The UCAT is like a mental marathon. You race against the clock through the highs and lows of different cognitive terrains – switching between words, numbers, puzzles, pictures and ethics. This metaphor might sound a little cliché, but honestly, it’s the best way to describe your UCAT journey.
I’m no fitness guru, so please don’t use this blog as guidance to train for an actual marathon – it probably won’t end very well! What I do know is how I prepared my mind and body for taking the UCAT exam, and I’m going to share this with you now.
Most people who decide to run a marathon won’t have all the tools they need to start with…
As far as I’m aware, you can’t wake up one day, decide to run a marathon and expect to score a personal best time. Instead, you need to practise in stages.
This is how I organised my UCAT preparation across 8 weeks:
I got through around 15,000 practice questions in the two-month period. But I know lots of people who completed fewer questions than this and achieved a high UCAT score. We are all different, so naturally there isn’t just one correct way to prepare.
According to my limited athletic knowledge, marathon runners will gradually build up the number of miles they run in their training. It’s the same when you prepare for the UCAT: I slowly but consistently increased the number of questions I completed each day.
For example, in the first week I did 50 questions per day, in the second I did 100 a day, then 150, and so on. I increased at regular, relatively small increments so that it didn’t get too overwhelming.
I also focused on my weaknesses. Early on, I noticed that I was struggling with Abstract Reasoning, so I decided to dedicate a larger proportion of my daily prep to AR questions until I got the hang of it. Recognising weaknesses can be demoralising, but it is a skill that’s necessary not only for improving your UCAT score but also for succeeding in Medical School and in Medicine.
If you train for a marathon too often and for too long, your muscles will get tired and your strength will dwindle. If you don’t eat enough, you’ll have no energy to compete. If you don’t rest, you will injure yourself and won’t be able to succeed in the real thing. This is the same when it comes to getting a good UCAT score!
You need to rest if you want to perform at your best. You need to eat well and hydrate to make sure you have energy. You need to sleep enough so that you’re not exhausted. You always need to keep yourself and your health, both physical and mental, as a priority.
We all have days where we feel unmotivated and too tired to do things – and that is totally okay. There were days where I just didn’t want to do UCAT preparation and so I didn’t. Don’t force yourself to do prep on days when you’re really struggling.
Personally, I found the inevitable competition element of the UCAT hard to deal with, but someone gave me this analogy: when horses race, they wear blinders that cut off their peripheral vision, so they are not distracted by what’s going on next to or behind them. It helped me to put my metaphorical blinders on and focus on my own performance, instead of worrying about what other candidates were doing.
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