If you’ve clicked on this you are thinking about taking the UKCAT exam soon and are wondering where to start with prepping for it. I sat the exam in the summer of ’16 and in this blog post I’ll be sharing my advice on how to best prepare for it. I fully appreciate how stressful it can be trying to prep for the UKCAT, especially because the pressure is most certainly on as it’s one of the first hurdles to overcome on that looong road to medical school!
Testing begins on the 2nd of July 2018 and finishes on the 2nd of October, with a higher test fee for later dates. It’s important to book as soon as possible (if you haven’t done so already) so that you can pick and choose when and more importantly where you do your test – if you leave it too late you might have to travel quite far out which is not exactly what you want to be worrying about on test day!
My biggest piece of advice regarding when to book your test would be to do it BEFORE YEAR 13 STARTS….second year of a-level (and this is probably also relevant to IB too, if that’s what you’re doing) is extremely intense and you want to be focussed from the get go – if you leave your UKCAT till after the summer holidays, you’ll inevitably have to focus on that rather than your a-level studies, which is not ideal.
It’s important to get the balance right though – pick a date before college/sixth form resumes, but also give yourself enough time to prepare thoroughly before hand. If I remember rightly, I did my test on the 1st September which was a week an a bit before year 13 started again for me.
So my key take away message: Book early AND make sure you take the test BEFORE college/sixth form starts again for year 13.
This will vary from person to person, and will also vary depending on how much time you’re willing to put in each day. For me, about 1-2 hours each day for about 3 weeks (give or take a few days) was enough to fully prepare.
Be aware though, although it is generally said that you can’t exactly revise for the UKCAT, you can definitely improve your technique, and that won’t happen overnight, so make sure you’ve given yourself sufficient time to be able to do so.
As you probably know, there are a whole host of organisations out there offering courses and question banks and and so forth for aspiring medics looking to ace the UKCAT. I’ve actually tried a few, so I can offer some honest thoughts and recommendations.
So, first off, I went through the Kaplan online course – Kaplan is a name that you hear a lot when preparing for the UKCAT, so I was expecting big things. Unfortunately, I did not find it great and would go as far as to say it was a bit of a waste of money. The sound and video quality were not what I would except of an established company like Kaplan, but who knows, maybe their actual non-online course is better…I didn’t attend that so I can’t really comment. It has been 2 years since I used their resource so maybe (hopefully) they’ve upgraded the quality of their videos!
I tried another online course, but this time by The Medic Portal. This was much better in terms of content and video quality and like the Kaplan one, you also get access to an question bank that you can practice with. I would say, if you’re looking for an actual course where you can learn techniques then go for The Medic Portal’s one. The Medic Portal’s ‘Mastering the UKCAT’ book was also quite good too, but not one of the main resources I used to prepare.
I then practiced LOADS of questions using Medify – this is probably one of the best UKCAT prep resources that you can find out there, both in terms of quality and price. It’s not as expensive as the other courses so is much more affordable. If you’re going to invest in a online resource, I’d say to go for Medify.
I’m sure you’ve all come across that book called ‘600 UKCAT practice questions’…well, I did use that but found the online question banks to be much better as they mimic the actual exam more closely, and the answers are automatically marked for you which is a plus! If it’s any reassurance, having done the actual UKCAT exam, I can safely say that the questions in that book are wayyy harder than the questions on the test (especially the QR questions)…well it was for me anyway!
I found it quite difficult to motivate myself to prepare for the UKCAT, especially because let’s be honest, it’s just not very interesting and is a tad bit tedious.
I found that revising with a friend worked for me as we could both motivate each other to do prep when the other one wasn’t exactly at peak motivation levels. Maybe try this method out…and it’s also cost effective because you can share resources such as books rather than buying copies each.
I know how disheartening it can be when you’re working so hard preparing for this darn exam whilst you could be otherwise enjoying your summer, and you’re still not getting the kind of scores that you’re aiming for. Trust me, I remember doing a mock UKCAT test and getting 11% on QR! (funnily enough, I think QR was the section I did best in when it came to the actual test!)
The only thing I can say is don’t let yourself get bogged down by less than perfect scores, you can and will improve if you continue to do loads and loads of practice questions. By doing so, you’ll begin to pick up efficient techniques that works for you (for example, you’ll be able to formulate a list of possible patterns on the AR section that you can rake through in your mind when it comes to the test). Give it time, and hopefully you should see results!
If you’re still struggling, you may want to consider whether its worth investing in an online course where there are video tutorials that run through some techniques that you can use.
Do what you would with any exam:
- have an early night
- eat a good breakfast*
- try and be as calm and collected as possible
*you might also want to eat a little something right before you go to the room that the exam will take place in, just to give you a quick energy boost – for me, this was a mini snickers bar…very healthy, I know 😂
Unlike with other academic exams where in the morning some choose to revise (and others don’t)…you can’t really revise or prep as such on the morning of the UKCAT exam. If you’ve left it till that morning to prep then you’re in big trouble, but if you’ve read this far and are actually going to take on board some of the my advice, I’m confident you won’t have left it till the morning to prep so will be perfectly fine! Just work on calming yourself down and not getting to worked up, because as we all know, too many nervous aren’t the best for exam performance!
Relax, it’s over! Whether you’ve done amazing, ok or completely awful, don’t fret – there’s nothing more that can be done about your score now!
If you think you’ve totally messed up, worry not…your medical school dream is not over yet! All you have to do is make sure you apply to medical schools strategically and not apply to universities that rank UKCAT scores and/or place high emphasis on it, as doing so would most likely be a waste of an application.
If you’re in this boat of not having done too well on your UKCAT, my advice to you would be to give yourself your best bet of getting an invitation to interview/offer by:
- Applying for BMAT universities (BMAT, in my opinion is a much more accessible test than the UKCAT).
- Applying to universities that don’t even look at UKCAT at all (eg. Cardiff)
- Applying to universities that don’t regard UKCAT as highly as other components such as academics (eg. Birmingham which is more focussed on GCSE grades etc.)
The UKCAT is annoying, and preparing for it whilst you could be enjoying your summer is even more annoying, but it’s just one of those things that have to be done. The road to medical school isn’t easy, the UKCAT is the first hurdle you’ll encounter on this journey – if you sacrifice your time and prepare well now you’ll be overcome this hurdle, no problem!
I hope this blog post has been somewhat helpful. If you have any further UKCAT related questions or any other questions regarding medical school application, feel free to comment below or message me on instagram! I wish you all the best of luck!
PS. I’ve got a long list of blog posts waiting to be written up this summer break, so keep an eye out for them!