The University Clinical Aptitude Test, or UCAT, is the younger, meaner version of the UMAT. It's a computer-based test from the UK used by Universities as a standardised intelligence and aptitude test for Undergraduate Medical Degrees and Dentistry Degrees. Here's my comprehensive guide on how to apply for, prepare for and ace the UCAT.
Who is the UCAT for?
Many undergraduate Medical and Dental Schools across the country require a UCAT result to be considered for an interview/entry, and often there will be a high cutoff depending on the university and the cohort of applicants. A list of universities can be found here, and each university will make it clear whether or not it is a requirement. So, if you’ve got an inkling to do either medicine or dentistry, I would highly recommend looking into the requirements for the Universities you’re looking to apply for.
Applying For/Booking your UCAT
The 2022 UCAT cycle begins on the 1st of July, and ends on the 12th of August, with the deadline for booking on the 17th of May. There are many key dates to be aware of, and you can find the official guide here.
Speaking from personal experience, I wasn’t entirely convinced that I wanted to do Medicine during the early stages of 2021 (the year I graduated), but I had some advice given to me to just book a UCAT test to keep my options open, and I am very glad I did. Another piece of advice would be to get onto booking it sooner rather than later. It’s up to you whether you want to book it at the end of the cycle to give yourself more time, book it during the school holidays, or on the first day to get it out of the way early; if you leave this too late you might not get your preferred day, venue, or time, so book now!
Preparing for your UCAT
Now unfortunately the UCAT is a nasty nasty test and you’ll be competing against some of the most driven people in the country; meaning that you’re going to need to give it a red hot crack. The UCAT isn’t a test you ‘study’ for, it’s more about developing strategies, perfecting processes, and mentally preparing yourself for it. There are 5 sections to the UCAT, 4 of which the Universities will actually consider.
Verbal Reasoning (VR)
VR is all about extracting information accurately and efficiently from a passage of text. There are multiple question styles and many topics that these passages will be about. There are 44 questions in this section, with 21 minutes to complete the test, leaving you with 28 seconds per question. Each section of text is between 200 and 300 words which might take you 60 to 90 seconds to read if you read it fully. Everyone knows the feeling of getting to the end of a paragraph you’ve skim-read and needing to read it again, which will set you back even further. My point is? You need to skim-read for keywords as per each question, and use the flag and return strategy (I’ll talk about this later). This one is a mental stretch, its 20 minutes of pure focus, and forcing yourself through 44 questions that are trying to trick you is very difficult. My one takeaway? Learn to skim read well, and develop this skill.
Decision Making (DM)
DM is your logic section. If you’ve got a good intuition this one could be your bread and butter, but many people also find it the hardest. There's not as much time pressure here –around a minute per question– but be careful not to get caught up. Use diagrams, flow charts, or anything that is going to help you. DM has the biggest array of question types, many that you’ll find a breeze, and some that will absolutely stump you, again, flag and return.
Quantitative Reasoning (QR)
Quick Maths. QR is all about reading the question, understanding what they want, and getting the answer as fast as you can. This is the other section that you’ll face severe time pressure for; trying to use the clunky UCAT calculator while holding numbers in your brain under severe time pressure is very hard. The trick here is knowing what you’re gonna do faster in your brain, and what you're gonna do faster in your head. There are a few simple formulas you’ll need to know, but usually, this will be stuff you’ve learned all through early high school, so don't worry too much. You’ll get a keyboard during the UCAT, so I’d recommend practising with a keyboard if possible to get used to using the shortcuts and calculator functions. It’s a fine motor skill just as much as a mental skill.
Abstract Reasoning (AR)
The first time you see the AR you’ll think it’s stupid, you get 13 seconds per question, and you’ll be sending photos to your mates, who’ll try and show you up but get it equally as painfully wrong. Not to worry though, this is a great section for marks, and the easiest section to get good at. The main strategy? Develop a systematic approach to each question, and use it every single time. It’s like a golf swing. There are dozens of youtube videos going into the details of what to look for, definitely watch them, and develop your own strategy that you’ll use each time. Something a lot of people do is make a list of all the patterns they’ve seen, they’re gonna come up again, and if you’re lucky it’ll be in your test.
Situational Judgement Test (SJT)
This is a weird one, most universities openly admit that they don't care about the SJT, and that it might only be used to split 2 applicants with the same UCAT, ATAR and Interview (if applicable). Pretty much everything in here will be common sense, give the answer they’d want to hear, and if you can read up about medical ethics you’ll smash it. I’d personally say it’s not worth dedicating as much time and effort to, but if you’re tired on a Sunday afternoon it’s still worth it.
Using a UCAT Prep Resource
There are tons of online resources available for UCAT preparation, and although they come at a cost, they’ll provide almost unlimited resources, guides, practice questions and tests, and they’ll help you track your progress. An online UCAT program like the UCAT High-Performance Program is an affordable option that's significantly cheaper than most alternatives, allows you to try before you buy and is on a subscription, so you can use it as you please! Alternatively, if you'd like some one-on-one help which can also be super useful, a private UCAT tutor is your best option to help with accountability and personalised assistance.
My Top Tips
- The Flag and Return
In the UCAT, time is money, and multiple choice means you want to answer every single question - but you don't want to rush, miss trick questions or misread questions. How to get around this? As soon as you think it’s looking like not a good time to reward ratio, give a tentative answer, or a complete guess, then flag it. It’s super super easy to review just the flagged questions at the end, so this is an absolute must
- Train Your Brain
The UCAT is more of a sport than a test. What do I mean by this? You’ve gotta condition your brain to get good at all sorts of new skills, skim reading, pattern recognition, quick mental maths etc., so instead of ‘studying’ you’re ‘training’. Set yourself a routine you can stick to, and stick to it. Half an hour per day and a practice test on the weekend is a great start, but remember this isn’t a pass-fail test, you’re actively competing for a percentile grade. For every minute you spend watching TikTok, there's someone out there who’s practising UCAT. This leads perfectly to my next tip.
- Simulate the Test.
There are 3 ways to prepare for the UCAT: theory, practice questions, and practice tests. 2 hours of intense focus is difficult, so you might be great at turning your brain on for 21 minutes to do a VR before bed, but if you’re gassed after DM, it doesn't matter how good the rest of your UCAT is unless you can keep that intense focus up. Ideally, you should be looking to do a practice test every weekend while you’re preparing, and in the month leading up to the test maybe one each day.
- Test Day
You only get one crack at this test, and it costs a lot of money, so give yourself every chance to do well. Ideally, you would’ve booked a time, date and venue that you’re happy with - if don’t worry, just make the best of it. Sleep well for a week leading up to it, keep exercising, keep practising and refining your skills, eat healthily, definitely don't go out drinking the night before, and my advice would be to lay off the alcohol for at least a week or so before the test. Honestly, if you’ve put in the time and effort, you need to back yourself in for a solid score. Check out the venue for parking etc. the day before, and dress in whatever makes you feel comfortable, whether that's smart casual, a full suit, or boardies and a surf shirt. Confidence and comfort are key, so walk in with your head high, stomach full, and bladder empty, and be prepared to take your first major step towards getting into Med (or dent) school
The UCAT is nasty, it's intimidating, and it’s highly competitive, but if you want it badly enough then put in the time, and you can be proud of whatever result you get knowing you’ve given it your all. If you're in need of help, check out some of Australia's best UCAT Tutors.
Written by KIS Academics Tutor Ned Woodgate. Ned is currently studying a Bachelor of Medicine/ Bachelor of Surgery at JCU and is well on his way to becoming a doctor. You can view Ned's profile here and request him as a tutor. Find our UCAT tutors here.