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My UCAT test day experience
So, what is the UCAT Test experience like? Sara Zaidi, who took her UCAT exam in 2016 and is now a medical student, explains...
When I booked my UCAT exam, there was very little planning of the actual test day until the weekend before. My exam was on a Wednesday; I personally don't like Monday mornings and felt that a Friday test would make the whole week feel much longer, so I thought Wednesday was a good midweek test day. After weeks of practice, I finally got to the weekend before my exam when I found it best to look up the route and planned for the day itself. So, here’s my pre-exam, exam-day, and post-exam experience.
How I felt before my UCAT exam
I realised it would take me an hour to get to the venue, so I gave myself an extra hour’s time and left at 12:30 to get there for the 14:30 UCAT exam start time. As a driver, I took the tube because I didn’t want to stress about parking. When I arrived, I was asked to show my ID and asked if I was ready to start right away (as I had gotten there early). I wanted to relax a little bit and have a bite to eat as I knew it would be a long exam, so I didn't let getting to the venue early push me into starting early. It's important to bear in mind that when you check in, they do not let you go back out again - so make sure you are ready to sit the exam when you go through your ID checks.
I went back out and sat down in a coffee shop downstairs where I had something light to eat and refreshed myself. When I was ready (I had about 10 minutes till my start time), I went back upstairs and gave them my ID and had to sign a declaration form. They gave me a locker where I would place all my belongings and I sat in the waiting room ready to be called when the next available computer was ready. Just before entering the room, there was another quick ID check (so remember to take this in with you - but they will tell you this on the day). There was no introduction of the test nor of any instructions. The lady took me into the computer room where there were roughly 18 computers, each with their own separation boards. She allocated me a computer and told me to start when I was ready.
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My experience during the UCAT exam
The format of the exam was no different than the online practice tests I had familiarised myself with. There was the 1-minute ‘reading time’ which I used as a mini break to close my eyes. I didn’t have to use the toilet at any point (always go before the exam starts) and the calculator, erasable board and marker were simple to use. The order of the sections was the same as the practice material and questions themselves seemed to me during the exam to be just like the practice material I had used. In fact, I remember that the questions just felt like another practice test (I had to keep telling myself this is the real thing). There were not many surprises in the question formats or difficulty. Yes, there were a range of difficulties, but I used my triage skills to flag and move on some of the lengthy questions and had just enough time to come back to review them at the end.
I managed to complete all the questions, which was a huge confidence boost because I finished the sections knowing that I had attempted all, regardless of whether I had got them correct. I found quantitative reasoning to be a lot easier than the practice materials, with most questions requiring simple addition and eyeballing skills to answer. Math questions requiring many sub-calculations to get to the answer, I would triage and return to at the end.
Abstract reasoning, I found to be my best section - however, there were many times I couldn’t ‘see’ the pattern at all and in this moment I found it was so easy to get stuck in the ‘stare’ moment. However I suppressed that inner devil telling me to keep staring at the pattern and that it will somehow just ‘reveal itself’! I used the strategy I had learnt to always focus on the 1 box in each question set to help me to get started.
My experience after the UCAT exam
I came out after clicking ‘end exam’ and felt that sudden adrenaline rush and mixture of emotions. I felt relieved that all these weeks of hard work were finally over, yet felt overly nervous about how I had performed! The lady ushered me over to the front desk (where I’d initially signed in) and printed out a sheet of paper and handed it over to me. It was difficult to see my overall mark as I was given a total score for each section, so I had to divide it by 4 to get my average numerical score. This took some time but I was relieved to get a high score, enough to secure me an interview!
I hadn’t planned anything much for that afternoon at all, in fact, I remember feeling unstable and unsure of what do next! I immediately called my parents and told them (they had been anxious to know too) and then just headed back home to celebrate in the evening. I didn’t know anybody else in the test centre, otherwise I would have organised a meal with a friend before heading home. Overall, the exam itself went by very quickly!
With every exam, there is that anxiety and negativity associated with the outcome - but it's hugely important not to let this interfere with your performance. Most students have the full capability of achieving a high score in this aptitude test, but due to panicking they lose focus during the exam itself. Know that, yes, it is an important exam but not the only predicament of your success to get into medical school. Having a well-planned study schedule in the weeks coming up to the exam and being positive and confident that you have given it all your hard work and effort is the best mindset to employ. Be comfortable with the exam layout, question styles, range of difficulties and timing and this helps set aside a lot of the anxieties associated with the test day experience.
Having spoken to other candidates of the UCAT since, I have not met a single person who felt the exam experience went smoothly for them. There are challenging moments, but if you take the UCAT seriously, have a careful preparation schedule and apply the same strategies you have learnt to the real exam, you have every capability of achieving a high score.
To learn more tips for your UCAT test day, visit our UCAT FAQ page.
Good luck on your UCAT this year!