UK Clinical Aptitude Test (UKCAT)

So you have decided that you want to study medicine and thought about a few universities that you would like to apply to. The next step is the UK Clinical Aptitude Test (UKCAT).

What is the UKCAT? 

The UKCAT is a university entrance exam for Medicine and Dentistry courses in some institutions across the UK. Not all universities offering Medicine and Dentistry programmes require this exam, so please check each university admissions policy for further details.

The UKCAT now consists of five main sections - verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, abstract reasoning, decision analysis and a situational judgement test (SJT). The first four sections are marked on a scale from 300 to 900 and the SJT is marked in bands 1-4 with bands 1 & 2 showing above average performance (band 1 being the highest) and bands 3 & 4 indicating below average performance (band 4 being the lowest).

The UKCAT is a test of aptitude and attitude and not academic achievement. For this reason, many people have said that there is little advantage in preparing for it. While I can understand why some people would come to this conclusion, I can say from personal experience that preparation is essential for getting a good score. I prepared well for this test, and managed to get a very good average score of 825. And let me tell you that with good preparation and a positive mindset, you can achieve a very good score.

After each year of testing, the average score seems to increase. This may be because with time, there is better preparation material available. University UKCAT cut-offs have also increased as a result, but another reason is that people are applying more smartly. In the year before I applied, Newcastle University had their UKCAT cut-off at 667.5. However, for 2013 entry, the cut-off dramatically jumped to 695, and it jumped even more to 745 for 2014 entry. This was probably because many people with high UKCAT scores thought Newcastle would be a 'safe choice', but also that in the past couple of years, the average UKCAT score has risen.

What is the best way to prepare?

The preparation materials I used included the 600Q book (link below), the official UKCAT practice tests, online practice questions on getintomedicine and the advice on Medify.

Get into Medical School - 600 UKCAT Practice Questions. Includes Full Mock Exam, comprehensive tips, techniques and explanations.

When you first do the Quantitative Reasoning (QR) section in the 600Q book, you will probably find that it is incredibly difficult to do in the time that they give - although this can be a little demoralising, don't quit! If you do harder stuff and manage to improve your time, then the actual test will be easier. Therefore, the benefit of doing harder questions in less time forces you to think and if you measured your times you will find that your speed increases. I used these questions to build up my speed in this section, and although I could not complete the book questions on time, I had increased my speed by a significant amount after completing all the questions.

The abstract reasoning section is also slightly harder in the 600Q book than in the actual test. For this section, I would say that the reasons behind each correct answer are very important to read. Patterns become easier to spot with repetition, and reading through the explanations will train your mind to look for patterns you may not have considered before. Repetition also improves your unconscious mind to look for patterns which may not be obvious at the first glance.

After completing the book, I read the advice on Medify (which is now listed as outdated, but I think the advice on there is worth reading). I didn't use the questions on Medify, although they are probably quite useful and reasonably-priced compared to some other resources I have seen.

I then started doing mock exams - I used the official practice tests and the mock exam in the 600Q book.

I then redid the questions in the entire 600Q book. Of course I remembered some of the questions while repeating them, but it is good to redo them and compare your times with the first attempt. It will fill you with confidence that you will have improved your performance. Redoing the official practice tests may also help.

This does seem like a lot of preparation, but I think it is necessary to maximise your chances of getting a high score. A strong UKCAT score ensures that you have a more open choice on which universities you have a good chance of getting in to. I spent 2-3 weeks before the test doing preparation, and I think I was doing 3-4 hours per day. I believe that with really good preparation, it is possible to get a good score in this exam.

Advice on specific sections

Verbal reasoning - with this section, I think the best things to do are read the question very carefully and do lots of practice. With practice, you can see where you go wrong and reading the reasoning behind each correct answer helps you to understand the process in which you should tackle the questions.

Quantitative reasoning - I would recommend doing maths questions under timed conditions. This is the best way to ensure that you can cope with this section in the time limit. I would start with easier questions and go up in difficulty, and after a few weeks you will find that your speed will increase a huge deal.

Abstract reasoning - as with the everything else, practice, practice and more practice will help you master this section. Repetition will allow your sub-conscious brain to recognise patterns from before, which is helpful as there are so many things to look out for. The explanations in the 600Q book are very good at helping you look for specific patterns.

Decision analysis - for this section, practice is helpful to get used to the question format. Looking at the rationale behind the questions does help you to understand what kind of things may appear in the test, and helps you to spot any small tricks that will boost your score by a few marks.

SJT - in the year I sat this component, it was not marked. Because 2013 is the first year in which this component will be marked, I cannot predict how universities will use it as part of their admissions policies. This section tests non-cognitive attributes by providing scenarios and asking you what an appropriate response would be for the particular scenario. Tests of this kind are currently used in medical selection criteria when applying for jobs as a doctor. In this section, full marks are awarded for an item if your response matches the correct answer and partial marks are awarded if your response is close to the correct answer. A few good options to prepare for this include:
  • Reading the ISC Medical Interviews book: this as a few example questions and raises some good discussion points. I think this would be a good idea, and there is no harm in buying it early as it also provides good preparation for your interviews. 
  • Know about the ethical and professional issues in medicine - you will be able to see some of these during work experience when shadowing doctors. You could also do some extra reading on the internet or by reading books on the subject. Researching about GMC guidelines will probably help you in preparation for this section. 
  • Watching medical shows: this may be a little controversial though. I appreciate that some of the portrayals are unrealistic and some will be very different as a lot of them are based in the USA. It is probably not a good idea to replace your UKCAT preparation time with watching TV shows, but if you already watch these shows then you may already appreciate some of the professional issues related to medicine. Shows I think are worth watching include ER, Scrubs and Junior Doctors: Your Life in Their Hands; the best one to see is probably 'Junior Doctors' as it is a documentary rather than a drama programme. 

More tips

Start preparing at least three weeks before the test date. In my experience, this is the minimum length of time you will have to spend in order to achieve adequate preparation. Approximately 2-3 hours per day for three weeks will put you in a very good position when you sit the test.
I recommended taking the test a little later, possibly at the end of the summer holidays. This gives you a lot of time to prepare well. It does cost more to take the test later, but I think this is worth paying to try and achieve the best possible score. After all, you only get one chance at the test in the application cycle.

On the test day

Get there early - you want some time to relax before the exam. Getting there with few minutes to spare will not do you any good.
Ensure that you pick a good time for the test. Perhaps this should have been mentioned earlier in the post, but it makes sense. I would say a mid-afternoon slot would be the best time to take the test, but of course this varies from person to person.
Read the question carefully. This is particularly important in the verbal reasoning section, but also important in all the other sections.
Make sure you answer all the questions. If you cannot figure out an answer, make an educated guess and flag the question for review at the end of the section. There is no negative marking in the test, so make sure you do not leave anything blank.
Use the instruction time to relax and keep a good mindset. You will have already met the instructions on the practice tests, and the actual ones will not be hugely different. This ensures you go into the section at your very best. If one section doesn't go as well as planned, use the time to try and forget it and ensure that the next section is even better to make up for the previous section.

What does my score mean? 

As mentioned above, the first four sections are scored on a scale from 300 to 900. Most people calculate their average score from these four sections and this is the most common way of saying your score. The average score of all candidates taking the UKCAT in 2012 was 629, which is slightly higher than preceding years.
If you get a very good score of 700+ then you can pretty much apply anywhere. You are not limited too much in your choices (of course this depends on your other factors). However, make sure that you put such a good UKCAT score to good use by applying to universities that value a higher UKCAT score.

Just a note that the figures for 2015 entry will be weird - this is because there was some kind of problem with the scaling of the tests. For this reason, 'high' UKCAT universities had ridiculously low cutoffs for this year e.g. King's said 630 was competitive, and Newcastle had a 575 cutoff!

High UKCAT

Some 'High UKCAT' universities include the following:
  • Newcastle and Durham, who use UKCAT as their sole determinant for deciding who is called to interview (after the initial academic screening). For 2014 entry the cut-off was 745 (695 for 2013 entry). Remember that the scores were inflated for 2014 entry, but a score above 700ish I think should get you an interview (no promises though - anything can happen!). 
  • King's College London, in addition to GCSEs use the UKCAT score as a key part of the selection process. Here are some previous years guide scores: 2015 entry = 630, 2014 entry = 735, 2013 entry = 695, 2012 entry = 685. 
  • Queen Mary (QMUL) -. According to an admissions document for 2014 entry, an example of a low UKCAT is with Tariff 750, UKCAT 2,490. The lowest UKCAT accepted was 2400 (600 average), but they had a tariff of 880. However, if you have a very high UCAS tariff, then the UKCAT score you require is much lower. Note that their absolute cutoff is 2400, but if you apply with 2400, you will not get an interview unless you have done 6 A levels and an EPQ, or something ridiculous like that! 
  • Edinburgh: they have a detailed scoring system, which you can view here. Essentially, you will need a UKCAT score in the top quartile of applicants. 

Places where a higher UKCAT helps 
  • Hull-York: invitation to interview is based on a score out of 90: 50 for the UKCAT and 40 for GCSEs (from your top 8, they give 5 points for each A*, 4 for an A, etc.). Based on a quick stalk of the HYMS applicants thread on TSR last year, I would think you would probably need around 70ish out of 90 to get an interview invite. 
  • Leicester: the total UKCAT score is given a score out of 34 (3400+ is 34/34, 3300+ is 33/34 and so on). Along with scoring of academic ability (out of 34; this is based on GCSEs and AS/A levels), applicants will be ranked. The highest ranked applicants will be invited for interview, and borderline candidates have their personal statement evaluated to see if they will be called for interview. In the old scoring system, applicants scoring 57/60 (max 30 each section) or above were called for interview. The SJT is used as part of their interview (MMI) process. Note that I did read somewhere that you need 60/68 to get through, although this isn't official, so it may not be true! 
  • Nottingham: here, the subsection scores are important, as each one is scored out of 9, and the SJT is scored out of 3. The score out of 39 is added to your GCSE score (top 8 are scored, 2 points for an A*), and you then progress to the personal qualities stage of the process. I don't know the cutoffs, but may get them after sending my FoI request.
  • Southampton: they basically rank you on your UKCAT, and if you meet the cutoff (varies year on year), then you get an interview invite. I would think high 600s/700+ should be enough. 

Lower UKCAT

If you don't have an amazing score, don't worry! There are plenty of universities that do not place huge importance on the UKCAT. I don't have much knowledge of these so I have decided not to mention these in a lot of detail. A few that I am aware of include:
  • Sheffield say that if you get 2510+ a.ka average cutoff of 627.5 (for entry in 2016), then you should receive consideration provided you meet the other academic requirements. This may slightly increase for 2016 entry, but probably not by a huge amount. 
  • Manchester: stage 1 of their admissions process has a UKCAT cutoff. Last year, this was 2560, meaning an average of 640. Note that the average over the last five years was a cutoff of 650. If you have a contextual flag, then the average score you need is lowered by about 25. 
  • St George (SGUL): you need to get 500 in each section, as well as meet the minimum cutoff. This was 2530 for 2013 entry aka an average of 632.5

Only in borderline cases
  • Cardiff only use the UKCAT to differentiate between two candidates that are equal in all other ways. 
  • Keele tend to use the UKCAT score only for borderline cases or applicants with average applications. 
It is worth looking on TheStudentRoom as they have a list of all Medical school and how they use the UKCAT in their selection processes.

Note that not all medical schools have been listed on here - only the few that I know something about. There are, of course, many other universities which you can apply to. The best thing is to check the university admissions policies on how they use the score as part of their selection procedure.

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