What Is UCAT? The Beginners Guide To UCAT

Welcome to “What is UCAT? The Beginners Guide To UCAT”.

In this guide you’ll discover everything you need to know about the UCAT exam to excel on it!

This guide is perfect for anyone in Years 10, 11 or 12 at high-school (or with a child currently in these year levels) that wants to gain admission into Medicine at the end of Year 12 and must sit the UCAT.

Here’s what we’ll be covering:

Chapter 1 – What Is The UCAT? (UCAT Basics)

Chapter 2 – How To Prepare For The UCAT? (UCAT Prep)

Chapter 3 – Next Steps From Here

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Chapter 1 – What Is The UCAT? (UCAT Basics)

The UCAT exam accounts for ~33% of your child’s chances of getting into Medicine. This means that it is just as important as all of their school subjects combined.

What is the UCAT?

The UCAT (also known as UKCAT or University Clinical Admissions Test) is a 2-hour computerised test that is designed to identify students who have the skills and characteristics of someone who would become a successful doctor.

The UCAT exam has 233 questions across 5 sections.

The first section is Verbal Reasoning, which has 44 questions (to be completed in 21 minutes). This section assesses students abilities to critically evaluate information presented in written form.

The second section is Decision Making, which has 29 questions (to be completed in 31 minutes). This section assesses students abilities to make sound decisions and judgements using complex information.

The third section is Quantitative Reasoning, which has 36 questions (to be completed in 24 minutes). This section assesses students abilities to critically evaluate information presented in a numerical form.

The fourth section is Abstract Reasoning, which has 55 questions (to be completed in 13 minutes). This section assesses students’ abilities to use convergent and divergent thinking to infer relationships from information. 

The fifth and final section is Situational Judgement, which has 69 questions (to be completed in 26 minutes). This section measures students abilities to understand real world situations and to identify critical factors and appropriate behaviour in dealing with them.

Why the UCAT?

The UCAT was created with the goal of identifying students with the skills and characteristics of successful doctors. This allows universities to identify students that are both an intellectual fit, and character fit for the medical profession.  

When is the UCAT?

The UCAT is held every year in July. You are able to choose any day within July to sit your exam as it is held in small computer labs across Australia.

What score do you need to succeed on the UCAT?

Over the past 2 years, universities have generally required students to score in at least the 90th percentile (top 10% of students) on the UCAT to be considered for selection into Medicine. This makes it considerably more difficult than the ATAR exam because you are only competing against students hoping to gain admission into Medicine (who are the top 2-3% of students in each state). 

What does it take to succeed on the UCAT?

Given that you need a score in at least the 90th percentile to gain admission into Medicine, this means that out of the 18,000 students that sit the exam each year in Australia, under 1,800 of these students gain admission into Medicine. The difference between the students who succeed on the UCAT, and those that fail, largely comes down to their preparation.

Chapter 2 – How To Prepare For The UCAT? (UCAT Prep)

When should you prepare for the UCAT?

Many students leave their preparation to the last minute, however many students who are certain that they want to study Medicine and are wanting to maximise their chances of success, start preparing from the end of Year 10 (over the school holidays), or at the end of Year 11 (over the school holidays).

Given that a score in the 90th percentile is quite competitive, and the 95th percentile all but guarantees medical admission (alongside a strong ATAR and Interview), we recommend students start preparing for the UCAT exam as early as possible (to reduce weekly workload).

How should you prepare for the UCAT?

If you think about all the subjects you (or your child) study at school in Years 10, 11 and 12, the commonality between them is that they’re all assessing you on a specific piece of information and knowledge. 

Maths is testing you for knowledge of the maths syllabus, areas like pythagoras and probability. 

English is testing you for knowledge and interpretation of the books, poems and articles you read throughout the year.

Chemistry is testing you for knowledge of the chemistry syllabus, areas like redox reactions and organic chemistry.

As you can see, all of these subjects you (or your child) study at school are assessing you on specific pieces of information and knowledge. This is not how the UCAT works.

The UCAT is like an IQ test and so it’s been created to test you (or your child’s) raw innate intelligence, skills and character and not any specific pieces of information or knowledge. 

This means that the way you prepare for an exam like the UCAT is fundamentally different to the way you prepare for your school subjects like Maths, English and Chemistry.

When you’re preparing for a Maths exam, you probably do the exercises in your textbooks, then do a whole stack of practice papers, and walk into the exam feeling pretty confident.

Likewise with English, you probably write a few practice essays, memorise some quotes, and then feel pretty good heading into your exam with some practice under your belt. 

The problem is that only doing lots of practice questions is one of the worst ways you can prepare for IQ tests like the UCAT exam. 

If I went and did 100 practice IQ tests, I wouldn’t expect my IQ to suddenly increase from 100 to 110, or 110 to 130 – because our IQ doesn’t just change that easily.

Likewise, if I did 100 UCAT practice tests, I wouldn’t expect my score to suddenly increase from the 50th percentile to the 80th, or the 70th percentile to the 90th – because our IQ doesn’t just change that easily.

There is a time and a place for doing UCAT practice tests yes (e.g. tracking your improvement/measuring progress, reinforcing your learning), however doing UCAT practice questions at the start of your preparation will not see your UCAT score improve much at all, just like how doing stacks of practice questions for an IQ test wouldn’t see your score improve.

This has been proven by a number of studies from leading medical bodies that conducted research into how much students can expect to improve on IQ tests after doing practice questions. 

What they’ve found is that when you do lots of practice questions for an IQ test, you get used to the specific types of questions they ask on that test and so it creates what they call a “practice effect”.

This means that after doing so many practice questions, you’ve begun to adapt to and predict the types of questions they ask, and so your score starts to improve.

The problem with this is that whilst the “practice effect” does increase your score (i.e. doing practice questions does increase your score), for most students, it’s not going to increase your score by enough on it’s own to get you into Medicine

Alan Kaufman from the National Centre for Biotechnology Information found that after doing practice questions for 6-12 months, you can expect your score on an IQ test like the UCAT to improve by between 5-10%. A 5-10% improvement is okay, but if you think about what this kind of improvement actually means, you’ll quickly realise it’s probably not enough to get you into Medicine.

As we covered earlier, given that 19,000 students sit the UCAT each year and yet only 1,800 students are offered places, you need to be scoring in at least the 90th percentile to have a chance of getting into Medicine.

This means that unless you’re scoring in the 82nd on the UCAT right now, you cannot expect your score to improve enough in the next 12 months to get into Medicine. 

A student scoring in the 82nd percentile right now could expect to get their score up to just above 90th percentile in the next 12 months using practice questions alone – that’s it.

This means that if you’re scoring in the 82nd percentile on the UCAT right now, there’s no need for you to do much extra preparation for this exam. You can just do a few practice tests and you’ll be fine. 

The problem is that most students start off scoring in below the 82nd percentile, and usually even below the 50th percentile. 

If you’re someone who scores in the 70th percentile on their first UCAT practice test, you could only hope to increase your score to the 77th percentile by doing practice questions alone.

Likewise, if you’re someone that’s scoring in the 60th percentile, you could only hope to increase your score to the 66th percentile by doing practice questions alone.

Finally, if you’re someone that’s scoring in the 50th percentile, you could only hope to increase your score to the 55th percentile by doing practice questions alone.

So you can probably see now why so many students get stuck doing practice questions and taking away precious time from their Year 11 and 12 subjects, only to see little to no improvement in their UCAT score. On IQ tests like the UCAT, solely doing practice questions will mean we can only improve our score by 5-10%, a level of improvement which isn’t anywhere near enough for most of us to score in the 90th percentile on the UCAT and get into Medicine.

This means that we need something more than just UCAT practice questions to succeed on the UCAT, but what is the answer?

How to increase your UCAT score?

On the UCAT Consortium’s website (the company that created the UCAT exam), they say:

“UCAT seeks to identify the characteristics in applicants which will make them good clinicians and thus to improve the quality of those who enter the professions with the ultimate aim of improving patient care”.

What this means is that every question on the UCAT exam has been designed to test students to see if they possess the characteristics (in other words, skills) of a successful doctor.

This means that if you develop the skills and characteristics the UCAT exam is assessing you for, your UCAT score will drastically increase because you’ve cultivated the skills and characteristics you’re being assessed for.

Most importantly, by developing these skills and characteristics you’re also better equipping yourself to succeed in the medical profession and become an outstanding doctor in the future.

Chapter 3 – Next Steps From Here

If you want to start preparing for the UCAT and discover how to develop all the skills and characteristics you need to score in the 95th+ percentile on the UCAT, book in for a call with us below to see how the Med Prep School program could help you!

About MED PREP SCHOOL

Med Prep School is the school for future doctors, guiding students to excel in their ATAR, UCAT and Interviews to earn a place into Medicine.

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