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What is the UCAT?

Updated: Jun 1, 2021

What is it?

You can think of the UCAT as an entrance exam for certain medical and dental degrees. Since there is fierce competition of medicine and dentistry, the UCAT is used to identify candidates best suited for the course. There are equivalent exams for other courses such as the ELAT for English. It is an online, multiple choice test that if you do well in, your chances of being interviewed are higher and so are your chances of getting into that university. Generally, the UCAT, along with interviews and personal statements are the main things admission teams look at when you apply for a healthcare course.

Which universities require you to sit the UCAT?

  • All dental schools except Leeds (uses the BMAT)

  • All medical schools except Oxbridge, Brighton and Sussex, Imperial, Lancaster, Keele, Leeds and UCL (all use the BMAT)

What is the structure of the UCAT?

The UCAT is split up into 5 sections: Verbal Reasoning, Decision Making, Quantitative Reasoning, Abstract Reasoning and Situational Judgement.

Verbal Reasoning:

  • You have 21 minutes to answer 44 questions

  • You will be given a block of text to read and anywhere between 2-5 questions on that block of text. Ie it's reading comprehension.

  • Therefore you will get around 8-10 blocks of text to read

  • There are 2 main types of questions:

  • Type 1: A general question about the text where you have to pick the best answer from the options

  • Type 2: A statement about the text where you have to answer true, false or can't tell.

Decision Making:

  • You have 31 minutes to answer 29 questions

  • There is a variety of questions, mainly testing your logical and analytical skills.

  • If you're into maths and science, this section won't be too bad.

Quantitative Reasoning:

  • You have 24 minutes to answer 36 questions

  • Questions are GCSE level maths where you have to answer questions on statistics, graphs, tables and charts.

  • Again, a very mathsy and sciencey section.

Abstract Reasoning

  • You have 13 minutes to answer 55 sections

  • This section tests your ability to spot patterns and rules in a collection of seemingly random shapes.

  • There are 3 types of question:

  • Type 1: you have 2 sets of groups of shapes. Groups within the same set have something in common- they follow the same rule, and the sets have different rules to each other. You will given a group per question and you need to figure out whether it belongs to the first, second or neither set. You will have around 4 or 5 questions per set.

  • Type 2: you have 3 groups where there is a rule going from one group to the next (like and arithmetic sequence). You need to choose the next group of shapes to complete the sequence.

  • Type 3: you have one group, call it x and another group, call it y. The question will say x is to y. You need to figure out the rule to map x to y. There is a 3rd group and you need to pick a group that this 3rd group is mapped to, following the same rule that maps x to y.

Situational judgement

  • You have 26 minutes to answer 69 questions

  • You will be given a scenario, usually about a medical student that deals with themes such as confidentiality, consent, cheating, ethics etc.

  • There are 2 types of questions:

  • Type 1: you will be given a scenario and have to answer whether this is an appropriate or appropriate thing for a person to do.

  • Type 2: you will be given a certain factor or part of a scenario and have to answer whether this factor is important or unimportant.

  • Here, you will have loads of time to answer the entire section.

Most of these sections aren't very hard but the difficulty is doing them at speed. See my tips and strategies for acing your UCAT here and here.

How is the UCAT used by universities?

There isn't a set way with which universities use the UCAT- it's slightly different for each university. However, generally unis can be split up in these groups: either a heavy vs light weighting of the UCAT, ranking vs cut-off and uses Situational judgement vs does not.

Looking at the third group, situational judgement is the final section of the UCAT and is scored differently to the other sections. Unlike the others, where you will receive a numerical score you will receive a score from band 1 to band 4 where band 1 is the best. Some university completely ignore this score- something worth looking at if you score badly in SJ.

Some university place a strong emphasis on UCAT. Universities such as KCL and QMUL heavily weight the UCAT while others such as Cardiff or Manchester do not to such an extent. I believe Manchester places heavy weighting on interviews.

Some unis also have cut off score. For example, they could say only applicants who score more than 2600 will be considered. Unis usually publish this once everyone's sat their UCAT and it's worth seeing whether you will make the cut. Additionally, some unis rank their applicants and may say something like only the top 25% of applicants will be considered.

How is it marked?

This is something slightly strange with the UCAT. Each section is worth 900 points and a certain number of marks will give you a certain number of points. As discussed earlier, SJ is divided into bands where band 1 is the best and band 4 is the worst.

To be very competitive, gaining an average of 700 in each section or a total of 2800 is ideal as well as band 1 or 2 in SJ. However, do not be disheartened if you score less. As said earlier, unis place different weightings on the UCAT.

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