UCAT Preparation

If you’re applying to medical school for September 2021 it’s likely that you’ll need to undertake The University Clinical Aptitude Test (UCAT) before submitting your application, and therefore you may be starting to think about UCAT preparation. The majority of UK Universities include UCAT as part of their selection process for prospective medical students; our Medicine Entry Requirements blog shows you at a glance which medical schools include UCAT or alternative admissions exams (BMAT or GAMSAT) in their entry criteria.

The UCAT is a 2 hour computer-based test which assesses your mental ability, characteristics, attitudes and professional behaviours required for the medical profession. The test format is multiple choice questions and is separated into five timed subtests. The test can only be taken once per year, so the score you obtain will be used on your UCAS application, therefore sufficient preparation is advised before undertaking the exam.

How to Prepare for the UCAT

Once you’ve identified if your chosen universities require you to complete the UCAT as part of the application process, you need to plan when you will take the exam and how you will prepare for it. Make sure you are aware of the deadlines for registering, booking and completing the UCAT; more information about the UCAT deadline dates for 2020 are included under the ‘UCAT Test Dates’ section.

It’s tempting when beginning your preparation for any exam to jump straight into practice questions and tests, but focusing on the following first will help you to build a solid foundation for your UCAT practice:

Take time to get familiar with the test functions

Understanding how to navigate the online test system will save you valuable time during the UCAT, so it’s worth investing time at the beginning of your UCAT preparations to become familiar with its functions. The UCAT website has a ‘Tour Tutorial’ which allows you to explore the exam functions, including how to answer and review questions on the system.

Make sure you understand the requirements of each subtest

The UCAT is an aptitude based exam developed to assess different skills required for the medical profession. It does not require you to learn new theory or to demonstrate your academic ability; UCAT preparation should focus on developing techniques to answer the varying questions in each subtest.

The UCAT is separated into the following five subtests:

  1. Verbal Reasoning
    The UCAT Verbal Reasoning subtest assesses your ability to interpret passages of text and draw specific conclusions from the information presented.
  2. Decision Making
    The UCAT Decision Making subtest assesses your problem-solving skills and your ability to make decisions within complex situations.
  3. Quantitative Reasoning
    The UCAT Quantitative Reasoning subtest assesses your ability to apply mathematical skills in order to solve problems.
  4. Abstract Reasoning
    The UCAT Abstract Reasoning subtest assesses your ability to identify patterns and relationships to identify which information is reliable and relevant and make judgements based on this.
  5. Situational Judgement
    The UCAT Situational Judgement subtest assesses your capacity to understand real world situations and respond appropriately.

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 full breakdown of each subtest, including the types of questions you will be given and the timings for each.

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.

Make a comprehensive study plan

Before starting your UCAT studying it’s worth spending some time creating a detailed study plan, outlining when and what you will study during each session, to ensure you not only plan an adequate amount of time to revise but that your sessions are also focused, therefore making them more productive.

There is more information on how to revise for the UCAT in the ‘UCAT Revision’ section, but when creating your study plan it is advised that you timetable regular study time for your UCAT preparations and only focus on one subtest during each study session, to enable you to cover it fully.

How Much Preparation for UCAT

The UCAT website states that the highest scoring candidates dedicated approximately 25 - 30 hours to preparing for the UCAT; therefore they advise allowing six weeks to fully prepare for the exam, with approximately one hour per day study time. However, this is just one opinion and there is varying advice from former applicants with some stating that as little as four weeks is sufficient to prepare for the UCAT. It is worth noting that those students who studied for fewer weeks dedicated more time per day to their preparations, so if you intend to undertake your studying over four weeks you’ll need to commit to studying for longer periods each day (approximately two hours per day during this time).

You should use advice regarding recommended preparation time for the UCAT as a guide to support you to plan an effective timetable of study but remember to adapt them to suit your preferred way of studying. Consider how frequently you will study and how long you’re most productive for (are you better studying in short bursts or do you need longer to immerse yourself in it?) to support you to plan a timetable which will work for you and your study needs.

Crucially, you need to create a study plan which will be most effective for you, ensuring that you dedicate enough time to preparing well for the UCAT.


UCAT Test 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.

The UCAT must be completed in a Pearson VUE test centre, which can be found throughout the UK and internationally.

Tests are available from 1 July 2020 - 6 October 2020.

UCAT Dates 2020

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.

More information about UCAT fees and access arrangements for the exam can be found in our UCAT 2020 - Complete Guide.

The dates for registration, online booking, bursary applications and access arrangements applications are below, as well as a reminder of test dates:

Opens Closes
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 Revision

Once you’re familiar with the test functions and different subtests, you can begin to put your study plan into action and start practising for the exam. During your UCAT revision you should focus on gaining experience of answering the different questions in each subtest and developing techniques and speed when answering questions.

How to Revise for UCAT

The most useful resources for supporting your UCAT preparations are UCAT practice questions and UCAT practice tests.

UCAT Practice Questions

UCAT practice questions are useful during the early stages of your UCAT preparations, as they give you the opportunity to become familiar with the five subtests and to develop your responses to different types of questions, without the time pressure of a practice test.

UCAT practice questions also allow you to explore how you can improve your answers or correct any mistakes that you have made, and are useful for identifying types of questions or subtests that you find more challenging, both of which will support you to continue to improve during your UCAT preparations. This is another benefit of completing UCAT practice questions rather than a full UCAT practice test at the beginning of your revision, as often the practice tests will only give you an overall score, not which questions you answered incorrectly, therefore you’re unable to identify mistakes and learn from them. For more information, read our UCAT Practice blog.

UCAT Practice Test

While the practice questions will build your confidence and allow you to identify mistakes and ways to improve, practice tests should also be a staple feature of your UCAT preparations.

UCAT practice tests require you to complete each of the five subtests in the given time and will support you to prepare for the UCAT by mimicking the exam experience. This provides you with the opportunity to develop your speed when answering the UCAT questions and techniques that will help you to complete them within the time limit.

The more experience you gain with the practice tests, the more confident and calm you will feel on the exam day, as you’ll be aware of the expectations and time restrictions, and you’ll have experience of prioritising questions and knowing when to move on from a question which is taking too much time.

UCAT practice tests 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.

Average UCAT Score

For scoring purposes, the Verbal Reasoning, Decision Making, Quantitative Reasoning and Abstract Reasoning subtests 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 is scored within a range from 300 - 900.

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 Scale Score Range Average Scale Score (2019)
Verbal Reasoning 300 - 900 565
Decision Making 300 - 900 618
Quantitative Reasoning 300 - 900 662
Abstract Reasoning 300 - 900 638
Average Subtest Scale Score 620
Total Scale Score Range 1,200 - 3,600
Total Average for Cognitive Subtests 2,483

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 (1-4). More information about the Situational Judgement scoring, as well as the cognitive subtests, can be found in our UCAT 2020 - Complete Guide blog and on the UCAT website.


UCAT Advice / UCAT Tips

Finally, some useful tips and advice for preparing for the UCAT:

  1. Use your revision time wisely
    Create an effective study plan and use it to stay focused on revising for the individual subtests. Things such as UCAT books are great for learning strategies for tackling each of the subtests, but avoid flicking aimlessly through a book and make sure this doesn’t replace your dedicated study time.
  2. Take the UCAT in the summer
    Not only is it cheaper in the summer - £55 between 1 July - 31 August 2020, rather than £80 between 1 September - 6 October 2020 - you’ll also have other commitments once you’re back at college / sixth form which will distract you from your UCAT revision. If you can, it’ll definitely benefit you to take the exam during the holidays.
  3. Reflect on each revision session
    Try to spend a few minutes after each revision session to identify areas for development. 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, so you can adapt your study plan to include more time for these.
  4. 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.

The following website has been used for the research of the UCAT assessment, which you may also find useful for further information:

The UCAT website


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