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5 UCAT top tips to save time & ace the exam

June 11, 2019 - Anam Jawaid

Anam is in her second year of Medicine at Birmingham. Below she shares some tips which she believes to be most useful in securing UCAT test day success.

The UCAT is notorious for being a time-pressured exam, and most candidates find that it’s not that they cannot answer the questions, but that they cannot answer the questions in the limited time they have. So, since we can’t change the time we get per section, it’s all about mastering some techniques to ensure that we waste no time on test day. Luckily for you guys, that’s exactly what I’ll be doing here by sharing my top 5 tips to save time and absolutely ace the exam!

Tip #1: Do the UCAT consortium practice tests

Once you’ve gotten to grips with question style, focus on doing mock tests so that you’re able to pace yourself according to the timing. Once you’ve mastered dealing with the questions in the set time, make sure to do the test-maker’s mock tests! This is really important, as mock tests from other websites are great at being a source of practice questions under time constraints, but their format is often different to the real exam.

Since the UCAT Consortium are in charge of the actual test, it is their format that will be used on the day, so make sure you have had practice with understanding where the calculator is, and where the buttons are to allow you to click ‘next’, ‘flag’ etc. Whilst finding these functions on the test software may seem like common sense to you right now, under the stress of the exam it can sometimes be hard to work these things out. Nerves can very easily get the better of you if you start getting flustered, so make sure you’ve had loads of practice with the official mocks.

For practice with timing and familiarisation with UCAT content, try our Kaplan Online Practice Test.


Tip #2: Get acquainted with the calculator

The on-screen calculator in the test is probably not what you’re used to, in that it is very basic! You click with your mouse on the numbers you want and the multiply/divide/subtract/etc. button, and it’s all just a bit of a hassle (to put it simply)! So, to get used to how it works in the test and familiar with how to use it speedily, make sure you have plenty of experience with using a simple on-screen calculator. Most of the mocks you do will have an on-screen calculator, so make sure to use them – and don’t rely on a real-life calculator as this is a luxury you won’t be given in the exam! There are a few calculator shortcuts that you can have a play around with which will save a bit of time - some people swear by them, others find it an additional burden to learn the shortcuts (I was amongst the latter, but I’ll throw them in here for those of you that are technologically savvy).

  • Ctrl + C makes the calculator appear
  • Num Lock activates the number keypad, allowing you to type the numbers in rather than having to painstakingly click each one
  • Backspace for On/C allows you to go back and delete a number you have inputted
  • (N.B. for the rest of the test, there are also a few keyboard shortcuts of note - Alt + p = previous question, Alt + n = next question, Alt + f = flag current question).

They do save a lot of time, so I’d recommend having a go with them. Also, remember that there is no memory on the calculator, so any answers you get that you’ll need for a different part of the question, make a note of them, otherwise you’ll be left doing the same sum way too many times!


Tip #3: Mentally prepare yourself to skip questions

No matter how much you’ve prepped, inevitably there will be some questions you just can’t seem to confidently choose the right answer for. Whether that be because you have no clue what the question is really asking, or because you’re stuck between 2 options, the timer will continue ticking, so all you can do is move on! Don’t force yourself to figure out the answer to a question no matter what, as you will lose time and subsequently lose the opportunity to answer easier questions later in the section.

Remember, ‘easy’ and ‘hard’ questions are worth the same amount, so there’s no point in trying extra hard for harder questions. Set yourself a time limit per question – this will vary depending on which section it is- and make sure you stick to those timings, even when you’re only on your first few mocks, as it’s important to cultivate good habits early on! If you’ve reached the time limit for a question and you are nowhere near finding a solution, mark an answer, flag the question for a review (if you have time at the end) and move on.


Tip #4: Arrive early on the day of your test

Not only does this make sure you don’t miss your test slot, but it also gives you time to adjust to the exam centre. By giving yourself time to feel as comfortable as possible in the environment, you reduce the chances of the stress getting the better of you in the exam. This makes sure you’re not wasting your exam time fretting, and that you get straight to business when your test begins. Additionally, when you’re at the computer before your test begins, you’ll be given the option to have a walkthrough of the software, just so you know how to use it. If you’re feeling nervous or want to be sure you’re comfortable with the software and mouse/keyboard etc., this is a great opportunity to try it all out! It’ll reduce the chances of you getting confused or thrown off by things during the actual exam itself.

Finally, before you start the test, make sure you have everything you need – pens, whiteboard etc. – and arrange these well, so that they’re not disappearing or falling from your desk or distracting you during the course of your exam. All these measures may seem minor, but they ensure that you’re in the best frame of mind with all the tools you’ll need around you, therefore reducing the amount of time you waste in the test.


Tip #5: Follow Kaplan Methods!

I’m not just saying this for the sake of it! Kaplan has spent years refining the best strategies with which to attack each section, based on the need for accuracy in a short amount of time. These methods are made to allow you to get questions right without spending hours on them, so make sure you practice using them. For example, with Verbal Reasoning always read the question first and scan for keywords in the passage after – reading the passage first will just waste your time, as you’re just reading through it with no specific focus.

Interested in learning Kaplan methods? Find out more about our UCAT courses.


Finally, what I’d like to say is good luck to you all! The UCAT obviously can seem quite daunting, but with smart preparation, it’s more than possible to do really well. You know the strategies, now it’s time to implement them in your preparation, and remember, always keep an eye on the clock during the test!



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