, 21 minutes to complete 44 questions in the Verbal Reasoning section works out to around 30 seconds per question; this is a pretty good guideline to work within your timed practice.
2 – Get familiar with the different question types you will come across
It’s EXTREMELY beneficial to practice individual questions before leaping into full-blown timed practice. That way, you can look more closely at how a question is supposed to be answered without stressing about your speed, to begin with. The Kaplan UCAT Question Bank is an example of a resource to use in this way. It has more than 2000 individual questions that you can customise into quizzes (untimed or timed). The idea is to understand and hopefully formulate a specific strategy or approach to each question type in a section. For instance, Venn diagrams will feature quite a bit in the Decision Making section, so you could make a quiz with just Venn Diagram questions, complete it with no time pressure, and try to find ways to simplify these questions (or even shortcuts in the question) to work quicker.
It’s also worth pointing out that when you go through the answers as you’re marking your quizzes, read the explanations very carefully. Make sure you understand why you got certain questions wrong (i.e. what mistakes you’re making during your thought process while attempting the question). The opposite is just as, if not more important; you MUST make sure you know how you achieved the right answers too (i.e. you didn’t just luck out!).
3 – Recognise that certain questions are designed to make you waste time – skip these
The people who sit the UCAT are aspiring medics (or dentists), and you tend to be an intelligent bunch. Many of you will have that drive to get to the answer of a question with a “no matter what” attitude, which probably served you well in your regular old exams. The UCAT is a bit sneaky; they exploit this urge to lure the unsuspecting test-taker into a “sticky” question. These questions are confusing, long, or both! The thing every test-taker must remember is, every question in the UCAT is worth ONLY 1 MARK. The people who are able to identify these “sticky” questions and skip them until later will maximise their marks on the easy questions in each section. It’s definitely worth putting some time into learning how to identify these questions and getting used to spending very little time on them in deference to the straightforward ones.
4 – GET — USED TO THE CALCULATOR!
This may seem like a small point, but it’s such an important issue that it merits its own paragraph! The Quantitative Reasoning (and to a smaller extent, Decision Making) section will require you to complete some calculations, using an on-screen calculator, before you can reach an answer. You can access this via a link on the top left of your test screen and type into it with your mouse or the number pad on your keyboard (but make sure your NUM LOCK is on). It’s a real problem for some people to handle this calculator since most of us are used to the standard Casio calculators from Secondary school. Not all the functions of the scientific calculator will be available; in fact, the on-screen calculator’s quite basic with just add, subtract, multiply, divide and square root functions. You’ll need to alter your calculations a bit so you can actually use it (e.g. you’d have to manually type 24 x 24 instead of 242), and you’ll have to start writing down intermediate figures since it has no storage or memory of prior calculations. In addition to being a bit cumbersome, it disappears when you move onto the next question, so you will need to pull it up every question. DEFINITELY get comfortable using the onscreen calculator before starting a timed practice, because you’ll want your practice scores to reflect only your proficiency at the test; your handling of the calculator should not be a limiting factor.
And finally, just before your first timed practice (be it a full-length test or a quiz);
5 – Take a bathroom break before you start, and start the test without stopping until it’s done!
The UCAT is a 2-hour long computerised test. While most people nowadays are used to staring at a computer screen for long periods of time, you have to remember the UCAT is enormously taxing mentally since you’re spending 99% of that time critically thinking. It’s probably best to start with timed quizzes before you move onto full-length tests (the aforementioned Question Bank has 3 full-length practice tests). This will help you build up your stamina and focus over single sections, before working on your endurance in a full 2-hour test.
Now that you have a few pointers get familiar with some questions with the Kaplan UCAT Question Bank Trial, and practice at your own pace before taking a full-length test. You can also get your hands on some free resources by THE MEDIC BLOG.