University entrance exams: UKCAT 101

If you have a student who is looking to apply for a Medicine or Dentistry degree, they may need to take the UKCAT exam. In this article, we’ll explain what the exam is and how you can help your students to ace it!

What is the UKCAT?

The UK Clinical Aptitude Test (UKCAT) is a two-hour computer-based test. It is part of the selection process for Medicine and Dentistry at certain UK universities. It is made up of five subtests which are designed to assess a range of mental abilities identified as important for new doctors and dentists. Each subtest contains a number of items in a multiple-choice format.

You can find out if your student will need to take the UKCAT here, and students can register for the UKCAT here. If you are entitled to additional time due to a medical condition or disability, students should sit the UKCATSEN instead of the standard UKCAT.

The UKCAT consists of five subtests:

Verbal reasoning

Here, students’ ability to critically evaluate information presented in a written form is assessed. Students will be presented with 11 passages of text (which they will need to read carefully), each associated with 4 items (questions). They will have 21 minutes to answer the items in this subtest.

Some items comprise a stem, which might be an incomplete statement or a question, with 4 response options. Students are required to pick the best or most suitable response.

“The speed at which you have to scan the passages for key information is so fast that it is useful to practise exam-style questions and then examine how you came to correct and incorrect conclusions”

Other items require students to read the passage and then decide whether the statement provided follows logically. They can answer that the statement is true (on the basis of the information in the passage, the statement is true) or false (on the basis of the information in the passage, the statement is false), or say that they can’t tell (they can’t tell from the information in the passage whether the statement is true or false).

“The speed at which you have to scan the passages for key information is so fast that it is useful to practise exam-style questions and then examine how you came to correct and incorrect conclusions – you are likely to find that you’re making the same errors of reasoning repeatedly, and that you can correct them! Remember that you are unlikely to be familiar with the content of the text shown to you. Do not draw on existing knowledge as this will not be relevant.”Frederick H, Graduate Entry Medicine at Oxford University

Decision making

Here, students’ ability to use complex information to come to a logical conclusion is assessed. 29 items (questions) are presented that may refer to text, charts, tables, graphs or diagrams. All questions are standalone and do not share data. Some questions have 4 answer options but only 1 correct answer; others require the student to respond to 5 statements by placing a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer next to each statement. Students will have 31 minutes to answer the items in this subtest.

Timing is important in this subset; advise students that if they are struggling with a question, they should make their best guess and move on

Timing is important in this subset; advise students that if they are struggling with a question, they should make their best guess and move on. No points are deducted for wrong answers, so students should avoid leaving blanks where possible.

Quantitative reasoning

Here, students’ ability to critically evaluate information presented in a numerical form is assessed. They are required to solve problems by extracting relevant information from tables and other numerical presentations. 36 items (questions) associated with tables, charts, and/or graphs are presented, and for each item, there are 5 answer options to choose from. Students will have 24 minutes to answer the items in this subtest.

If your student has not studied Maths beyond GCSE level, or recently, encourage them to take the time to revisit and practice their maths skills.

If your student has not studied Maths beyond GCSE level, or recently, encourage them to take the time to revisit and practice their maths skills. They may need to work out percentages, averages, ratios and fractions, and practice their mental arithmetic to speed up their answering.

Abstract reasoning

Here, students’ use of convergent and divergent thinking to infer relationships from information is assessed. They will be presented with 55 items (questions) associated with sets of shapes. You will see 4 different item types in this subtest:

  • For type 1, you are presented with 2 sets of shapes labelled ‘Set A’ and ‘Set B’. You are given a test shape and asked to decide whether the test shape belongs to Set A, Set B, or neither.
  • For type 2, you are presented with a series of shapes. You are asked to select the next shape in the series.
  • For type 3, you are presented with a statement, involving a group of shapes. You are asked to determine which shape completes the statement.
  • For type 4, you are presented with 2 sets of shapes labelled ‘Set A’ and ‘Set B’. You are asked to select which of the 4 response options belongs to Set A or Set B.

Students will have 13 minutes to answer the items in this subtest.

“Consider issues around size and shape of objects, number of objects, sides of objects, shading and colour, symmetry, number of angles, position and direction … this sounds complicated but as you look at these shapes you will start to grasp what you need to focus on. Do things in the same order every time. No matter what. The mnemonic SCANS (shape, colour, arrangement, number, size) might help you remember what you need to look for!” – Rebecca D, Medicine at Sheffield University

Situational Judgement

Here, students’ capacity to understand and deal with real world situations is assessed. The test is designed to test their integrity, team involvement, resilience and adaptability. The test is made up of a series of scenarios with possible actions and considerations. Students are presented with 68 items associated with 21 scenarios. The test consists of two sets of questions. For the first set, they will be asked to rate the appropriateness of a series of options in response to the scenario. For the second set, they are asked to rate the importance of a series of options in response to the scenario. They will have 26 minutes to answer the items in this subtest.

The situational judgement test is designed to test their integrity, team involvement, resilience and adaptability. The test is made up of a series of scenarios with possible actions and considerations.

“In the Situational Judgement test, you are asked to make decisions about situations where there are conflicting ethical, practical, and professional factors at play. Some advantage may be gained here by learning some of the principles of medical ethics and good medical practice.”– Frederick H, Graduate Entry Medicine at Oxford University

How can students prepare for the UKCAT?

The UKCAT doesn’t contain any curriculum or science content, so students can’t ‘revise’ for it. However, that doesn’t mean they can’t prepare – it’s important that they get used to the style of the test. Encourage students to have a look at the Practice Questions on the UKCAT website, to get a sense of the kinds of questions they can expect to be asked.

The Question Tutorial can be used to learn how to approach the kinds of questions asked in each subtest, and the Tour Tutorial is great for getting used to the test format, learning how to move around the screen and through the test, learning how to use the calculator provided. Students can also do the Practice Tests on the UKCAT website to get a real sense of what the test will be like. It’s important for students to get used to working under test conditions, and to develop strategies for each subtest to help them get through each subtest in time.

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