The UCAT. It’s like a mental marathon. You race against the clock through the highs and lows of different cognitive terrains, nimbly 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 am in no way a fitness guru, so please don’t use this blog as a how-to-train-for-a-marathon guide – it probably won’t end very well. But what I do know a fair amount about is how I prepared my mind and body for taking the UCAT and I feel very lucky to share this with you.
Most people who decide to run a marathon won’t have all the tools they need…
I completed a UCAT course with The Medic Portal as part of my preparation, which really helped me to nail the skills needed for each section before I actually began practising questions.
As far as I’m aware, you can’t wake up one day, decide to run a marathon, and then score a personal best time. Instead, you need to practice in stages.
This is how I arranged my UCAT prep:
I got through around 15,000 questions in the two-month period. But I know lots of people who completed way fewer questions and scored amazingly. We are all different and it is so normal for the way we prepare to vary person-to-person.
According to my practically non-existent 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 a 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 focussed 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 is necessary to improve not only in UCAT prep but also in Medicine.
If you train for a marathon too often and for too long, your muscles get tired, and your strength dwindles. If you don’t eat enough, you 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 for UCAT.
You need to rest. You need to eat well and drink enough so that 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 prep and so I didn’t, and I’m thankful for that.
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 race.
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