Five Alarm Bells to Know When to Avoid a UMAT Preparation Course

Michael Tsai

Selecting the wrong UMAT preparation course could not only shatter your chances of scoring well in the UMAT but also waste significant time, effort and money. It’s always astounding and upsetting to see the sheer number of students being continually left behind by poorly-designed courses that simply don’t work. In fact, most UMAT courses over-complicate the preparation process and never teach students the fundamental skills required to succeed, even at the cost of $800 to $3000 per course. 

This article will take the chance to uncover the most common (and most worrying!) flaws that will not only prevent the development of essential skills for achieving top marks in the UMAT but in some cases actually can more cause harm than good. The list is created with a combination of best practice education design in mind (so that students improve their test-taking skills as intended) and the feedback from the thousands of messages I’ve received from students. Many students have contacted me via email and Facebook about the issues they have encountered with the preparation advice and courses they’ve undertaken.

Flaw #1: No teaching 

Most, if not all, UMAT coaching providers stress the importance of practice and therefore provide ‘courses’ in the form of extensive question banks for students to practice and develop their skills via repetition. While this sounds great and all (don’t get me wrong, I agree that practice plays a huge part in getting ready for UMAT), the question remains: how can someone get good at something through simple repetition when they were never taught how to do something correctly, to begin with? 

Here is another example:You are not doing particularly well in math and therefore decide to get a math tutor to improve your ability to solve math questions. Instead of teaching you how to solve math questions in a step by step manner (and hopefully in a way that helps you realise why you were committing previous mistakes) the tutor gives you five past exams about the very math topic you are struggling with. Then the tutor proceeds to tell you to do them - without any further knowledge and skill about the topic than you already have. Don’t only would you develop extremely slowly (if at all!), the process will take an extremely long time. Also, why would you pay for a service that is not designed to help you improve?

I’ve come across many UMAT coaches and courses that offer to teach - however, not only is the teaching generic and highly-subjective, meaning that you can’t apply the same technique even to similar questions to get the same correct answer. I have even heard of places that recommend students to find their ways in answering UMAT questions. Imagine going to a math tutor only to be given questions you don’t know how to do and be told that you should just try and find your way of answering questions. To me, it not only sounds like the tutor doesn’t know the subject well enough but frankly doesn’t understand how to help students either. 

Like math, you need to understand exactly the skills you need to solve UMAT questions to do well in it. Correct teaching not only helps clarify exactly what a student should or shouldn’t do but also helps students much more quickly and comprehensively in establishing a rock solid understanding of the nature of UMAT questions with the appropriate techniques in mind. Unless you are interested in wasting time and becoming frustrated over why you are not able to improve your marks in UMAT after repeated practice, then make sure your course offers to teach. Make sure their teaching is not ‘just okay’ or general, make sure the teaching is so specific that you are left crystal clear as to what is expected of you to overcome the obstacles each question presents. 

Flaw #2: Practice questions without answers and explanations

Now because you’ve understood the importance of high-quality teaching when it comes to selecting the best UMAT course, it is also very important for a course to remind you of the teaching for reinforcement as you apply them to sample questions. Over the last month, I have seen so many questions posted on the iCanMed Facebook group from students looking for help answering or understanding of the approach due to the questions not coming with answers or explanations, at almost a rate of one question per hour. Let me remind the readers of why a student would invest time, effort and money in a course, the answer - to improve whatever skills required to increase the chances of scoring well in the UMAT. 

Not only do a lot of tutors and courses not offer teaching to start with, most of the same tutors and courses don’t offer explanations to questions either. So, how would a student know whether he/she is doing the question correctly and know what they should be improving on? Without the combination of teaching and aligned question explanations student can’t even learn from their mistakes. Students are left without any idea of what they did wrong and continue to try various and often unverified ways to answer questions. Again another serious flaw to consider when looking for the right course, unless you are interested you are interested in spending more money to find another private tutor or submit your questions onto forums for other equally inexperienced students to help you out with answering questions. Sounds like a recipe for disaster. 

Flaw #3: Inconsistent, high-subjective and incorrect recommendations  

UMAT assesses logical reasoning and critical thinking. Logical reasoning is a skill where someone uses their objective interpreting and understanding of observable evidence as a basis for making a sound decision. Critical thinking describes the black and white mannerism in which a person thinks as they are undertaking logical reasoning. In short, to do well in UMAT, the student needs first to be able to systematically ‘work out’ a question by applying the same critical attention and disciplined ability to interpret information in an unbiased and non-assumptive manner. These skills are the kind of things you would like your doctor and dentist to have, opposed to one who makes decisions based on assumptions and carries out procedures via emotionally-fuelled decisions. 

Again, there are many tutors and offer ‘advice’, ‘explanations’ and ‘strategies’ that do not align with the basic skills assessed by UMAT. A good example is advice often given to students about how they should be answering section 2 questions. Section 2 is titled ‘understanding people’ which is, in fact, your ability to find relevant evidence in the text that suggests a person’s emotions. For argument sake, if you read a passage where the character is crying in an inconsolable manner, you can safely and objectively interpret the character as extremely upset. However, a prominent way in which section 2 questions should be answered is to in fact take away the focus from the character and the passage but rather focus on how you, the candidate, would feel if YOU were in the same circumstance as the character.  This is the advice I’ve heard for numerous years which is one that not only does not align with what UMAT assesses but is one that can easily cause more harm than damage. The strategy, in essence, tells you to disregard the descriptions about the character in the passage and instead impose your personality onto the character. It is saying that you should impose your personality on anyone you meet, (e.g. friends, family, patients, strangers) and assume everyone feels and thinks like you. 

I am certain for you to be able to empathise well with others, you do not make this assumption but rather be critical in looking for information and objectively interpreting it for you to decide the emotion state of another human being. If you find that the recommendations offered by the tutor or course are very subjective and inconsistent, the chances are that their recommendations won’t be the ones you need to consistently answer UMAT questions correctly. 

Flaw #4: Poorly written and outdated questions 

I’ve been recently inundated with questions from students, especially those wanting me to look at concerns they had over free trial exams offered by several UMAT companies. Some of the questions were well constructed while others only distantly resembled UMAT questions at best. 

Poorly written question type #1 - MATH questions not UMAT questions

There are always questions written that required more than basic arithmetic to answer that seemed to be more of a math question from a year 11 curriculum than UMAT. According to ACER, ‘[UMAT] is not curriculum-based and presupposes no particular subjects at secondary level.  UMAT does not require any knowledge or skills in mathematics or sciences, or in any other area of the curriculum.  It is designed to complement your academic results, not to replicate them’. 

Poorly written question type #2 - Excessively difficult UMAT questions

There are frequent examples of UMAT questions that have been written to be excessively difficult compared to the actual exam. Key examples of this include convoluted questions after the main passage that are tricky to comprehend and stimulus passages that contain far too many variables or conditions in a typical UMAT question. For many students, doing easier questions is much easier to learn from and reinforce taught techniques, where questions that are made to be overly complex and not representative of UMAT questions could cause serious confidence issues and preparation confusion. 

Poorly written question type #3 - Outdated questions 

The best indication of the question styles in upcoming UMAT exams can be found in the free ACER trial exam you receive upon registering to sit the UMAT. ACER (writers of UMAT) tend to evolve questions year after year to update the appropriateness of the questions to asses what they intend to assess with UMAT (i.e. logical reasoning and critical thinking). This means typically speaking, once questions are removed from the UMAT, there is a very low chance (or no chance at all) that the same question types will re-emerge. So the best way to verify whether the questions you are doing will be constructive towards your preparation, compare them to the ones found in ACER’s trial exams. 

Number #5 Flaw: No Help When Needed

It is widely understood and accepted that everyone learns differently. Whether it may be the way you prefer to acquire information via live teaching or self-discovery or you prefer to learn things in giant chunks or easily digestible lessons, you need to make sure the course you choose has a feature to accommodate to your learning style. After what use is it when all the information is front of you, but you have difficulty understanding it?

Also as experience tells me, the last month before the UMAT is always the most hectic when it comes to students desperately seeking for answers to their learning woes. So, what does your ideal course need to include? It needs to include a support system that offers personalised feedback anytime to help you use your time to develop all necessary skills effectively and efficiently. Whether you are planning to finish UMAT preparation before the academic year starts or have urgent questions the day before the UMAT exam, the last thing you want is to receive no response from the course provider about your issue. Having additional support is never as important as the time you need it the most. 

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