UCAT 101 – looking beyond what Pearson tells you

The rest of these paragraphs is going to assume you have already read the previous blog about choosing medicine, and that you already have a gist of what the UCAT is about. But it is fine if you have not – this article itself should give you an understanding of how the UCAT itself operates. i.e, take this as more of an essay that deconstructs why the UCAT even exists. Everyone has their own opinion on the UCAT because it is such a niche exam. A niche exam that requires a niche plan to tackle since it is so incredibly different to all the other exams that you have done before. We will go through some of the overall tactics and mindset you should master to do your very best in this exam! 🙂

There is a reason why the universities of Australia (and New Zealand) have banded together to create this test and entry requirement separate from either the interview or the ATAR. In fact, in most universities that offer medicine, you will find that they give greater importance to this test than the ATAR. They do want students that can put in the hard work to achieve their best, but that is why they use ATAR as a hurdle requirement rather than ranking you based on that. Being disciplined essentially to the university is the minimum requirement, what they rank the cohort – in order to choose who gets into the incredibly limited spots they have – is the UCAT which assesses skills that are beyond the understanding of a topic. While for your HSC you have months to prepare, the material and topics you are given in the UCAT are given to you in the test. You have a maximum of perhaps a minute or two to understand the topic, and to provide your answer. There is no way that relying on your HSC study skills will get you through this test properly. It is important that you prepare at least a bit – even a single UCAT test or two will greatly improve your performance on the day. You will be surprised how clear and stark the disconnect is between the HSC and UCAT – those who ace the HSC often do poorly on the UCAT precisely because of this idea that HSC skills alone are useful. 

Conversely, you will see that those who don’t do as well on their HSC excel their UCAT just because the UCAT is what we call an analytical test. No, this is not the sort of HSC you have now that is more ‘analysis and understanding based’ – this is a test that is almost purely analytical. Some people have this analytical skill naturally – that is, after all, what the universities are looking for. However, this does not mean that you can prepare for the UCAT to do your best. Improving your analytical skills isn’t like in your HSC or Prelims where you make sure to read the content again, answer questions, and hopefully understand any new questions they give you – you need to improve the way you think.

Therefore, you are encouraged to, for example, learn how to speed read. With the verbal reasoning subtest, you are given 20 seconds per question, only 20. Although there are sets of 4 questions per text, so every single question doesn’t have its own text, this still means that you have at most 2 minutes to read a full text and answer 4 questions based on it. This is the reasoning behind learning how to speed read. There are similar skills that exist for all the subtests – skills that are built up over time. UCAT studying doesn’t require much time – but it does require consistency. Even just half an hour per week is enough for it, but the key is to do your ‘studying’ weekly to benefit from being able to improve the fundamental way that you think to best position yourself for July.

Good luck with all your trials and yearlies!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *