I took the UCAT, formerly known as the United Kingdom Clinical Aptitude Test (UKCAT), back in 2015. In this article I dive into how I achieved a UCAT score in the 90th percentile. We will look at the TEN most helpful tips that were a game changer for me.
In case you don’t know already, my name is Michael, I’m one of the guys behind the MEDIC BLOG. If you are reading this then you have probably clicked on a tweet, Facebook post or link on my blog and want to find out how exactly I smashed the UCAT! To be completely honest, the UCAT was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever had to overcome. I failed to get into medical school TWICE before finally succeeding on my third attempt and scoring one of the highest scores in 2015. However, it wasn’t easy! I made so many mistakes when I initially prepared for the exam and noticed so many students offering bad advice on The Student Room that I had to share my preparation tips. The following TEN tips were a game changer for me and I highly recommend you incorporate them into your preparation plan, they are as follows:
1. Set A Target Score
Obviously, you want to achieve the highest UCAT score possible. However, I highly recommend to set a goal, typically this would be the minimum UCAT score needed to be invited for an interview. However, universities assess the UCAT differently, some have a total cut-off, others use a percentile cut-off, whilst others do not have a cut-off at all. You need to find out how your choices assess the exam and set yourself an ideal and minimum target score based on your findings. When I took the UCAT the third time I came to the conclusion after researching all my choices that I needed to achieve an average score of 700 in each section and a minimum of 650. This was the benchmark I set myself during my preparation. If I achieved below 650 in a mock exam, I would consider it a fail. My entire preparation was based on beating this mark.
2. Identify Your Weakness first
Before buying any practice book or enlisting on any course, identify which areas of the UCAT you find difficult. The UCAT is made up of 5 subtests, they include Verbal reasoning, Abstract reasoning, Decision Making, Abstract Reasoning and Situational Judgement. The most reliable way to find out your weakness is by attempting the official practice tests on the UCAT website, it is updated each year to reflect the same level of difficulty candidates can expect in the exam. I recommend you attempt the tests at the beginning of your preparation, it will help you identify which areas you need to work on the most. I remember when I took the UCAT I quickly discovered that the verbal reasoning subtest was my weakest section, I did not perform well in the official verbal practice tests so I spent a majority of my preparation time learning and adopting new strategies to improve my verbal score. In addition, I took things further by recognising that the inference and mostly likely verbal question-types were the questions I struggled with the most, thus, worked on those areas the most.
3. Prioritise Smartly
A common mistake candidates make is that they can at times find themselves feeding their ego, where they spend the majority of their time on sections of the exam they enjoy the most. This can be a waste of time, think about it, if you find the Abstract reasoning section easier than verbal reasoning, It doesn’t make sense to practice more abstract questions than verbal. Studies show that honing your strongest section only boosts your overall UCAT score by 10-15%, but focusing on your weakest section can boost your overall score by 20-30%. That is double the results! Give priority to your weakest section and spend most of your preparation improving it. I spent 45% of my preparation time practising verbal questions (weakest section) and about 10% of my time practising my strongest section, which was the abstract section.
4. Practice Question-types not just Sections
I realised that the second time I took the UCAT my average score didn’t improve by much despite practising thousands of questions. This is because practising questions only familiarizes you with the exam, it doesn’t significantly improve your reasoning skills. In order to really smash the UCAT, you need to dig deeper! Try to understand which type of question in each subtest you struggle with the most. For instance, in the Abstract reasoning section there are four types of questions that examiners include, you might find one type of question difficult and another easy. It makes sense to focus your efforts on improving on the one question-type you find most difficult instead of the entire abstract section. Use this to your advantage by adopting strategies to fix the problem or a triage approach that levels your strengths and weaknesses.
5. Evaluate Your Progress
Another mistake to avoid is just practising questions after questions with no strategy, you must evaluate your progress throughout the duration of your preparation. A good way to evaluate your progress is by attempting a mock exam every week until your big day. After each mock exam compare your results with the previous one. This will help identify areas for improvement and ensure you are working effectively to boost your weakest skills. I remember when I took the exam I did a total of 5 mock exams before my big day. I noticed by the end of week 3 I had significantly improved my verbal reasoning score but my quantitative score hadn’t improved much. So I spent a majority of the remaining weeks working on my quantitative skills.
6. Learn Exam Strategies To Boost Reasoning Skills
It is virtually impossible to significantly improve your cognitive skills in a short amount of time. For example, if you are a slow reader, you won’t be able to increase your reading speed in 2 weeks or a month. However, you can learn exam strategies and tactics to improve your ability to read and comprehend information presented in the verbal section. I’m really slow at working out maths in my head, but I learned a few mental maths tricks to combat this so I can save time in the quantitative section.
7. Practice with an Online Course
The UCAT is a computer-based test, you need to practice questions under the same exam conditions as the real test. Pick an online course that closely mimics the testing experience and allows you to familiarize yourself with the onscreen format of the exam. The best online courses contain answer items at the same equivalent standard as UCAT and allow you review your responses against answer rationales. Online courses are also a great way to hone your exam strategies and techniques. There are loads of companies offering online courses so be sure to read reviews and customer feedbacks before choosing one. Check out my recommended online UCAT courses for the year.
8. Improve skill don’t Just Practice
Practising questions only increase your familiarity with the exam. You need to also identify which elements or skills you struggle with and work on improving it. For instance, If you find the verbal section difficult this might be due to a number of things, you might have poor comprehension skills or poor critical thinking skills, perhaps you are a slow reader? Try to identify what element you struggle with and try to improve it. I’m a naturally slow reader, in order to combat this I spent a month before the test reading everything online with Spreeder and adopting strategies to comprehend information in the verbal section quicker.
9. Do A Mock Exam Every Week
There is no other better way to assess yourself than attempting mock exams. Treat them like the real test. Do an entire 2-hour test with no breaks and no distractions. I recommend attempting your mocks on an online course to mimic the testing environment.
My last tip, do not let your nerves get the better of you, with practice you’ll become more confident. However, the combination of applying and sitting the UCAT can be stressful but try to stay calm during your preparation – not only do you feel better, but also perform better.
That’s it! That’s how I did 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.