Performing well in the UCAT is not an easy task; it requires a focussed and well-informed approach to study and exam preparation. Whilst UCAT practice questions published by the consortium are freely available for all test candidates, scoring well on the UCAT requires both practice and strategic planning.
Developing a strategy that enables you to visualise your individual strengths and weaknesses, and adapting your exam strategy accordingly, can help differentiate you from your peers and excel enough to get into your dream medical school.
It is important to first note that a one-size fits all study approach is not ideal for the UCAT. Each student has their own individual strengths and weaknesses, and each UCAT subtest assesses a different reasoning skill. As such, it is incredibly difficult to standardise a study journey that will maximise a student’s UCAT score in a way that speaks to their individual strengths and weaknesses. It is for this reason that we believe an iterative, yet personalised study approach, is the best way to prepare for UCAT.
To begin this iterative process, we must first understand, what is the UCAT?
How can you efficiently prepare for the UCAT while still in high school? Download the full infographic to create the perfect UCAT study schedule!
What Is The UCAT ANZ?
The University Clinical Aptitude Test for Australia and New Zealand (UCAT ANZ) is used, adjunct to your academic qualifications and an interview, to determine which applicants are suited to study medicine.
The exam itself broadly consists of 225 multiple choice questions which must be answered over a period of 1 hour 55 minutes. These multiple choice questions are broken down into five sub-sections, designed to assess various attributes and qualities that participating universities see as essential for their prospective medical students.
How Do I Prepare For The UCAT ANZ?
The iterative process of UCAT preparation respects the dynamic nature of study, helping students to distance themselves from the monotonous and often obsolete repetition-based learning.
The foundation of iterative study is that a student’s strategy changes as they learn and improve, moving away from the “one-strategy through and through approach” so that students can continue to push themselves and their UCAT score further.
Iterative study challenges traditional repetition-based study methods wherein we are encouraged to reflect upon learned strategies, modify them based on observed errors and experience to become more proficient, reflect again on such strategies, and continue to modify them to improve strategy efficacy over time. Iterative study changes an individual's learning journey from a narrow and linear mode of study to a dynamic, efficiency-based form of learning that would be expected of any prospective medical doctor.
So where do we begin with the iterative study process?
Understanding The UCAT
Initially, we must make a note to comprehend the UCAT as an exam and it’s requirements. What is the exam testing, and why is it being tested? Below is a brief breakdown of the exam subtests:
Click here to read more about the UCAT ANZ test.
Sit A UCAT Practice Exam
Sit a UCAT practice exam to assess your baseline strengths and weaknesses in the UCAT. Before you begin your UCAT study, it is important to understand your positionality in the UCAT subtests so that you can plan your study in an efficient manner so as to emphasise your study on weaker UCAT subsections.
In sitting a practice, or diagnostic, exam you will gain experience with the user interface of the UCAT exam and its different functions. For example, getting familiar with the calculator, “Flag,” and “Review” functions and their respective keyboard shortcuts can help you to manage your time more effectively in the exam.
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Learn UCAT Strategies
If you’re completely new to the UCAT, it’s a good idea to start with the UCAT’s fundamental theory. UCAT theory helps students to understand how the exam and each of its respective subtests are structured, question types within these subtests, and common strategies to approach each question type in order to maximise your UCAT score.
The UCAT consortium offers some common strategies and worked solutions to practice questions available online for free. At Fraser's, we’ve spent the past two years perfecting a multitude of helpful strategies for each subtest, which you can practice yourself on our free 2,000+ UCAT practice question database.
If you’re looking for more assistance in your UCAT preparation, we also offer some UCAT preparation courses to help you to gradually increase your response speed, enabling you to complete the exam on time, as well as maintaining the highest accuracy rate by using strategies personalised to you.
Generating Your Own Study Approach For The UCAT
After understanding the core elements of the UCAT, this is when we can begin to generate our own individualised study guide. If you are using a UCAT preparatory course, this step does not replace the pedagogy of the course, but rather works alongside it in individualising your study.
The approach to the iterative process is imperfect due dynamic nature and the absence of completion - it is a cycle to be repeated, to find flaws in reasoning and to amend the imperfections in study strategy. In engaging in this cycle, we enter a dynamic state of improvement, every step forward you take, you sit, reflect, and find more imperfections to continue your journey.
A question log can help you take the first steps of reflection: recognising patterns or trends that may be hindering your exam performance.
A UCAT question log can be very helpful in highlighting more nuanced strengths and weaknesses in preparation for the UCAT exam. By keeping track of the subsection, corresponding question type, your reasoning and whether you were correct or incorrect, it can help identify unbeknownst patterns that may be hindering your exam performance.
When Should I Start Studying For The UCAT?
Studying for the UCAT requires diligence and persistence. You may want to allocate a certain time in the week to prepare for the exam. Highest scoring candidates said they spent around 25-30 hours preparing for the UCAT over a period of six weeks. Most high scoring candidates did a minimum of one hour each day in refining key background concepts, practicing specific question types or UCAT subtests, or even creating approaches, frameworks or mnemonics to overcome areas of extreme cognitive weakness.
UCAT Study Tips
Avoid the Calculator!
Try to avoid the calculator unless absolutely necessary. Using the calculator in Decision Making or Quantitative Reasoning sections of the UCAT can be quite time consuming due to the finicky nature of the computer-based calculator. Guesstimation and mental maths are highly recommended in place of the calculator, as the exam is extremely time sensitive.
Focus on the Question
Many students focus too much on passage comprehension, that is, reading arduously long passages and noting irrelevant information, instead of focussing on the task at hand: what the question is asking.
Balance Both Weaknesses and Strengths
Of course, to do well in the UCAT, you address your weaknesses in the UCAT exam - whether it be an entire subtest or a question-type within a subtest; however many students place such a strong emphasis on their weaknesses, forgetting their strengths entirely. As such, to score well in the UCAT, students should tend to both their weaknesses and strengths during their exam preparation.
Always Mark an Answer
Make sure you always put down an answer for a question, whether you are sure or unsure, as no marks are deducted in the UCAT for incorrect answers. Remember that you have an approximate 25% chance of getting the correct answer regardless of your understanding.
And finally, remember that studying is like riding a bike. It’s important to begin your practice slowly with your training wheels, or strategies close at hand, to keep you steady and balanced. When you gain more confidence with your technique, try to go a little faster. When you reach a comfortable speed, remove your training wheels and charge full speed ahead until you get to your destination - medical school.