I truly believe that failure is an opportunity to learn and better oneself, this is how my UKCAT study guide came to be. I took the UKCAT three times before finally achieving one of the highest scores on my third attempt. A year and a half later my study guide is being used by 1-in-7 candidates to prepare for the exam…
In this article I want to share my story on how I scored 2840 in the UKCAT and hopefully help you avoid making some of the most common mistakes made by candidates when preparing for the UKCAT. In hindsight, I made so many mistakes without realising at the time, it is actually no surprise I achieved a mediocre score when I took the test the first and second time.
First & Second Attempts (2009 & 2010)
‘King’s College, University of London – unsuccessful’. There it was. My UCAS homepage was relentless in its confirmation that, as of February 2010, I received rejections from all four medical schools I applied to. I sat at the desk in my bedroom in a weird semi-conscious state thinking it was the end of the world. Later, wandered online trying to consider alternative options, I remember I was so utterly dispirited that I was unable to bring myself to share the news with my family. So what now? I had applied the previous October with confidence that I would get at least one offer. I had straight “A” predictions for my A-levels
(Chemistry, Physics and Maths) and amazing work experience at my local hospital to support my application. I had accumulated 5 months work experience as a volunteer in the Diabetes Clinic at Darrent Valley Hospital in Dartford, I was well briefed on NHS current affairs and been given so much valuable guidance from healthcare professions and medical students. Yet, I had failed to convert all the support into a single offer! I despaired at the thought of going through the long application process again. But worst of all was the fear gnawing away at me: that I would never be a doctor! After a few days of pathetic wallowing, I decided to put it behind me. My ambition did not change, final A-level exams were fast approaching so I had to refocus quickly if I was going to give myself a fighting chance of reapplying. The shock of rejection had not depleted my motivation to work as I was desperate to prove the universities wrong by achieving my predicted grades. It took a lot of hard work and determination but I did it! I achieved 3 A’s in Physics, Chemistry and Maths, and decided I was going to take a gap year and reapply.
Once my A-levels were out of the way, I felt free to explore why I Once my A-levels were out of the way, I felt free to explore why I had failed to secure a place. I called all my choices and learned that I was rejected at application review due to my below the par score in the UK Clinical Aptitude Test (UKCAT). I later discovered that the year I first applied there were over 80,000 applications for medicine, that’s one place for every 10 applicants! To fall at just one hurdle meant immediate rejection. I realised that I was so naive to have been so confident of an offer. While my application was strong in some parts I had let myself down with my UKCAT score. I was so determined to beat the odds so I practised harder for the exam the second time. Before my second crack at the UKCAT I signed up for a two-day UKCAT course (cost £250) in London and spent about 6 weeks practising questions. Finally, the fate-deciding two hours in front of a computer screen came around and surprisingly it was not as terrifying as the previous year. I did score a higher average of 640 but I was a little bit disappointed, it was not as high as I was hoping. However, I still applied, hoping my A-level grades and proven commitment would tilt things in my favour, but unfortunately I was still rejected by all my choices! What now? In all honesty, I gave up. I decided to study Pharmacology at the University of Manchester,
Mistakes I Made Preparing For UKCAT
- Didn’t Identify Weakness Early – Looking back I remember just buying the 3 top UKCAT books listed on Amazon and started practising questions. I didn’t spend enough time first identifying which part of the exam i needed to work on the most. You have a better chance of significantly boosting your score focusing most of your time on your weakest section.
- Read UKCAT Books Cover to Cover – I think I had a month to prepare for the exam when I first took the test. I remember reading the Get Into Medical School practice book cover to cover, in hindsight this was a waste of time. A better strategy would be referring to parts of the book that covered specific information I needed. I was naturally good at abstract reasoning, identifying patterns came naturally to me so going through the entire abstract chapter page to page was a waste of time, I could have used that time to focus on verbal reasoning which was my weakest section.
- No Strategy behind Preparation – Like most candidates I practised questions and reviewed answer rationales. That was it! I didn’t take the time to really structure my preparations and identify key elements or question-types I needed to work on.
- Didn’t assess progress effectively – I thought the best way to assess my progress would be by attempting mock exams under exam conditions, which is a good approach but the problem I didn’t do it effectively as I had no comparison data. I had no clue how my score compared to past candidates or those taking the exam the same year!
- Fed into my Ego – I found myself doing more abstract reasoning practice questions because I was good at it and avoiding verbal questions, which was my weakest.
- Didn’t set a target score – I didn’t set a target, so there was no way to really assess my progress and know when I was ready to take the real test.
- Preparation wasn’t comprehensive enough – This is a common mistake I believe candidates make as well. For instance, I knew the verbal reasoning section was my weakest section but instead of looking deeply into the type of questions I struggled on or what verbal skill in needed to develop (e.g time management or comprehension) I found myself just practising more questions?!
Third Attempt (2015)
Pharmacology was great! I enjoyed learning about medications, their chemical properties, biological effects and therapeutic uses. However, there was a lot crossover with Medicine and I had to take a few lectures in the medical building – this rekindled my desire to study Medicine and in my final year, I decided to apply to graduate-entry medicine. This would be my third time applying! I must admit studying Pharmacology developed my analytical mindset which I used to create an entire study plan to prepare for the UKCAT. In previous attempts at the exam, I typically buy a book and practice questions and learn from answer rationales. I soon realised that attempting questions does help but only familiarised me with the exam, it didn’t actually improve my score by much. My goal this time was to increase my reasoning skill in the most efficient way possible. Here are 10 things I did to on my third attempt to achieve one of the highest UKCAT scores in 2015:
1. Set A Target Score
I set myself a goal, it was the minimum UKCAT score needed to be invited for an interview. After researching all my choices I strived to achieve an average score of 700 in each section and a minimum of 650. This was the standard I set myself during my preparation. If I achieved below 650 in a mock exam, I would consider it a fail. My entire preparation was based on beating this mark.
2. Identify Weakness ASAP
Before buying any practice book or enlisting on any course,I took the time to identify which sections of the UKCAT I found difficult. I realised the most reliable way to figure this out is by attempting the official practice tests on the UKCAT website, it is updated each year to reflect the same level of difficulty candidates can expect in the exam then spent a majority of my preparation time learning and adopting new strategies to improve my score in my weakest section.
3. Prioritise Smartly
I stopped feeding my ego and spent most of your preparation improving my verbal score. I spent about 45% of my preparation time practising verbal questions and about 10% of my time practising my strongest section, which was the abstract section.
4. Practice Question-types not just Sections
I took the time to understand which type of question in each subtest I struggled with the most. For instance, in the Abstract reasoning section there are four types of questions that examiners include, I find one type of question relatively more difficult than the others. So worked practising that one question-type instead of the entire abstract section.
5. Evaluate Progress
I evaluated my progress throughout the duration of my preparation by attempting a mock exam every week until my big day. After each exam I compared my results with the previous tests to identify areas of improvement and ensureI’m working effectively to boost weakest skills. I remember before I took the exam I did a total of 5 mock exams before my big day. I noticed by the end of week 3 I had significantly improved my verbal reasoning score but my quantitative score hadn’t improved much. So I spent a majority of the remaining weeks working on my quantitative skills.
6. Learn Exam Strategies To Boost Reasoning Skills
It is virtually impossible to significantly improve your cognitive skills in a short amount of time. For example, if you are a slow reader, you won’t be able to increase your reading speed in 2 weeks or a month. However, you can learn exam strategies and tactics to improve your ability to read and comprehend information presented in the verbal section. I’m really slow at working out maths in my head, but I learned a few mental maths tricks to combat this problem so I can save time in the quantitative section.
7. Practice with an Online Course
The UKCAT is a computer-based test, you need to practice questions under the same exam conditions as the real test. I Picked an online course to attempt UKCAT pratice tests, this allowed me familiarize myself with the onscreen format of the exam. The best online courses contain answer items at the same equivalent standard as UKCAT and allow you review your responses against answer rationales. Online courses are also a great way to hone your exam strategies and techniques. There are loads of companies offering online courses so be sure to read reviews and customer feedback before choosing one.
8. Improve skill don’t Just Practice
Practising questions only increase your familiarity with the exam. I took the time to identify which elements or skills I struggled with and worked on improving it. I’m a naturally slow reader, in order to combat this I spent a month before the test reading everything online with speed reading tool called Spreeder and adopting exam strategies to comprehend information in the verbal section quicker.
9. Do A Mock Exam Every Week
There is no other better way to assess myself than attempting mock exams. I treated them like the real test. Did an entire 2-hour test with no breaks and no distractions on a weekly basis. I recommend attempting mocks on an online course to mimic the testing environment.
The combination of applying and sitting the UKCAT was stressful but I worked on my nerves and worked on staying calm during my preparation – not only did I feel better, but also performed better.