Managing your time is extremely important in the UCAT. The real challenge of the exam is not getting the questions right, it is getting them right in an extremely short amount of time. How short? Well, on average 33 seconds. That is a truly short amount of time. This means that practicing time management, and implementing proven strategies that optimize effort, could prove to be the difference between you getting a great and an average score.
In this article, we will take each section in turn and talk about section-specific, as well as general exam strategies that you can implement to improve time management on the UCAT. Let’s dive in.
UCAT Section Times Explained
Let’s begin by establishing some baseline facts. The UCAT has four main sections: Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, Abstract Reasoning, and Decision Making. We’re excluding Situational Judgement from the mix since it is marked separately from the other sections. For each section, you will be given 1 minute of reading time plus the times outlined in the table below.
Why is the timing different across sections? Well, for a start, you have a different number of questions per section. The verbal reasoning section, for instance, contains 44 questions, as opposed to decision making which contains 29 questions. But wait, this doesn’t make much sense, does it? Why is there less time allocated for a section that contains more questions?
UCAT Timing Breakdown
This is because UCAT section timing is determined by the type of questions, not by the number of questions in a section. Certain types of questions do not take a long time to attempt. Abstract reasoning questions, for example, only contain pictorial information, which is much faster to consume than reading entire paragraphs in answering verbal reasoning questions.
UCAT General Time Management Tips
The crucial thing to remember is that each question on the UCAT is worth one mark. Some sections are more pushed for time than others, but overall, each question, whether it is a verbal reasoning question or a decision-making question, carries the same weight towards your final score. This is valuable to know because it means that you can manage your time efficiently by focusing your efforts and time where you have the greatest chance of success.
Dealing With UCAT Difficulty
Having said that, you also want to attempt all the questions. Do not spend your time fretting over a hard UCAT question and forgoing time towards an easier question. Both are worth the same marks towards your final UCAT score. Develop a strategy to divide your time smartly so that you have a reasonable shot at all questions. Missing a question is a lose-lose situation. You can avoid it by learning how to tackle difficult questions. This is arguably the most important UCAT time management tip of all: learning to triage difficult questions.
Triaging entails assessing the difficulty of a question, making an educated guess, flagging it, and moving on. It is important not to spend more time being a perfectionist on a difficult question. The UCAT is, unfortunately, not made for perfectionists. Learn to move on from a difficult question, knowing that you might not have gotten it right. This might be an uncomfortable feeling, but you need to learn how to live to fight another day. Not every battle is to be won.
Certainly, not on the UCAT.
Given you can get through easier questions in a shorter amount of time, you will have enough time to have another shot at difficult questions. Triaging difficult questions allows you to maximise your chances to get the most questions right, which is your ultimate aim in the UCAT.
UCAT Keyboard Shortcuts
This is a great micro-efficiency tip that you can make use of. On the computer, the UCAT software will allow you to use certain keyboard shortcuts that can save you precious seconds each time you reach over to the mouse to click a button. Trust us, these seconds do add up because you will be doing a lot of moving between questions. Time saved can be used towards revising/rechecking your answers or on spending more time on getting the difficult questions right.
To some, this might seem trivial, but on a hyper-competitive, time-scare exam like the UCAT, seconds can prove the difference between getting vs not getting your preferred score. So, have a mindset where you are willing to avail every opportunity towards maximizing your chances of scoring higher. Here is a list of the short-cuts you can use:
- Next question: cmd + N
- Previous question: cmd + P
- Calculator: cmd + C
- Flag: cmd + F
It is basically the command key plus the first letter of any function you’re looking to perform.
UCAT Verbal Reasoning Time Management
The biggest time management issue in the verbal reasoning section is reading and consuming lengthy passages before you even get to the questions. Answering questions requires an understanding of the passage. You cannot make inferences or pick out key themes and arguments if you have not read the passage well. Therefore, you must learn how to read swiftly and efficiently.
Not all the information in the text is important. You need to filter important information in a passage. Knowing what to focus on and what not to will help you read faster.
Note the topic sentence (the first sentence of the paragraph), as this usually tells you what the whole paragraph is going to be about, with the argument to follow. In terms of parts to focus on in your reading; conclusions, premises, and arguments are more important elements of the text than examples, descriptions, and nouns. Most verbal reasoning questions require you to infer something from the passage, which is an extrapolation of the arguments and positions presented in the text.
So, learn how to read efficiently from a UCAT perspective. This will ensure that you retain the right pieces of information, whilst also increasing your speed.
UCAT Decision Making Time Management
If we refer back to the timing breakdown table, you notice that decision-making questions have the most time allocated to them. Do not be fooled by this generosity. It is for good reason since decision-making questions are varied and time-consuming. These questions often require synthesising a lot of information, which can be hard to do in your head. Here is where you can make use of the whiteboard.
Visualising information, synthesising it through Venn diagrams, lists, and tables can save you a lot of time. Not only this, but it will also increase your chances of getting questions right since you’re less likely to make errors doing things in your head. So, make use of the whiteboard in this section. It will certainly help you solve questions faster.
UCAT Abstract Reasoning Time Management
Abstract reasoning is a notorious section. A huge part of this notoriety comes from the fact that you only have roughly 14 seconds per question. This is pretty tough. How many seconds does it take you to read a question, scratch your head, and wonder, “what did I just read?”? 14 seconds! This is an unreasonably short amount of time, but that’s the abstract reasoning challenge. It is not getting the question right, it’s getting it right in 14 seconds. If given more time, you’re more than likely to unlock these questions, but that’s, sadly, not how the UCAT works.
So, what can we do to speed up? The best thing to do here is to practice a lot, make a list of recurring patterns, and keep them in the back of your mind when doing abstract reasoning questions. This works simply because patterns repeat themselves. The fact that you’re able to pick up a pattern quickly means that you have more time for unlocking more complex patterns. This is a great way to speed yourself up and maximize your chances of getting the most questions right.
UCAT Quantitative Reasoning Time Management
Quantitative reasoning is all about using reasoning within the laws of mathematics to answer questions. There are a number of mathematical topics covered in quantitative reasoning, e.g., shapes, speed, time, etc. Each of these topics in turn has equations associated with it. Memorizing common equations will help you solve questions quicker. It is a great way to make information you repeatedly need more accessible so that you can save time answering questions.
Another quantitative reasoning tip is to improve your mental maths ability by avoiding using the calculator. The calculator on the UCAT takes time to pull out. You must click on every number to input it, and then work out your answer. While getting the result can be quick, inputting all the data can take a lot of time. So, from a time management perspective, the most sensible thing to do is to avoid using it. Most of the calculations you will encounter in quantitative reasoning can be done in your head.
Only go to the calculator if you really need to. So, work on your mental maths, develop the confidence to do simple calculations in your head so you can minimize your use of the calculator and maximize your critical thinking time to solve the questions correctly.
Time management is an important skill to learn and master for UCAT success. One thing that is worth reiterating is the importance of practice. Know that none of what has been said in this article can be achieved without consistent and targeted practice. So, go on and practice these tips as much as you can. Results will come gradually, so be patient and practice.
Where To From Here?
The UCAT exam is a highly competitive aptitude test that demands you to be quick-witted in devising solutions under pressure. Hence, cultivate a habit to judge the difficulty of a UCAT question to be time efficient, and achieve a good UCAT score.
Furthermore, Fraser’s strongly advocates for adequate preparation before sitting the UCAT. Hence, undertake UCAT prep courses and consistently practice multiple mock exams to get the knack of the UCAT.