How do you balance UCAT with school?

When trying to juggle UCAT preparation and schoolwork, many students end up sacrificing one or the other due to poor time management. However, your UCAT and ATAR results are equally important for getting into medical school. What people often don’t realise is that many universities (e.g. UNSW, Monash University) weight the UCAT at 33% of your final ranking, meaning that it is just as important as your ATAR results. So how are you supposed to manage both?

First, you need to understand what the UCAT is.

The UCAT is an aptitude test that assesses candidates’ ability to make evidence-based decisions and apply medical ethics in professional scenarios. Therefore, in order to score well on the UCAT, you need to develop these particular skills (and the steps that comprise these skills) in order to solve questions CORRECTLY and EFFICIENTLY every time. While the UMAT had three sections, contained 134 questions, and spanned 3 hours, the UCAT has five sections, contains 233 questions, and spans only 2 hours – meaning that speed and accuracy are crucial. Therefore, all of your UCAT study should focus on becoming very familiar with the steps for solving questions so that you can improve your accuracy and speed.


Second, you need to recognise what makes the ATAR difficult.

No matter what Year 12 system you are following (e.g. VCE, HSC, IB), the main difficulty with ATAR study is always the overwhelming amount of content that Year 12 subjects require students to learn compared to Year 11. This, combined with the advanced nature of exam questions, makes it difficult for students to do well in Year 12 using the study techniques and habits they applied in previous years. So not only do students need to work hard, they also need to constantly improve themselves and their study techniques.


So why the struggle?

From our experience helping thousands of students over the last 10 years, we have recognised that the main reason why students struggle to balance the UCAT and ATAR is because they lack awareness about the challenges involved in each test. Put simply, students become so overwhelmed when trying to manage one that they neglect or forget about the other. In order to balance the UCAT and ATAR, students must understand the challenges that each of these tests presents, and then work on preparing themselves for these challenges throughout the following months. The best way to do this is to literally LIST OUT the challenges involved in each test (or each Year 12 subject) – this puts you in a position where you know what to pursue and how much time to allocate for both UCAT and ATAR preparation.


It’s also important to be conscious of the test date for UCAT. Unfortunately, many students become complacent and decide to just cram UCAT preparation before the test date, not realising that the UCAT is not crammable. Doing well on the UCAT requires a change in your thinking process and the development of specific skills (including verbal reasoning, decision making, quantitative reasoning, abstract reasoning and situational judgment). These are not things that you can cram – they can only be achieved by regular UCAT preparation throughout the year. So if you know that medicine/dentistry is what you want to do, and you find yourself with some free time, make this into ‘UCAT time’.


Balance is a result of control, which is a result of awareness. This means that you need to take charge of your own learning and ask yourself some honest questions about what you want to achieve.

For the ATAR, ask your teachers for sample tests and exams so that you can begin to understand what the questions are like.

For the UCAT, reach out to us and check out our Library for more resources.