In this article, you'll learn about the UCAT (previously UKCAT) admissions test that you need to take to get into UK medical schools.
The University Clinical Aptitude Test (UCAT) is an admissions test used by a consortium of UK Universities for their medical and dental degree programmes.
It was introduced in 2006 and after conducting concurrent validity studies, a number of medical schools adopted the test. Currently 30 out of the 41 medical schools in the UK use UCAT in their selection process. Others use either BMAT or GAMSAT (for graduate entry medicine). It is believed that UCAT helps universities to select applicants with appropriate aptitude for medicine and is used in conjunction with other admissions criteria (academic qualifications and interview score).
The UCAT is a two-hour computer-based test of cognitive abilities delivered in Pearson VUE test centres throughout the UK and internationally. Unless the country of origin doesn’t have testing centres (geographical exemption), every applicant must sit the test in the year they apply and the results cannot be carried over from one year to the next.
To sit the test you must register and book a suitable date for the exam – registration opens early May, testing takes place over the summer and the results are released to universities early November, just in time to help decide whether to invite applicants to interview or not.
Medical schools use the test results differently: some apply a threshold method whereby those who score highly will be invited to interview; the threshold is subject to change every year, depending on overall performance of the test takers in that cycle. Other schools may use the test results for ranking two equally good candidates in order to decide whom to offer a place. It is important you research the schools you are applying to and tailor your application to their criteria. Medical schools are required to have transparent admissions policy and display all the information about their admissions process on the university webpage.
The good thing is that if you are unsuccessful, UCAT can be re-taken the following year and according to multiple sources (medentry, themedicportal), the chances of success increase with practice and all the challenging aspects of the test become easier. It is advisable to start preparing early – on average people spend anything between 30 to 50 hours practising and often use free resources on the UCAT website. Tour Tutorial shows you how to effectively navigate a test and Question Tutorial gives you information about each sub-section of the test.
Other sources of advice are 1250 UKCAT Practice Questions (available on Amazon, £14.99), Medify (£35 for two weeks subscription), or various commercial courses (Kaplan, Medic Mind, 6Med, theMSAG). Geeky Medics, an online medical education platform founded and maintained by trainee doctors runs various workshops and Q&A sessions for free covering almost everything from admissions to working in medicine. An App is available for Android and iPhone devices and is a useful source of information. It is a good idea to practice the test in timed conditions with no distractions to mimic the real test.
Because you are under time pressure during the test, it is easy to make mistakes. Also, occasionally some disturbances do occur in the test centres; it is important you speak to personnel at the centre – they will take a note of the incident and feedback this to the schools you have applied to. The schools in question will then review the annotations and consider how to respond.
What if you miss the test?
If you feel unwell it is best to reschedule the test, as presenting yourself to take the test implies you are declaring yourself fit to take it. This is especially important during the current pandemic – if you miss the test, because of significant adverse circumstances, you must contact medical schools directly to see if your application will still be considered. Medical schools all have different approach, consistent with their admissions policy and usually make own decisions on a case by case basis.
This year candidates will have the choice to sit the test at home using Pearson VUE’s online proctoring service (OnVUE) or at their nearest Pearson VUE Test Centre. There is no difference between the test sat at home and the one sat in test centres, so you must think carefully about where you think you will perform best and read detailed Candidate Guides for each available option published by UCAT.
Of the four cognitive sections of the test (Verbal reasoning, Decision making, Quantitative reasoning and Abstract reasoning), people generally find Abstract Reasoning the hardest. There is a relatively good evidence that the Verbal Reasoning sub-test of the UKCAT correlates well with some assessment outcomes on the MBChB course (McManus et al., 2013).
The fifth component, the Situational Judgement Test uses scenarios to test your professionalism and ability to understand real world situations and show appropriate behaviour when making decisions. The scenarios are all based on ethical dilemmas but not necessarily in clinical setting; the raw scores assigned for this component are converted into bands – Band 1 is the highest and Band 4 is the lowest. Some medical schools do not accept candidates who were assigned to Band 4 (approximately 10% of the test takers), while others give higher weighting to those in Band 1.
The trick in answering the SJT questions correctly is concentrating what each question is asking: some will ask you to assess how appropriate the suggested actions in the scenario are and you are expected to choose from a ‘very appropriate’ to a ‘very inappropriate’ answers, while others will ask you to consider how important are the factors for the character in the scenario to adequately respond to a situation. The answer options here will range between ‘very important’ to ‘not so important’ and in order to answer these, one must read the GMC’s Guidelines on Good Medical Practice.
In Glasgow we apply the threshold method and invite those in top 20-30% UCAT scorers to interview. At the interview stage all applicants are on level playing field and only their performance in interview determines whether they will secure a place.
It must be noted that we apply contextual admissions for applicants from non-traditional backgrounds. Those from target postcodes and target schools the university works with or those who are care-experienced, will have an extra 10% added to their UCAT scores. This is designed to make up for the disadvantage the pupils have experienced and aims to provide opportunity to all in order to ensure inclusive and equitable workforce for future.
© University of Glasgow 2020