Admissions Tests- UKCAT

The UK Clinical Aptitude Test (UKCAT) and the BioMedical Admissions Test (BMAT) are the two admissions tests you may need to take as part of your medicine application. Each university you apply to will only ask for one of these tests to be taken, but you may end up needing to take both tests depending on which universities you apply to.

Of the 33 medical schools in the UK, 26 of them require A100 medicine applicants to have taken the UKCAT. That means you almost definitely will need to take the UKCAT when applying for medicine, so you’d better get prepared! The good thing about the UKCAT is that you can choose when to take it. Test dates in 2018 are from 2nd July to the 2nd of October, and you can take the test in any one of the 160+ Pearson VUE test centres across the UK and internationally. The freedom the UKCAT gives you to choose your test date means you can give yourself ample time to prepare. When you take the test is very much up to you, but I personally think the best time to take the UKCAT is at the end of the summer before the apply- the UKCAT must be taken in the same year as you apply- before you go back to school. The reason I say that is because doing it at the end of the summer gives you the entire summer holiday to practice and prepare. And why do it before back to school? Well, it’s nice to have it out of the way so you can focus on your personal statement, the BMAT (if you’re also taking that), and your A levels. Year 13 is a really busy year so it’s good to get the UKCAT done early to minimise stress. I realise this news isn’t all that helpful at this time of the year to current applicants, but here’s hoping it’ll be helpful to any 2019 applicants…

So what is the UKCAT? It is a 2-hour test taken on a computer with multiple-choice questions. It is made up of 5 sections, each of them timed and that’s the real challenge you’ll need to tackle. That’s not to say the questions are easy, different people find different sections difficult- I personally found Abstract Reasoning the trickiest- but the timing is truly a killer. I’ll get to time management soon, but first: the subtests. The first subtest is Verbal Reasoning which is essentially a comprehension test. A piece of text is given to you and you are asked questions based on it. There are 44 questions in this section, but you have just 21 minutes to complete it. This means you better brush up on your reading skills! The pieces of texts are often quite long so skim reading is the way to go. The texts can also be quite complicated and it is easy to get lost in the details and trying to understand the text. My advice? Don’t understand it. The UKCAT is not giving you a text about Scottish Devolution to read because as a doctor you’ll need to know when the Scottish Parliament was set up. They want to see that you can pick out the important conclusions to be gleaned from the mass of complicated information thrown at you. Most of these conclusions can be picked up from a good skim of the passage, and when more specific questions are thrown your way the best course of action is to read the question first then reread the text looking for keywords included in the question.

The second section of the UKCAT, Decision Making, lasts 31 minutes with 29 questions. That means you have more time on these questions that in Verbal Reasoning but that’s because this section requires a little more thinking. Decision Making is testing your ability to problem-solve, and the questions can really vary as a result. Questions may use text, tables and diagrams and may ask you to make conclusions and evaluate arguments. There isn’t much I can say for this section in terms of tips, its just about practice and getting used to the questions, except do not waste time on a single question. During the test you are able to ‘flag’ questions and if you have time left after you’ve completed the section you can go back to those flagged questions and give it a second shot. This is a good way of making sure you manage to work your way through all the questions.

The third section is a toughie- Quantitative Reasoning which is essentially just maths. This is where the timing is really an issue. 36 questions in 24 minutes, but many of those questions require multiple steps which can really take time and there can be a lot of data for you to work through also. The first time I tried out the Quantitative Reasoning section I only managed to get through the first 9 questions before I ran out of time! What can I say? Tax confuses me- how the heck does it work? So once again I implore you to use that flag button and simply skip the questions which you know will take too much work and time. You can always come back to them at the end, but there’s no use in focusing on just one or two questions and missing out on the quicker, easier ones that you’ve just lost marks for not completing. Each question is worth the same but some of them take more work than others so you must be savvy. Another way you can save time is by practicing using the calculator on the computer, which can take a little time to get used to. Better yet, do mental maths when possible. The computer calculator is cumbersome and wastes time, so if its a sum you could do on your head, then do it! For the real test, you are given a whiteboard-style booklet which you can write on- use it. Writing down your maths calculations or any numbers that you need to remember mid-calculation is likely quicker than typing it into the computer calculator. Finally, when making calculations first look at the answers. If the different choices are sufficiently different, you can round the numbers that you use in the calculations to make them easier to use doing mental maths. This means you can work out a rough answer and pick the accurate answer within the multiple-choice accordingly.

Abstract Reasoning. Oh, how my heart wept when I first saw these questions. My first reaction was definitely, “Well that’s it, give up on your dreams now Iqra because you’ll never get a single question right in this section”. The good news is, I was wrong. The Abstract Reasoning subtest contains 55 questions but you only have 13 minutes to complete it. I know, shock horror. So you absolutely MUST practice this section as you literally have just seconds for each question. Abstract Reasoning is all about recognising patterns, some of which are so ridiculously specific that you have to wonder if anyone ever gets them. But the key is practice, practice, practice! ‘Practice’ may sound like obvious advice but I don’t think practice has ever been so effective on test outcomes as it did for me on Abstract Reasoning. There are only a limited number of different pattern ‘types’ so once you know what to look out for, finding those patterns actually becomes second nature in a way you never thought possible. By the time I did my UKCAT I could look at a pattern for 5 seconds and know “Ah, the pattern is that when there’s a grey square in the right corner of the set there’s also a white triangle, and when there’s a white circle in the set there isn’t a grey rectangle” which I could’ve never picked up on before. So the moral of this little anecdote is, do not despair when you first try abstract reasoning! Just keep practicing and eventually it really does just click.

The final section is Situational Judgement and I must admit, I found this significantly easier than the other sections. There are 69 questions to do in 26 minutes but during my practices and indeed the real test I only ever used half of the time, and that was without rushing! So you can rest easy knowing that this section is not nearly as rushed as the previous subtests. Situational Judgement is also marked differently; for the other 4 subtests you are given a scaled score between 300 and 900 whereas in the SJT you are given a ‘band’ from 1 to 4. This means that the SJT is used by universities differently to your scaled score from the rest of the UKCAT, some universities use it more but most universities use it less than the scaled score. Situational Judgement questions give you scenarios you might face at university, work placements or as a fully-fledged doctor. Your job is either to rate how appropriate an action or response might be to the situation, or to choose the best course of action from the options. Most of the scenarios are quite straightforward with the correct response being the response that any medicine applicant would choose anyway, but there is an element of trickiness when deciding between the options: “A very appropriate thing to do” and “Appropriate, but not ideal”. In general, a little bit of practice will help you differentiate between those two options.

So that’s all I have to say about the UKCAT, apart from best of luck!

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