Remember, UCAT success, or success in almost any exam, all comes down to smart practice; don’t just sit down with a UCAT book and go through it mindlessly without first formulating a solid study timeline incorporating all your resources, weaknesses and strategies/techniques to practice! Also, do make sure you’re not solidifying bad habits and techniques by finding the best strategies early on in the process. Here are a few tips to get you started and into the flow of things:
1. Sign up to an online question bank and/or buy a question book.
You need to collect together all the resources you’re going to need for your UCAT study period – you need to find yourself a good question bank to practice techniques and strategies, as well as go through timings. There are several books and question banks on the market, but you have to be careful because many are outdated. For 2016, there is a stronger emphasis on the SJT, and the previous Decision Analysis section has been taken out. To start with, check out UCAT Ninja, which is an intelligent online question bank we’ve created containing high-quality exam-style questions with tonnes of helpful feedback as you go along.
2. Take your exam before school starts.
You can take the UCAT any time from 1st July to 4th October, but since everyone else is likely to be in a last minute nervous rush (and possible meltdown), the later slots will likely all be taken up. Our advice is to do it in the Summer Holidays. If you think your AS results might not be suitable for Medical School, wait till after Results Day (so you don’t waste your money on the test should that unfortunate scenario arise). If you’re semi-confident that you’ll be able to apply, then we’d recommend taking the UCAT in mid-August. This way, you can still enjoy your summer, as well as stopping your UCAT preparation from clashing with your schoolwork. See? Best of both worlds.
3. Allocate time to study.
In our experience, 2 hours a day of UCAT preparation, starting three weeks or so before the exam should be enough. Split the two hours between two sections – and alternate sections every day. Another useful sub-tip would be to have breaks between your study sessions. The biggest enemy of anyone preparing for anything is burnout: if anything killing yourself with 2 hours solid work will likely make you lose focus and tire you out. Your ability to apply the skills you’ve learned will be greatly improved on the day if you practise in short focused bursts.
4. Stick to your study routine.
With regular practice, your skills will only improve. Think of it like training a muscle or practising the instrument. There’s no use being aimless in both when and what you study. Like the previous point, stay focused. Keep a daily log of your weaknesses and prioritise the questions you find hard during your practice
5. Learn to manage your time.
Most of you probably know them by now, but just in case, the section question and time breakdowns are as follows:
As you can see, you have to answer more than a question a minute in three of the four sections, so when you practice, keep an alarm at the ready to stop you running over. This should teach you two things: first of all, prioritise – if you can’t do a question, move onto the next – and second, don’t panic. While time might seem against you, with a clear head you can finish all the sections with time enough to look back over what you’ve done. On the day, you can flag any questions you find difficult, so you can return to them after finishing the rest.
6. Speed up your mental maths.
You can do this by looking over GCSE material. Look in particular at fractions, percentages and conversion calculations. These are the most important kinds of data that you’ll be dealing with in Medical School – calculating patient drug dosages is a prime example of how such knowledge is applied – so that explains why the UCAT assesses it. Seriously, do it. You’ll thank yourself when you get your Quantitative Reasoning score.
7. Read broadsheet newspapers.
The rest are too mind numbing for intelligent people like you. The Independent, Guardian and Telegraph are your best bets here, but topical magazines like The Spectator and New Scientist are also worthwhile. Naturally, if you’re too attached to your bed or chair, visiting the websites achieves the same end. The aim of reading such material is this: to condense the content you find in articles into single sentence take-home messages. This is a great skill for the Verbal Reasoning section, and generally too. After all, you will be reading scientific papers all the time once you get to Medical School, and the knowledge you gain will definitely help you in your interviews.
8. Prepare and practice (with good study habits).
With any subtest in the UCAT, practice is absolutely necessary for reinforcing the important skills you need to get a high score. Candidates who score the higher marks are able to filter unrelated material and arrive at the relevant section quickly. Through consistent practice, every time you evaluate a statement, you’ll pick up on subtle things such as the use of language, important keywords, and incorrect inferences. As you practice, be sure to note down any useful things you pick up and always try to understand your mistakes.
9. Write down your mistakes and reflect
It’s no good breezing through a bunch of questions and never considering how you could improve or where your weaknesses lie. You can only really improve if you’re aware of how well you’re doing – so keep a practice diary and focus on the things you might not be as good at!
10. On exam day, don’t stress out!
This is quite obvious, but you’d be surprised – make sure to get to bed early the night before so you aren’t tired out by the time you reach the test centre. A hearty breakfast and lots of water should keep your brain energised. If you’ve taken the time to practice, there’s no reason why you can’t be confident of getting a high mark. Go in there with your head held high.
11. Don’t worry if you don’t do as well as you’d have liked.
Nobody wants to be in this position, but in life, you can’t always have it all your own way unfortunately. What you can do is not let it get you down, so keep practising. We know many people who were accepted into medical school without particularly high scores, and also the second time round, with higher UCAT scores to boot.