The Fear of the Unknown.
Needless to say, the UKCAT can cause a great deal of anxiety. For some unis it’s their main selective tool after grades (and having taken it twice, I can see why). It is designed to test you in ways that exams cannot. It is difficult to revise for as there is no course content list to refer back to. However there are some useful tools available on the web and books that provide useful tips on how to tackle the different sections.
You have until early October to sit the test for 2017 entry (or deferred 2018) and it’s only valid for the year you apply. You also cannot retake it within the same admissions cycle so need make sure you give it your all the first time!
I will be writing a piece very soon which details how I tackled each section of the UKCAT, however I think it is important to set off on the right foot before beginning the nitty gritty. So, here are my pointers for setting yourself up with the best chance of smashing it.
When to take the test
Now is a good time to sit down and assess when would be the best time for you to take the test so you can organise your time realistically. It’s hard to say how long you should be ‘revising’ but I found about 4 weeks with a couple of hours a day, 5 days a week is a pretty good time scale for most people. The UKCAT website suggests 18-30 hours preparation however I think it normally takes a few hours to get into the swing of things, figuring out what you should actually be spending your time on and understanding what the test is all about first (which is why my suggested preparatory time scale is a little higher). Nevertheless, you need to tailor this to yourself. You should now know how good you are at blocking out distractions and the proportion of time you spend revising actually being productive (this is why I allowed myself 2 hours a day as I knew probably only 1 of those hours would be time well spent).
You also need to consider any exams or events that are coming up. I stupidly book my test for the day after my friends 18th Birthday. Luckily, I managed to change it to a more suitable day through the UKCAT website.
Understandably, the most popular time for people to book the test is in the summer before A2’s. So if you wish to take it at this time make sure you register soon – be aware that your local test centre may be fully booked, this is fine as you can take the test in any of the registered centres, it can just be a bit of an inconvenience.
I personally didn’t want to take the test in summer as I had a lot planned and I didn’t want to jeopardise my chances by not giving my revision the attention it deserved. I took my test late September which actually worked really well for me as I was back in the swing of college work and I had no real A-level revision to do.
When you have a suitable date range in mind, work backwards from that to identify when you should start preparing (about 4 weeks beforehand depending on your preferred revision schedule). By the time you get to this preparation date you should have all the necessary resources organised and have familiarised yourself with the UKCAT website so that you are ready to start. And please, if your calculated preparation date has been and gone – maybe reconsider your test date…
Should I pay for a private course?
The UKCAT content hasn’t changed for years (apart from the confidence rating they brought in last year). It is important to note that companies offering courses are not affiliated with UKCAT and so the only means of reference they have are from past exams. You will find an abundance of organisations that promise to deliver courses that will guarantee you a 900, but in my opinion, if you are someone who will be able to commit to an hour a day for the next month or so, you don’t need to waste your money. Instead, use free resources online – all you need to do is type in “UKCAT practice questions” in google and you’ll be away! Having said that, I haven’t heard many negative experiences from people who did go on the course. If you do decide to go down this route, make sure you do your research! I have seen a few phony companies that offer courses in October – After the test deadline!
As I didn’t use a private company I cannot comment on their success rate, but I do absolutely believe that you do not need to go on a course to get a good result.
The most reliable guidance you will receive will be from the UKCAT website. But, these resources are limited so try not to use them all up in your first weeks.
There are also plenty of UKCAT books on Ebay and Amazon. I bought Get into Medical School – 600 UKCAT Practice Questions which I found in a second hand book shop for a couple of pounds. This had some really useful content. Nevertheless, I cannot stress enough that the UKCAT exam style, structure and timings cannot be simulated using text or even the online practice test you may come across. The undeniably best practice of the test and it’s very strict timings will be from the UKCAT website.
This website needs to be the most viewed page on your laptop for the weeks leading up to your test. I cannot stress enough how useful it is. It is designed to help you prepare for the test so for the love of god visit every page it has to offer including the links to check if you are eligible to take the extended version of the test and whether you can sit it for free.
Make this your homepage http://www.ukcat.ac.uk/preparation/10step/ it contains all the links you need on one page allowing for a more efficient use of your time.
Google your test centre
It’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with your nearest test centre. Mine was a 50 minute drive from my house and I wasn’t familiar with the area so I took a drive there the week before. This was purely to put my mind at ease on the day – I knew I would be worrying enough and I certainly didn’t need the added pressure of possibly getting lost.
Understand the different sections
Before your preparation date, spend an evening reading about what you can expect from each section of the test and the timings affiliated with them. The 5 sections are:
- Verbal Reasoning 22 minutes 44 items
- Decision Making 32 minutes 29 items
- Quantitative Reasoning 25 minutes 36 items
- Abstract Reasoning 14 minutes 55 items
- Situational Judgement 27 minutes 69 items
In ‘UKCAT part 2’ I will be talking about these sections in some length to give you an idea of how I tackled them.