The UCAT Explained

To get into medical school in the UK you must complete one of two entry exams: The UCAT and the BMAT. Personally the UCAT is by far my preferred exam. Despite my below average grades (for a medschool applicant) I scored in the top 1% globally. My average UCAT (UKCAT) score was 817.5.

My UCAT Study Guide is available to purchase now on Etsy! You access it here, plus if sign up to the newsletter you will receive a discount code for 25% off the study guide!

Let’s talk through all the sections of the UCAT, the timings and some tips and tricks.

If you’d rather watch and listen than read, look below!

The UCAT, which stands for University Clinical Aptitude Test, was previously the UKCAT (United Kingdom Clinical Aptitude Test). The name change came about in 2019 to encourage a wider uptake of the test internationally. The UCAT ANZ is now the recognised medical entry exam required for medical schools in Australia and New Zealand.

Below you will find a list of UK universities that require the UCAT:

Aberdeen, Anglia Ruskin, Aston, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Dundee, East Anglia, Edge Hill, Edinburgh, Exeter, Glasgow, Hull York Medical School, Keele, Kent & Medway Medical School, King’s College London, Leicester, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham, Plymouth, Queen Mary- University of London, Queen’s University Belfast, Sheffield, Southampton, Sunderland, St. Andrew’s, St. George’s London and Warwick (grad only).

For a detailed breakdown of how these universities use the UCAT results please see here.

The score is broken down into five sections Verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, abstract reasoning, decision making and situational judgement.

The UCAT consortium, the governing body, releases the average grades for previous years’ exams. Below are the average grades for each section from 2019:

Verbal reasoning: 565
Decision making: 618
Quantitative reasoning: 662
Abstract reasoning: 638

Situational Judgement: Band 2

Average 620.75

A good score is above 660, and a great score is over 700

The five sections of the UCAT

Verbal Reasoning (VR)

21 minutes (+ 1 minute of reading)

Average 2019 Score: 565

In the VR section you are given eleven passages of text, normally 200-300 words long, each with four questions. With only 21 minutes to answer the 44 questions time can be very tight. The questions in this section are testing your critical reasoning. You are required to make conclusions and infer the meaning of the passages by reading through carefully and sceptically.

The questions in the VR section come in two styles: choosing the most correct statement from a list of four options or answering True/False/Can’t Tell following a question.

Personally, this was my worst performing section of the exam. I think my ability to scan the text looking for answers was pretty weak at the time. I was also not diagnosed with dyslexia until after attending university.

From the UCAT website:

The Verbal Reasoning subtest assesses your ability to read and think carefully about information presented in passages and to determine whether specific conclusions can be drawn from information presented.  You are not expected to use prior knowledge to answer the questions.

Doctors and dentists need excellent verbal reasoning skills in order to understand complex information and communicate this clearly and simply to patients is essential. Medical practitioners must also be able to interpret findings from published materials and apply this to their own practice. It is essential they are able to critique such materials and draw their own conclusion as to the validity of any findings.

Quantitative reasoning (QR)

24 minutes (+1 minute of reading)

Average 2019 score: 662

The QR section of the UCAT is divided into nine data sets, each with four questions, making a total of 36 questions. The questions will have five possible answers, of which only one is correct.

The QR section will test your ability to solve numerical, data and problem-solving problems. Questions will test your ability to select relevant data from charts, graphs and tables, and to set up and solve numerical problems. You are expected to be able to do maths at a GCSE level, which is also a requirement for medicine as a whole!

You can use a simple on-screen calculator during this section of the test, but you will find that you’ll often get through questions only using mental arithmetic by using with common calculations and conversions like percentage change, mean, speed and fractions.

From the UCAT website:

The Quantitative Reasoning subtest assesses your ability to use numerical skills to solve problems. It assumes familiarity with numbers to the standard of a good pass at GCSE. However questions are less to do with numerical facility and more to do with problem solving.

Doctors and dentists are constantly required to review data and apply it to their own practice. On a practical level drug calculations based on patient weight, age and other factors have to be correct. At a more advanced level, clinical research requires an ability to interpret, critique and apply results presented in the form of complex statistics. Universities considering applicants need to know they have the aptitude to cope in these situations.

Abstract reasoning (AR)

13 mins + 1 min reading

Average 2019 score: 638

The section consists of 55 questions, answered in 13 minutes. The questions in this section are designed to include unrelated or distracting elements – so it can be tricky to find the pattern in the time allowed. Here you are being tested on your critical evaluation of information, your creativity and your pattern recognition.

There are four types of question which I’ve named and listed below:

  1. Categories: For this question type you are presented with two sets of shapes, labelled Set A and Set B, followed by a test shape. It is your job to categorise the test shape into Set A. Set B or neither set.
  2. Series: For this question type you are presented with a series of shapes, followed by an array of optional shapes. You must choose the correct shape that comes next in the series.
  3. Statements: For this section type you are given a set of shapes which together form a statement, except one shape is missing. You must choose the correct shape from the options to complete the statement.
  4. Sorting: : For this question type you are presented with two sets of shapes, labelled Set A and Set B, followed by a number of test shapes. You must sort each shape into either Set A or Set B.

From the UCAT website:

Abstract Reasoning assesses your ability to identify patterns amongst abstract shapes where irrelevant and distracting material may lead to incorrect conclusions. The test therefore measures your ability to change track, critically evaluate and generate hypotheses and requires you to query judgements as you go along.

When considering possible diagnoses, medical practitioners may be presented with a set of symptoms and/or results. Some information may be more reliable, more relevant and clearer than other information. Doctors and Dentists need to make judgements about such information, identifying the information which will help them reach conclusions. Carrying out research involving data often involves identifying patterns in results in order to generate further hypotheses. 

Decision making (DM)

31 minutes (+1 minute of reading

Average 2019 score: 618

For the DM section of the exam you will need to complete 29 questions in 31 minutes, so you will have almost a whole minute per question. Each of the questions will provide you with a standalone set of data in the form of text, charts, tables, graphs or diagrams. Some questions will provide four options, and you must choose the correct one. Other questions may have five statements, each requiring a YES or NO, all five must be correct for the question to be correct.

DM questions are designed to test your ability to apply logic and make inferences and deductions from a set of rules.

From the UCAT website:

The Decision Making subtest assesses your ability to apply logic to reach a decision or conclusion, evaluate arguments and analyse statistical information.

Doctors and dentists are often required to make decisions in situations that may be complex.  This requires high-level problem solving skills and the ability to assess and manage risk and deal with uncertainty.

Situational Judgement Test (SJT)

26 minutes (+1 minute of reading)

This section is marked from band 4 (worst) to band 1 (best). 2019 average: Band 2

There are 69 SJT questions relating to 22 scenarios. You will be asked to read the scenario and answer up to five associated questions. There will either be a list of possible actions which you must consider the appropriateness of, or the importance of each action. You can also be presented with four responses to scenario that you must rank from most appropriate to least, or a set of three responses that you must choose the best and worst from.

The SJT section is designed to measure candidates’ capacity to understand real world scenarios, identify pertinent information and make appropriate decisions in response. Your scientific or medical knowledge isn’t tested here, but your understanding of professionalism and ethics will be.

You will also have to sit another SJT exam at the end of medical school, in your final year. This is the single biggest deciding factor in determining where you will be placed for your foundation years unless you decide to follow the academic foundation route.

From the UCAT website:

The situational judgement test (SJT) measures your capacity to understand real world situations and to identify critical factors and appropriate behaviour in dealing with them.  Questions do not require medical or procedural knowledge.

The test assesses integrity, perspective taking, team involvement, resilience and adaptability.  SJTs are used widely in medical and dental selection, including selection of Foundation Doctors and Dentists, GPs and other medical specialities. 

I hope that you have found this quick run through of the structure of the UCAT exam helpful. I will be going through each of the five sections in greater detail soon, so watch this space!

When you start practising for the UCAT, I recommend using PassMedicine’s free 6 month trial to get a tonne of questions! Medify also has a very popular paid option for £50 ($120 AU or NZ).

I have started offering personalised online UCAT and personal Statement tutoring for aspiring medical students. If you would be interested in some one-to-one support please use the Contact page to send me an email. I am also experienced in teaching via webinars. If you are interested in hiring me to teach a UCAT webinar to your students or peers please use the Contact form to get in touch.

In addition to the UCAT, I have also written guides on writing a personal statement, what a successful personal statement looks like, the extracurricular requirements of medicine and the grades most medical schools require. Be sure to check them out if you are in the process of applying to medicine!

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