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7 steps to build confidence after taking your first UCAT practice test
So you’ve just taken a UCAT practice test or a UCAT mock exam for the first time. Or maybe it’s not your first time, but the fact remains that the test is alien to you. You’ve probably already heard that the test is very different from the knowledge-based exams that you’re used to, but you’re finally seeing firsthand how truly challenging the UCAT exam is.
Haven’t taken the practice test yet? Sign up here, or check your email inbox if you’ve already registered.
The 2-hour UCAT (or University Clinical Aptitude Test, which was previously UKCAT) is made up of 5 tightly-timed sections. We say tightly-timed as you have between 12 seconds – 1 minute to answer each complex (and often lengthy) question per section. To demonstrate, the 5th section of the test, Situational Judgement, which tests your ability to make critical decisions on appropriate behaviour, consists of 69 questions with just 27 minutes to answer them all.
At this stage, many test-takers are left wondering exactly how people are able to complete the test within the time, let alone score well on it! So how do you pick yourself back up after your initial attempt(s) and put yourself in the position to confidently approach it again and score higher?
Here are 7 quick effective steps to take after a UCAT practice test:
#1 Review your score
Once you’ve taken the test (whether it was a PDF version or an online practice test) you should review your score and carefully read through the explanations of the questions you didn’t answer correctly. Try to identify any mistake patterns with the questions you got wrong, and look for any red-herrings. Flag them so you’re on alert to avoid the same errors on your next try.
Analysing your performance closely will allow you to see exactly where to concentrate your preparation ahead of your next attempt, whilst also enabling you to see your areas of strength - and build on them! It’s always useful to break things down with bullet points too. You can review your performance on the Verbal Reasoning, Decision Making, Quantitative Reasoning, Abstract Reasoning and Situational Judgement sections independently. Do this to see precisely which areas need your attention.
#2 Set realistic goals for your next practice test
It’s likely that your score on your first attempt was nowhere near the general average. You may ask yourself what is a good score? Remember that the UCAT is scored between 300 - 900 for each of the first four sections and between bands 1 – 4 on the 5th section (1 being the highest). Once you've reviewed your score, give yourself a personal and realistic target to beat your previous score, and keep building on your results from there.
#3 Identify question types & skill-up your approach to them
In addition to the different test sections, it’s also important to be aware of the question types on the UCAT, and realise that there might be different approaches needed to tackle them. The most important technique to note is triaging, which is a method used in medical practice to decide which patient cases to prioritise.
This is the same method you can use on the UCAT when approaching tricky question types vs easier question types. Tackle the easiest first, whilst flagging the harder questions for later. It’s so important to do this, as every question (simple or hard) is worth exactly the same mark on the UCAT and there are no deduction of marks for incorrect answers. Going into your next practice test attempts with this technique will make the test less intimidating.
#4 Take your test again under timed conditions
If you haven’t had the chance to do so, you should practice the UCAT within its 2-hour time slot, bearing in mind to keep within the dedicated times per section. If you need a reminder of the section timings, it can be found on the following UCAT info page under ‘what is tested on the UCAT?’
Taking the test under timed conditions will give you a more accurate representation of how you will perform on your official test day. And as one of the main challenges of the UCAT is its tight timing, this also needs practice. Once you’re ready to take another practice test, make sure you set a timer and go!
#5 Take more practice tests
We all know the saying ‘practice makes perfect’, and that is definitely true in the case of UCAT preparation. The more practice you get, the better you’re able to understand the different types of questions, improve your approach, and avoid the usual traps in the exam.
As you build on your practice and your confidence with the test, it’s a good call to book your UCAT exam date if you haven’t done so already. Following that, create an intensive study schedule 4 weeks before the exam using our UCAT study guide.
#6 Attend free UCAT seminars
Getting direct guidance from someone who knows the test inside out is a great way to build confidence for the test. You can learn new strategies and shortcuts that you may not have realised on your own to boost your speed and accuracy. This type of guidance also helps to demystify all the complex parts of the test with near-impossible questions and puzzles. We run sessions led by expert UCAT teachers walking students through the challenges and solutions for the test.
Register for a free online Medical School Admissions seminar with UCAT sample question reviews and strategy give-aways.
#7 Reward yourself and stay motivated
As you go through your preparation, be sure to take brief breaks between each study and practice period. Aim to take regular breaks after each 1-2 hours of study and you can reward yourself with a full day of relaxation after a solid 5-day streak of study.
Treat yourself after you've achieved each milestone in score improvement to keep your motivation levels high. Prepping strategically in this way will help to keep burnouts at bay and provide you with the energy you need to keep going, right up until your test day. Always keep your end goal in mind - the UCAT is tough, but a high score will pay off. Visualise how it would feel to get an acceptance letter to your dream medical school.
If you need more support with practice tips, check out our blog on tips for bite-sized UCAT practice.