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21st May 2021
Applying to medicine has never been more competitive. For this year’s cycle (2021 entry) we saw a 21% increase in the number of applicants to Medical School, all while the cap on the number of Medicine places remains at around 9,500. With an extension of last year’s grade inflation baked into the system, a student’s A Level grades will be less important in supporting universities to discriminate between candidates.

All this means that performance in interviews and application tests, the UCAT and BMAT, are more important than ever in ensuring your students have the best chance of securing their place at medical school.

Changes To The UCAT This Year

There is only a minor change to the UCAT this year. The SJT has an additional question type where students will be asked to identify the least and most appropriate response from a list of alternatives.

It will not require any additional learning to understand if the student already understands the SJT.

How Universities Use The UCAT

Universities use the UCAT in different ways. Some will operate a strict cut off preventing anyone with lower scores from progressing with their application while others will use it in combination with other factors to make a more holistic judgement.

Because applications can be made following a student knowing their UCAT score, it is important to use this information to their advantage to maximise their chance of success.

You can compare Medical Schools to see how each has used UCAT scores in previous cycles and ensure that your students are applying to universities that best match their score.

Also, make sure to refresh your memory of what constitutes a ‘good’ UCAT score to put the above into context.

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How To Best Prepare For The UCAT

We believe that the best way to prepare for the UCAT is to divide the learning into three sections. These sections will likely mirror the approach you would have to teach many subjects:

  1. Learn
  2. Apply
  3. Consolidate

Learn The UCAT

Learning the UCAT is different to practising a lot of UCAT questions. Indeed, we would recommend that students do not initially start out by leaping into a UCAT Question Bank.

Each section of the UCAT focuses on testing underlying skills across the section. These skills should be learned in isolation before beginning to practice on real questions in timed conditions. After all, it’s unlikely you’d teach History purely by making students sit a lot of past exam papers! That is because it is important to master the skill in isolation before putting it into a more confusing context.

An online or in-person UCAT course is a great place to start because the relevant skills are explained and modelled in depth. You can begin supporting your students with their understanding and development of the relevant skills for each section of the UCAT.

The key skills you need for each section includes:

  • For verbal reasoning: how to identify keywords and how to skim passages to locate them in a body of text.
  • For decision making: how to interpret Venn diagrams and identify the criteria for strong and weak arguments.
  • For abstract reasoning: learn the main patterns that UCAT use in this section, and the common ways they are presented.
  • For quantitative reasoning: learn the areas of maths that will be tested in this section as well as the common formulae used.
  • For situational judgement: learn the underlying principles governing this section, and what skills such as ‘empathy’ look like according to the SJT.

We would recommend that students begin this preparation at least six to eight weeks before their exam and that they spend between 10 and 20 hours learning the strategy.

Applying The Learning

After learning the theory, it makes sense to move on to Question Banks. We do not suggest that students use timed conditions when first beginning their practice, and we also recommend that students focus on one section of the UCAT at a time.

When students have more confidence with the UCAT then interleaving a few sections at a time, during one session of practice, will be helpful to prevent knowledge decay.

However, initially, it will be better for students to focus on a single section in order to master it before jumping into others.

This is the bulk of the students’ preparation and will take between 20-50 hours and should be started between 6 and 8 weeks prior to the exam. The time interval is wide because we do not recommend that students move on from this stage until they are consistently hitting 80% accuracy outside of timed conditions.

Consolidating The Learning

Finally, students need to consolidate their learning with mocks. The focus here is to master the UCAT overall, with a focus on timing. Students should not be learning how to deal with individual question types while using mocks, they should already be at that stage. The focus is instead on stamina (it’s a long test!), dealing with a variety of different questions and timing.

We would recommend taking four hours per mock: two hours to sit and two to review and consolidate.

Students should aim to begin this consolidation about two to three weeks before they are due to sit their exam.

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