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Why UCAT Practice Doesn’t Necessarily Make You Perfect

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The UCAT is known for its unique question-styles, which are specifically designed to select  students best suited for medical practice. The UCAT, therefore, is not just an assessment of your academic knowledge but also expands into recognising your problem-solving and critical thinking skills.

The UCAT is broadly undertaken by students who are in the process of finishing, or have recently finished their Year 12 and are looking to transition into undergraduate medicine. Hence, for most students sitting a high-stakes exam like the UCAT, this exam is unlike anything that they have likely faced in the past. Therefore, if you are in this position, it is important to begin your UCAT preparation in advance so you have ample time to take the right course of action to do as well as possible.

However, is practicing multiple UCAT questions regularly sufficient to obtain a high score? 

Well, in all honesty, it is not. UCAT practice questions are an essential component; however, attempting practice questions blindly without a proper direction is unlikely to translate to major improvements in UCAT exam score.

Practice makes perfect, but for the UCAT, developing your approach and cultivating your skills are essential to learning how to tackle the difficulties of the test!

How Do I Study For The UCAT?

Develop Multiple Strategies To Approach UCAT Questions

One common mistake that many students tend to make while preparing for the UCAT is focusing on one specific strategy instead of reflecting and adapting from each UCAT practice test. Getting too comfortable with one execution style is not advisable for any skills-focused exam. The UCAT test format breaks question types down distinctly. For many students, this breakdown can be used as a kind of checklist, developing one strategy for every question type. Remember that in the UCAT, while you may know what question types tend to come up, there is no way to know other factors such as length of text, distractors, or time available to you for that question on the test day. Therefore, you cannot assume that one strategy will be sufficient for all question-styles. 

Remember that the UCAT exam is a measure of your ability to demonstrate cognitive flexibility across different questions, under time pressure conditions. So, each question-type needs to be examined from multiple angles to figure out the ideal solution while racing against time. Hence, during your preparation, you should be focused on researching more than one viable strategy for each question type. You just never know - a question that was a cakewalk in your UCAT practice test may not necessarily be easy to tackle on the actual UCAT test day with mounting time pressure and stressors.

Let’s look into an example to understand the essence of this point.

UCAT Abstract Reasoning Example

The Abstract Reasoning (AR) questions are designed to observe your ability to identify spatial patterns and the shifts in trends. One of the styles in the AR subsection is Set A, Set B, and Neither answer format, which is often regarded as the most confusing question-type. 

Take a look at the following images - Image A and Image B

Image A


Image A

Image B

Image B

Both Set A and Set B belong to the same UCAT question-style (Set A, B or neither) and yet they vary a great deal in terms of shape, pattern, and overall appearance. If we were to approach Image A, we need to observe the arrangement of the two shapes and angles of symmetry. 

In Set A, the black shape is always rightward and has multiple angles of symmetry while the white shape is leftward with a single angle of symmetry. In Set B, the black shape is always leftward and has one angle of symmetry while the white shape is rightward and has multiple angles of symmetry. This kind of pattern can be found using a systematic approach looking for common aspects between all the boxes.

In contrast, Image B has a very different type of pattern present. In Set A, if the number of intersections in the figure is even, then shaded circles are present while if the number of intersections in the figure occurs in an odd order sequence, there are unshaded circles present. The squares act like distractors. Meanwhile in Set B, if the number of intersections in the figure is an odd order sequence, there are shaded circles present and if the number of intersections in the figure is even, there are unshaded circles present. 

This explicitly highlights that the Set A, Set B and Neither questions are typically visou-spatial question-types. Additionally, while both questions are visuospatial, each question demands a distinct course of action and strategy. Finding the pattern in Image B requires a different perspective and approach to Image A because the pattern is formulaic - there is no common aspect between all the boxes, rather it varies based on intersections. 

Focus On Improving Efficiency Against Time

 UCAT preparation is firstly about understanding the content, then developing an ability to tackle questions in multiple ways, and finally, improving UCAT efficiency. Our experienced UCAT tutors often advise students to be critical of their preparation strategies as the more you reflect upon your shortcomings in each UCAT section, the better you become at identifying and correcting these mistakes before the real exam. Consider asking yourself “are my techniques usable in a time constrained situation?”.

 We often assume that time management is an innate ability, but it is quite the opposite. Splitting the allocated time between questions that need more attention compared to those that are relatively achievable cannot be mastered overnight. In fact, our UCAT mock exams in each of our courses are strategically placed from the start to the end of your preparation timeline. In doing this, we can be confident that you understand the fundamentals and can manage your time effectively while also being at peak performance by the end of the UCAT course.

 It takes multiple months to attune your time management skills. Hence, our UCAT tutors recommend that you maintain a reflective mentality. Spending time on reflection will help you to address different questions, and additionally, point out areas of weaknesses. This type of preparation is often considered to be a smart way of approaching the questions rather than merely doing the questions again and again without extracting all possible learning points.

Identify The Nature Of The UCAT Question

Ultimately the question-types in the UCAT aim to identify capable students whose interpretation and reasoning skills are suitable for a career in medicine. In saying that, we should be aware that the UCAT questions are not just time-strapped, infact, some are very tricky in nature. Although there are certain core cognitive skills that are assessed in your overall exam, you should be able to identify a particular question-type, which allows you to consider the skills and knowledge that you need to demonstrate to reach the right outcome.

With core skills in mind, your UCAT study should involve training yourself to recognise the time-strapped questions and the tricky question-types. Once you are successful in identifying this pattern, you can become more swift in your decision making to attempt certain questions you are familiar with at a fast pace, and flag trickier questions that you could revisit later.

Furthermore, an understanding of the UCAT scoring system can also help you on test day. One of the interesting facts about UCAT scores is that each section is scored independently of each other. What this means is that poor performance in Decision Making will not adversely affect your Verbal Reasoning section. Therefore, if you receive a low score in DM but obtain a high VR score, you could still secure a spot in the top decile overall amongst your cohort.

Where To Next?

We hope that this article has given essential information about the UCAT preparation and what elements need to be kept in focus in order to have a successful sitting!

If you wish to learn more about the UCAT space and useful courses that can refine your preparation, feel free to visit Fraser's UCAT website.

If you are a first-timer sitting the UCAT, we also have an article about how to register for the UCAT! Here are a few articles to get you started on the basics of the UCAT exam and its different subsections:

  1. What is the UCAT?
  2. What does UCAT Decision Making Assess?
  3. What is the UCAT Abstract Reasoning?
  4. What is the Verbal Reasoning in the UCAT?
  5. What is the Quantitative Reasoning Section?