As a professional educator, I've spent the last ten years helping over 600 students gain entrance into medical schools across Australasia. Our strategies for UCAT preparation aim to help students learn the exact skills and knowledge they need to answer any aptitude test question (e.g. UCAT and UMAT) question accurately, systematically and quickly. We had students last year who spent just one week (the week before the UMAT) preparing using our strategies and ended up with the mid-90s (don't recommend you to start that close to the test though!). Although, UCAT is a new for Australia and New Zealand students, it is not a brand new test. We’ve already anticipated the changes and have dissected the UKCAT, the test UCAT is based on. Here are a few points you need to take into account, to sum up how to conduct effective UCAT prep.
Step 1: Learn all techniques to solve all question types in the UCAT
UCAT assesses the logical reasoning capabilities (and certain attitudes pertaining to ethics and professional behaviours) of the candidate. Logical reasoning is the ability of a person to make decisions based on interpreting observable evidence and not by assumptions. How UCAT assesses this skill is by constructing questions that require the students to logically reason in five primary mannerisms, i.e., verbal reasoning (section 1), decision making (section 2), quantitative reasoning (section 3), abstract reasoning (section 4) and situational judgement (section 5). UCAT wants to see whether you are good at using evidence to make decisions in many different situations for many different purposes.
In summary, UCAT assesses the candidate’s ability to apply a series of process (i.e. skills) to solve a question, much like mathematics. Therefore, the first natural step to drastically improving your chances of answering a UCAT question correctly is by first learning what the skills (i.e. working) looks like and why the skills works the way it does (i.e. rationale).
Instead, the majority of students dive straight into doing a lot of questions before learning the techniques thoroughly. The common belief in the student community is that the more questions attempted during practice, the quicker they will master the questions. However, it is obvious that this method of preparation is in fact flawed as the primary purpose of practice is to apply a learned process in the hopes of identifying weaknesses and fixing them up. In short, there is no chance a student is able to apply skills to solve the question and learn from it when they don’t even know what that skill is. This method of preparation is a contrast to mindful practice and will only waste time, create further confusion and generate self-doubt. By learning techniques foremost, will take away all these issues and achieve an overall smooth learning experience.
Here are a few video examples of how section 1 UCAT questions are be solved. Click on the image to watch the video!
Step 2: Apply the techniques you've just learnt on questions of the same type
If you were to take a look at the questions belonging to same of the major types of questions, you would notice there are still subtle differences in how each question is written or formatted. Despite the fact that the questions may look slightly different, as long as you recognise they belong to the same type, the same technique can still be used to solve them. Therefore, it is crucial for you to apply the newly learned technique to a variety of question under the same question type to gain experience.
A simple example is learning algebra for the first time - the question used to teach you in class will most likely be different to the first one you practice with at home but can be solved with the same technique. So find some questions that are variations of the question you’ve learnt the skills to solve and attempt to apply the same skills to an aesthetically different, but fundamentally identical question.
Step 3: After applying your techniques, identify your weak points
After giving a few questions a good crack, you will realise and identify what your weak points are much easier. Examples of weaknesses may include forgetting the correct technique to use when answering the question or could also be that you weren't so good at executing one of the steps in the technique (e.g. interpreting the stimulus). Whatever it may be, step 3 allows you to isolate these issues that influence you the most. It allows you to be in control of your preparation by staying focused on things that are holding you back from achieving top marks.
Step 4: Fix up your problems and refine with high-volume practice
This step allows your preparation to fix the urgent matters identified in step 3. A part of the fixing process may require you to return to step 1 to re-learn the techniques or ask questions (feel free to leave questions in the comments below) to find solutions to your problems. After fixing is complete (when you are 100% confident about solving questions belonging to the particular question type), you should move on and do a high-volume of questions of the same type. Only commence high-volume question practice when you have gained and mastered the skills you need to solve a particular question type. When doing high-volume of questions, you can focus on gaining experience by attempting a wider range of questions, rather than worrying about how to even a question correctly. Many students who jump into high-volume question practice, such as doing practice exams, end up limiting their growth very quickly. Gaining experience by solving a variety of similar questions with the same basic technique is very helpful to gain speed, accuracy and consistency. Also if a similar question pops up in the real UCAT, you will know exactly how to tackle it.
If you want to know more about how iCanMed helps with UCAT preparation, click the button below!