Here’s everything I know about how to prepare for the UCAT. The University Clinical Aptitude Test (UCAT) is a four-part test used by the majority of medical schools in Australia for entrance into undergraduate medicine. For most universities, the UCAT forms one of three key selection criteria for entrance into medicine, those being (1) ATAR, (2) UCAT score, and (3) interview performance.
The UCAT is often considered one of the hardest tests students will take, and in my personal opinion (having done both tests) the UCAT is more difficult than the GAMSAT (used for graduate medicine entrance). While it’s tough, it 100% can be prepared for, and in this article we’ll list the best free and paid options for UCAT preparation.
Below, we’ll explain exactly what the UCAT is, how to prepare effectively while also juggling your other high school commitments, whether preparation courses are worth it, and much more. I sat the UCAT in 2021 and achieved a score in the 91st percentile which scored me an interview at UNSW. Today, we generally recommend aiming for a score in the 90th to 95th percentile.
What is the University Clinical Aptitude Test (UCAT)?
As we said above, the University Clinical Aptitude Test (UCAT) is used by the majority of undergraduate medical school in Australia for entrance into medicine. The UCAT is used alongside an applicant’s ATAR and interview performance for admission into medicine straight from high school.
For some universities, like the University of Queensland, the UCAT is used as a sole selector for interview offers, and it is only after interviews have taken place that applicants’ ATARs and interviews are considered. In many medical schools in Australia, the entry requirements for entry into undergraduate medicine consist of three parts, with these weightings:
- ATAR (25%)
- UCAT (25%)
- Inteview (50%)
What’s The Format & Timings For UCAT?
The UCAT is an online computer-based test with a duration of 120 minutes. In this time, you will have to answer a total of 228 questions, as seen below. For more information, check out the official test timings page on the UCAT website.
- 44 Verbal Reasoning Questions (21 Minutes)
- 29 Decision Making Questions (31 Minutes)
- 36 Quantitative Reasoning Questions (25 Minutes)
- 50 Abstract Reasoning Questions (12 Minutes)
- 69 Situational Judgement Questions (26 Minutes)
How Long Per Question For UCAT?
- Verbal Reasoning: Around 29 Seconds / Question
- Decision Making: Around 1 Minute / Question
- Abstract Reasoning: Around 14 Seconds / Question
- Situational Judgement: Around 22 Seconds / Question
What Are The Five UCAT Sections?
The UCAT consists of five different sections, as seen below. You preparation should be spread across these depending on your confidence with each of the key skills. Situational Judgement is arguably less important to study as much for as most universities don’t consider it unless there is a tie between applicants.
- Verbal Reasoning (Reading & Comprehension)
- Decision Making (Logic & Problem-Solving)
- Quantitative Reasoning (Maths Skills)
- Abstract Reasoning (Pattern Recognition)
- Situational Judgement (Ethical Scenarios)
As we said above, Situational Judgement is not used initially for ranking candidates at most Australian medical schools. Instead, this section is only used if there is a tie between the scores of two or more candidates. Your UCAT score comes from the first four sections.
Do I Need To Prepare For UCAT?
While this is a bit of a contentious question, I am confident that the answer is yes. The UCAT is a test unlike any other that you have done before, and many applicants consider it to be one of the hardest tests they’ve ever taken. The reasons for these are varied, though the major factors that make it so challenging are the unique skills that are tested and the extreme time pressure.
Why Prepare For UCAT? Timings
As we mentioned above, for most of the sections you only have around 15 to 30 seconds per question, and you only have around one minute per question for Decision Making. In my opinion, the time pressure is what makes UCAT so challenging, and this time pressure is exactly what you need to practice.
It’s unlikely that you have sat an exam before that requires such a fast pace, and an extended fast pace as the exam lasts for two hours! So, I would argue that practice is essential to maximise your efficiency and develop techniques that will allow you to progress through the test as quickly as possible. One of the major tips that you’ll hear time and time again (particularly in Verbal Reasoning) is to skip, skip, skip!
Why Prepare For UCAT? Exposure
You will develop tricks like this one as you progress through past papers and practice questions, so it’s important to at least be familiar with the timings and have a level of exposure to the question types. That’s another reason why preparation can be super effective: the question types repeat. Decision Making will have similar logic puzzles, Abstract Reasoning will use similar patterns, and even the style of Verbal Reasoning questions will follow a consistent pattern. The best way to make sure you are familiar with the question types is to practice hundreds to thousands of questions.
Cons of Over-Preparation
While I believe you should prepare for UCAT (and almost all high scorers do) there are a few reasons why, in my opinion, you might want to prioritise your ATAR over your UCAT. Firstly, the UCAT is held in July or August of Year 12 so it can be a major distraction from your ATAR work. Remember, while the UCAT is definitely important, it only forms a third of your application to medicine. It is very important to balance UCAT preparation with Year 12 assignments and study to ensure you maximise your ATAR.
I would argue that your ATAR is more important than your UCAT if you want to get into medicine, mainly because many medical schools don’t use the UCAT for admission. A few examples are Griffith University (99.85 ATAR), the University of Sydney (99.95 ATAR), the University of Melbourne (99.90 ATAR), and James Cook University (95+ ATAR). For this reason, I believe that prioritising your ATAR over UCAT is a wise decision.
Look at it this way – if you completely mess up UCAT, undergraduate medicine is still 100% achievable at these universities; however, if you completely mess up your ATAR, undergraduate medicine is then likely out of the picture for ALL universities (as even the universities that consider UCAT still use ATAR as well).
Of course, the universities mentioned above that don’t consider UCAT do have very high ATAR cutoffs so doing well in the UCAT gives students a great pathway to medicine even if their ATAR isn’t in the very top 0.15%. For example, a student who scores around the 95th percentile for UCAT has a solid chance of admission at the University of Queensland even if they only get an ATAR of 95 because UQ uses an ATAR hurdle system.
- Read More About Every Undergraduate Medicine Pathway (Australia)
- Read More About ATAR Requirements For Medicine (Australia)
How Do I Prepare For UCAT?
Now we’ve established the importance of preparation, how do you prepare? Well, the best possible way to prepare for your UCAT is to practice. As we said above, the skill of answering difficult questions across five different domains in an extremely time-pressured environment is one that you likely haven’t encountered before. As a result, it’s important to practice the types of questions you’ll see on the actual test.
While you may want to revise the basics of probability and basic maths like ratios, rates, unit conversions, and mental arithmetic, the UCAT is largely not a content-based test. That is, you don’t really need to know much more than those topics (not an extensive list) to do well. For instance, you can’t pre-read every possible article you might get in Verbal Reasoning or somehow encounter every possible pattern you might see in Abstract Reasoning.
Instead, the UCAT is a skills-based test which is why the best way to prepare and improve is through practicing questions. Having said that, some companies do offer skills- and strategy-based workshops which teach how to approach the questions you’ll see. A good example is MedEntry (more below).
Free UCAT Preparation Questions
There are many websites you can find that have UCAT practice questions and question banks, but the best free resource by far is the official UCAT practice tests and question banks. At the end of the day, the official questions are the absolute best resource you can possibly use to prepare for the test as they’re made by UCAT themselves and most closely resemble the real thing!
🧑⚖️ Official Free UCAT Preparation Questions (Best Resource)
🖋️ Unofficial Free UCAT Preparation Questions
Having said that, I would advise not to immediately jump into the official questions if you plan on using other resources as well. In my own experience, I found it beneficial to leave the official past papers and practice questions until a few weeks or days before my UCAT to make sure the official material and format was solid and fresh for the real thing.
If you’re not planning on using other resources, then it’s less important to leave the official questions, though I would still recommend doing the official question banks first and only then moving on to the timed past papers so you have exposure and practice in a stress-free environment first. It is 100% crucial to practice timed though, because as we said above the time pressure is arguably the hardest part of the UCAT and you definitely want to practice it!
Paid UCAT Preparation Questions
There are two main options for paid UCAT preparation questions, and both companies have a great reputation in both Australian and the UK. While there are many other paid companies out there, the two that we’ll list below are the only two that I’m comfortable recommending. I personally used Medify on a paid basis and I used MedEntry’s free resources.
Medify: Medify is the most popular UCAT preparation company. In fact, the platform is used by 1 in 2 students in Australian and the UK. Medify gives students access to thousands (20,000+) of practice questions, 24 full-length mock exams, 40 mini mock exams, and video tutorials. I used the paid version of Medify myself and I don’t believe I would have scored in the 91st percentile without it.
MedEntry: MedEntry is another popular choice for students to prepare for the UCAT. I used free resources from MedEntry and many of my friends paid for the full subscription. While I don’t have personal experience with them, they consistently get great reviews from students and parents, and are very popular in Australia specifically. They offer workshops and useful strategies for UCAT success.
Are UCAT Preparation Companies Worth It?
There are many preparation companies that offer UCAT preparation and practice. I don’t recommend preparation companies for MMI interviews (read more), but I do for UCAT. From my personal experience, I don’t think I would have done nearly as well in my UCAT if not for Medify. I used my subscription to practice thousands of questions and complete more than 10 full mock exams prior to my test. This greatly helped with exposure and time-management, the two main criteria we practiced above. I also think that MedEntry’s workshops and preparation program is also a valuable resource.
However, I don’t think you absolutely need to use preparation companies. The UCAT itself reiterates that preparation companies can often miss the mark in terms of replicating the exact types of questions you’ll see on the real test. UCAT also warns that practicing the wrong types of questions can actually detract from your performance and give you a false idea of what to expect. That’s why I 100% believe that the official practice questions and past papers are the best resource as they’re made by UCAT themselves and most closely resemble the real test.
While I did find Medify helpful, the official UCAT questions are always going to be the most useful for preparation as they’re made by UCAT themselves and most closely resemble the real test. So, to summarise, I think that question banks can be very useful, but you have to be careful and remember that no paid third-party resource can ever perfectly replicate the UCAT exactly.
UCAT Preparation Conclusion
Preparing for a the University Clinical Aptitude Test (UCAT) in Australia is a monumental task, especially considering it falls in the middle of an already hectic Year 12 year. It’s important to remember that UCAT only makes up one part of admission to undergraduate medicine for many universities, and some universities don’t require UCAT at all!
- Read Our Discussion On The Best Medical Schools In Australia
- Read Our Article On What UCAT Is Required For Medicine
- Read About ATAR Cutoffs For Medical School (Australia)
So, while it can be a stressful exam, remember that your ATAR is arguably more important, and you can still get into medicine with your ATAR even if you don’t perform as well as you would like on the UCAT. It’s super important not to get disheartened. If you are disappointed with your score but you then refocus on your ATAR for the rest of the year you can still get into undergraduate medicine. Also remember that postgraduate medicine is a 100% viable alternative.
Regardless of whether you want to use paid question banks or stick to the free ones, the most important thing to remember for UCAT preparation is practice, practice, practice. All the best with your studies!