How to use the calculator efficiently in the UCAT exam

How to use the calculator efficiently in the UCAT exam

Mark Williams
July 29, 2020

Preparation for the UCAT exam is key to success. And this is even true for small things, that may seem trivial, such as using the provided calculator in the UCAT exam.

Time is of the essence in the UCAT exam and if you are not prepared, and used to using the equipment you are provided with, then you will waste vital time fiddling around and inefficiently using the calculator.

On the other hand, you don’t want to be using the calculator for every single question in the Quantitative reasoning section. Especially for simple mental maths calculations, as this again will waste vital time, meaning you might not even answer all the questions and lose points.


On-computer calculator

I myself wish that I had spent more time using an on computer calculator, as I had only practised with a handheld physical one in my revision. So I definitely wasted time due to not being used to using the on-screen calculator.

In this article, I will cover how best to use the calculator in the UCAT exam, how best to approach questions in the Quantitative reasoning part of the UCAT exam, and useful tips and tricks for how you can brush up on your mental maths skills before the exam. As with all articles, keep a pen and paper handy so that you can jot down tips and tricks you find especially useful, and for specific guidance or questions about the UCAT exam, check out the UCAT consortium website, and send them questions on their social media.


Mental maths tips and tricks

If like me, you haven’t chosen to take maths at A-level, you may be dreading having to dredge up and reuse those mental maths skills you thought you had finally managed to leave behind! However, it’s really worth taking some time to brush up on these skills though, as if you can quickly figure out sums in your head, this means you don’t have to waste as much time inputting all the numbers to the calculator.

If you waste less time, then you can answer more questions, and hopefully score more points. Some of these tips might seem quite basic, but hopefully, you will at least some of the applicable or helpful to you.


Know your times tables!

This might seem like a very basic primary school skill, but not knowing basic things like this will cost you dearly in the exam if you are constantly having to tap them into the calculator. If you have a younger primary school aged sibling, this is a great opportunity for you to do some homework together – help them by testing them, but also let them test you. If you don’t have a younger sibling to hand, there are lots of apps and online resources you can use to test your times tables.

Still sticking to times tables!

When it comes to trying to times larger numbers in your head, it’s sometimes best to break the numbers down, for example if you’re wanting to times 19 by 6, do 10 times 6 which equals 60, then 9 times six which equals 54, then you simply add them together to get 114. This works for other types of sums too.


Round numbers up or down when adding.

To give you a ballpark figure which you can then correct if you need to, e.g. rounding 89 to 100 and then subtracting 11 from your answer.


Break a sum down into smaller steps. 

This might take you a fraction longer, but if it means you get the right answer and don’t get as stressed then it may well be worth it.



Simple things like calculating the price of your shopping whilst you’re going round the shop, or just doing 5 minutes of practice using a mental maths or brain training app etc. a day can make a real difference.


How best to approach questions in the Quantitative reasoning part of the UCAT exam during the exam

As with all parts of the exam, stay calm and make sure you read through the question properly, you don’t want to get the wrong end of the stick and end up working out the wrong sums because you haven’t understood the question.

If you don’t think that you will be able to answer the question quickly enough, then choose an answer randomly (never leave an answer blank as this means you’ll definitely not score any points for it!) and flag the question so that you can come back to it at the end of the section if you have time (be aware that you can’t go back to flagged questions once you’ve moved onto another section of the exam).

As I mentioned in the mental maths question earlier, rounding numbers can be really helpful, it can provide a ballpark figure you expect your eventual answer to be round about and can be used to quickly rule out wrong multiple choice answers if you’re running out of time, so don’t have enough time to work through the whole question.


How to best use the calculator during the UCAT exam

As I have eluded to earlier in the article, the trick to using the calculator well is to use it as infrequently as possible. It can waste a lot of time if you are constantly inputting small easy sums into the calculator.

Equally, the calculator is there for a reason, so don’t be afraid to use it if you need to! Especially if a sum is quite long or complex, by using your calculator you can be less likely to make mistakes, and more likely to get the right answer.

Having said this, if you’re in a rush it can be very easy to mistype, so double-check all your calculations before you press ‘=’ on the calculator, so you can be sure you’ve not made an error.

Also, make sure to quickly jot down the steps in your working out somewhere, this way, if you think you’ve got the wrong answer, you can track back through this to try and figure out where it has gone wrong.


Practise and you will be fine!

Preparing for the quantitative reasoning part of the UCAT exam can feel very daunting and overwhelming but try not to worry too much. As with the UCAT in general, the best thing you can do is to practice as much as you can. In this case practice getting used to using the online calculator.

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