UCAT Countdown: Musings from an experienced tutor
2 years ago by Rob
This impending UCAT test day is without a doubt one of the most terrifying – yet unusual days of the year. Throughout the past seven years, I have uttered the phrase “The UCAT is a game” innumerous times, and now, on the brink of becoming an actual doctor (finally!) and exiting the world of UCAT, I thought I’d pass on my suggestions for this game.
Suggestion 1: Your mood is your top priority.
The UCAT is designed in such a way that your mood greatly impacts your performance. Why? Because it’s an exam of emotions, of empathy and of understanding. Feeling stressed/anxious/overwhelmed will ultimately lead to less clarity of thought and transference of your emotions onto the characters at play in SJT. So, do a happy dance in the morning. Play some baby animal clips off YouTube during breakfast. Have a few funny memories to pull into your conscience throughout the exam. Trust me, it makes the UCAT all much more digestible.
Suggestion 2: Finish the exam, no matter what.
There are 233 questions in the UCAT, and it is possible that the last few questions will be the easiest. In the hospital, we “triage” patients. That is, we see every patient, but time and energy is distributed as per the patient. How does this apply to the UCAT? I suggest getting to half the questions in half the time to keep on track. You are much better off guessing (not skipping: making an educated guess) the questions you find difficult in order to make it to the end on time, and then if there is spare time, coming back to those difficult questions later. If you’re going to get 5+ questions wrong regardless, it may as well be the questions you find tricky in the first place!
Suggestion 3: Take care when clicking on the answer choice chosen.
Mistakes have been made by not taking care.
Suggestion 4: Take a bathroom break, if busting.
This is always my most contentious rule. Here’s my rationale:
If you need the toilet and you don’t go, you’ll be very distracted,
Physically walking to the toilet and stretching whilst there increases blood flow and oxygen to your brain, ultimately leading to greater concentration and performance
In total, that 2 minute break will make you feel refreshed for the rest of the exam
Also, I often tell students to scull a bottle of water the moment they wake up, and stop drinking much after this point. This way, you’ll need the bathroom before the UCAT starts and any bathroom break during the exam will be ultimately more of a stretch break.
Suggestion 5: Breakfast = low GI, low sugar.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll struggle without a snack during the exam. Often, the exam maybe delayed, and the tummy rumbling is audible. Eat a big breakfast of low GI foods (think porridge/Weetbix instead of coco pops, or wholegrain bread instead of white). Eat a muesli bar or banana before heading in to the booth.
Suggestion 6: The night before: switch off your brain.
You can’t cram for the UCAT, so it’s not even worth trying. Enjoy a romcom or funny TV show and have an early night. Prepare everything you need in a Ziploc bag so you’ll feel ready to go the next morning.
Suggestion 7: Guessing can be an art form.
Almost everyone will have to guess at least a few questions in the exam. It’s the reality of the UCAT, and nothing to be ashamed of. However, usually you don’t need to blindly guess.
Some tips for guessing include:
- choose answers that include words such as “may” or “seems to” rather than more definitive words such as “must” or “will”. Choose answers that also make sense in real life (i.e. are logical in general), and choose answers that stay in the scope of the excerpt (17% of daily smokers in a study is not the same as saying 17% of Australians smoke).
- choose the answer that makes you look like a good person who is empathetic and non-judgmental i.e. don’t be too harsh. In doctor/patient interactions, assume the doctor is subpar (until proven otherwise).
- Abstract Reasoning construct: choose the answer with the most overlap. So, if a, c, d all have a circle in the top right corner, and c, d, e all have a star and b, d, e all have a smiley face = pick ‘d’. It’s a good start.
Suggestion 8: Enjoy the process and just keep swimming!
My most poignant memory of my UCAT was at one point, sitting back and having a laugh at the absurdity of the situation. Allow yourself to simply enjoy how intense the exam is and how odd the questions are and even if you think it’s going badly – it probably isn’t. Just keep swimming, and enjoy the fact that its almost over!
Good luck, and enjoy the freedom on the night!