UCAT 2020 - Complete Guide
If you’re planning to apply to a UK medical school in 2020 (to begin studying in 2021) then it’s likely that you’ll need to complete an entry / admissions test, such as the UCAT. The majority of UK medical schools include an admissions test as part of the application process, with the UCAT being the most widely used, particularly for Standard Entry Medicine, Medicine with a Gateway Year and Medicine with a Preliminary Year. The UCAT is also used to support the selection process for a growing number of international universities.
What is the UCAT?
The University Clinical Aptitude Test (UCAT), formerly known as the UKCAT, is a 2 hour computer-based test delivered in Pearson VUE test centres throughout the UK and internationally, which is used by medical schools to assess an applicant’s mental ability, characteristics, attitudes and professional behaviours as part of their selection process. The test format is multiple choice questions and is separated into five timed subtests.
You can find more information about each subtest further in the post but the areas are:
- Verbal Reasoning
- Decision Making
- Quantitative Reasoning
- Abstract Reasoning
- Situational Judgement
Extended versions of the test are available if you’re usually entitled to extra exam time due to a documented medical condition or disability; if applicable you will need to apply on the UCAT website via the Access Arrangements Application. More information about access arrangements for UCAT can be found here: https://www.ucat.ac.uk/ucat/access-arrangements/.
UCAT Key Dates
It’s important that you’re aware of the deadlines for registering, booking and completing the UCAT exam, which are all before the UCAS application deadline date of 15 October 2020.
Tests are available from 1 July 2020 - 6 October 2020.
UCAT Registration / Booking
You need to register and then book your UCAT using the Pearson VUE online registration system, which can be accessed through the UCAT website. There are also the options to apply for a bursary to cover the exam fee and to apply for access arrangements on the UCAT website.
The dates for registration, online booking, bursary applications and access arrangements applications are below, as well as a reminder of test dates:
|Registration||4 May 2020 (9am)||22 September 2020 (midday BST)|
|Booking||4 May 2020 (9am)||
Online: 22 September 2020 (midday BST)
Final deadline: 5 October 2020 (midday BST)
|Bursary Scheme Applications||4 May 2020 (9am)||6 October 2020|
|Access Arrangements Applications||4 May 2020 (9am)||22 September 2020 (midday BST)|
|UCAT Exam Period||1 July 2020||6 October 2020|
UCAT results will be sent to your chosen universities in early November, following the UCAS deadline date, but you will find out your results on the day of the test.
As previously mentioned, a bursary to cover the exam fee is available if you meet the eligibility criteria, otherwise the UCAT test fees for 2020 are as follows:
|Exams taken 1 July - 31 August 2020 (EU)||£55|
|Exams taken 1 September - 6 October 2020 (EU)||£80|
|Exams taken outside the EU||£115|
The UCAT website states that there is no difference in content between the exams taken 1 July - 31 August 2020 and those taken 1 September - 6 October 2020, but rather the increase in price is due to the demand on resources at different times of the year, and therefore it is advised that you take an earlier exam and pay the lower fee if possible.
How to prepare for the UCAT
It’s important when booking your UCAT that you allow yourself adequate time to prepare for the exam; the UCAT website advises six plus weeks, aiming to complete approximately one hour per day during this time, rather than longer sessions over a shorter period.
It’s vital that you prepare well for the exam, as you’re only able to sit the UCAT once per year and therefore you’ll be unable to resit the test for your application for 2021. Remember, you will be aware of your UCAT results prior to submitting your UCAS application, so you can ensure that your UCAT result meets the entry requirement for your chosen medical schools; however, a better score will give you more options of medical schools and being well prepared will help you to achieve this. For more information on preparing for the UCAT see our UCAT Preparation blog.
Everyone prepares for exams in different ways: you may already be confident in your revision techniques or you may still be exploring what works best for you, either way the following tips will support you to prepare for the UCAT:
Create a plan
As with preparation for all exams, a plan / timetable will help to ensure that you have enough time to study for the UCAT fully and that this is carried out regularly. The UCAT website has a Preparation Plan, which is available as a video or a printable document; currently there is only a 2019 version available but it does contain some useful advice which may support you when creating your own plan.
It may also help you, once you have familiarised yourself with the different subtests, to consider whether there are areas which you will need to focus on more and plan this into your timetable of study.
Make yourself familiar with the test
Before you begin studying for the UCAT, make sure you are familiar with what will be required in each subtest, so you can prepare for the questions and develop strategies to support you; for more information about each subtest see the individual subtest headers below.
The UCAT website also provides an interactive Question Tutorial, which provides advice and strategies for answering questions in all subtest areas, and a Tour Tutorial, which demonstrates the functions used in the exams and how to answer and review questions on the system.
Explore what resources are available to help you prepare
There is a wealth of UCAT preparation materials available, so explore what will work best to support you to firstly understand the test, and techniques and strategies for undertaking it, as well as your preferred method of practising for the exam.
You may find some of the following useful:
- A UCAT Course - There are a range of UCAT courses available across the UK which claim to support applicants to develop strategies for all subtests of the UCAT.
- A UCAT Book - If you’d rather explore theories and techniques for the UCAT in a written format then there are a number of books available, most of which also include practice questions.
- Advice from people who have previously taken the exam and scored highly - UCAT courses and UCAT books will both contain elements of advice from previous students; you can also find lots of tips from high scoring students online, including on the UCAT website.
- A UCAT Mobile App - The UCAT website has developed a mobile app with some additional practice questions; handy if you’re looking to squeeze in a little bit of practise when you have a spare minute.
- Sample Questions and Practice Tests - It goes without saying that you’re going to need to practice, practice, practice and sample questions and full mock exams are an ideal way to do this.
UCAT Sample Questions and Practice Tests
UCAT sample questions or question banks will help you to familiarise yourself with the types of questions you will find in each subtest. They are a great way to develop your responses to questions and explore how you can improve your answers, while allowing you to develop confidence without the time pressure. UCAT sample questions are particularly useful at the early part of your UCAT preparations.
UCAT practice tests are also an essential element of your exam preparations, as you are able to mimic the exam experience with full tests which are timed. This will support you to develop your ability to complete the questions within the time limit and provide a more realistic expectation of your UCAT result under test conditions. For more information on practising for the UCAT see our UCAT Practice blog.
The UCAT website has both sample question banks and practice tests, which will allow you to become familiar with the format of the test and the functions you can expect within the UCAT.
As mentioned previously, the UCAT is separated into five subtests, to assess different skills required for entry into the medical profession. More information about each subtest, including what is assessed and how, is below:
UCAT Verbal Reasoning
Number of Questions: 44
TIme Limit: 21 Minutes Test Time (plus a 1 Minute Instruction Section)
The UCAT Verbal Reasoning subtest assesses your ability to interpret passages of text and draw specific conclusions from the information presented. This is designed to assess skills needed when interpreting medical reports, critically evaluating written materials and communicating complex information in an understandable way to patients.
The subtest contains eleven passages of text, each with 4 questions, resulting in 44 questions to answer within 21 minutes. There are two types of questions within this section of the test:
- You will be given a question or an incomplete statement about the passage you have read, along with four options from which to choose the most suitable response.
- You will be given a statement about the passage you have read and you must answer whether the statement is true, false or you’re unable to tell from the information you have been provided.
UCAT Decision Making
Number of Questions: 29
TIme Limit: 31 Minutes Test Time (plus a 1 Minute Instruction Section)
The UCAT Decision Making subtest assesses your ability to analyse complex information to make sound, logical decisions. This is designed to assess your problem-solving skills and your ability to make decisions within complex situations.
This subtest contains 29 individual questions: the questions may refer to data presented in text, charts, tables, graphs or diagrams, as well as additional information within the question itself. Again, there are two types of questions within this section of the test:
- Questions with four possible answers of which only one is correct.
- Questions with five statements which you’re required to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ for each one.
UCAT Quantitative Reasoning
Number of Questions: 36
TIme Limit: 24 Minutes Test Time (plus a 1 Minute Instruction Section)
The UCAT Quantitative Reasoning subtest assesses your ability to apply mathematical skills in order to solve problems. This is designed to assess skills required for interpreting data and statistics, as well as practical drug calculations during practice.
The subtest contains 36 questions, all of which require you to solve problems linked to information presented in tables, charts and/or graphs. For each question you will need to select your answer from five options.
UCAT Abstract Reasoning
Number of Questions: 55
TIme Limit: 13 Minutes Test Time (plus a 1 Minute Instruction Section)
The UCAT Abstract Reasoning subtest assesses your ability to identify patterns and relationships between shapes. This is designed to assess your ability to identify which information is reliable and relevant and make judgements based on this, as you would be required to do when making judgements or diagnoses when presented with symptoms and/or results from a patient.
The subtest contains 55 questions based on sets of shapes. There are four question types within the subtest:
- You will be given two sets of shapes and asked whether a given shape belongs in ‘Set A’, ‘Set B’ or ‘Neither’.
- You will be given a series of shapes and asked to choose the next shape in the series.
- You will be given a statement and asked to identify which shape from a group completes the statement.
- You will be given two sets of shapes with four possible answers and asked to match the correct option to each set of shapes.
UCAT Situational Judgement
Number of Questions: 69
TIme Limit: 26 Minutes Test Time (plus a 1 Minute Instruction Section)
The UCAT Situational Judgement subtest assesses your capacity to understand real world situations and respond appropriately. It is designed to assess qualities and behaviours required in the medical profession, such as integrity, professionalism, teamwork and adaptability.
The subtest contains 22 scenarios, each with between 2 and 5 questions associated with them, equalling a total of 69 questions within this section. For each scenario you will need to consider the appropriateness of actions or the importance of considerations. There are two question types within the subtest:
- You will be given four possible responses and asked to rate each of them.
- You will be given three actions in response to a situation and asked to select the most and least appropriate action.
UCAT Scoring System / UCAT Scale Scores
For scoring purposes, Verbal Reasoning, Decision Making, Quantitative Reasoning and Abstract Reasoning are grouped together as cognitive subtests. Each section is weighted equally within the cognitive subtests and therefore raw marks, of which the amount available per section varies, are converted into scale scores, so each subtest has a common range from 300 - 900.
Below is an example of how this was calculated for the 2019 UCAT:
|UCAT Subtest||Number of Questions||Scale Score Range|
|Verbal Reasoning||44||300 - 900|
|Decision Making||29||300 - 900|
|Quantitative Reasoning||36||300 - 900|
|Abstract Reasoning||55||300 - 900|
|Total Scale Score Range||1,200 - 3,600|
The UCAT Situational Judgement subtest is scored separately to the cognitive subtests; rather than a scale score range, the raw scores for the Situational Judgement test are expressed as a band, graded band 1-4, with band 1 being the highest.
The UCAT website provides the following interpretation of performance for each band:
|Band 1||Those in Band 1 demonstrated an excellent level of performance, showing similar judgement in most cases to the panel of experts.|
|Band 2||Those in Band 2 demonstrated a good, solid level of performance, with appropriate judgement frequently, with many responses matching model answers.|
|Band 3||Those in Band 3 demonstrated a modest level of performance, with appropriate judgement shown for some questions and substantial differences from ideal responses for others.|
|Band 4||The performance of those in Band 4 was low, with judgement tending to differ substantially from ideal responses in many cases.|
Your band for the Situational Judgement subtest will be considered separately to your cognitive subtests scaled scores on your medical school application. In both cases you should check the entry requirements for your chosen university and ensure your scores meet these before submitting your application.
Average UCAT Scores
Below is the average scale scores for each of the cognitive subtests in 2019, according to the UCAT’s statistics on their website:
|UCAT Subtest||Average Scale Score|
|Average Subtest Scale Score||620|
|Total Average for Cognitive Subtests||2483|
Remember: each subtest has a scale score range of 300 - 900 and therefore the total scale score range is 1,200 - 3,600.
The UCAT reported statistics also identified that in 2019 a total of 29,375 candidates completed the UCAT.
What is a good UCAT Score?
What is considered a ‘good’ UCAT score will always vary depending on the calibre of students who undertake the exam each year. However, a general rule is scoring 20 - 30 marks per cognitive subtest above the average score; for example, a score considered ‘good’ within the 2019 UCAT results, where the average scale score per subtest was 620, would be 650.
The UCAT entry criteria varies between different medical schools, as does the importance individual institutes place on the UCAT results when it comes to application selection. Your UCAT result will be provided to you after you complete the exam, therefore you can compare this to the entry criteria for different medical schools, to support you when choosing where to apply.
The following documentation has been used for the research of UCAT key dates, fees, assessment content and scoring, which you may also find useful for further information:
The UCAT website: https://www.ucat.ac.uk/