UCAT Preparation: 6 UCAT Tips For 2021 Success

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James Gibbons

Senior Writer

The UCAT is one of the most daunting parts of the medical application process. The exam format might be unlike any other exam you’ve sat, and with strict timings it can feel overwhelming to begin with. Luckily, careful UCAT Preparation can help turn one of the most intimidating parts of the process into one of your strongest.

When thinking about how to prepare for the UCAT it can often be tricky knowing where to start and what to prioritise. We know that time is often very tight, with applicants managing UCAT Preparation, writing UCAS personal statements and your usual academic commitments all at the same time.

This article is here to help you to prepare the best you can. We’ll cover our six key UCAT preparation tips to help you to succeed!

UCAT Preparation Tips 2021 Infographic

1.  Getting to grips with the test format

The first, and arguably most important, thing to do for your UCAT preparation is to research and fully understand what the exam is testing you on. In particular you should make note of the exam format and question types. The best starting place for this is the official UCAT website and our other UCAT blog posts may help too. You should look at details of the five test subsections:

  • Verbal Reasoning
  • Abstract Reasoning
  • Decision Making
  • Quantitative Reasoning
  • Situational Judgement 

Once you understand what is being tested in these sections you can begin to prepare effectively for each one to maximise your potential score. If you are still struggling to understand how the test is scored, we have a handy UCAT scores guide which explains the process in detail.

2.   Tackle each section on its own

A key part of good UCAT preparation, and subsequently a good performance, is making sure you have prepared well for each and every section. This starts with learning what skills are being tested in each individual section and then structuring your preparation to target these skills. As you revise you will find that the way you approach Quantitative Reasoning, for example, will be very different to how you approach Decision Making.

Each section is testing a completely different skillset.  You can find our specific advice for each section by following these links: 

If you are finding one area particularly tricky then it may be worth getting some external help. You may find one of our Medic Mind one-to-one tutoring useful as these sessions can be tailored to meet your exact needs.

UCAT Sections
UCAT Sections

3.   Understand how timing works

One of the problems that students commonly face with the UCAT is the notoriously tight time pressure. For example, some of the sections only have about 15 seconds per question. This means that focusing about time management early is key. Knowing how to answer the questions isn’t enough to get you a good score. You need to be able to answer them very quickly.

Unlike the majority of exams you will have sat so far at school, the UCAT is designed so that you are unlikely to be able to answer every question in the time limit. This can take a while to get your head around at first. It’s actually more beneficial to not check your work and to make strategic, time-efficient guesses or estimates throughout the exam. This is most likely a very different approach than your school exams so it may take some getting used to!

SubtestTimeNumber of Questions
Verbal Reasoning22 minutes44
Quantitative Reasoning25 minutes36
Abstract Reasoning14 minutes55
Decision Making32 minutes29
Situational Judgement27 minutes69
Total120 minutes233
Break down of test sections and their timings
UCAT timing

Time is of the essence!

4.  Use the official UCAT practice tests

Practice exams should form a large part of your UCAT preparation. These will give you the closest experience to what the actual test will feel like and allow you to apply all of your preparation in a realistic way.

One of the best sources of practice exams is the UCAT official website. This will allow you to become familiar with the computerised test format as these exams are displayed exactly as they will be in the real test.

There are plenty of other resources available to practice with, which are summarised in another of our blog posts. It’s well worth a read if you’re considering which would be a the best investment for you. If you want to take your UCAT preparation to the next level you could even go through a full mock UCAT with one of our tutors. This can be particularly helpful as it will allow you to explore any questions that you may have struggled with, allowing you to learn from them and improve.

5.   Effective UCAT preparation

With your UCAT preparation it is very easy to get overwhelmed and find yourself doing question after question for hours without improving. This is why effective preparation with clear goals is essential.

Try setting yourself manageable targets for each day and ensuring you review all questions you get wrong to make sure you learn from your mistakes. Make sure to space your revision out, giving yourself adequate time to prepare so that you are not doing everything at the last minute.

QR UCAT notes
Make sure to prepare!

6. Practice in a library setting

A helpful tip is to arrange to do a full 2 hour practice test in your local library. Being out of your comfort zone in a quiet communal space will help stimulate the final exam, especially if you have been doing most of your revision at home.

Quite often the computers at libraries are older and similar to the computers you will find at the test centre. If you’ve been revising using a laptop or tablet it is particularly useful to try the experience with a desktop mouse and keyboard. It may sound silly but learning how it works can save you precious seconds that eventually add up to extra marks

UCAT Preparation: Conclusion

The UCAT can seem like a very daunting process. It is one of the main obstacles for getting into medical school for many applicants. The key to success with the UCAT is thought-out and effective preparation.

As this article shows, things such as making sure you don’t neglect any sections and that you are on top timings is crucial. Hopefully this guide will have given you the insight you need to begin this process, and ultimately lead you through to UCAT success.

How long does it take to prepare for the UCAT?

The time needed to prepare for the UCAT will vary between each student. It’s important not to leave your preparation too late or you won’t have time to master the necessary techniques. It’s also important not to start too soon as you may find yourself burnt out and running out of resources to use. We recommend students doing consistent revision for 2-3 months before the UCAT, but with more intense practice for 2 weeks leading up to the exam.

When should I start my UCAT preparation?

UCAT preparation is unique to each students, and what works well for one person won’t always work for someone else. We recommend taking the UCAT exam at the end of the summer holidays and spending the remaining time between the end of school and your exam doing consistent practice. A small amount of revision each day for 2-3 months will usually prepare you better than hours and hours of revision for just a week before.

Which UCAT resource is best?

Using question banks and practicing questions is one of the most important parts of your preparation. However, you also need to make sure you understand the techniques required to answer the questions. This won’t be taught through simple practice so we also recommend supplementing your preparation with a UCAT online course or tutor.

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