By: Stefan Palade (top 1% in Abstract Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning)
Deciding to throw yourself into a medical career is the first small step of many for securing your place at medical school. However, there is one big hurdle that each applicant dreads; the UCAT. The University Clinical Aptitude Test (UCAT) is one of the most time-pressured and difficult exams you would have taken up to this point. What the majority of students find difficult is the timing. Let us ponder back to the days of GCSE where you could spend over 1 minute on each maths question. No more!
My name is Stefan Palade, an offer holder for medicine at The University of Exeter, and in this hopefully informative blog, I will hope to discuss the strategies that I used to improve my timing and get a strong UCAT score.
1. Get to know the exact timings
The UCAT itself is a 2-hour exam, split into 5 sections. These 5 sections are used to assess your suitability for medicine. 4 of the sections are academically based and are scored from 300-900 (900 being the highest and 300 the lowest achievable score). The Situational Judgement Test (SJT) makes the last section, assessing your critical thinking in medically-based scenarios. Each of the sections has different timings and number of questions, as shown below:
Section 1: Verbal Reasoning – 22 minutes and 44 questions (30 sec per question)
Section 2: Decision Making – 32 minutes and 29 questions (1 min 6 sec per question)
Section 3: Quantitative Reasoning – 25 minutes and 36 questions (42 sec per question)
Section 4: Abstract Reasoning – 14 minutes and 55 questions (15 sec per question)
Section 5: Situation Judgement Test – 27 minutes and 68 questions (24 sec per question)
2. Despite what your parents tell you, there are shortcuts in life!
If by ‘life’ you mean the UCAT (which sadly it was for me at that time), then this is true. Most understand how to use the mouse and keyboard effectively. However, when you finish a question, moving your hand to press next/previous question or flag can cost you seconds. On the surface this may not seem important, but when 5 seconds of skim-reading on the verbal reasoning section could mean the difference between an offer or not, it is quite important. Below are the key shortcuts you should know and get used to. These will only get more natural with practice so make sure you start using them now.
· Alt + N will pull up the next question
· Alt + P will take you back to the previous question
· Alt + F will flag or unflag the question - a feature I will discuss later
· Alt + C will bring up the on-screen calculator
3. If you need to go, go!
What I mean by this, is that if you need to use the toilet during the exam, you can. When I prepared for the UCAT in summer 2019, I wasn’t able to find any information regarding this. However, from my experience, if you need to go during the exam, you can during the 1-minute instruction screen before each section, as even when the timer reaches 0, the section cannot start until you press the start button.
4. It’s okay to wave your flag
The UCAT very helpfully has included a flag feature for each question, so that at the end of the section you can review questions which you flagged. However, make sure not to overuse this feature, as you should only reserve it to questions which you were very unsure of, or couldn’t outright do.
5. Practice, practice, practice…
Maybe the most overused phrase, but still holds very true to the UCAT. By doing numerous mock tests, you will soon be able to gauge how well you are pacing through the sections. The best way to build your speed is to keep practicing, slowly getting quicker and more comfortable answering each question. Constantly checking the timer in the top corner will prove to be invaluable to you, and making educated guesses on questions you are unsure of is the best way to make sure you can focus getting easier questions correct.