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UCAT for Medical School Admissions: what you need to know

Our introduction to the UCAT covering the basics of what it involves and how to prepare.
Published 04th Sep 2018

What is the UCAT and do I need to take it?

The UCAT is an admissions test which is used by some Medical Schools as part of the process of selecting applicants. The Medical Schools which require the UCAT are:

  • Aberdeen
  • Anglia Ruskin
  • Aston
  • Birmingham
  • Bristol
  • Cardiff
  • Dundee
  • East Anglia
  • Edge Hill
  • Edinburgh
  • Exeter
  • Glasgow
  • Hull York Medical School
  • Keele
  • King’s College London
  • Leicester
  • Lincoln
  • Liverpool
  • Manchester
  • Newcastle
  • Nottingham
  • Plymouth University Peninsula School of Medicine
  • Queen Mary University, Bart’s and the London School of Medicine
  • Queen’s University Belfast
  • Sheffield
  • Southampton
  • St Andrew’s
  • St George’s London
  • Sunderland
  • Warwick

You only need to take the UCAT if you want to apply to Medicine at any of the Universities listed above. Other Medical Schools use the BMAT or GAMSAT instead.

The UCAT needs to be taken between July and October of the year before you intend to go to University. For example, if you want to go to Medical School in September 2020, you would take the UCAT between July and October 2019. This is just before you submit your UCAS application with your Personal Statement.
If you do not get into Medicine first time and decide to re-apply, you would need to take the UCAT again because it is only valid for one year.

What does the UCAT cover?

The UCAT is an aptitude test rather than an exam with a syllabus that you can learn. It has five sections which test different skills – including time management, efficiency, ability to work under pressure, comprehension and communication skills, maths applied to real-life situations, ethical decision making, and pattern recognition. All of these skills are important attributes in a good doctor, although the UCAT questions themselves are not related to science or medical knowledge.

How is the UCAT scored?

Verbal Reasoning, Decision Making, Quantitative Reasoning and Abstract Reasoning are each scored between 300-900 to make a maximum total of 3600 (and a minimum total of 1200).

The final section, Situational Judgement, is scored as Band 1-4. Band 1 is the best, and Band 4 is the lowest score. Some Universities do not take the Situational Judgement section into consideration when selecting applicants, but others do. Check whether each of your preferred Universities use the Situational Judgement section before you spend hours practicing this section and lose sleep over it!

Section nameNumber of questionsTime limit for sectionAverage time per questionScoringAverage score
Verbal reasoning44 (11 sets of 4)21 minutes28 seconds300-900570
Decision making2931 minutes64 seconds300-900647
Quantitative reasoning3624 minutes41 seconds300-900696
Abstract reasoning5513 minutes14 seconds300-900629
Situational judgement6826 minutes22 secondsBand 1-4N/A

What is the time limit in the UCAT?

The UCAT takes 2 hours in total. There are 120 minutes in total of active exam time, this includes 1 minute of reading time between sections.

Each section has a different number of questions and a different time limit. These are shown in the table above. Some sections require more reading and therefore there is more time allowed per question. For example, Verbal Reasoning requires you to read a passage of text so there is more time per question than in other sections such as Abstract Reasoning.

The UCAT is taken on a computer and the computer will show you a count-down timer telling you have left in that section. After that time has passed, you will not be able to change any of your answers in that section.

The average time per question is given in the table above as a guide. Some questions within a section will take you more or less time depending on how complex the question is. For example, the timer will allow you to spend longer than 30 seconds on a question in Verbal Reasoning (in fact, it would let you spend the whole 22 minutes on one question) – but on average you need to finish each Verbal Reasoning question within 30 seconds if you want to finish the whole section before the 22-minute timer runs out!

How do I register to take the UCAT?

The UCAT can be taken at any of the approved Pearson VUE Test Centres around the UK and internationally – these may be schools or separate test centres (like where you would take a driving theory test).

You can register for the UCAT here, find your nearest test centre and book a date. Registration opens in early May, and test dates are from early July to early October. It is best to make your booking early so that you have a good chance of finding a date at your closest test centre. If possible, try to take the UCAT exam in the holidays before you go back to school in September – this means that you will be able to dedicate enough time to UCAT preparation without also trying to keep up with A-level work.

If you require extra time in public exams, you can register for the UCATSEN – this is the same exam as the UCAT, but with extra time allowed.

What happens on the day of the exam?

Arrive at the test centre at least 15 minutes early so that you have enough time to sign in. If you are relying on public transport or are likely to encounter traffic, allow yourself plenty of time to get to the test centre. If you arrive late, you may not be allowed to sit the test.

Bring a print-out of the email confirming your UCAT booking, along with your photo ID. Make sure when you register that you enter your name exactly as it appears on your photo ID (e.g. if your driving licence says Jessica Smith, don’t register online as Jess Smith!)

After signing in, you will be shown a locker or other secure place where you can leave your belongings. You are not allowed to take anything into the exam room with you – not even a bottle of water or a pen. Leave all of your belongings in the locker room.

You will then be given a laminated note board/ whiteboard and a drywipe pen to use for rough work, calculations or notes during the exam. You are not given anything to clean the whiteboard with, so if you think that you will need more than one sheet for your notes, ask at the beginning for a second whiteboard.

You will then be shown which computer to use. When you sit down, check that your whiteboard pen works and that you are comfortable. If needed you can adjust the height of the chair/ computer screen to suit you.

Just before the test starts, there is a brief tutorial on the computer to go through. This is not marked and is not part of the test. It is just to show you how to use the UCAT computer interface – although you should already be familiar with it by this stage after doing the official mock tests on the UCAT website.

When the timer for the last section runs out, the exam is finished. You will be given a print-out of your UCAT report, which shows your score in each section and the total score – so you know your results straight away.

You can then collect your belongings from the locker and you are free to leave the test centre.

What next?

Here are 10 steps for UCAT success.

  1. Check whether the Medical Schools that you want to apply to require the UCAT (or the BMAT or GAMSAT). Also make sure you find out how those Medical Schools use the UCAT – some will use the UCAT as a key component in deciding which applicants to invite to interview, whereas others put much less emphasis on the admissions test.
  2. Register for the UCAT. Registration opens in May of the year when you submit your UCAS application (1 year before you want to start Medical School). Register early to get your preferred test centre and dates.
  3. Get familiar with the question types. Make sure you understand what kind of questions are asked in each section.
  4. Plan your preparation time. Now you’ve booked your test date, pick a date when you will start your UCAT preparation. This should be at least three weeks before your exam date – but most people prefer to have more time to prepare because the UCAT is a key aspect of the Medical School application process and it can only be taken once each year, so it is important to get a good score. Make a timetable or plan out your preparation time in advance so you can be sure that you will be able to fit enough practice in.
  5. Read up on UCAT do’s, don’ts, tips and techniques. This will help you to tackle the questions with more strategy and you will get more benefit from your practice. You can download a complete PDF guide to UCAT techniques and time-saving tips in our free members area.
  6. Get a good UCAT question book or sign up for an online UCAT question bank. The best way to prepare for the UCAT is by practicing the questions, and then reading the explanations behind the questions that you got wrong.
  7. Use the official UCAT mock tests throughout your preparation. There are only a few UCAT mocks so use them wisely by spacing them out throughout your preparation time. You should be able to see some progress between your mock results if you do more questions in between each mock.
  8. Keep repeating steps 5-7 until the day before your exam.
  9. Get a good night’s sleep before the UCAT and eat a nutritious breakfast. Being well-rested and energised will help you to concentrate during the real exam.
  10. Remember all the tips, tricks and techniques you have practiced – it’s easy to forget about these in the heat of the real exam! Don’t spend too long worrying about one particular question – if you can’t answer it relatively quickly it’s better to move on and spend the time getting the marks from easier questions.

After the UCAT is over, make sure you take some time to relax and celebrate!

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