UCAT PREPARATION

UCAT 2021 - Complete Guide

WRITTEN BY
Medistudents Team
Mar 9, 2021

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If you’re planning to apply to a UK medical school in 2021 (to begin studying in 2022) then it’s likely that you’ll need to complete an entry / admissions test, such as the University Clinical Aptitude Test (UCAT). Our UCAT 2021 complete guide will provide you with all the information you need for registering, preparing and completing the UCAT exam.

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, 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 the following five timed subtests:

  1. Verbal Reasoning
  2. Decision Making
  3. Quantitative Reasoning
  4. Abstract Reasoning
  5. Situational Judgement

You can find more information about each subtest under the UCAT Subtests heading below.

What universities / medical schools use the UCAT?

The UCAT website provides a full list of ‘UK Consortium Universities’ and ‘non-UK Associate Member Universities’ which include the UCAT as a compulsory entry requirement when applying to study medicine.

Where can I take the UCAT?

The UCAT is delivered in Pearson VUE test centres throughout the UK and internationally; you can find your closest test centre via the UCAT website.

What if I’m usually entitled to extra exam time?

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.

UCAT Key Dates

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 2021.

When will the UCAT 2021 be?

Tests are available from 26 July 2021 – 29 September 2021.

How do I register and book the UCAT?

You need to register and 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:

Opens Closes
Registration 2 June 2021 (9am BST) 22 September 2021 (12 noon BST)
Booking 28 June 2021 (9am BST) Online: 22 September 2021 (12 noon BST)
Final deadline: 28 September 2021 (12 noon BST)
Bursary Scheme Applications 2 June 2021 (9am BST) 29 September 2021 (4pm BST)
Access Arrangements Applications 2 June 2021 (9am BST) 22 September 2021 (12 noon BST)
UCAT Exam Period 26 July 2021 29 September 2021

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.

How much is the UCAT?

A bursary to cover the exam fee is available if you meet the eligibility criteria, otherwise the UCAT test fees for 2021 are as follows:

Location of test centre Cost
UCATs taken within the UK £75
UCATs taken outside the UK £120

If you intend to apply for the bursary scheme, remember to check the application deadline above.

How to prepare for the UCAT

Woman preparing 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 2022. 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.

Your UCAT score is not the only deciding factor of whether you get a place in medical school, so be sure to read Whatuni's blog outlining the full entry requirements to study medicine.

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:

  1. 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; the version available is from 2019 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. Our adaptive question bank can help you with this; using artificial intelligence to identify your strengths and weaknesses, it’ll reveal the areas which you need to spend more time on, to help you improve your UCAT score.

  2. 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.

  3. 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:

    • Free online information
      • The UCAT website provides a range of information from registering, preparing and undertaking the UCAT, to advice from previous high scoring candidates.
      • The Medistudents blog has a wealth of information relating to UCAT preparation and practice questions; as well as guidance for all stages of your medical school application.
    • A UCAT book
      • If you’d rather explore theories and techniques for the UCAT in the format of a book then there are a number available, most of which also include practice questions. Just remember to check how up-to-date they are before buying.
    • UCAT 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 mock 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.

Our UCAT question bank provides you with the opportunity to explore both UCAT sample questions and practice mock tests. Not only that, but powered by artificial intelligence, it provides a personalised learning experience, by adapting to your strengths and weaknesses, and ensuring that your learning is focused on the areas which you need to improve. This means that you’ll be answering questions that are at the appropriate level and tailored to your learning needs, to improve your learning outcomes and have a positive impact on your UCAT result.

UCAT Subtests

Practicing for the UCAT using a laptop

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:

  1. Questions with four possible answers of which only one is correct.
  2. 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:

  1. You will be given two sets of shapes and asked whether a given shape belongs in ‘Set A’, ‘Set B’ or ‘Neither’.
  2. You will be given a series of shapes and asked to choose the next shape in the series.
  3. You will be given a statement and asked to identify which shape from a group completes the statement.
  4. 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:

  1. You will be given four possible responses and asked to rate each of them.
  2. 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.

The following table shows how the cognitive subtests are scored, according to the UCAT website:

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 mean scale scores for each of the cognitive subtests in 2020 (up to 25 October 2020), according to UCAT’s statistics:

UCAT Subtest Average Scale Score
Verbal Reasoning 570
Decision Making 625
Quantitative Reasoning 664
Abstract Reasoning 653
Total Average for Cognitive Subtests 2,511

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 2020 a total of 34,153 candidates completed the UCAT, up until 25 October 2020.

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’ for verbal reasoning within the 2020 UCAT results, where the average scale score for this subtest was 570, would be 590 – 600.

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.

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