UCAT Verbal Reasoning: 16 Tips For Success

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James Gibbons

Senior Writer

When you’re just starting out, UCAT Verbal Reasoning can seem to be one of the more straightforward sections in the UCAT. This section asks you to read a passage of text and then answer questions about what you’ve read. It can seem quite simple but the difficulty comes in the timing. Timing is particularly tight for this section and the texts can often be quite long. Of course, the exam has be designed this way on purpose! In order to succeed, the examiners are looking for you to be able to cope under stressful, time-limited situations.

At the beginning of your UCAT preparation it is key that you completely understand what each section is testing and have good resources and support in place. In this article, we’re going to go through sixteen (yes 16!) tips to help you with devise your own strategy for tackling UCAT Verbal Reasoning. Take a look what each of the sections are testing here.

UCAT Verbal Reasoning Tips

1.   Use our keyword technique 

The passages of text that you’re given can be really quite long. Time is tight so the longer you spend reading, the less time you have to answer the questions. That’s why the majority of tips in this article will be based around reducing the amount you need to read. The number one tip for UCAT Verbal Reasoning is do not read the whole passage! This might seem intuitive but reading the whole thing would take far too long and you’ll run out of time very fast.

Instead, we recommend the key word technique. To do this, firstly you read just the first two lines of the text to give you an idea of the topic. Then read the question so that you know what you’re being asked. From the question you pick a keyword which you use to help you find the relevant information in the text. Scan through the passage looking for that keyword, and then read the sentence containing it, as well as the sentences before and after. This should give you enough information without needing to read the whole passage.

You might be thinking, how do I decide which keyword to choose? You want the keyword to be specific. The more specific the less likely the keyword is to be repeated throughout the text. Ideally you want the keyword to be something that will only appear in the sentence relevant to the question, to minimise the amount you need to read.

So to recap, the keyword technique involves:

  1. Read the question and pick a keyword

    Pick a keyword in the question statement. Dates, numbers and capitalised words tend to be good keywords because they’re easy to spot and stand out from other words.

  2. Search for keyword

    Scan for the keyword in the passage

  3. Read around the keyword

    If you find the keyword, then read the 2-3 lines around the keyword and hopefully you should find your answer! 

Sometimes you won’t find your keyword in the text, or it’ll be present far too many times to be useful. In these situations you’ll need to select an alternative keyword. Take a look at our UCAT Verbal Reasoning tutorials for more advice.

UCAT Verbal Reasoning Tips Video

Free Online UCAT Tutorials:
Medic Mind UCAT Verbal Reasoning Series

2.   Identify extreme language in UCAT Verbal Reasoning

Another key technique to use during UCAT Verbal Reasoning is identifying extreme language to make educated guesses. Time is extremely tight in this section and the majority of students don’t even manage to answer every question. Near the end of the section, you might find yourself with just a handful seconds left with several questions still to go. In this circumstance it’s best to make quick educated guesses rather than leave all of the remaining questions blank.

In these situations, you can look at the wording of the question and use this to help you predict the correct answer. That way your guess has more chance of being right than just randomly selecting an answer to pick.

Statements with extreme language (never, always, will, most…) is much more likely to indicate a false answer as it is a more definitive statement and doesn’t allow for any exceptions. Whereas mild language (may, can, sometimes…) is more likely to be true for the opposite reasons.

This technique is particularly useful with the ‘True, False or Can’t Tell’ questions but can be applied to other types of question too. Why don’t you have a go at practicing some questions using this technique first, and then try the questions properly by reading the text. If you compare how many you get right you’ll probably find that using extreme language is more accurate than you might have thought, and can be done in a matter of seconds!

3. Don’t miss out True, False, Can’t Tell Questions in UCAT Verbal Reasoning 

The ‘True, False, Can’t Tell’ questions are normally the quickest to answer compared to the questions where you have to evaluate several statements at once. You definitely don’t want to miss out on any of the ‘True, False, Can’t Tell’ questions as they’re typically the ones where you can score the most points in the quickest amount of time.

Sometimes these questions can be hidden at the end, meaning that people who spend too long on earlier questions miss them out when they run out of time.

UCAT Keyword
Keep a close eye out for these questions

4. But, don’t skip through looking for True, False, Can’t Tell Questions 

However, don’t be tempted to skip back and forth looking for the ‘True, False, Can’t Tell’ questions straight away. This will completely mess up your timing and you’ll spend too long navigating the exam interface. For example, if you’re on question 28 and have 15 minutes left it’s hard to work out how long you have left to answer the remaining questions as there’s no way to see how many you’ve skipped at the start.

The best thing to do is do the questions in the order they’re presented to you, but as you get close to the end of the time keep in mind there may be some quicker questions at the end of the test. For example, if you’ve got 3 minutes left and still have two passages to get through, it might be worth making educated guesses on a longer passage and spending the majority of your time left on a ‘True, False, Can’t Tell’ set.

5. For Author questions, look at the conclusion first for the author opinion 

We’ve already spoken about ‘True, False’ Can’t Tell’ but there are several different question types in the Verbal Reasoning section of the UCAT. It is worth practising each different type of question ahead of your test and developing a technique for each of them. This will allow for you to be familiar with each one, with a rough idea of how long they all take you to do.

One of the types of question in the UCAT Verbal Reasoning section is author or writer questions. These questions ask you to evaluate the passage are based on someone else’s opinion. They can be long and it can be hard to find the author’s conclusion or overall opinion without reading the entire text. We’ve already seen that reading all of the passage in one go is a bad idea so the best bet for author questions is to look in the final paragraph first. The final paragraph usually holds the overall conclusion or closing argument which sums up the entire tone of the article without you needing to read the whole thing.

6. You may want to guess some author questions

Author questions can be long winded and require lots of reading, especially if the conclusion isn’t in the final few sentences. So when it comes to deciding which questions you are going to guess, these are probably a good choice.

The tricky part with UCAT Verbal Reasoning is not so much the difficult of the questions, but trying to answer all of them in the time limit. Remember to be realistic as it is pretty much impossible to answer every single question. This means you’re going to need to guess some of them, and should get into practice of doing so. By making good choices at which questions to guess, you can maximise your score.

7. Watch out for ‘strongest opinion’ author questions 

Sometimes a question may ask for the author’s strongest opinion. These questions are particularly difficult as there can be multiple ‘correct’ answers. The exam is looking for you to select the ‘most correct’ answer, meaning the statement the author is most likely to agree with.

It is hard to eliminate answers for this type of question, and it can take a long time to work out the answer as you’ll need to read a lot of the passage to understand the authors complete point of view. So again, this might be one to guess and skip or save for the end of a set when you’re more familiar with the passage.

8. Watch out for negative questions! 

Sometimes you’ll get negative questions which can easily throw you off when you’re under a time pressure. For example, the statement will say ‘which of these is NOT true’. Make sure you can spot the negative turn to these questions so you know exactly what you’re looking for in the text.

9. Don’t spend too long checking

In UCAT Verbal Reasoning, time is precious. So be smart and don’t double check your answers. This might feel unnatural as this exam holds a lot of weight on your medical school application so naturally, you’ll want to check you haven’t made mistakes. But if you check your answers you will definitely run out of time, and end up losing more marks than if you accidentally make one or two mistakes.

It’s particularly important in the the statement type of question. Here you’re given four statements to evaluate. Once you’ve found the correct answer, there isn’t any need to evaluate the remaining statements. Unless you have any big doubts, there’s no point and it will save you valuable seconds to spend on other questions that you otherwise might have to blindly guess.

10. Practice in a library 

So many students practice UCAT, but don’t practice full 2 hour mocks in test conditions. The test environment is likely to be different to any exam you’ve sat before. There are only very short breaks, it’s in a hot stuffy room with other people moving around and it’ll be on an old desktop computer.

Your local library will probably be quite similar to this, so we recommend practicing at least one mock exam in these conditions. You might be surprised how distracting it can be to have someone sitting down or moving around next to you while you’re trying to focus. If you simulate the exam beforehand, you should have less surprises on the real day!

Go to a library to practice UCAT Verbal Reasoning
Go to a library to practice UCAT Verbal Reasoning

11. Work onscreen 

During practice you should try and replicate the exam format as much as possible. The exam will be on a computer screen so if you are using books, for example, try not to highlight the text because this won’t be an option when you’re sitting the real exam. Try to practice on a screen wherever possible. Your eyes can get tired reading passages on a screen, but this is all part of the challenge. This is an essential part of our online tutoring as we show you how to get used to working on a screen.

11. Don’t fall for time traps!

Sometimes certain questions are made deliberately difficult to try and throw you off! The best candidates are able to identify these questions are going to take too long before they start, and will simply make an educated guess and move on without wasting their time.

This is purposely done and is one of the skills you’re being tested on. If you’ve done work experience in a A&E department you might have noticed doctors triaging, and this is essentially the same skill albeit with questions rather than patients! If you can work out which questions are going to take too long, you can forfeit one mark but save a lot of time and potentially pick up more marks by spending this time on easier questions.

UCAT Verbal Reasoning timing
Timing is key in UCAT Verbal Reasoning

13. Prepare yourself mentally

UCAT Verbal Reasoning is the first section of the exam, so go in and be prepared for it. Remember that the majority of people don’t finish this section. Even if you don’t answer all the questions you can still score very highly. Many students are unprepared for this reality and feel disheartened when they finish this section. Even if you feel it went badly, don’t let it have a knock-on effect for the rest of the exam. The UCAT have put this section first to test your resilience – can you bounce back after not finishing, or do you give up and let it bring down the rest of your exam?

14. Work on skim reading 

To do well in UCAT Verbal Reasoning, you have to skim read the text to find the keyword you’re looking for. This is a skill which you will develop over time, and practice helps. Some people say it’s good to read newspapers to practice this. But to be honest, if you’re going to spend time practicing, it’s probably more efficient to just do more VR questions. This is where having access to a large question bank or book will really help you.

15. Use the flagging function 

In the UCAT you can flag questions and come back to them later. If you’re unsure about an answer or simply don’t know, its worth flagging incase you have some time left over.

But you should be cautious doing this! Remember most people don’t finish the section so it’s unlikely you’ll have time to come back to anything. Always put an answer down, even if it’s a random guess, before flagging and moving on. Its really unlikely that you’ll have time left over at the end!

UCAT Flagging Function in Verbal Reasoning
Use the flagging function in VR

16. Consider your operational time

Sometimes students develop their own techniques for each section. This is great and you should always do what works best for you, but don’t waste precious time doing extra things as this really adds up. I’ve had students in the past who always write down the keyword on their whiteboard, for example, in case they come back to the question. If it would take 5 seconds to do this for every question, by the time you wrote things down and looked back up, which is 220 seconds across 44 questions. This is just under 4 minutes, nearly 20% of your time!

If timing is something that you are really struggling with then you may benefit from some of our one-to-one sessions. These sessions can be tailored exactly to your needs and our tutors can go through questions step-by-step with you to improve your timing efficiency.

Bonus: UCAT Verbal Reasoning needs confidence

The final tip for UCAT Verbal Reasoning is to have confidence in yourself. The answers to these question may not appear as black and white as the other sections, as often there is a degree of inference required to get to the answer. So, here more than ever, trust your gut instinct when you you can’t find the answer exactly. You can always come back and review if you have time at the end, but trusting in yourself in that moment could save you lots of time that could make a large difference over the course of the test. Especially when you’re making those educated guesses.

Remember, as with every UCAT section, there is no negative marking so make sure you do not leave any question blank. Even if you have absolutely no idea there is still a 25% chance you may guess correctly and pick up an extra mark.

UCAT Verbal Reasoning
Have confidence in your choices

How do I get good at UCAT Verbal Reasoning?

The key for UCAT Verbal Reasoning is practice. Don’t just focus on getting the right answer, but getting the right answer under the strict timing conditions. Take a look at our keyword and extreme language tips to help you speed up.

What is a good UCAT Verbal Reasoning score?

UCAT Verbal Reasoning tends to have the lowest average score, and is often the lowest score for many students. In 2020 the average VR score was 570, which is a lot lower than the average overall score of 627. A score of >650 is generally considered “good”, but as VR is generally a trickier section don’t be too worried if you score lower than this.

How long do you have for UCAT Verbal Reasoning?

You have 21 minutes to answer 44 questions. There will be 11 passages to read in total, each with 4 associated questions. This means you have just under 2 minutes per passage, or about 30 seconds per question!

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178 Comments

RakelMedic Mind Tutor

1 May 2020

Verbal reasoning is a nightmare, my least favourite section. Thanks for these tips does anyone have more?

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Anna CharlotteMedic Mind Tutor

6 June 2021

Another good tip is to try and avoid making any assumptions based on real life. For example if the question was a true, false, can’t tell question and the statement is “Bananas are yellow”, if the text doesn’t mention bananas the answer will be Can’t Tell! Even though we all know they’re actually yellow you have to stick to just what you’re told in the text.

AnonymousMedic Mind Tutor

10 September 2021

bananas can be green