UCAT Verbal Reasoning: The Definitive Guide

Verbal Reasoning is one of the five major question types within the UCAT. But what exactly are these questions about? This guide will take you through what the questions look like and how you should answer them as a prospective medicine/dentistry student.

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Welcome to our blog on everything you need to know about the Verbal Reasoning section of the UCAT. Answering these questions is going to be vital to success for your Medicine or Dentistry application. We’re going to walk you through this section in easy-to-digest sections so that by the time you finish reading this, you feel confident to get started on some practice questions!

Introduction to Verbal Reasoning

Verbal Reasoning is the first section of the UCAT.

It aims to assess your ability to read and interpret qualitative (written) information then draw conclusions based on what you’ve read. Each question starts with a short 200-300 word passage of text, and then you’ll be asked to decide the correct assumption from the text or answer true/false questions.

The key thing about these questions as they don’t assume you have any previous knowledge on the topic, as this means you’re tested on your ability to interpret information rather than your general knowledge.

Why is Verbal Reasoning included?

Without question, reading and evaluating a wide range of written information will form a big part of your medical education and future career as a clinician, whatever you decide to go into.

Certainly, as a student, you’ll come across many forms of information: textbooks, course material, Internet articles, case studies, journals, exam questions, and lecture slides. You will need to understand, digest, and scrutinise this information, as well as select the areas relevant to your study.

As medical information is becoming more readily available, there is a greater need to distinguish trustworthy sources and to carefully assess claims made. Moreover, later on as a clinician, you’ll be continually working with novel medical research, and will have to evaluate and examine published articles in journals.

Patients are frequently exposed to presumptuous, unreasonable, and sometimes extreme statements in health news and around the Internet. Consequently, it’s imperative for doctors to question assumptions, identify poorly drawn conclusions, and spot unsound inferences – you’ll become sick of these if you take the UCAT!

In the treatment of a patient, doctors must quickly sift through all the information directed towards them (on the Internet, from the patient themselves, from other doctors etc.), and must be careful not to make unreasonable assumptions.

The VR exam requires you to work with a wide range of passages, and you should not consider any information or knowledge beyond the passage. You may also be expected to understand the difference between correlation and causation; it’s essential to consider confounding factors before drawing any firm conclusions.

As a clinician, it probably won’t come as a surprise that you will often need to select and evaluate information quickly and under pressure. When speaking to patients in a clinic, or when a patient is in a critical condition, there is limited time in which a doctor must make a diagnosis and draw upon the information given to him. Having strong reasoning skills, as well as being able to identify relevant information under pressure, is crucial. In a nutshell, this is what’s being tested this subtest.

What Are The Questions In Verbal Reasoning Like?

Number Of Questions44
Total Time1 minute reading + 21 minutes testing (total 22 minutes)
Time Per Question28 seconds

The Verbal Reasoning section is the most pushed for time part of the UCAT because of the reading portion of the questions.

The section is made up of 11 passages of text, each with 4 questions relating to them (44 questions in total). Each passage is roughly 200-300 words long. You have under 30 seconds per question, equating to roughly 2 minutes per passage of text.

At first, this is quite a difficult task but by doing lots of practice questions and practising with strict time limits, you will be able to crack it!

The most important part of answering these questions is to read the questions carefully. You shouldn’t go through the whole passage first as you’ll just be wasting time. Read all of the questions and then try to pick out all of the potentially relevant sections of the passage. 

Types of UCAT questions and answers

Type 1: “Most Suitable” Questions

– These questions involve a passage of text, followed by a question or statement.

– Each question will have four answer options.

– You are required to choose the most suitable/appropriate answer from the selection.

– There may be several answers that could be possible answers, but the aim is to choose the most appropriate of them all.

– The aim of these questions is to assess your Critical Thinking and Reasoning skills.

Example of a “most suitable” question and answer

Question Passage: Christian Alfonz publishes videos on conspiracy theories, covering topics from the faking of the moon landing to the resurgent belief that the world is flat. Christian shows us supporting evidence that validates these theories so that the public can better understand these views.

He explains that after the supposed first human landing on the moon, evidence tapes and film records that might otherwise have proven conclusive have been destroyed. Since the first landing, the lack of recent follow up missions has brought the whole enterprise into question.

Popular scientist and critic of these ideas Phil Plait argues strongly against these ideas and has spoken out against Christian Alfonz for his part in popularising such ideologies to the general public. He tells us that “we must take the approach of Occam’s razor; a lack of evidence is not a basis from which to disprove our reasonable knowledge.”

Which of the following statements best expresses the views of the above passage?

Solution

– The answer isn’t not A as the passage does not explicitly state that Alfonz is supportive of these views only that he has popularised them

– The answer can’t be B as Phil Plait never claims that these theories shouldn’t be exposed to the public, only that these views should be more measured and balanced rather used to fuel conspiracy.

– It is not C as there is no evidence available. Also, evidence must be shown to be positive, the article instead refers to a lack of evidence

– The correct answer is D, as expressed by Phil Plait. The quote at the end of the passage implies that to contradict our reasonable belief in events such as the moon landing it is necessary to provide considerable evidence to the contrary.

Type 2: “True or False” Questions

– Similarly, these questions will involve a passage of text followed by 4 statements.

– Each statement is then followed by 3 answer options – ‘true’, ‘false’ or ‘can’t tell’.

– You will be able to tell whether the statement is true based on the information given to you and must follow the argument logically to determine the answer.

– There is only one right answer.

Example of a “True Or False” question and answer.

Question Passage: Work experience and internships are considered extremely important for university students looking for graduate jobs. Students spend most of the year applying and interviewing for these prestigious schemes, especially in corporate firms, as they are considered a valuable asset to their CV.

Each summer, hundreds of students from all years of study undertake internships over the summer vacation to enhance their CV and brand themselves as more employable. Experiences that the students have during these internships can be beneficial to talk about at future job interviews and give a valuable insight into certain careers.

The companies that run these internships often take several students at a time and may end up offering them permanent, full time work at the end of the summer, or a job contract for the following year. Students are often paid for the work that they do, as many permanent company workers take time off over this period, and the interns are able to carry some of the workload.”

Which of the following statements are True, False or Cannot Tell?

  • Q1) University students need to undertake a summer internship or work experience in order to be offered a full-time job.

A) True

B) False

C) Cannot Tell

  • Q2) Workers at these companies take time off as all of their work can be completed by interns.

A) True

B) False

C) Cannot Tell

  • Q3) Companies take students on for internships over the summer as they can pay them instead of their permanent staff, which saves the company money.

A) True

B) False

C) Cannot Tell

  • Q4) Most companies consider students to be more employable if they have undertaken an internship.

A) True

B) False

C) Cannot Tell

Solution

Q1 – False. The passage states that students who undertake internships and work experience may be offered full-time roles at the end of the summer but does not say that this is always the case.

Q2 – False. The passage states that some of the workload can be carried by the interns but does not suggest that students are a replacement for the company workers who take leave over the summer period.

Q3 – Cannot Say. The passage doesn’t specify how much the students or full-time staff are paid. Don’t be tricked into thinking the students have to be paid less, as this is not specified in the passage. Therefore, you cannot say whether the statement is true or false.

Q4 – Cannot Say. You can infer from the passage that students consider themselves to be more employable if they have undertaken an internship, but it’s not possible to know what the view of companies are. As you can’t make an assumption about the position of the companies, you cannot say that the answer is true or false, so the correct answer must be ‘cannot say’.

How is Verbal Reasoning Scored?

For every section of the UCAT, you’ll be given a score between 300 and 900 (300 being the worst, 900 being the best). This makes 600 the median score for each section. Each question is worth 1 mark, meaning each passage of text carries 4 marks with it. The virtual reasoning is often the hardest section of the test due to the time constraints put on it, so the average scores are often lower compared to the other three sub-tests. You can see a full explanation of UCAT scoring and results in another guide we wrote.

Below is a table showing the average scores for the Verbal Reasoning section over the last 4 years.

YearAverage Score For Virtual Reasoning Section
2018567
2019565
2020571
2021572

Each year, this information is published along with all the other test statistics on the UCAT website.

Things to Look out for

Strict Timing

Some say this section can be just as intense as QR, so you’ll need a good approach for a good score.

SBA (Single Best Answer) Sets

Unless you’re using older UCAT books, you should know the majority of questions will be passages with multiple-choice questions requiring a single answer, and not statements with ‘true/false/can’t tell’ attached (those only make up 2/11 of the passages).

Unclear information

There is more room for ambiguity in the VR subtest than in the others, so make sure you don’t waste undue time thinking about something you don’t need to know.

Long and dense text

Candidates can be overwhelmed initially, but a good approach should prevent that.

Over-thinking and hesitation

A good proportion of test-takers do this – as tempting as it can be, please try not to do it!

Harder questions

These will include questions that demand a lot of scanning in the passage (questions which don’t have many high-yield keywords), and also the more subtle inferences. Remember that each question is worth the same number of points, so don’t neglect easier questions in an effort to solve the harder ones.

Spotting qualifiers and absolutes in the passage/statement

This is important when scrutinizing statements, so be ready to use these in your exam.

Effective scanning

As you’ll see, this will form a big part of your approach – do it the right way!

Top Tips for Verbal Reasoning

As we’ve said, Verbal Reasoning is often considered the most difficult section of the UCAT, mainly due to the time pressure. Here are some top tips to help you get through it and ace it on test day!

1. Know your time limits before you go in.

You must be extremely strict with your timings in order to have a good chance of getting a high score, so you must always practice everything under timed conditions. Given enough time, you should be able to get almost everything correct. You don’t want to develop a false sense of security by being lax with your practice sessions and not properly keeping exam conditions. 

2. Read the questions before the passage of text.

It feels wrong but this gives you an idea of the key information to look out for in the passage of text.

3. Don’t waste time on the passage.

A lot of the passage is completely irrelevant to the questions you need to answer, so skim through the text and highlight relevant sections or keywords.

4. Be careful when answering “Most Appropriate” questions.

Always bear in mind that you’re required to choose the most appropriate answer – just because the first one you read could be right, it doesn’t mean it is. Make sure to look at all of the answer options before coming to a decision.

5. Make a judgement of the passage yourself.

Before you even look at the answers, make a judgement about the main conclusion or argument of the passage by yourself, it means you’ve actually done what they aim to do with this section anyway, and often will help you get the answers faster.

6. Don’t be afraid to flag!

If you come across a question that you really have no idea about, flag it and come back to it at the end (if you have time). It’s better to get through all the questions and miss out a couple rather than spending too much time trying to get the right answer for one, at the expense of lots of others!

7. Take the opportunities you have access to.

If you’ve got the option to do Critical Thinking lessons in school, go for it, as these will help you so much with this section (and the similar section of the BMAT if you’re sitting it!) – this was an option at my school and I didn’t take it and I really wish I had!

8. Practice, practice, practice!

Just like with all the other sections of the UCAT, the key to doing really well is to do lots of questions beforehand. There are loads of resources that you can use (some are found here), so try to plough through them all before test day!

9. Verbal Reasoning isn’t just for the UCAT.

Verbal Reasoning is definitely something you get better at the more you do it, so to push yourself even further, read some research papers and try to draw your own conclusions! These don’t have to be medically related; any topic will give you the same type of experience.

We hope this article has given you a comprehensive introduction to the Verbal Reasoning section of the UCAT.

We’ve tried to provide you with all the basic information you need to get started, but really the main way to understand it is to do some questions yourself. We hope the examples included here give you more of an idea of what the ‘right’ type of answers will be. As we’ve said many times, the most important thing to do during your test prep is to practice answering questions. You could even join up with your friends and write questions for each other!

Most importantly, we want to wish you a massive GOOD LUCK for the test, and all the best for the rest of your medical or dental school application! Go smash it!

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