How to make the most of bite-sized UCAT (UKCAT) practice?

June 19, 2018 - The UKCAT Blog

This is a guest post by Michael O. Carter, founder of THE UKCAT BLOG . He achieved a UKCAT (UCAT) score in the top 10% back in 2015. Since then he has helped thousands of candidates prepare for the exam through his blog. He is the author of ‘The UKCAT Study Guide - How to Score in the top percentile’.

Success in an exam like the UCAT (previously the United Kingdom Clinical Aptitude Test -UKCAT) is simply the repeated periodic achievement of micro study goals. In this article we will look at how to make the most of bite-sized UCAT practice, the following tips were a game changer for me and I strongly recommend you incorporate them into your preparation for the exam. These tips can also be used to support preparation with a UCAT course, they are as follows:

1. Identify your Weakness ASAP!

Before deep diving into UCAT practice identify your weakest areas in the exam. The Score higher on the UKCAT practice book by Kaplan does a good job at this, it includes a diagnostic test to help identify weak areas. Another great way to find this out is by attempting the official practice tests and questions on the UCAT website, it is updated each year to reflect the same level of difficulty candidates can expect in the exam. I recommend attempting the tests with no prior practice to identify your natural capabilities, then structure your entire preparation based on the outcome. I remember when I prepared for the UCAT the results from the official tests accentuated that the verbal reasoning subtest was my weakest section, so I spent the majority of my preparation time learning and adopting new strategies to improve my verbal score.

2. Monitor and Record KPI’s

A Key Performance Indicator (KPI) is a type of measurement that evaluates progress over time. It is a concept widely used by businesses to monitor and analyse factors deemed crucial to the success of an organization. During UCAT practice, I highly recommend adopting this approach to assess your performance against a set of targets. By having KPIs in place you can make smarter decisions about the direction of your preparation and work more efficiently. Choosing the right KPIs relies on a good understanding on what is important to pass the UCAT. The most important KPIs are Error Rate and Speed.

Error Rate refers to the frequency at which you answer questions incorrectly within a specific subtest. It is measured as a percentage and can be calculated using the formulae below:

Error rate = Total number of incorrect responses ÷ total questions attempted x100

The metric is a good way to monitor your accuracy over time as you practice exam questions. Calculate and record your error rate in each subtest after every practice test or mock exam. Monitor your progress over time, is there an improvement? If not, why? You may have to dig a bit deeper and look at the question-types, which type of question has the highest error rate? Or is there a particular skill that needs improvement? Learn and adopt the necessary techniques and strategies to improve.

Speed is a measure of how quickly you complete a subtest within the time allocated. This is an important metric that I recommend recording after every timed exercise. I highly recommend regularly reflecting on your use of time in each section. A great way to work on speed is by setting timed mini-tests usually between 10 to 20 questions.

Subtest Questions Timing Time per question
Verbal Reasoning 44 22 minutes 29 seconds
Decision Making* 29 32 minutes 63 seconds
Quantitative Reasoning 36 25 minutes 37 seconds
Abstract Reasoning 55 14 minutes 14 seconds
Situational Judgement 69 27 minutes 21 seconds

Source: The UKCAT Study Guide - How to Score in The Top Percentile. *Timings are not calculated with 1 additional minute per section to read instructions.

3. Practice Question-Types not just Subtests

There are great practice books out there like the Score higher on the UKCAT by Kaplan that provides thousands of practice questions and in-depth explanations. It is a common approach to practice questions and learn from incorrect responses. However, practising questions alone only familiarizes you with the exam, it won't significantly improve your reasoning skills. In order to really smash the UCAT, I recommend digging deeper! Try to practice more of the question-type you struggle with the most. For instance, in the Abstract Reasoning section, there are four types of questions that examiners include, you might find one type of question difficult and another easy. It makes sense to focus your efforts on practising the question-type you find most difficult instead of the entire Abstract section. The Score Higher practice book does a good job of breaking down the subtests into the question-types and offers practice for specific questions types.

4. Evaluate Progress Regularly

Another mistake to avoid is just practising questions after questions with no strategy, you must evaluate your progress throughout the duration of your preparation. A good way to evaluate your progress is by attempting a mock exam every week until your big day. After each mock exam compare your results with the previous one. This will help identify areas for improvement and ensure you are working effectively to boost your weakest skills. I remember when I took the exam I did a total of 4 mock exams before my big day. I noticed by the end of week 3 I had significantly improved my Verbal Reasoning score but my quantitative score hadn’t improved much. So I spent the majority of the remaining weeks working on my quantitative skills.

5. Make Effective Study Notes

Unlike the BMAT, the UCAT doesn’t contain any curriculum content, rather your cognitive and reasoning abilities are being tested - this makes it more difficult to take notes during revision. I suggest combining the Outline Method of note taking, where you create bullet points based out of the materials you are reading, with the Cornell method where you create sections based on the main content of the material you read. When it comes to preparing for the UCAT split your study notes into the following:

  • Tips
  • Warnings
  • Reminders

Tips: These are tips, techniques and strategies to help answer questions more accurately and efficiently. Also indicate the expected outcome. For example: Use keyword strategy to improve speed and error rate when attempting True/False/Can’t Tell.

Warnings: These are potential pitfalls that you may fall into. Avoiding these mistakes will help improve your score. For example: Base your answer solely on the information in the passage.

Reminders: These are note-to-self reminders on anything that might come out of practising questions or reading materials. For example: Can’t Tell means you cannot be absolutely sure whether a statement is true or false.

6. Refine a Game Plan for Test Day

Everyone is different, a technique that works for one candidate might not necessarily work for another. As you go through your preparation test different strategies to improve your KPIs. Record and hone the strategies that work. Before test day, I recommend having a hand full of strategies you wish to adopt and proven game plan for each section. Your game plan should lay out how you intend to attack every type of questions in the UCAT.

Subtest Question-Type Game Plan
Verbal Reasoning True/False or Can't Tell Keyword Strategy
Incomplete Statements Keyword Diary & Mapping
According To The Passage Keyword Diary & Mapping
Except Question Elimination & Keyword Strategy
Most Likely Elimination Technique

Source: The UKCAT Study Guide - How to Score in The Top Percentile.

The bottom line: be strategic throughout your entire preparation and be sure to assess your performance regularly. For more tips and techniques from myself, check out THE UKCAT BLOG. You can find more additional UCAT tips and resources from Kaplan to help with preparation.