The Definitive Parents UCAT Guide

This is an exciting but intense time for parents with children applying to medical school. This guide will teach you everything you need to know about the UCAT exam.

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This is undoubtedly an exciting, yet also intense time for parents with children applying to Medical and Dental School. The UCAT is an important part of the admissions process, and we regularly get phone calls and emails from parents who want to know more about the UCAT and what we teach on our course. If you’re a parent, this short article should hopefully answer all your basic questions, and will hopefully give you a better idea of the UCAT and how your child can better prepare for it.

What is the UCAT?

Over the past few years, the number of students applying to Medical (and Dental) school has steadily been growing. Indeed, alongside a wide range of indicators such as the personal statement and academic grades, the UK Clinical Aptitude Test (UCAT) is used by the majority of Medical and Dental schools to differentiate between applicants and gives an indication of those that will likely make good clinicians in the future.

What is the format of the UCAT?

The UCAT is a 2-hour exam consisting of five sections, and unlike the other, less widely used, medical admissions test (the BMAT), the UCAT does not contain any scientific or curricular content.

Instead, it emphasises traditional psychometric or cognitive tests that include basic mathematical reasoning, verbal reasoning, abstract (shapes) reasoning and decision analysis (translation of complex information). The sections of the UCAT are as follows: Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, Abstract Reasoning, Situational Judgement and Decision Making. We have in-depth guides on each of these which you can find by clicking the buttons below.


Here’s a quick rundown of the number of questions and standard timings for each subtest:

UCAT Subtest Format

Verbal ReasoningDecision MakingQuantitiative ReasoningAbstract ReasoningSituational Judgement
44 questions | 21 mins29 questions | 31 min
36 questions | 25 mins
50 questions | 12 mins
69 questions | 26 mins
Evaluate written information
Make decisions based on complex info
Evaluate numbers and graphs
Look at relationships in information
Assessing your judgment in scenarios

This may not seem like a lot of time to answer this amount of questions, but a lot of these questions are very short and do not require extensive reading, writing or working out. That’s not to say it’s easy, however, so your child will need to be sure they’re prepared for each subtest

How is the UCAT Scored?

Cognitive Subtests

Four of the five subtests in the UCAT are scored on a scale between 300 – 900 points based on your raw mark from the questions. The four subtests that are marked in this format are Verbal Reasoning, Decision Making, Quantitative Reasoning and Abstract Reasoning. These marks are combined together to make an overall score between 1200 and 3600

Non-Cognitive Subtests

Situational Judgement scores are expressed through 4 different bands from Band 1 (highest) to Band 4 (Lowest). Universities mark this subtest differently due to the non-cognitive nature of the questions asked. 

Here are the average scores for the UCAT in 2021 as reported by UCAT themselves:

UCAT Average Scores (2021)

SubtestAverage Score (2021)
Verbal Reasoning 572
Decision Making610
Quantitative Reasoning 665
Abstract Reasoning651
Situational Judgement Band 2 (36% of applicants)

As you can see, the average applicant will score somewhere between 550 and 650 in each subtest (excluding Situational Judgement). The average overall score for cognitive subtests was 2499, slightly above half marks for the exam.  

When should my child take the UCAT?

Depending on the year your child is applying, the dates for taking the UCAT will fall between Mid-July and the end of September. The deadline for registration for the UCAT is typically a few days before the final testing date, although it is never advised to book this late unless absolutely necessary. Remember that the UCAS application will need to be submitted by October 15th every year.   

UCAT bookings can be done at the Pearson Vue Website. Bear in mind that the UCAT can only be taken once per test cycle, so your child must wait until the following year if they wish to retake upon an unsuccessful application. We recommend taking the UCAT after around at least a month’s preparation, and August is generally the most popular month for test-takers.

We’ve actually written up another article addressing the specifics of exactly when you should take the UCAT.

We have all the tips & tricks your child needs to score highly on the UCAT.

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How much does the UCAT cost?

If your child is taking the UCAT in the UK, you will need to pay a fee of £70. This fee is required through the entire registration process so there is no change in cost for early or late registrations.

For tests outside the UK, the UCAT costs £115. If eligible, you may apply for a bursary from UCAT themselves. You will have until the end of September to make an application for this, and you will need to check the full list of eligibility requirements on their website.  

How is the UCAT score used?

Different universities use the UCAT in different ways, and it is very important your child considers the requirements and expectations of each university before making their final decision. Some universities require a threshold score: for example, Sheffield Medical School typically expects a minimum score of 700 per subtest. However, this changes every year, so it’s critical to double-check and phone up universities.

Other universities just use the UCAT score to supplement other indicators, such as your child’s academic and extra-curricular achievements, as well as work experience and performance at interview.

The take-home message is that careful planning is essential – we’ve come across many students who fail to check university requirements and make fatal errors in applying to Medical and Dental Schools that simply do not accommodate average or low UCAT scores. Don’t be afraid to persistently phone up Medical and Dental Schools, and make sure your child carefully reads their websites.

Can my child actually prepare for the UCAT?

The UCAT tests cognitive ability, and it is common for parents and students alike to think it is analogous to an IQ test that cannot really be prepared for. We disagree – there are many aspects of the UCAT test that can and should be carefully considered and accounted for during practice and preparation.

Good preparation can range from revisiting useful mathematical principles and tricks for the numerical test, to having a solid strategy that improves a  test-taker’s chances of finding the right pattern in abstract reasoning. Moreover, a good appreciation of timing and having a consistent, systematic strategy for different question types will not only greatly improve test scores, but also help in developing the confidence test-takers should have before walking into the exam.


One important thing to research is the kinds of mistakes that can be made during the UCAT. We have a guide to the 10 Most Common Mistakes that should give you a good idea of what should be avoided.

If you want to learn even more about what your child will need to prepare for, you can have a read through our Definitive UCAT Guide, which details every section of the exam. 

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