Preparing for university has many exciting and nerve-wracking prospects, especially if you’re going to study medicine and need to take the UCAT. The University Clinical Aptitude Test (UCAT) isn’t a requirement for every university, but if you score highly, it can mean the difference between getting your first choice of university or having to settle for your second.
The exam itself is unlike most other exams you’ll take when studying for your GCSEs and A-levels or equivalent qualifications, so it’s important to understand how the exam works so you can practice and get an idea of how you’ll fare.
Let’s take a look at each of the sections, what they entail and how they’re scored so you can be more prepared to take the UCAT.
What are the UCAT Sections?
The UCAT exam is split into 5 sections with a total of 223 questions. The exam is 2 hours long and the goal is to test prospective medical students on the main crucial elements that will be involved in working in the medical field.
The five sections are:
- Verbal Reasoning
- Decision Making
- Quantitative Reasoning
- Abstract Reasoning
- Situational Judgement
Each section has a different number of questions and time to answer those questions. The first four sections are largely scored the same, while the fifth section is scored differently as the questions test decision-making skills more than clinical knowledge.
Let’s take a quick look at what each section encompasses.
The first section, verbal reasoning, has 44 questions to be answered in 21 minutes. There are eleven passages of text followed by four questions. In this section, you must read the passages and make an assessment of the statements and questions below under time pressure.
Doctors and dentists must make quick assessments of patient information as well as published medical studies when they are practising, so this section evaluates your ability to comprehend and make a judgement on the information in a short time frame.
The second section, decision making, has 29 questions to be answered in 31 minutes. There may be text passages, tables, graphs, charts or diagrams as well as additional information. You must choose from multiple-choice options or write “yes” or “no” beside statements that analyse the data presented to demonstrate your ability to make quick and logical decisions based on the information given to you. Each question will involve different information and is not linked to any other.
In the medical field, doctors and dentists must make difficult decisions for their patients while assessing the risk of that decision; this section tests your ability to make those tough decisions according to the data given for the best possible outcome.
The third section, quantitative reasoning, has 36 questions to be answered in 25 minutes. This is a multiple-choice section; you will have five possible answers to each of the questions, of which you may only select one. Some of the questions are linked to data given within the question, while others stand alone.
You must demonstrate your ability to process numerical data quickly and effectively, as an essential skill of doctors and dentists is to regularly adjust dosages in prescriptions according to their patient’s personal data.
The fourth section, abstract reasoning, has 50 questions to be answered in 12 minutes. There will be 3 or 4 answers given to each question regarding patterns and shapes, of which you must choose only one. Some questions are linked to the same given shapes, however, others stand alone.
As patients express different symptoms over time and after taking certain medications as well as having new results from scans to consider, this section tests your ability to spot patterns amongst other, potentially misleading information.
The fifth section, situational judgement, has 69 questions to be answered in 26 minutes and differs from the previous four sections. There are passages of text detailing hypothetical situations with up to six following questions.
You must use your emotional intelligence to use perspective and assess the most appropriate way to help the hypothetical patient; doctors and dentists regularly have to make assessments based on many criteria to help their patients.
The UCAT exam final score is based on two criteria, the first points-based system and the final band-based system. Each of the first four sections has a maximum mark of 900, making the overall total UCAT score 3600. The situational judgement section is then marked in bands.
In each of the first four sections, each correct answer is worth one point, except in the decision-making section where partially correct answers are awarded 1 point, and multi-layered answers are awarded 2 points.
When you receive your result, your score will be measured against each of that year’s candidates, like A-level results. The higher your percentile, the better you have done compared to the other candidates and the better your chances are of getting your place to study medicine in a top university. If you are within the top 10% of candidates, you will be in the 90th percentile, also presented as the 9th decile. If you are in the bottom half of candidates, you will be in the 50th or lower percentile, or 5th or lower decile.
How is Situational Judgement Scored?
Your situational judgement result does not form part of your overall UCAT score. Situational judgement is a crucial part of becoming a doctor or dentist, but cannot be measured in the same way as the other components of the exam. That’s why there is no points-based score for this section, but bands.
Each university will assess your overall score and your band differently, according to their own admissions criteria. You should check each university’s admissions criteria before applying and selecting your first choice.
- Band 1: an excellent performance, showing mostly similar judgements to the panel of experts.
- Band 2: a good, consistent performance, showing appropriate judgement, with many responses similar to those of the experts.
- Band 3: a modest performance, with some appropriate judgements shown, however, some substantial differences from the expert’s responses.
- Band 4: poor performance, with many judgements substantially different from those of the experts.
What’s a Good UCAT Score?
While it’s great to strive for top marks, and if you’re applying to study medicine at a top university, you’re probably used to getting close to 100% in your previous exams, the UCAT is different.
It’s very rare to achieve close to full marks in the UCAT, so don’t beat yourself up if your practice exam results aren’t as you expected. The average score per section over the last 5 years is around 625 marks, with an average overall score of 2500. So if you’re scoring higher than this, you’re already off to a good start by finishing in a higher percentile than most people.
The majority (35-40%) of candidates also placed in band 2 for the situational judgement section, so this is a great place to be to get into medical school. However, if you can place in band 1, you’re greatly increasing your chances of getting into a top university.
Revising for the UCAT
Since it costs £70 to take your UCAT in the UK, you should be fully prepared to take the exam and ensure a good result. What’s more, you can only take the test once each test cycle, so you may miss your chance to get into your chosen university if you don’t get the score you want. Fortunately, there are specialised UCAT tutors available who can help you revise and practice for your test to increase your chances of getting a great result.
Unlike the science A-level exams you’ll also be taking to get into university, the UCAT isn’t testing your knowledge of maths and medicine. It’s testing your other cognitive abilities and decision-making skills under time pressure to ensure you’ll be the best practising doctor or dentist you can be.
Investing in a UCAT tutor will help you get ready for your UCAT, learning and practising these important skills with a tutor in personalised lessons, as well as taking mock exams and getting you mentally ready for the big day.
Book a UCAT Tutor with The Future Medics
At The Future Medics, we have a team of medicine experts who can teach you how to make quick, informed judgements based on the data and scenarios presented to you.
What are you waiting for? Book your UCAT tutor today!