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University Clinical Aptitude Test (UCAT) : Tips to Prepare

You are ready for the exams and you know you will score well enough to get a place at your chosen med school. But you still have to do the University Clinical Aptitude Test UCAT before being invited to take up that place.

And this is going to be a different test to any you have done throughout your academic career. Up to now, you have been tested on your academic prowess.

UCAT, however, isn’t concerned about your IQ levels. Your examination results will show that. UCAT’s concern is to check if you have the aptitudes necessary to pursue a medical career.

UCAT’s purpose is to test you on your communication, problem-solving and decision-making skills. It also evaluates your integrity, your ability to work as part of a team and how empathetic you are.

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How Do I Prepare for the UCAT?

Preparing for the UCAT requires you first of all to become familiar with the format of the test and, secondly, to practise on sample papers similar to the ones used in the real test.

To do this, it is advisable to use the services of a test preparation company. We recommend using Job Test Prep, a company with many years of experience in preparing students for admission tests.

Using their services, you will get accurate and reliable information on UCAT as well as resources to practice on. They will provide you with test practice materials containing sample papers modelled on the real test, a useful scoring tool to check your results as you work through the papers, and detailed explanations of questions and answers.

To get a picture of the types of tests they can give you, check out the following free sample UCAT paper.

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What Is the Format of UCAT?

The UCAT is a two-hour computerised test. In those two hours, you have to do 232 questions.

The test assesses your comprehension skills and your numerical ability. Your logical ability is assessed in tests where you have to work with shapes and patterns in visual data. Your ability to handle real-life situations in an appropriate manner is tested in SJTs (Situational Judgement Tests)

Over the two hours you will have a limited amount of time to answer the various questions:

  • Verbal reasoning requires you to answer 44 questions in 22 minutes
  • Quantitative reasoning allows you 25 minutes to do 36 questions
  • Abstract reasoning allows 14 minutes for 55 questions
  • Decision making requires you to answer 32 questions in 29 minutes
  • A Situational judgement test allows 37 minutes for 68 questions

The exceptionally tight time frame does not allow for the luxury of facing the UCAT unprepared. It is essential to begin your preparation as early as you possibly can, firstly to familiarise yourself with the type of questioning and secondly to train yourself to answer in the time allowed.

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What Is on the UCAT?

The following areas feature cognitive tests.

In each area, you will be tested on your reasoning skills.

Verbal Reasoning

In this section, you will be presented with reading exercises in which you will have to answer 44 multiple-choice questions.

The piece of reading will generally be followed by a statement which you must say in light of the passage is 1 True, 2 False, 3 Cannot say. The answer “Cannot say” means there is insufficient information in the passage to make a decision.

Regular practice with sample comprehension pieces will hone your skills at working through the passage quickly and selecting an answer.

Remember, all answers must be based on the material in the passage.

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Quantitative Reasoning

For this, you need to look again at the four basic mathematical functions, addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Fractions, ratios and percentages may also rear their heads in this section of the test. You will be allowed to use a basic calculator in the test so it is best to use a calculator while doing sample tests.

In the scoring system, you get scores for all correct answers, but you do not lose marks for incorrect answers. Bearing this in mind, answer all questions to the best of your ability.

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Abstract Reasoning

Abstract reasoning requires you to study shapes and patterns and recognise the rule governing a sequence of shapes. For example, you may be asked:

  • Which set of shapes a particular shape might belong to
  • A next in series question. You may have to decide which shape naturally follows a sequence of shapes
    You may have a sequence of shapes with one box empty. You will have to decide which shape should fill the box.
  • In the real test, you will have to do 55 questions in 14 minutes. Regular practice will train you to identify patterns in a series and deduct the rule they are following.

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To get an idea of this type of question, try the following sample.

Assessment pattern

As you can see from this question, you will have to work quickly while at the same time being accurate.

Decision Making

You can expect five types of questions in the decision-making section. You will be presented with data and expected to make a decision from that data. For example, you will be given a statistical date and have to answer questions on it.

Or, in a series of sentences, you will have to decide if the sentences follow one another logically. You may even have to choose an answer to a question that is in the public domain.

You may feel that your data handling skills are being evaluated. But in reality, it is your ability to make decisions that is under scrutiny and especially your decision-making skills when under time pressure.

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The Situational Judgement Test (SJT)

Consider the SJT as the most important part of the testing process.

Here you are placed in a situation that might arise in a medical setting and asked multiple-choice questions about how you would respond to it.

Even though you have not yet enrolled in medical school, try to think like a doctor when doing the SJT. This question will reveal if you have the empathy, teamwork spirit and integrity that are essential in the medical profession. Your answers illustrate if you can behave as a doctor should.

Therefore it is hardly surprising that the SJT carries the greatest weight of marks in the UCAT. In terms of scores, it is worth the same as the four cognitive tests. Devote as much of your preparation time as you can to it.

Expect questions along the following lines.

Two students, Mary and Jane, are paired to work together on their final year project at med school. The project is worth 50% of their final grade for both of them. Jane asks Mary to do most of the work as she is having personal problems.

Mary agrees to the request as she has noticed Jane struggling.

Q How appropriate was Mary’s response in your opinion?

1 A very appropriate thing to do
2 Appropriate but not ideal
3 Inappropriate but not awful
4 Very inappropriate

To get a headstart on your practice, assess what each of the four answers might tell you about the respondent. Then decide which of the four answers would best pinpoint a future doctor.

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Preparing for UCAT

The secret to good preparation is to use your sample papers and practise, practise, and practise again. Monitor your progress. Get to know the types of questions asked and learn to manage your timing.

And recognise you can do this!

If you are doing UCAT, you will find all the resources you need to ace it here.

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Written by Elizabeth O Mahony

With 25+ years’ experience as a teacher and state examinations corrector, Elizabeth now writes for the education and careers industry. Her experience preparing students for examinations and running an academy for supplementary education give her invaluable insights into what it takes for job seekers and graduates to succeed in assessments.