Not everything in life goes to plan. So, what if you get a low UCAT score? What are your options? Can you still get into medicine? In this article, we will begin by understanding what a low UCAT score actually is and your prospects after getting one.
What Is A Low UCAT Score?
The UCAT is scored on a scale of 300-900 for the four main sections excluding situational judgement. This means that one can score anywhere between 1200 and 3600 for four sections combined. However, we often hear people talk about an overall UCAT score along the lines of 650, 680, or 750. What does this mean? Are they referring to their score in just one section?
No, they are referring to an average score across all four sections. It is common, therefore, to talk of UCAT scores in this way, and this is the method we will be using mainly in this article. If you’re curious as to how you should translate an average UCAT score into a total score, just multiply it by four.
Based on a range of 300-900, the lowest score one can get is 300. But how low is considered low enough? Well, it is very important to understand that interpretation of UCAT scores is relative and varies from year to year. What is considered a low UCAT score in one year, might not be considered a low UCAT score in another year.
It is therefore important to understand that the ‘highness’ and the ‘lowness’ of your score predominantly depends on how you fared relative to others in your cohort. To further understand this, let’s have a look at UCAT test scores from 2019 and 2020 in deciles—1 being the lowest 10% and 9 being the top 10%.
In 2019, a score of 620 would have made it in the top 50%, but in 2020 the same score was almost in the bottom 40% of the cohort. The data clearly shows that UCAT scores are increasing overtime. This means that the bar is constantly being raised and that one needs to score higher than previous years to secure the same percentile score.
So, in percentile terms, what is considered a low UCAT score? The answer can be inferred from university UCAT cut-offs published on their websites. A lot of universities employ cut-offs, where candidates below a certain percentile are not invited for an interview, which is the first stage of the admissions process. This means that if you score below the cut-off, your application is likely to be discarded from the outset.
The University of New South Wales (UNSW), for instance, states on their Bachelor of Medical Studies webpage that “it is expected that only applicants who have reached the 50th percentile would meet the threshold to be invited for an interview”.
According to our data, the 50th percentile in 2019 stood around 618 and 630 in 2020. So, anything below these scores will not have been competitive enough to be considered for an interview.
The cut-off scores published on Newcastle University’s website suggest an even more competitive picture. The cut-off in 2020 was 2730, which translates to 683 on an average basis. This was somewhere between the 70th and 80th percentiles.
That is very high indeed. However, we must not be fixated with cut-offs since a lot of universities employ a more holistic process to shortlist candidates.
Generally speaking, however, any score below the 50th percentile would be considered low. In 2019 this was 618, in 2020 it was 630, in 2021 it is likely to be even higher. Getting into medicine is indeed competitive. Luckily, UCAT scores are not everything in your medical school application, and for good reason. Even if you score low, you still have plenty of options.
Options With A Low UCAT Score
It is important to remember that your UCAT score is only one of the three most important aspects of your application. The other two are your ATAR and your interview performance.
The majority of schools adopt a holistic approach, whereby they weigh each aspect of your application in determining whether you will be offered a place on the program. This means that even if you scored low on the UCAT you can make up for it by outperforming in your interview or by having a very high ATAR.
So, even if you scored low on the UCAT all is not lost. Here’s some possible courses of action:
As already pointed out, your UCAT score is only one aspect of your application. Getting a low UCAT score certainly dents your chances, but it doesn’t mean getting admission is impossible. If you’re academically strong, i.e., you have a strong ATAR, a lot of universities will weigh that highly. Generally, it’s a combination of both your UCAT and ATAR that determines whether you’ll be invited for an interview. So, with a low UCAT but high ATAR chances are that you could be invited for an interview.
However, there are likely to be a strong number of applications out there. At the interview you need to ensure that you impress because that will offset your weakness in the UCAT. With a mediocre interview and low UCAT, it's almost a certainty that you wouldn’t be offered an admission.
James Cook University does not require you to sit the UCAT for admission into undergraduate medicine. These programs are always an option if you score low in the UCAT. Even if you get a low score, we certainly recommend applying –you’ll never know if you never tried.
Depending on your personal circumstances, you could still be admitted. If, for instance, you come from a rural area or classify as an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, your merit could be evaluated differently from normal candidates.
Monash, Curtin, and Newcastle are just some schools where you will receive a competitive edge if you come from a rural background. A low UCAT score will not dent your chances significantly if you fall into this category. So, it is worth considering your personal circumstances in your applications. You could apply strategically with a low UCAT score and still get admission.
Take The UCAT Again
Sometimes, you just must live to fight another day. It is okay if it didn’t work out for you on the day. You can stay determined and give it another shot. The downside is that you basically get one shot at the UCAT in high school. This is due to the eligibility criteria laid out by the UCAT consortium where you can only take the UCAT once a year and only if you’re a final year year-12 student.
This means that if you scored low in the UCAT in year 12, you do not have another chance to retake before you send out your applications.
However, you can take it next year. Whether you’re taking a gap year, or you’ve started university, you can still have another shot at the UCAT. There is, however, a caveat. Undergraduate medical programs are meant for school leavers; some schools will not offer admissions to non-school leavers, i.e., students already enrolled in other undergraduate courses.
But this does not mean that you cannot give it another shot. Re-taking the UCAT can increase your chances of improving your score since you have more time to prepare and you’re familiar with the test. If you’re determined enough, re-taking the UCAT is a serious option to consider.
Moving on does not mean you give up on your medical dreams. In fact, the majority of students get into medicine at the graduate level via Doctor of Medicine (MD) programs. You apply for the MD after completing an undergraduate degree and taking the GAMSAT. So, if you got a low UCAT score, do not worry, you can still become a doctor, and you can do it with the peace of mind that the majority of students get into medicine via graduate programs anyway.
Take it easy, enjoy your university days, and prepare yourself for graduate medical schooladmissions. Just like the UCAT, the GAMSAT is also a psychometric aptitude exam. There are some notable differences but insofar as psychometric testing approach is concerned, both tests are testing similar skills. So, there is likely to be some flow-on benefits from your UCAT prep.
Where To Next?
All in all, having a low UCAT score does not mean the end of the world. There’re still plenty of options available to you, so please consider them carefully and plan your course of action. You can still put in your application, re-take the test, and contemplate the possibility of graduate study. The most important thing is not to give up. So, do still apply to schools, prioritizing those that do not weigh your UCAT highly or do not consider your UCAT scores at all. If you’re passionate and determined, let nothing stop you, especially not a low UCAT score.