If you want to do anything medical or dental at uni (not sure about veterinary…) you are required to take the UKCAT. It stands for United Kingdom Clinical Aptitude Test and is a 2 hour Computer-based Test. You have to book a place at your nearest Centre (usually the same place you take your driving theory test) and you receive your score on the same day! The test is made up of 5 separate sections: Verbal reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, Abstract Reasoning, Decision analysis and Situational Judgment. I’ll give a brief overview of each section later…
The first time I heard of the UKCAT was when I went to the Medlink and Dentlink courses in Nottingham (I might do a separate post on my time there later). There was a long lecture describing what it was all about in detail. I remember taking notes and thinking This test looks really hard! How are you supposed to do well in this? Then, It felt like another hurdle to jump before I could get into uni! One of the things you have to get your head around is that it doesn’t test your general knowledge. That stumped me at first, having spent my whole life being taught things and then being tested on what I remembered. This test instead makes you apply different skills you already have to make judgments on things you don’t know or have little information on.
Not long after, I started to do some research into what the uni’s wanted from the UKCAT and to gain a better understanding of what I had to do. It became very obvious that this test was a must and I had to try as hard in the UKCAT as I do in my exams. I went around my school asking the year above me what they did to prepare and how they found the test. Overall, the advice I was getting was to PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE. They told me to do as many questions as I could especially when it came to the Abstract Reasoning subtest. So this post is basically gonna share what I found and how I prepared for the big test!
First of all, if you haven’t already, go to the UKCAT website and read it! It’s the official site and it’s the most reliable and accurate place to gain your information. Read about how you apply, what it tests, general FAQ’s and advice on how to prepare. Take note of the dates! It tells you when you can start your application (it’s a bit lengthy but very straight forward) and the last available days to take the test. Another tip you will hear again and again is to take the test early! This is important for a couple of reasons:-
- You can start taking the test form early summer. If you do it earlier on, you can put it aside and concentrate on the other parts of your application. The last thing you want to do is put it off and spend the whole summer worrying about it or spending the entire summer preparing for it. After every revision session, I came away brain dead and exhausted. You may think that leaving it till september will give you a lot of time, but you may find that your revision becomes ineffective and extremely tedious which means you reach your peak too early and you’re not at your best before the exam. My advice is to take it early (about early to mid summer), plan a solid revision schedule, do the test and move on. You can only take the test once a year (the year you apply), so do your best the first TIME!
- When it comes to booking the test day, don’t leave that to the last minute either! Each test costs an administrative fee of £65 (2014) which you have to pay when you book a date. However all tests booked after 31st August goes up to £85. So pick a date, and work towards it. Make sure you read the website for information about applying for a bursary to cover the cost of the test if your eligible. It will tell you if you qualify for one and how to obtain it before you book a date.
- Places get booked up fairly quick, so to make sure you have a date that is convenient for you, book early! You don’t want to forget and find that the last available date is the wednesday that you’re on holiday…
So you’ve booked a date! Time to revise… and gather up some materials!
- First place to go is the library (school and home) and ask about any UKCAT preparation books. You may find that they have been donated some that you can borrow. Also ask your school career advisors if the school has any!
- Next, hunt down all the Medical/Dental seniors in your school and ask them if they have still got their UKCAT preparation stuff. Ask if you can borrow it to use for your own revision. I know I found some friends who had books that were in great condition (some basically brand new) who let me borrow it for a time or let me have it for half the price of book stores.
- The ukcat website itself has a free preparation kit which includes two full past papers and example questions for each subtest. My advice is to go through a whole test (timed) before you revise to get a feel of the time constraints and question difficulty. I promise you your score will be horrifically low (I know mine was…) but it is a good indicator of where you stand before you get started. After this I left all mocks to the end of my revision schedule, focusing on individual subtests only.
- There are some online courses that you can take to help prepare you. These cost money and usually give you access to a bank of practice questions and mocks. Spend some time looking through these sites. They usually provide some free sample questions which you can practice. I used medify for two weeks prior to my test. It had loads of practice questions and 3 timed mocks (an easy, normal and hard one). It also had detailed articles on how to answer each question type. Overall I found it was a good bargain as only paid £30 for 2 weeks access to all the materials (they had thousands of questions!). Even if you don’t subscribe, use their 50 top UKCAT tips and Try out their Demo to gain some free help and practice. Others used Kaplan, however I found that after I looked at a couple of reviews online, the high price (around £200 I think??) was not worth the results. But guys, don’t take my word for it, find out for yourself! I have heard a lot of people saying it taught them everything they know! So look at the reviews, talk to people that have done it and see whether it’s right for you.
- For more books and guides, the place to go is Amazon and Ebay. People sell their old copies on there and you’ll also find reviews on how well people did and how the book did (or didn’t) help.
- Youtube Youtube Youtube! Granted, I didn’t utilise this resource as much as I should have but it really is great! People go through their tips and troubles as well as how-to guides on each subtest
- Finally… Just Google it! You’ll find more blogs and reviews like this and even MORE information.
By the end of all this you’ll be an expert with A LOT of work to do so next thing to do is make a revision schedule. It will keep you on track and make sure you don’t go UKCAT overkill! They say the best candidates do 20-30 hours preparation prior to the test so don’t do more than 2 hours every day; your brain will melt!
Now a brief description of what’s In the UKCAT!
- Verbal Reasoning – assesses candidates’ ability to think logically about written information and arrive at a reasoned conclusion. You are given 21 minutes, with 11 passages to read and 44 questions to answer in that time. You can respond True, False or Can’t Tell. The passages are about everything and anything! they are written in continuous prose (usually) and are about things you’re not taught in your subjects. My tip is to always read the question before the passage, so you know what you’re scanning for! You can try looking for key words but they usually use a lot of synonyms so its harder to spot. Also make sure you know your conditional words. These are words like can, may, usually, mostly, always, never, likely, occasionally etc. These words either in the passage or the question change the way you answer the question and the way the information is used.
- Quantitative reasoning – assesses candidates’ ability to solve numerical problems. You are given 24 minutes, 9 tables, charts, graphs etc. as information; and 36 questions to answer. This section uses GCSE level basic maths! So in that respect it’s not hard… but that doesn’t mean that it’s easy! Best advice is to revise your GCSE maths and make sure you really know your stuff! (E.g. Area’s of shapes, Speed=distance/time, fractions, percentage change, currency exchange, ratios, decimals, multiplication and division etc.) Also try and find an easy and quicker way to achieve the same answers. Also in the test you are given a on-screen calculator to use. PRACTICE USING THE CALCULATOR BEFORE THE TEST AND GET USED TO IT! Use the keyboard to operate it before the test day
- Abstract reasoning – assesses candidates’ ability to infer relationships from information by convergent and divergent thinking. You are allocated 13 minutes to answer 55 questions! This is all about identifying patterns in shapes or spotting the rule that works for the group and applying it to a test shape. One type of question gives you 2 sets (A and B) and makes you determine the rule for each set and apply it to a test shape. Rules tend to be similar between sets A and B (E.g. Set A= odd number of shapes, Set B= even number of shapes). Abstract reasoning requires an unbelievable amount of practice. The more scenarios you see, the more equipped you are for a new question. However, There are some points you should cover when approaching one of these question:
- number of shapes
- odd vs even number of shapes/sides
- angles (acute/obtuse)
- curved vs straight
- position in the box
- the ‘king’ shape – it is found in every single box within set A. This can be used as a key to identify whether the test shape belongs in set A or B (E.g. All boxes in set A have a black circle and all boxes in set B have a white square)
This may seem extremely complicated at the moment but just try some examples and get familiar with the rules used in the questions. It won’t seem so difficult after you can rule out some trends from experience!
- Decision Analysis – assesses candidates’ ability to deal with various forms of information to infer relationships, to make informed judgements, and to decide on an appropriate response. You are allocated 32 minutes, 1 scenario full of information and 28 questions to answer. This subtest uses a giant key to decode messages and get their meaning, or make messages using the codes. My best advice for this (other than practice) is to translate the code literally and then find the most similar option to your translation. I found this section by far the easiest ( I was done with around 15 minutes to spare.) because you could eliminate options very quickly! I was brutal when it came to narrowing down my options because any sentence that included an extra word or was plural rather than singular was out. Once again its practice but mainly just look at the options and see where they differ… and whether that’s closer or further from the english/code.
- Situational Judgment – measures your responses in situations, and your grasp of medical ethics. This section of the test is 27 minutes long, with 67 questions on 20 scenarios. This is basically real life scenarios that test your moral and ethical standing. You don’t get a score like the others but get placed into bands, Band 1 being the highest you can achieve and band 4 the lowest. For the first set you will be asked to rate the appropriateness of a series of options in response to the scenario. When considering how to respond to the scenario, an option is:
- a very appropriate thing to do if it will address at least one aspect (not necessarily all aspects) of the situation
- appropriate, but not ideal if it could be done, but is not necessarily a very good thing to do
- inappropriate, but not awful if it should not really be done, but would not be terrible
- a very inappropriate thing to do if it should definitely not be done and would make the situation worse.
MAKE SURE YOU DON’T ANSWER EACH QUESTION AS IF IT IS THE ONLY OPTION FOR THE SCENARIO!!! Don’t get confused! For example, if the wrong medication is provided to a patient, there are a number of steps that should be taken, including checking the patient is ok and assessing the patient medically. The response ‘ask the patient if they are ok’ should still be judged as appropriate. It should not be judged as if this is the only action that will be taken!For the second set you will be asked to rate the importance of a series of options in response to the scenario. When considering how to respond to the scenario, an option is:
- very important if this is something that is vital to take into account
- important if this is something that is important but not vital to take into account
- of minor importance if this is something that could be taken into account, but it does not matter if it is considered or not
- not important at all if this is something that should definitely not be taken into account
When I was actively revising I found the time constraints the most difficult thing to master. You have to process a lot of information in a short space of time! Especially with Quantitative, Abstract and Verbal reasoning, I found myself running out of time before I was halfway through. So my stopwatch on my phone was my best-friend!
When you calculate the total amount of time for each subtest and divide it by the amount of questions, you get an average time per question. I used this as my guideline for how fast I should be going. It was roughly 30 seconds per question for most sets which was a ridiculously small amount of time!! Initially the timer would run out before I had even finished reading the whole question and understanding the data! I would then restart the timer and continue with the question, trying to answer it in time. I found that the constant alarm (or the impending alarm) made me time conscious and work faster. I learnt that reading and understanding the question primarily, before trying to search for the right part of the text/data for the answer was better.
It took me quite a while to see myself getting faster but soon I mastered text scanning and got better at finding quicker calculations to reach an answer. Soon enough I was hitting my timing targets! This may not be the best method for some, but I really think its important to start timing yourself from the beginning and really drive it home that you have to be quick!
ON TEST DAY TIPS:
- Take all information needed, including ID, and some water and a snack for when you’re finished. I was so tired and thirsty because the place was quite warm. Remember you can’t bring any food or drinks into the test room, so keep them in the locker they provide you.
- Dress in layers – if the place is too hot or too cold, you wanna be able to do something about it.
- Eat breakfast! today is not the day to skip it! Not too much that you’ll feel sick but you need to give your body some fuel! You’ll be quite nervous and adrenaline will be out to play, so try to avoid a major crash when you’re done by grabbing something to eat.
- Make sure you know how to get to your test centre before your test day. Being lost on your test day will be your worst nightmare. Remember it’s only one per year!!
- Get there in good time. you don’t want to rush.
- Try not to panic… deep breaths and all that. If you’ve revised then you won’t fail, simple.
- If you don’t know a question PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE ANSWER IT, FLAG IT AND MOVE ON!!!!!! I cannot stress this enough. Each question is only one mark, regardless of whether it is easy or hard!! don’t waste time, find the easier ones and come back to the harder ones! you’ll kick yourself if you don’t have enough time to answer every question. This is key for AR and QR especially.
- For the same reasons don’t give away marks by not guessing answers to the unknown questions. you might be lucky with a guess but you won’t be with a blank.
Well… I think I’ve covered everything… Probably not…. so if you have any questions just leave a comment below and I’ll love to help!