2nd May 2024
The University Clinical Aptitude Test (UCAT) is the most commonly used admissions test for UK medical schools. It aims to assess candidates’ language, numerical, abstract reasoning and problem-solving skills, as well as their ability to demonstrate good judgement in different hypothetical scenarios.

Understanding the UCAT


The UCAT is a two-hour-long examination taken on a computer at designated test centres which typically run from July to September. The five sections of the UCAT and their respective lengths are:

Verbal Reasoning (21 minutes): The first section of the UCAT assesses candidates’ ability to critically evaluate and comprehend written information.

Decision Making (31 minutes): This section assesses students’ decision-making and problem-solving abilities.

Quantitative Reasoning (25 minutes): In this section, candidates’ abilities to critically evaluate numerical information is assessed.

Abstract Reasoning (12 minutes): This section assesses students’ ability to infer relationships from patterns and use divergent thinking skills.

Situational Judgement (26 minutes): The final component of the UCAT comprises various scenarios in which the candidate must assess whether certain behaviours are appropriate and which factors are important in the situation.

Unlike other admissions tests, the UCAT does not require any prior knowledge. However, this does not mean you don’t need to prepare for it! Proper understanding of the UCAT, as well as practising exam techniques and example questions, dramatically improve candidates’ scores, which can make the difference between a medical school offer or a rejection.

When to Start Preparing for the UCAT

The hardest part about the UCAT is the time pressure and this is where preparation can make the biggest impact. Two hours might sound long, but it goes by extremely fast!

Most people recommend 6-8 weeks to prepare, however, this can range from a few months to a couple of weeks.

There are a number of benefits to starting your preparation early. Firstly, it means that you can spread out your revision, for example, doing one hour a day compared to six hours a day if you leave it later to start.

This allows you to spend more time on other commitments and will reduce your boredom with revision while still having the same amount of time spent studying overall. Secondly, starting early allows sufficient time for you to identify areas of weakness and subsequently be able to practice to improve them.

Finally, having a larger amount of time to prepare will hopefully reduce your stress nearer to the exam date.

When you start your UCAT preparation depends on various factors such as personal circumstances and your current academic workload.

If you are sitting the UCAT in the summer after a set of examinations (for example, AS levels), you may wish to start your preparation earlier so you can spread it out whilst you also prepare for your exams.

In general, allowing 6-8 weeks to prepare gives candidates a sufficient amount of time to become familiar with the exam format and to improve on areas of weakness.

Am I Starting Too Early?

Firstly, how early is too early? Technically, you can’t start ‘too early’ but preparing for several months, for example, carries the risk of burnout with diminishing returns in terms of improvement. Start as early as you feel personally comfortable with.

How Many Hours Should I Spend on UCAT Preparation

Most successful candidates spend between 30 and 60 hours preparing for the UCAT. However, the quality of preparation is far more important than the quantity.

In order to have productive study sessions, remove distractions such as your phone so you can be focused on your work. Spend your study time doing effective revision such as practice questions under timed conditions instead of, for example, spending the majority of your time watching YouTube videos about the UCAT.

Initially, aim to do one or two hours a day then, as you approach your UCAT exam date, you may wish to increase the number of hours you spend studying to around 4 hours so you can do full-length mocks and go through the results.

How to Avoid Burnout During UCAT Preparation

The best way to avoid burnout during your UCAT preparation is to take frequent breaks and not spend too long each day practising. This is why it is ideal to start earlier, as you do not have to condense your revision as much. Revising for two hours a day is beneficial as this is the length of the actual examination but isn’t too long that you will get exhausted and risk burnout. 

Balancing UCAT Preparation with Other Commitments

While the UCAT is an important part of your medical school admissions process, you must not neglect your other commitments. If you have other academic commitments such as AS level examinations, make a study plan for how much time you need to allocate to each commitment – and stick to it! It is also really important to maintain a healthy work-life balance so make sure you give yourself plenty of rest and maintain your extra-curricular activities.

How to Best Prepare for the UCAT

There are many different sources you can use to prepare for the UCAT, including practice question banks, tutoring sessions and videos explaining tactics. Using a variety of sources can help with keeping motivation up and expose you to a range of tips and methods that may improve your score. Finally, create your study plan with realistic goals, for example; ‘Monday – 30 verbal reasoning practice questions’.

Essential Tips

Use a variety of methods to keep it fresh and interesting, for example, question banks, YouTube guides, tutor sessions etc.

  • Don’t leave it too late.
  • Don’t neglect your mental health. Take breaks and keep up with things you enjoy to reduce burnout.
  • Study efficiently and remove distractions.
  • Spread out the workload. Little and often is better than cramming all your preparation in the week before the test.

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