THE UCAT (and the 2020 updates)
Updated: Jul 14
The University Clinical Aptitude Test (UCAT) – which used to be called the UKCAT – is an admissions test used by some UK medical and dental schools. The list of universities that use the UCAT can be found here.
Due to the recent COVID-19 pandemic, the UCAT test has had to be made online – called UCAT Online. The tests will be proctored (invigilated) and you are now allowed the use pen and paper and whiteboards. All candidates may also make use of the onscreen scratchpad. Whilst the delivery model has changed, UCAT test content remains the same. Official updates can be monitored here.
There are 4 sections:
1. Verbal reasoning
This section requires you to read and comprehend text and answer questions on it.
Practice your reading speed - you can do this by skimming through newspaper articles and books then trying to summarise it to a friend or family member.
The ISC Medical 1250 UKCAT Practice Questions book has plenty of questions to test yourself on and explains answers.
Read the question FIRST (before the piece of text): It will help your reading be more focused
Know the meaning of true and false! This may seem silly but these are very popular questions. A statement is true if it matches or follows logically from the information you read in the text. It is false if this is the opposite. If you are not sure, the answer is most likely 'Can't tell'
Text: Kittens grow into full-size cats by 12 months of their life.
Question: After a year of life, all cats are fully grown. Is this true, false or can you not tell?
This would be true - The text tells us that kittens grow to full size by 12 months (= 1 year) of their life so it logically follows that after a year of life, all cats must be fully grown.
2. Quantitative reasoning
Get comfortable with calculations involving:
Ratios and fractions
Areas and volumes
Simple statistics such as mean, median and mode
Data interpretation from charts and graphs
Practice makes perfect in this section. Do as many practice questions as you can and make sure to time yourself. The worst thing to do is spend too much time trying to get each question right and not getting round to answering some leading to a low score. Try and work quickly then flag anything you are unsure about to come back to when you've finished all of the questions in the section.
3. Abstract reasoning
Scan the whole set of shapes for:
Colour - is there a colour pattern? e.g. 2 black shapes, 2 white shapes
Number - is the pattern dependent on how many shapes there are? e.g. 5 shapes in each pattern
Types - does the pattern concern the types of shapes? e.g. All shapes are 4-sided
Size - does the pattern concern the sizes of the shapes? e.g. 3 big shapes and 2 small ones
Symmetry - Is there symmetry in each set? e.g. mirror imaging
Ratio - Is there a ratio of shapes? e.g. 2 black circles to every white square
4. Decision Making
When I took the test in 2016, they were only just trialling this section out so although we sat this part of the test, it was not included in our final scores. However, I always found this part of the test difficult to wrap my head around but ended up doing fairly well.
Be wary of making assumptions
Follow a logical thought process - This is especially important for evaluative questions. Think to yourself: what makes the most sense? What statement would you pick if you were having a competitive debate?
Statistical Reasoning will involve graphs! Practice interpreting these along with your Quantitative Reasoning revision.
What one piece of advice would you give to a student preparing for the UCAT? Give yourself enough time to adequately PRACTICE. Locate all of the resources you can and make a list of them about 2 months in advance of your test. Most of these will have a free trial or demo before asking you to pay for further resources. Begin signing up and practicing questions at LEAST 3 weeks before your exam date – I personally started a month and a half in advance to ensure that I didn’t feel under pressure, considering the other activities I had going on such as preparing for my A level exams or a full-time job in my gap year.
How did you study for the UCAT? What resources did you use? I used UKCAT ninja which has quite a large bank of FREE questions to practice, with explanations for why your answers are correct or incorrect. It allows you to attempt questions in timed conditions, provides you with your overall percentage of correct answers as well as your practice history. If you wish to upgrade your account, the site has reasonable rates (maximum £40 for a 12-month subscription).
I also highly recommend trying out the past papers provided on the UCAT site.
I advise you to attempt lots of past paper questions. Focus less on getting the answer wrong and understand WHY you got it wrong. This will help you continuously improve your score.
Best Free UCAT e-books/cheat sheets:
Other sites for question banks:
Medic Portal (paid)
Medic Mind (free)
BlackStone Tutors (free)
Youtubers for further tips:
Books (can be purchased via Amazon):
ISC Medical 1250 UKCAT Practice Questions, Third Edition
Kaplan Score Higher on the UCAT – 1500 UKCAT Questions
What was your strategy for practicing for the UCAT exam?
My strategy was tackling practice questions for about 2 hours a day, starting a 1-1.5 months before the exam. I split my sessions so that they focused on each of the different UCAT test sections i.e. Monday session: Verbal reasoning, Tuesday: Quantitative reasoning... I then began to complete past paper tests timing myself for the remaining weeks.
How did you manage your time in the test? I kept my eye on the time and prioritised the questions as I came across them. I left more difficult questions to the end and flagged them up for review and consideration after tackling the easier questions that I was confident in. There WILL be a mixture of easy and difficult questions so bare this in mind when taking the test and be prepared to not be able to answer a few things!
Tips for when you are taking the test:
Using keyboard short cuts can save time. A brief summary of the shortcuts I found really useful can be found here.
More exam tips for each section can be found in this great blog post by the Scrubbed-up team.
A free UCAT guide can be found on Medic Portal.
Finally, practice makes perfect. By ensuring you give yourself enough time to practice, you will improve your skills and time management which is required for excelling in the UCAT. Time management is KEY and going into the exam with a calm and confident mindset makes a world of difference. Good luck!