‘How do you effectively prepare for the UCAT?’ is one of the most important questions a student aspiring to enter medical or dental school can ask. For students who will be sitting the test this year – only a matter of weeks away! – it is a critical question to address, as you need to know what effective preparation looks like in order to make the best possible use of the coming weeks and maximise your final UCAT score. For students who will be sitting the test next year or later, it is also essential that you understand the basic mechanics of UCAT preparation to avoid wasting time on ineffective and unhelpful study.
Effective UCAT preparation should achieve two outcomes: accuracy and speed. Without speed, you will struggle to complete more than a handful of the 233 questions on the two-hour test. Without accuracy, you will race through the entire exam and yet fail to actually get any questions right.
In order to achieve both accuracy AND speed, you need to learn the steps for solving questions properly. This way, you’ll be aware of what you’re doing right and wrong as you’re answering questions, and you’ll have the techniques required to tackle and achieve consistent results for any question you could possibly face.
How does accuracy link to speed?
Since the UCAT is an aptitude test, a helpful way to think about it is to compare it to a maths exam. When studying for a maths exam, if you try to do lots of mock exams BEFORE you actually know how to answer questions, you will simply waste your time and become disheartened because you can’t get the questions right within the time limit. After all, you can’t solve questions at a consistently high level until you first understand the detailed, step-by-step THEORY (the formulas, steps, processes, etc.). Once you understand every step and process involved in the theory, you can then apply it by practising until you slowly develop accuracy. Whenever you get a maths question wrong – which lowers your accuracy and hinders you from developing speed – you can fix your mistake by identifying where you went wrong and rectifying the issue. Once you’ve identified and resolved all of your question-solving issues, you will be able to solve questions very quickly and get them right every time.
To illustrate the importance of accuracy, and the link between accuracy and speed, here’s a general example.
It’s the same for UCAT preparation: once you understand the theory behind solving questions, practise the steps, and refine all of your mistakes, you will have mastered both accuracy and speed.
The need for speed (and accuracy)
In the past, many students were unable to complete the UMAT (the predecessor of the UCAT) within the set time limits. With 134 questions across 3 sections, and only 3 hours to complete them, even the brightest students struggled to finish every question on the test.
The introduction of the UCAT has raised the bar even higher. With 233 questions across 5 sections, and only 2 hours to complete them, students are required to be way more skilled for the UCAT than for the UMAT if they want to achieve a good score and maximise their chances of getting into medical or dental school. When sitting the UCAT, students only have 14-64 seconds to solve each question, as illustrated in the table below.
Given the time constraints, you need to know the process for solving questions much better for the UCAT than the UMAT – you have no time to recover if you make mistakes. As explained above, making mistakes is very time-consuming: by the time you realise your mistake, figure out what went wrong, and finally fix the mistake, you will have already forfeited the time you need to answer two or three other questions! This means that it is crucial for you to work on your accuracy (by learning and practising the theory) in order to develop speed and solve every UCAT question quickly and correctly.
In order to maximise your chances of UCAT success, the best way to use the final weeks before the test is to spend them building up your speed and accuracy. Take the time to learn the steps, and then practice them. Figure out why you’re making mistakes, and work on eliminating them.