Author: Holly M.
Fourth Year Medical Student
“You can’t prepare for the UCAT” – WRONG!
The most important thing to know about the UCAT is that you CAN prepare for it. And it’s important that you do! It is a common misconception that the UCAT test can’t be revised for, but this is simply not the case, and with practice your score can improve greatly. In my case, I improved from my first practice score to my final ‘real’ score by over 700 points.
If you want to learn how medical students get really high scores on the UCAT, I would recommend an advanced course. Check out the UCAT Crash Course or the UCAT Masterclass. You can do 1000s of practice questions but if you don’t know the strategies and techniques you could miss out on maximising your score.
Another thing you need to do before getting stuck into preparing and revising for the UCAT, is to look at universities you want to go to, so that you have a rough idea of the score you need to get, and how much weight they place on UCAT scores for interview selection – so you know what you need to be aiming for.
What practicalities should I think about?
1. Set a date for the exam and book it! – Make sure that the actual exam date doesn’t clash with end of year exams or any holidays, and also that you’ll be able to fit in enough revision time in the run up to the exam. Setting a date will give you a fixed target and goal to work towards.
2. At home or a test centre? – This year students will have the option of taking the UCAT at home via an online testing platform. There will also be some centres open (usually local driving test centres). You will need to make the decision where you will take the exam? It might be tempting to do it at home, but if you can’t focus or there are potential distractions, maybe a test centre is better for you.
3. Should I pay for online courses to help? – We are a little biased as we have online courses. However, our students do score significantly higher than the national averages, so we think our courses are worth the investment.
4. Be aware that the UCAT can change in price after a certain date. – There is also a bursary scheme and a UCATSEN if you need additional support.
How can I plan my preparation for the UCAT?
Treat UCAT revision as you would any other revision for a proper school subject. Timetable in specific revision slots at least a month in advance of your exam date, with increased revision frequency closer to the exam date. Hopefully you will know what time of day works for you in terms of revision, and I would advise taking the same approach as you would with revision for school exams.
If you know that procrastination or distractions are a problem for you during revision, it might be worth pre-empting these. Useful downloads which can block certain websites, timed revision sessions and finding a good study environment will all help to improve your UCAT score.
How do I prepare for the UCAT?
Start by taking some time to go through the UCAT website so that you get a good understanding of the test structure and how it will be marked.
My advice would be to do an initial full exam in exam conditions, having not done any revision, to see where you’re at. Don’t worry if it’s a “bad score”, this is just a starting point you can use to guide your study. If it is clear that you’re already really good in one area, then you know you don’t have to revise this area as much and vice versa.
It is up to you whether you either decide to focus on one type of question at time until it has sufficiently improved, or if you want to vary your revision and revise different types at the same time. If you’re unsure, you could always start with just revising one type at a time, but if you find you’re becoming too fatigued or distracted then it might be worth mixing it up a bit. The most important thing is to not avoid the areas you find difficult, as these are the ones you should be focussing on!
After this, it is a case of practicing as much as you can. For practicing individual types of questions, you can find lots of question banks. I would recommend using UCATs free online question banks and pairing with a paid course like the UCAT Crash Course or Masterclass. This balance of learning advanced strategies and repetition will be key.
Your school or public library will probably have at least one UCAT book which I would recommend loaning out, or if not, you can get cheap second hand UCAT books online. The UCAT website itself has full papers which can be done when you feel you have sufficiently revised all the individual parts. I would recommend doing at least one full paper once a week so that you can track your progress and see if there are any areas of weakness.
Be aware that the UCAT used to be called the UKCAT, so some older resources will refer to this, the exam has changed a few times so it’s worth working through newer resources before older ones, but the old ones are still good as the questions and sections of the exam are of a similar style.
If you are part of a group of friends who are all doing it, you could have a weekly check in with each other or a group chat to see how you’re all doing and discuss any difficult questions you’ve come across and work through them together.
As with any revision, make sure you take regular breaks and don’t overdo it!
What should I do before / during / after the exam?
The normal advice still applies for the night before an exam, try to get to bed early, eat breakfast, wear comfortable clothing and double check you have everything you need before you leave the house.
During the exam don’t stress, you have more time than think you do, and you’re well prepared for this! Don’t dwell on a question for too long, if you don’t immediately have an answer then flag it and move on so you can come back to it at the end of the section.
Be aware that time isn’t transferred over from one section to another if you finish it early, so there’s no point trying to rush through one section to get more time on another. The best thing is to just concentrate in the section that you’re on, and worry about the rest later!
If have you have time left at the end of a section, I would use that time to check over any flagged questions and take a moment to stretch, take some deep breaths and relax before moving on to the next section.
After the exam, you will get the results straight away and you can check the UCAT website to see how your scores compare to the other candidates’.