Each year more than 23,000 students sit the UKCAT. Here, a selection of high-scoring candidates who've recently sat the test talk about their experience and offer their advice on how they prepared for the UKCAT.
Age: 18 Richmond. UKCAT Test
With an impressive score of 3430, Carmen was the 3rd highest scorer in 2015, a great achievement. She approached the test by starting early and practicing ‘little and often’.
In terms of the most challenging aspects of the UKCAT, Carmen says “I found both of the sections that I had never come across before, Decision Analysis and Abstract Reasoning the most challenging initially. Timing also proved a challenge throughout as you are incredibly time pressured with regards to the number of questions and the time allocated per question.”
When asked how she tackled this she says:
“All of the challenging aspects of the test became much easier after lots of practice questions as patterns began to emerge, making approaching the harder sections less daunting. With regards to timing practising triage using the flagging tool is key as it is almost impossible to answer all of the questions accurately in the time given.”
Age: 17 Reading. UKCAT Test
Karan was one of the Top 10 scoring candidates in 2015 and was happy to share his experience of preparing for the test. “Without a doubt, timing was the most challenging aspect. To start with I didn’t do questions timed, just to get a feel on how to approach questions but fairly soon I started timing myself, being very strict on how long to spend. In the actual test, if I wasn’t getting anywhere within 10 seconds of starting a question I’d flag it and move on.”
An organised approach to preparing for the test helped Karan achieve such a high score. He said “I went through the UKCAT Candidates Toolkit (free on the UKCAT website), which had video tutorials on how to approach different types of question.”
“I also did all of the mock tests on the UKCAT website, which was probably the most useful thing as it gave you an idea of how the test actually worked on the computer. Right from the start of my preparation, I kept updating a word document filled with tips I’d found genuinely helpful for each section.”
Age: 18 London. UKCAT Test
2015 was notable as it saw the highest UKCAT score ever recorded! Isabel Griffin, aged 18, from London achieved an exceptional score of 3560, beating the previous highest score of 3540 in 2013. Currently studying A-levels in Biology, Chemistry and Maths at Tiffin Girls School in Kingston upon Thames, London, Isabel gave us her views on preparing for the UKCAT.
“I did the three official practice tests on the UKCAT website. I also came up with a list of tips that people had told me or that I thought of along the way - things like reading the question first in Verbal Reasoning or looking at the simplest box in Abstract Reasoning. I also read 'Good medical practice' by the GMC, which helped a lot with Situational Judgement.”
On what was most challenging about the test she added “I think the most important thing is to practise under timed conditions, as for me the timing was the most challenging part of the test. I would also really recommend that people start practising with the online calculator as early as possible.”
Isabel, who is originally from New Zealand, is now setting her sights on a career in Medicine. She says “My family has moved around a lot so I've lived in lots of different countries and been to ten different schools, a mixture of state comprehensives and grammar schools. My reasons for choosing medicine are probably the same as most people's - I found science, especially biology, really interesting, but I also wanted a career which was quite ‘hands on’ where I would get to interact with people and hopefully make a real difference to their lives. The diagnostic aspect also really appeals to me, as every patient is a unique individual so every case is a new challenge.” She added “I like the fact that you are constantly pushed to improve your own performance and that the field is always evolving, so being a doctor involves a life of further learning. I decided I wanted to become a doctor after joining St. John Ambulance as a cadet and having the experience of actually treating patients for the first time.”
With such an outstanding score her future is looking highly promising.
Age: 17 Watford. UKCAT Test
Despite not scoring highly in his practice tests, Danayan kept on preparing thoroughly for his test. “I found the timings very tough, also, the Abstract reasoning section was really hard. It took a lot of practice for me to get the hang of spotting patterns.”
“My advice would be to familiarise yourself with the test first, get used to the questions and timings, and after that you just have to have faith that you will succeed. If I can make such a drastic improvement then anyone can! The only other advice I can give is to set yourself a target, mine was to reach 700. This was a realistic target for me based off my mock papers.”
His hard work paid off and Danayan was was one of the Top 10 scoring candidates in 2015.
Age: 17 Leigh-on-Sea. UKCAT Test
Jonathan’s high score put him in the Top 1% of all candidates in 2015 and he offered some good advice for those struggling with the Verbal Reasoning section of the test.
“Lots of medics struggle most with Verbal Reasoning, but just because it isn’t necessarily ‘sciencey’ is no reason to give up. I realised that I didn’t have to get all of the questions right, which let me work through the majority in my own time. This meant I would get more marks than rushing through the entire test and guessing the majority of the questions.”
“Try to think of reading critically and quickly as a long-term skill to invest in; as a medic, you’ll be reading research papers and other documents while assessing their arguments.”
“The best thing to prepare is to read a newspaper or even non-fiction books daily, examining the arguments, logical fallacies and techniques used. Join debate groups, and read around logical fallacies and formal logic as well. Learn to unpick arguments and read quickly. If you read for 15 minutes every day, you’ll gradually become better, and this section will seem very easy by the time you have to take the UKCAT.”
Age: 17 Aberdeen. UKCAT Test
Simon’s score was also in the Top 10 for 2015. He was started off on the right path by his school. “I went to a course organised by the school. It was a day course towards the end of June (I sat my test in early August) and was a fairly intense look at each section, and suggested techniques for each. I then used a book bought second hand from a friend. I did all the practice questions in the book, timing myself for every set of questions. I also used the free resources from the UKCAT official website. This was probably the most helpful, as the layout online was exactly the same as the real thing.”
In terms of further sources of advice he said “I spoke to others who had sat the test before, there’s lots of good information on the UKCAT website, and the Pearson VUE website, and also online discussion forums for people who don’t know anyone who’s sat it.”
On the day of the test he advises it’s important to feel relaxed but to also go into the test knowing that you have prepared as well as you can.
“Don’t panic, do whatever works to make sure you’re calm. Make sure you’ve practiced as well though – definitely aim to have done the online tests from the UKCAT website. Already knowing exactly what the screen is going to look like when you’re in there is a good feeling, and the questions themselves are probably the most similar practice questions out there.”
A huge fan of biology, the idea of using all the scientific knowledge about processes within the body to help people in a practical way is what appeals to Simon about studying medicine. “I did some work experience and the more I saw of medical work the more I knew it was what I wanted to do.”
Age: 17 Oxford. UKCAT Test
Sreya was one of the Top 10 scoring candidates in 2015 and was happy to offer some advice for other candidates sitting the test. “To prepare for the test, I started by looking at a few books. Those I found most helpful explained techniques on how to answer questions in each section of the test. For instance, they gave advice on recognising patterns in questions in the abstract reasoning section. I realised that it is not useful to plunge straight into attempting practice questions before developing an understanding of how to approach them.”
“Once I got the hang of the technique for each section, I found it quite easy to answer practice questions. I found sample questions in some books and also in an on-line question bank. The UKCAT website was also useful as it allowed me to practise questions and carry out mock tests using the same format as the actual test, including the use of the on-screen calculator, that took a little time to get accustomed to.”
“My one advice to future candidates is that it is most helpful to do timed mock tests. It helped me to gain confidence and work well during the actual test, despite the huge time pressure. The UKCAT guide on the website was also helpful in giving advice on how to approach the test.”
Age: 22 Reading. UKCAT Test
Darren scored in the Top 1% of candidates in 2015 and said of his experience “I practiced using all the questions I could get my hands on. First, I used books to establish a technique and build up speed, before practising with an online revision provider. I practiced little and often to develop a consistency in my timing. This helped me to develop the ability to sense when I was spending too much time on a question, cut my losses and move on.”
He also advises other candidates to think strategically about their score and where they are applying to as universities use the UKCAT score in different ways and to different extents.
“Many universities weight UKCAT and academic performance equally (in some cases, UKCAT is actually weighted higher) – so prepare accordingly.”
Age: 19 Bristol. UKCAT Test
Joe’s great score put him firmly in the Top 3% of candidates in 2015. He revised using a question book and a selection of websites and asserts “The questions themselves aren't all that hard, it's more the speed at which you have to complete them.” He continues “Just practising with time limits and timers - the book and the website are both pretty clear about how much time you have for each section, so just try to get as close as you can to that.”
He is also clear on the fact that although many people say you can’t revise for the UKCAT, you can certainly prepare.
“It's not that different to any other exam; you can't revise but you can practise, and you'll probably get out what you put in. I naturally can read quite fast (trust me, not as useful as it sounds in all other areas of life) so you might want to practise that for the Verbal Reasoning questions. Brush up on your very basic maths skills, ratios and percentage changes because it's annoying to get those ones wrong!”
Age: 26 Newcastle-upon-Tyne. UKCAT Test
Ranking 2nd out of the 23,565 candidates taking the test in 2015 is no mean feat! Oliver very modestly says “I'm afraid I don't have any revolutionary tricks or techniques! Do practice questions, get a good night's sleep the night before the exam, and try to relax when you're in there. In exams as in interviews, confidence counts for a lot.”
It’s also clear that you don’t need to pay for resources to get a high score, as Oliver says “I used the UKCAT practice questions and tests, plus some old science textbooks and revision guides from school.”
Oliver is now looking forward to a new challenge when he begins studying medicine.
“I couldn't be satisfied with a career sitting in an office doing nothing to help anybody. Medicine is hands-on, obviously does people good, and involves a lot of applied skills, so when I realised I wasn't happy with my career, it was the logical best choice.”
Age: 18 London. UKCAT Test
Muhammad’s high score put him in the Top 3% of all candidates in 2015. As well as buying a book of questions he says “I used a wide range of resources ranging from each and every test on the UKCAT website to all the online resources available which were free of any cost.”
Muhammad insists lots of practice is key, and advises to starting preparing at least a month before your test, saying
“This is unlike many tests you might have been through previously where you might have crammed it all in a week before and come out successful on the other end. This will not happen when doing the UKCAT. Patience is also paramount as you might not get very high scores towards the beginning but eventually and gradually your scores will improve as you get to grasp the foundations of the test.”
Advice from school and classmates was not immediately on hand to Muhammad, who said “Unfortunately for me since I was on a gap year, I did not have access to teachers or college staff but I did have useful forums like The Student Room where students and teachers posted useful techniques and tips and even answers and explanations for specific problems.”