Why do universities need UCAT scores? Isn’t my ATAR enough?

Why do universities need UCAT scores? Isn’t my ATAR enough?

2 years ago by Rob

Good university admissions officers will use your UCAT scores to help them assess your readiness to do tough medical school work. Although the UCAT does not assess broad subject knowledge, it provides a universal benchmark that your high school transcript can’t. It assesses skills that are essential to succeed in a competitive Australian medical school: problem solving, data interpretation, logical reasoning, critical thinking and abstract analysis.

Universities need the UCAT because school grades are, unfortunately, far from objective measures of your academic ability. Teachers rarely give out grades consistently and without bias. We all know that every school has easy graders and hard graders. Also, many teachers occasionally inflate or deflate grades for reasons unrelated to intellectual ability, like “effort” or personal preference. Even when objective standards are used, they vary widely from teacher to teacher; school to school and even state to state. For example it is easier to obtain 99.95 in South Australia than in NSW. If you doubt this, just check out the performance of students from various states in national assessments such as UCAT, ICAS competitions, Maths competitions etc.

Some achievement tests may be more objective, but they are designed to assess subject knowledge, which can be easily forgotten, rather than basic reasoning skills, which determine broader academic ability. Subject knowledge is effective only when it is incorporated into a meaningful and robust way of solving problems. Further, knowledge is freely available these days by ‘googling’. The UCAT, although not perfect, does a good job of measuring how well you reason under pressure, an important academic and life skill.

Further, the final year school scores, also called ATAR (Australian Tertiary Admission Rank) scores between states may not be comparable. For example, an ATAR of 99.15 in South Australia may not mean the same in NSW (with a same ATAR), in terms of students ability to think and motivation. A nationwide test such as UCAT standardises the score across the country and therefore fairer.

Before UCAT was introduced, medical entrance was purely based on Year12 scores and the equivalent ATAR score required was 99.7. Because of the use of UCAT, the cut-off ATAR has dropped to 90 (at Monash and Adelaide) and even lower for rural students. We don’t believe students would prefer to go back to the pre-UCAT days of 99.7 ATAR cut-off for medical entrance!

The rationale behind UCAT is also discussed in MedEntry UCAT prep workshops.

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