7 Great UCAT Tips You Probably Haven’t Heard Before

This was pretty much a copy-pasted conversation I had with a friend asking for UCAT tips, so sorry if it’s not that well worded. In the time I did it – the UCAT was called the UCAT! But the principles, time sensitive nature of the test, and test taking skills are essentially the same. I figured I’d put up one of these so I wouldn’t have to do them individually any more and to help you guys out =P

For those who don’t know, the UMAT – now known as UCAT – is a challenging pre-medical test every prospective doctor needs to sit in Australia and New Zealand. In most universities, it is a major consideration for gaining an interview and a seat in medicine. Unlike other requirements, such as good performance in final-year-school or university exams, it’s not necessarily based so much on knowledge as it is on non verbal and verbal problem solving skills and empathy. This is the official site which outlines the exam and basic preparation for them: https://www.ucat.edu.au/ucat-anz/practice-tests/-strategy . 
Basically – there are 3 styles of questions. Previously – they were divided into ‘sections.’ You could only do section 1 type questions in the first 60 or so minutes. AFter that time was up, only then could you go onto Section 2 – with everyone else starting that section at the same time.
Now, all these questions are jumbled up.
“Section 1” questions give a passage of writing on a random topic or a logical assumption and then ask you to make logical assertions of it. It could be on anything – and though some of it is medical, most of the time it’s not. Indeed, in some years, they didn’t have ANY medical sections – so don’t feel you have to study biology at all.
Section 2″ questions give passages about a few characters and ask you to make judgements on people’s  character, emotions and responses.
And “Section 3” questions test your non-verbal reasoning and give you patterns and ask you to pick the option most likely to be next in the pattern, which one should be in the middle or which one is missing. Think puzzles. The hardest thing about the exam though is arguably the time factor. It’s a 3 hour test but filled with long passages and challenging questions.
This post will not be focused on the best tips to tackle individual questions; there are many programs and blogs designed to help you on that topic, but rather on general tips, exam taking strategy and techniques that will help you in the exam. So here you go. The 7 best tips I give to people who do this test. 
In long passages, which come up heaps in section 1 and 2:

1) Read the Questions, before ANYTHING, and PLAN accordingly.

1) – Have a look at the questions before you read the passage so you understand what you need for and then underline bits that will be, or seem important as you go along (so you can refer back to them later on). This is one of the best tips I can give, because it saves you so much time when compared to you effectively having to re-read the whole passage as you look for one or two key points.  People say that you should skim read and stuff like that – me – I make sure I understand EVERYTHING that needs to be understood before moving on.
Instead of skimming through and having to reread a passage, 2 or 3 times, it makes more sense to just do it once and do it well. 
By reading the questions first – you know what you can skim, and what you need to focus on to understand this.

2) You can’t be perfect. Time is a huge factor! So don’t be worried to skip it!

Don’t be afraid to skip or make educated guesses on questions. The UMAT is time intensive – so once you get a good guess or narrow it down to 1 that seems likely, don’t spend too long worrying about if it’s wrong or right – just move on.

3) Practice previous papers for Section 3 puzzles, and get a grasp of how to answer the main puzzle types!

With section 3 style questions – there’re different questions with patterns. Narrow it down systematically, as you can for most of them, then it becomes easy. For eg – “pick the middle” or “pick
the ‘x’th”  ones where they give you 5 options, 3 will have a similar pattern, meaning 1 of those is the end, 1 is the beginning and 1 must be the middle. Narrow it down from there, pick the
most likely of them after that and move on. You can check if they’re right if you have time at the end of the exam.

4) Get some vocabulary down pat for section 2 – and understand them!

For section 2 type questions – know the key vocab vocab. That was my worst, not because I couldn’t empathise with the characters’ feelings and situations, but because for some of them, I just didn’t know what a word like “indignant” or “beatific” really meant haha. So get delectable, despondent, those kinds of words through your head and make sure you understand some of the common words that come up.

5) For the empathy questions – think about WHY they’re asking you these questions.

Think like a doctor would think. Think about WHY they have section 2 style questions. They set questions that try and judge how you respond to the world, and they want doctors who are empathetic, who understand, who aren’t judgmental. Good people see good in others.
So if there’s 2 options which seem similar but one is a more severe, or more evil reaction to a situation, pick the one which makes the persons actions seem somewhat reasonable. So don’t pick “jealous” or “angry” or “contempt” pick “reluctant gratitude”, “despondent” or “disappointed.” unless it really seems like it is just that for the character or subject they’re talking about. For eg if the
question was”how did I feel after the fish came off the line” you wouldn’t say “Pissed the f*#* off” or “angry” you’d say something less severe like “disappointed”. A bit of an extreme example and one that may seem ludicrous (’cause if you know me, you know I get really, REALLY MAD when I miss a fish), but the message is the same.
Those are the major “test taking skills” I used when I sat them. Remember, the tests aren’t the same as when I did them – the “section” style questions are mixed around, but that’s okay – it
means you won’t be as pressured for time and that if you’re good at one section compared to another, you’ll get more time to focus on your weaker styles of questions or more time to go back and

6) Even better than ‘studying’ or doing ‘drills,’ is just to READ

But the best thing I did – I didn’t really do that much practice or that many practice papers – was I read in my spare time. A LOT. And I read widely too. And that made my reading speed, empathy and basic comprehension pretty damn good – perfect for a test like this. Section 1 type questions ask for you to interpret anything from some kind of scientific scrap of knowledge (it usually has nothing to do with medicine), to instructions on how to play table tennis. By reading articles from newspapers, as well as science journals, and indeed – other posts on my blog –  you’ll gain speed in comprehension. And learn more. By reading novels, or even better – short stories – you grasp what kind of things section 2 style questions ask. 
I’d always be reading a good novel before I slept – it was a habit, I needed to before I slept. On top of that, I read things like TIME magazine, science/technical journals. it’s even easier to do it nowadays, and it’s not a chore at all – a lot of the things you can read are really interesting.
Rig the algorithm, and fill your news feeds with stuff that makes you learn passively. The I Fucking LoveScience FacebookWeb page is a good place to start – it has a great science blog where it
talks about recent advancements, which are all interesting and fun to read. All of this makes comprehension/ reading speed go up, and also gives random pieces of knowledge to you, which who knows, may just get you more marks. That’s exactly what you want in this kind of test!
I guess those are some of my best tips for the actual UMAT – that’s what I did and ended up doing pretty well, even though I really didn’t prepare for it too well (I was in the 98th percentile, with an overall score of around 200, though I can’t remember exactly). 

7) It’s not the be all and end all. Remember that.

But the best tip I can give is a simple one. Don’t stress or panic. I talk about it in detail in this blog post I wrote not too long ago. I talked about stress and how it makes you perform worse… not just for tests like this, but for life in general – and – more importantly – I talked about how to deal with it. Stress, worry and panic won’t help you on the day.
If you go in thinking “OMG this is life or death!”, “what if I forget stuff?” or “I’m not gonna do well!” you doom yourself to panicking, having mini-breakdowns in the test, a confused overworked mind and just feeling bad about yourself, which all lead to you being more likely to fail. If you instead go in on the day thinking “well, I’ve done what I can, all I gotta do is give that damn test” you’ll do yourself a great service. If it’s hard to see that in the day, the best advice I can give is to take a step back and look at the second, more constructive attitude you can take going into the exam.
Instead of thinking about what there is to lose, think about what you have to GAIN. 
The chance to make your career one where you spend every day of your life helping others, while doing well for yourself too. THAT’S how you’ll give yourself the best chance of making it.


GOOD LUCK! Feel free to ask for more tips, advice, or your own tips. And feel free to splurge or vent and I’ll try and help you feel better about yourself!
Sign up to my newsletter, and I’ll keep you up to date, and probably send a few sciencey articles that’ll help with your UCAT on the way 😉
But no seriously – if you ever wanna talk – email me at info.at.nikhilautar.com

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