Author: Holly M.
Fourth Year Medical Student
This article gives you a quick introduction and overview of the verbal reasoning section of the UCAT exam. It’s really important you take the time to prepare properly for your UCAT exam and that should involve preparing for the verbal reasoning section. As with all articles, make sure you have a pen and paper to hand so you can take down notes for anything you find particularly important or useful. Things are constantly changing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so for the most up-to-date information, make sure you take the time to visit the UCAT consortium website on https://www.ucat.ac.uk and you can also ask them questions via their social media pages.
What is the verbal reasoning section of the UCAT?
The verbal reasoning part of the UCAT exam “assesses the ability to critically evaluate information presented in a written format”. There are 44 questions, the section lasts 21 minutes and there is a 1minute introduction section. The times are all a bit longer for the UCATSEN, so be sure to check out the website if this is the exam you are sitting.
You will be presented with 11 passages of text and you have to answer each question with either “true”, “false” or “can’t tell”. To expand on the quote above that I took from the UCAT consortium website, basically the verbal reasoning section of the UCAT is a reading comprehension section, similar to things you will have done in GSCE English and even in primary school if you did SATs, so don’t be scared by the flowery language, this is a skill you have already been using for a long time, and one you have already had the opportunity to practice in an exam setting.
As with all sections of the UCAT, no prior knowledge is required. It’s all about you using the information provided to you in the passages of text, to make inferences for yourself, and to be able to draw specific conclusions when appropriate, but also about not trying to draw links or create conclusions that aren’t really there. The reason that they are testing this, is to see how well you can interpret pieces of text quickly, gain the key points, and be able to represent the information. This is something you will have to do as a doctor, as you will have to read scientific papers about treatments or interventions etc, be able to critically appraise them, and then be able to summarise the information for your patients. The verbal reasoning part of the UCAT is testing your skills and abilities to be able to provide this service to your patients as a future doctor.
How can I best prepare for the verbal reasoning section of the UCAT?
As with all the other parts of the UCAT exam, don’t be worried if you think this is the weakest section for you in terms of your abilities. If you are willing to put in the time, hard work and effort, you will get better and your score will improve. Practice makes perfect! Below I have listed some top tips for this part of the UCAT, some you might find helpful, but some also might not work for you, so don’t be put off if you try something and it doesn’t work – you’re just one step closer to finding a way that works for you.
Personally, I think how you want to approach the verbal reasoning section depends on how quickly you are able to read large(ish) volumes of text. I would start by timing yourself doing a verbal reasoning section of a UCAT exam, to see whereabouts your at, your baseline score, and how hard you found it, so you have a clear idea of how much time you are going to have to allocate to revising for this section. If you happen to do well, and actually found it quite easy, then great, maybe you only need to practice it twice a week, and devote more time to revising for other sections.
If you find that you can read very quickly, then your approach to the verbal reasoning questions can actually be quite straight forward. You can just quickly read through the passage for the question and then answer the questions as true, false or can’t tell.
On the other hand, you may find there is actually too much text for you to read in the amount of time you have, then you will have to develop some different approaches. The easiest thing to do probably, is to be able to pick up and highlight the key words in the question, and then scan back through the passage to find the key word in the sentences you need, read through these, and that will then allow you to answer the question. That will take some practice, so although during the actual exam you won’t be able to do this, at first it might be worth having an actual physical highlighter you can use, so you can remind yourself to find the key words and will actually practice identifying them.
I would also advise trying to practice reading quickly as much as you can during your everyday life. If you are not normally much of a reader, it might be worth reading a book (preferably non fiction as this is normally the content of the passages in the UCAT questions) before you go to bed, so that you can practice reading. Small things like practicing reading food packages quickly whilst you are making breakfast, or leaflets whilst you are waiting in the queue at a shop will all help you to practice reading factual information and processing it in a short amount of time.
Top tips for during the exam
As with all parts of the UCAT exam, there are some main things to always do whilst you’re sitting the exam plus more specific tips:
– stay calm! Don’t worry if you don’t think you did so well on the last question / section, just focus on what you’re doing right now and have faith in your abilities and all the revision you have done
– if a question seems to complicated / confusing move on, don’t spend ages on a question and then not have enough time to finish the section. Flag it and if you have enough time, you can come back to finish it
– never leave a question blank, if you’re not sure, just choose an answer, you’re more likely to get points for it than if you leave the question blank (there is no negative marking)
– don’t forget your strategies, if you have been practicing looking for key words in the question, don’t suddenly abandon this technique and then start reading through the whole passages, stick to what you’ve been practicing and then you will do as well as you can
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