Getting into Medical School – The UKCAT Test
What is the UKCAT?
The United Kingdom Clinical Aptitude Test (UKCAT) is an entrance exam used by the majority of medical schools in the UK. It is designed to assess a number of skills including the ability to quickly draw conclusions from numerical and written data, the ability to identify patterns/trends, problem solving under pressure and the ability to judge situations rationally. Despite being a medical school entrance exam it does not require any background scientific knowledge. Questions could be based on anything from a complaint letter of an unhappy customer to a table on the amount of fruit harvested by a farm! At first look at the exam you might think that the questions look quite easy, think again, what makes the UKCAT hard is the time constraints imposed on completing each question. As someone who has completed countless exams I can safely say the UKCAT was definitely the most stressful! But DON’T PANIC! I’ve put this blog post together to give tips and advice on how to prepare for the UKCAT with the aim of helping candidates towards a successful and stress-free exam.
Can I prepare for the UKCAT?
YES! I was told countless times by people who had previously attempted the UKCAT that you can’t prepare for the UKCAT, that it is an intelligence exam where you either ‘have it, or you don’t’. This is just not true. I was terrible at the UKCAT at first but after practice I became much better and went on to achieve a mark within the top 10% of candidates who took the test in 2013. Preparing for the UKCAT isn’t like preparing for your A-levels, there are no facts to learn or equations to memorise. The key to a successful UKCAT is practice of the time constraints of each section and familiarising yourself with the format of the exam.
Since 2013 there are 5 test sections of the UKCAT (pre 2013 there were only 4). The sections include: quantitative reasoning, abstract reasoning, verbal reasoning, decision analysis and situational judgment. The test is completed in a computer cluster room in a Pearson test centre. Each section of the exam is completed on a computer that counts down the time and moved you through each section automatically. There is an online calculator available and you receive a whiteboard and pen to take into the exam. I will give a brief description of what to expect and how to prepare for each section below:
Quantitative Reasoning – This section requires students to find a numerical answers from data displayed in such things as tables, diagrams, bar charts, pie charts, etc. As I stated before, the maths isn’t that complicated but you only get a short amount of time to perform the calculation and there is always a large amount of data not relevant for the question. Practicing UKCAT questions can help candidates quickly identify the required information and can sharpen their mental arithmetic. Reminding yourself of your times tables and basic numerical equations (e.g. volume of a square, percentages and ratios etc) is very beneficial.
Abstract Reasoning – This section requires candidates to identify patterns in symbols where there are other distracting features. By practicing these questions candidates can begin to develop an awareness of what to look out for when presented with a particular set of symbols (e.g. is there a certain number of right angles, are the arrows in the diagram facing a certain direction etc.)
Verbal Reasoning – This section requires candidates to answer questions on a presented piece of literature. Many candidates receive a poor score on this section because they spend too long reading the text. You only have time to scan the text to identify the relevant information and practice of this section will make candidates more aware of the time constraints. I believe reading a range of texts (e.g. classic books, poetry, scientific articles, newspapers etc.) will aid candidates when preparing for this section.
Decision Analysis – In decision analysis candidates are presented with a code that corresponds to a specific word found in a table. Candidates are required to decide which of the statements provided best suits the code. In these questions not all the information is provided by the code so candidates will have to make a judgment. By practicing questions you can become a lot quicker at deciphering the code and can make better judgments about the final answer.
The official UKCAT website contains a practice test and there is a mobile app available for free download that contains a number of practice questions. There are a number of UKCAT books available that contain hints/tips and practice questions. I found the ISC medical 600 UKCAT book very useful. My top recommendation for any student attempting the UKCAT is a website called Medify (www.medify.co.uk). This site requires a monthly subscription and contains a large bank of questions and three mock exams that you can attempt under exam conditions.