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Study with me! My UCAT preparation journey
Regarded by many as one of the most daunting hurdles to overcome, the UCAT can be a scary thought to all aspiring medical and dental students. The University Clinical Aptitude Test is dissimilar to the majority, if not all, of the tests previously taken by each individual. This can leave many applicants overwhelmed and confused as to where to start - however, I devised a method that clearly split my preparation into four steps - making the whole process seem much more manageable.
Initially I researched online to see how other people had approached their UCAT preparation, and then during my university visits I asked dental students for advice. Some people liked to work independently from books and others used online resources. The overall message from everyone was not to leave it late to sit the UCAT test but to get it out of the way in August. From the conversations I had and online support, I decided that I would use a combination of books, a course and online materials.
The Kaplan website gave me access to a variety of questions which proved a useful starting point in familiarising myself with the five sections and official format of the test. Some sections proved trickier than others so I decided to target the weaker areas first, which nicely moved me on to the next step.
There are many books available, but after reading the reviews I went for ‘Score Higher on the UCAT: 1500 Questions’ book by Kaplan. The book is very comprehensive and provides a full revision plan. There is a diagnostic test which really helps you to understand your strengths, and weaknesses before you start. The book then goes through each of the sections with tips and advice on how to approach the questions and increase your score. After working through the preparatory chapters you then progress to a full UCAT mock test. There is also advice about how to prepare for test day and dealing with learning difficulties. The book also provides online links which I will cover later.
Although I work well independently, there are always benefits from hearing other perspectives and professional advice. The two-day Kaplan UCAT course I attended in Leeds was highly beneficial. Upon arrival we were given a UCAT Strategy Book by the course instructor (fifth year Medical student at Oxford). The course ran from 10:30am to 5pm and was very intense. The first day was spent working through questions from each section and learning the recommended approach. The second day was more about consolidating the previous session with emphasis on the more challenging questions.
If you decide to attend a course then I would book early to give you the maximum choice of location and dates. My course was in early August and this helped me decide to book my actual UCAT test roughly two weeks after, and I liked having a deadline to work towards for maximum motivation. Upon reflection, the only thing I might have changed is taking the test earlier on in the summer to minimise my stress levels during the holiday.
As mentioned earlier, my first taste of the UCAT was using the Kaplan website and jumping in with some trial questions. This included trying some questions with family members and friends also interested in medicine/dentistry. Previously in the earlier months I used any free time I could find, as it only takes 5 minutes to try out a question. End-of-year exams then took priority and it was only at the beginning of the summer holidays that I managed to pick up the pace.
The week before I attended the UCAT course, I immersed myself in the material and spent about 5 hours a day working through questions in the book. After the course, I reassessed my approach and decided to work on timing and technique. Before taking the final test, I intend to go through areas identified on the course to ensure maximum marks for each section. After this I will complete all the available UCAT mock tests online as final preparation.
My scores so far
My first UCAT score was 2650 (550 for verbal reasoning, 630 for decision making, 700 for quantitative reasoning, 770 for abstract reasoning and band 2 for situational judgement) and now I am achieving a score of 3000 overall and between band 1 and 2 for situational judgement. All I need to do now is to prepare for the test day at the end of August and remember all of the techniques developed along the journey.