Applying to Medicine (Step 2 – UKCAT)

There are quite a few entrance examinations that medical schools use to select students for the interview stage, but the most popular one has got to be the UKCAT. I was initially going to sit the GAMSAT as well (purely for St. George’s) but when the textbook arrived in the post I took one look at it and sent it right back. The GAMSAT is like 6 hours incorporating essay writing, history, literature, politics, maths, biology, chemistry AND physics….. for me it wasn’t worth spending weeks of revision on a test I was only going to give for one university. Plus, I didn’t want to jeapardise my UKCAT score so I scrapped it and decided to focus solely on the UKCAT.

I will do my very very best to outline some of the revision techniques I employed for my UKCAT revision, but feel free to contact me if you want more or have any questions! First thing is first…

What on earth is the UKCAT?!

On the UKCAT website it says “The UK Clinical Aptitude Test (UKCAT) is an admissions test used by a consortium of UK Universities for their medical and dental degree programmes. The UKCAT does not contain any curriculum or science content. It helps Universities to select applicants with the most appropriate mental abilities, attitudes and professional behaviours required for new doctors and dentists to be successful in their clinical careers. It is used in collaboration with other admissions processes such as the UCAS application and academic qualifications.”

My opinion? The UKCAT is a totally random, bizarre test that is somehow supposed to recognise medical potential in candidates through a series of deranged and convoluted questions that don’t seem to have any direct relation to Medicine… But if you want to be a doctor, you gotta somehow smash it anyways.

The test itself is computerised and you are allowed 2 hours to complete it (generally most people finish it before this though). You can book it for pretty much any date between May and September and the last testing date is the 3rd of October. More info on testing dates and fees here: https://www.ukcat.ac.uk/ukcat-test/ukcat-dates-and-fees/ Annoyingly, you can only take the test once an academic year, so retakes are out of the question!

What does it entail?

Okay so when I took the UKCAT last year, it only had 4 sections: Verbal Reasoning (VR), Abstract Reasoning (AR), Quantitative Reasoning (QR) and Situational Judgement (SJ). This year they’ve introduced another section because apparently 4 sections wasn’t enough *sigh*, and that’s called Decision Making.

Verbal Reasoning:

For this section you have to answer a series of questions based on pieces of text. So it’s kinda like comprehension really, and judges how quickly you can derive important information from a whole chunk of nonsense. And I mean nonsense. From historical texts to religious texts to financial texts to political texts, the VR section is an absolute BORE (well, it was for me anyways).

Of course everyone will develop their own technique, but if you’re struggling, try these out and see if they help you:

  • Practice skim-reading everyday – just grab a newspaper, skim read an article and then write down all the important information you can remember. This will help increase the efficiency of your reading and comprehension skills.
  • Try both techniques – the technique that worked best for me was to read the questions first and all 4 answers, then skim read the text and 8 times out of 10 the answer would jump out at me within seconds. Likewise, some people prefer to skim-read the text first and then answer the following questions without looking back at the information – try both and see which works best!
  • Go with your gut – There is absolutely no time to lose in the UKCAT, especially during the VR section, so as soon as you think you have the answer, select it and MOVE ON. You don’t get marked down for wrong answers but you could lose potential marks for questions you’ve left out!
  • Flag! In the UKCAT you can flag questions you are unsure of and come back to them at the end if you have time, so make use of this function!

 

Abstract Reasoning:

AR is like marmite, you either love it or hate it. If you sat the 11+ exams before high school, get ready for it all to come flooding back because AR is essentially non-verbal reasoning. It’s all about patterns and shapes and sequences and oh God it’s making my blood boil just thinking about it again! There are some people who can do this section in the blink of an eyelid…. I am definitely NOT one of those people.

I think the only real way you can master AR is practice – try and do as many questions as you can to expose yourself to every single pattern out there. One thing that really helped me was remembering this mneumonic (SCANS):

  • Shape
  • Colour
  • Angle/Arrangement
  • Number (of shapes, sides, angles, interconnecting points, shaded areas etc.)
  • Symmetry

The first thing I did when I walked into the exam was to write that down on the little whiteboard you’re provided with, that way if your mind goes blank later you’ve at least got the mneumonic in front of you.

Also, look at the simplest square first: the pattern will be much easier to find from that square and then relating it to the rest!

 

Quantitative Reasoning:

This is just plain old Maths. All I can say for this section really is to practice your maths and practice using the on screen calculator because the last thing you want is to be fumbling around with the mouse. Make use of the white board too!

One more thing to add with the QR section is to read the question first because quite often they accompany the question with a massive chunk of text with unnecessary information, so don’t waste your time on that unless the question actually requires you to!

 

Situational Judgement:

This is the best section in my opinion, because it’s the most clinical. All SJ is, is a series of scenarios requiring you to select the most appropriate action. It’s essentially testing your common sense, and how rationally you can respond to a situation. Just remember to always put patients/public first and maintain honesty and integrity, and you should be fine.

 

Resources:

I could waffle on and on about the UKCAT but I don’t want to exhaust you, before I go I’ll quickly summarise how I planned my revision. They say you can prepare for the UKCAT in a matter of 2 weeks or so, but being as pedantic as I am, I spent about 2/3 months prepping (like 2 hours a day). Start early if you can.

I used the ‘Get into Medical School – 1250 UKCAT Practice Questions‘ textbook (just type it into Google it’ll come up straight away). And then I followed that up with the questions available on the UKCAT website itself, and a really good website called Medify. Medify has thousands of questions and tracks your progress: it’s super helpful because it will tell you which questions you need more work on so check it out!

 

On the day

Don’t forget to bring your ID with you on the day! Wake up early, have a nourishing breakfast and make sure you have plenty of sleep the night before. You’re going to be fine.

Applying as a postgraduate, I think the UKCAT is a bit less daunting purely for the fact that it is not the end all and be all. I went into the exam room thinking, ‘If this doesn’t work out, I have an excellent degree behind me to open other avenues further down the road, I’ll find my way.’ That automatically allowed me to chill out and not overthink during the test.

A major factor which I believe played an immense role in my UKCAT result was my spirituality. I am a huge believer of ‘what will be, will be’, and that God has written my path and ‘has my back’ so to speak. Having that faith (which I don’t actually think I had first time round) made all the difference. Sorry if I sound like a bit of a preacher, I just thought I would be honest and share all aspects of my experience with you guys… By no means am I trying to say that if you don’t have faith you won’t get in, so please don’t take offence!

Anyways, back to test day! You’ll get your results straight after the test, but you won’t truly know how you fared until the UKCAT company release the whole cohort results. Don’t be disheartened if your score doesn’t seem sky high, some universities focus on certain sections over others so your average isn’t the only score they look at!

 

You can do it! As always, email me with questions, it’s been really nice hearing from some of you and I welcome any tips you can give me on improving my blog too!

 

Don’t stress. Do your best. Forget the rest.” Anonymous

 

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