There really isn’t a shortcut when it comes to the UKCAT, you must practice, but also be smart about it – there isn’t much point repeating things you already do fairly well. Your practice sessions should be built around your weaknesses, as well as focusing on the common areas test-takers find hard.
Avoid doing the following at all costs:
- Mindlessly doing lots of questions and skimming the answers before finishing the session.
- Not timing yourself or putting yourself under any pressure during a practice session.
- Not reviewing mistakes properly and failing to identify weaknesses.
- Practicing whilst doing other things (watching TV, talking to someone on facebook, etc.).
- Not utilizing proven techniques and strategies – you’re just doing your ‘own thing’ and hoping for the best.
Here are some of the areas you’re looking to improve:
- Strategic use of the timer and good adjustment of speed.
- Ability to quickly differentiate between the more time-consuming questions and easier questions.
- Honed discipline to move on when a question is taking too long.
- Efficient use of strategies to derive the correct answer.
- Good use of time-saving principles (utilizing mental maths, etc.).
After enough practice, and without much thought, you should be able to anticipate the common question types, quickly locate the relevant data (keywords in VR, numbers from a table, patterns in AR, etc.), and automatically apply a good method to get to the answer.
Mimic exam pressure
It’s important to mimic the pressure you would feel in an exam situation. Don’t just aim to ‘solve’ questions when you practice – we know you can do most of them if you had enough time. A lot of the strategies in this book won’t work as well if you don’t work on them under timed conditions: things like using the timer efficiently, discarding, keyword skimming, etc., are all there to help you save time, and so it wouldn’t make sense nor would it be as effective to not practice under timed pressure.
Even if you’re doing a single set by itself, time yourself using a stopwatch and note down where in the question you got up to as soon as it rings. You can then continue working on the set, but will also have an idea of how long it’s taking over the recommended timing. This is especially important if you’re doing a full mock exam or a series of sets: you will get into the habit of discarding ruthlessly and develop a discipline to move on from difficult questions, as well as completely skipping seemingly harder sets and coming back to them at the end if there’s time. Doing all these things well and carefully managing your time heavily influences your final score – it’s much more than just ‘getting the question right’.
Keep a reflective study log
The whole point of practicing is to remove bad habits that might lead to poorer performance and identify weaknesses, whilst at the same time internalizing good strategies and being more automatic in your approach. Indeed, your UKCAT success will be strongly linked to how well you can identify your weaknesses and sticking points. If you don’t review your performance after practice sessions (mock exams, individual questions, etc.), you won’t be able to improve nearly as quickly.
Instead, try to keep some kind of log and ask yourself some of the following questions after each session:
What was my strongest section today?
What was my weakest section today?
What question types am I struggling with?
What question types slow me down? Why do they slow me down?
What question types do I find really easy?
What questions types can do I do really quickly?
Did I find any strategies hard to use or too slow?