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The UCAT Broken Down

The UCAT is an aptitude test used by every dental school (and most medical schools) in the UK as part of the application process. It consists of five sections: verbal reasoning, decision making, abstract reasoning, quantitative reasoning and situational judgement.

How long should you practice for?

Most applicants tend to practice for around 3 weeks before the test. However, this depends on you and your circumstances. The style of the UCAT questions are likely to be unfamiliar and not like anything you have experienced before, and so definitely needs some time to get used to. You’ll find that you’ll learn tips and tricks along the way to save you time, and you’ll develop your own methods for tackling the problems. Consistent practice (ideally everyday) is the most effective way of turning these methods into second nature and making progress. What you don’t want to do, is leave out practice for so many days that when you come back, you’ve forgotten how to tackle the questions and have to start again from square one.

However, in the case that you won’t be able to practice as regularly, don’t worry! Just factor this in when you come to book your test, and allow yourself more time to practice, eg. 3-4 weeks.

When should you book your test?

In 2020, the UCAT is being held from the start of August to the start of October. I personally booked my test for the very end of August, which gave me plenty of time to practice, and meant that I could get my work experience out of the way first.

General advice

  1. TIMING IS KEY- you want to develop as many tricks as possible to save yourself time with each section

  2. Whatever you do, DO NOT LEAVE ANYTHING BLANK. It’s completely normal to have to guess some questions, but remember, leaving out a question will guarantee you zero marks.

Advice for each section

Verbal reasoning

Know from the beginning that it’s impossible to read every text start to finish. The good news is, you’re not meant to! This section tests your ability to skim read the text and pick out only the information you need under time pressure. With practice, you’ll develop tactics to help you out with this, eg. Reading the questions and/or options before reading the text, so you know what to look out for.

Abstract reasoning

Abstract reasoning cam be very daunting and overwhelming at first. Don’t be disheartened if you can’t deduce any patterns when you first start practicing. Luckily, this is one of the sections that you’ll probably see the most progress in with practice. Have in your head a checklist of common patterns that come up, such as:

  • Clockwise or anticlockwise rotations

  • Colour, shading and pattern of shapes

  • Angles

  • Position in the box (top, middle, bottom, left, centre, right)

  • Direction the arrows are pointing to

  • Is the shape touching the edge of the box?

  • Number of line intersections

Decision making

Hard to give advice for this one, but if it’s any consolation, it’s probably the most fun to practice for!

Quantitative reasoning

On the whole, the maths itself isn’t too difficult, it just requires a strong grasp of the basics such as percentages, fractions, calculating speed etc. Make sure you fully understand these and have no problem working them out.

My most important advice: Practice using the onscreen calculator!!! While it's okay to use a phone or handheld calculator when you are practicing, this is not how the real test will be. It’s important to get familiar with the onscreen calculator. You can either use it by (a) using your computer mouse to click onscreen (VERY impractical and time consuming), or (b) by using a number pad on the right side of the keyboard. Getting familiar with this will save you a lot of time. Make use of desktop computers at college and sixth form for a little bit of practice with this.

Situational judgement

This section is largely based on common sense. Try not to overthink the scenarios and go with your gut feeling if you’re stuck between two options.

The most important values to remember are:

  • Honesty - don’t shy away from reporting people and whistleblowing where you have to, and always tell the truth if something has gone wrong. If you do have to report someone, make sure you let them know that you’re going to report them.

  • Protecting confidentiality at all times- don’t disclose anybody’s personal information, or any information that could identify someone.

  • Maintaining appropriate relationships with patients


There are lots of websites which offer free practice papers or have a number of free questions you can try

Words by Sarah Mehanna (Dental Student at UoB)

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