Many UK medical schools include the UCAT (The University Clinical Aptitude Test) as part of their entry criteria; therefore, to be successful in the selection process for these universities, it’s important that you practice for the UCAT and achieve a score that meets or exceeds their entry score. A full list of the medical schools which include the UCAT in their admissions process can be found in our Medicine Entry Requirements blog.
As you may already be aware, the UCAT is a 2 hour computer-based exam delivered in Pearson VUE test centres throughout the UK and internationally. It is designed to test your mental ability, characteristics, attitudes and professional behaviours, rather than academic ability or prior knowledge.
You can only sit the exam once per year, so the score you achieve will be used for your UCAS application, which may make you feel a lot of pressure to perform on the day of the exam. While this is naturally daunting, it’s important to remember that whatever your score there will be options available to you, and you’ll be aware of your score prior to submitting your UCAS application, so you can adapt your application or change your chosen universities, if required. However, preparing well for the UCAT will make you feel more confident going into the exam, improve your UCAT score and ultimately widen your options when applying to medical school. Preparation is key for the UCAT, for more information read our UCAT Preparation blog.
Below is some useful information on practising for UCAT; we also have a UCAT 2020 - Complete Guide with further information on UCAT, how to register and key dates for doing so, and what’s included in each subtest.
How Long to Practice for UCAT & How Much Practice for UCAT is Needed
There's a lot of different advice around how long you should practice for UCAT and how much practice is needed within this time. From your experience of revising for your A Levels, you probably have a good idea of what works best for you in terms of how long you’re most productive for and how frequently you will study; you should use this to guide you to adapt the recommended practice time to be most effective for you.
The UCAT website advises six weeks to fully prepare for the exam, focusing on approximately one hour per day of study time. Alternatively, there is advice from former students stating that four weeks is sufficient, but bear in mind that you’ll need to commit to studying for longer periods each day (approximately two hours per day during this time).
Whether you decide to allow yourself longer to prepare for the exam, or to condense your studying into a shorter period of time, create a study timetable / plan to ensure you dedicate enough time to practising for the UCAT.
How many practice questions before UCAT
There isn’t a set amount of practice questions you should complete before undertaking the UCAT. The important thing is to allow yourself adequate time to practice for each subtest and become confident in all areas. The level of practice will vary depending on your strengths and weakness, with some subtests requiring more practice than others, and some individuals requiring more study time than others.
The UCAT website states that the highest scoring candidates spend 25 - 30 hours preparing for the UCAT. This information, along with the time scales given above, should support you to plan an effective timetable of study, allowing enough time to prepare well for the test.
How to practice for the UCAT
Whilst it’s important to focus on practice questions, there are other things which will help you to build a solid foundation when studying for the UCAT.
1. Make sure you are familiar with the test functions
The last thing you want during a timed exam, or even when you’re practising under timed conditions, is to waste time figuring out how to navigate the system. Making yourself familiar with the functions used in the UCAT exam, including how to answer and review questions on the system, will save you valuable time during the test. The UCAT website has a ‘Tour Tutorial’ which allows you to explore these functions
2. Familiarise yourself with the different subtests
Understanding what is required in each of the five subtests within the UCAT will allow you to prepare for the questions and develop strategies to support you. Our UCAT 2020 - Complete Guide has a breakdown of each subtest, including the types of questions you will be given and the timings for each.
The UCAT does not require you to demonstrate your academic ability or to learn new theory, rather the questions are designed to showcase aptitude, and so your UCAT preparations should concentrate on developing techniques to support you to answer these questions.
Developing an understanding of the best strategies for each subtest, before throwing yourself into practice tests, will help you to answer the questions more effectively and prevent you from forming inefficient methods. There are plenty of books available which provide advice on different strategies to use; these can be great for providing effective ways to tackle each subtests, just make sure that you use your time well and avoid aimlessly flicking through a book rather than drawing out methods to support your study.
3. Brush up on your maths skills
While the UCAT does not aim to test your academic ability, strong maths skills will support you with several areas within the exam, including the decision making and quantitative reasoning subtests. Quick mental arithmetic will also save you valuable time during the test, so it’s well worth making time to practise your maths skills if you need to.
4. Make a comprehensive study plan
When it comes to creating a study plan for preparing for the UCAT, it’s worth investing more time to develop a plan which outlines the focus and/or the content of each study period, rather than simply timetabling sessions when you will practice for the test. This will help you to ensure you have full coverage and spend an adequate amount of time on each subtest.
To achieve the best scores, it’s advised that you study regularly during your UCAT preparations, and only focus on one subtest during each study session, to enable you to cover it fully.
It’s unlikely that you’ll need equal study time for each subtest, as naturally you will have areas of strength and weakness; it’s worth taking this into consideration and planning additional time to develop your areas of weakness. You may not automatically know which subtests you’ll find more challenging, but once you start completing practice questions this should become clear, so don’t be afraid to adapt your plan as you go. Making a note of particular questions or subtests that you’re finding more difficult will help you to identify areas which you need to focus on more.
UCAT Practice Questions
UCAT practice questions will give you the opportunity to become familiar with the different types of questions within the five subtests. Practice questions are particularly useful during the early part of your UCAT preparations, as they allow you to build your confidence and practice applying different techniques or strategies to find out what is the most effective method for you. Completing practice questions, without the pressure of a full timed practice test, allows you to develop your responses to different types of questions and explore how you can improve your answers.
Alternatively, if you want to measure how you’re doing against the time restrictions, without completing a full practice test, try setting a timer while completing a set of practice questions and making a note how many questions you’ve completed in the given time. You can then compare this against the number of questions set for that subtest and continue answering questions after the timer has gone; this allows you to still focus on individual subtests while measuring the time taken to complete questions. This is a good method to support you to gradually move towards trying full practice tests for the UCAT and feeling confident that you can complete them in the set time.
Below is a reminder of the number or questions and the time allocated to each subtest:
|Subtest||Number of Questions||Test Time (plus a 1 Minute Instruction Section)|
|UCAT Verbal Reasoning||44||21|
|UCAT Decision Making||29||31|
|UCAT Quantitative Reasoning||36||24|
|UCAT Abstract Reasoning||55||13|
|UCAT Situational Judgement||69||26|
UCAT practice questions are also useful for identifying areas or subtests that you are struggling with and any mistakes that you’re making, which will help you to continue to improve. Often with a full practice test you’ll only be given your overall score, not which questions you answered correctly or incorrectly, therefore you’re unable to identify errors and ways to learn from them.
UCAT Practice Test
While the practice questions build your confidence and allow you to identify mistakes and ways to improve, the UCAT practice tests are also an essential element of your exam preparations. They support you to prepare for the UCAT by mimicking the exam experience.
As the UCAT practice tests require you to complete all of the subtests within their given times, it provides you with opportunities to develop your speed when answering the questions and techniques for completing them within the time limit. The more experience you gain with the practice tests, the more confident you will feel to prioritise questions and know when to move on from a question which you have spent too much time on.
The practice test may not provide you with individual scores for each subtest but you’ll be aware of any which you did not complete in the time or which you found more challenging. Again, you should use this as a tool to identify areas for development and amend your study plan to include more practice for these subtests.
Experience of completing UCAT practice tests will help you to feel more confident and calm when it comes to the exam day, as you’ll be aware of the expectations and the time restrictions for completing each question. It will also provide a more realistic expectation of your UCAT score under test conditions, so you’ll know when you’re ready to tackle the UCAT.
UCAT Free Practice
There are free practice questions banks and full practice tests available on the UCAT website, which can be accessed by following the links below:
Check back soon for Medistudents’ free question banks!
The following website has been used for the research of UCAT assessment content and available practice material, which you may also find useful for further information: