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Writing an application

Your one-stop shop for all things application related!

You Can Be A Doctor:
Application Guide

UCAT and GAMSAT

Which do I need to sit?

'I haven't already completed a university degree'

'I have completed a university degree'

The UCAT

What is the UCAT?

The UCAT (University Clinical Aptitude Test) is an entrance examination you are required to take if you want to study medicine as an undergraduate. It is used in almost all UK universities offering medicine, and is also used in Australia and New Zealand. The examination is standardised (meaning you are compared to all other people taking the test), and assesses various mental abilities such as critical thinking, problem-solving, and quantitative reasoning, as well as non-cognitive attributes such as empathy and integrity.

Note: At the time of writing, the only UK university that provides a medicine course and does not require applicants to sit the UCAT is the University of Buckingham. 

How do I book my test?

You can register to sit the examination on the official UCAT website here. You can create your account from May and book your test from June onwards. Testing occurs from July through September.  Specific dates for each cycle can be found on the UCAT website here

Top Tip: Booking your UCAT Test

We strongly advise you to book your test early, around the time testing opens, and to select a date that is early enough should you be forced to reschedule. This will also ensure you get a slot at a test centre that is close to you.

 

There have been past instances where applicants have been unable to find a slot at their desired test centres.

 

UCAT have the following statement on their website: “A large number of test slots are released when booking opens in June. Additional slots in late August and September are held back and released regularly as Pearson VUE manages demand across test centres.”

Where can I sit the UCAT?

The UCAT can be taken in various test centres across Scotland. Click here to find a test centre near you. In very specific instances, the test can be sat online. 

How much does it cost to sit?

The test fee is payable at the time of booking by major debit/credit card:

  • Tests taken in the UK: £70

  • Tests taken outside the UK: £115

Top Tip: Financial support for UCAT

If you need extra financial support and fit the UCAT eligibility criteria, you can apply for a UCAT Bursary Voucher to pay for their test. 

What happens on the day?

You are asked to arrive early at the test centre so that you can show your ID, remove and turn off any electronic devices such as smart phones and watches, and put all your personal items into a locker. These rules are followed very strictly, so be prepared for this. You will not be allowed to sit the test without showing an accepted form of personal identification on the day.

Some items are considered “comfort aids” and following inspection, should be allowed into the room with you – please diligently check the list provided on the UCAT website.

You are given earbuds, a pen and laminated notebook to take notes. You are not allowed to take any food or drink into the room with you (except in special circumstances) – if you need anything during the test, you can raise your hand and a staff member will enter to help you. If you fall unwell/an incident occurs during the test, you must inform the invigilators immediately (not after) so that a report can be written and a decision made regarding these circumstances.

What does the test consist of? 

The UCAT is made up of 5 sub-sections, each with a unique number of questions and allocated timings, as summarised below:

UCAT sections.jpg

In total, the test is 2 hours long including 1-minute displays of instruction screens between each subsection. Normally, once you start the test you cannot stop it – this means that the timer will continue even if you take a restroom break – and each section is allotted specific time separately. If you have accessibility requirements i.e., are permitted extra time, you must apply for these in advance of taking your test. Click here to find out more/register. 

How do I get my results?

You'll get a print out copy of your score after you finish the test and before you leave the test centre. You can also access your score on your UCAT account you registered with. UCAT will automatically deliver your results to the universities you applied to (usually round November), so you don't need to do anything further. 

How long are my results valid for?

Your UCAT score is only valid only for the academic year you are applying to. Unfortunately, if you are unsuccessful in your application and wish to reapply the next year, you'll also need to retake the UCAT. 

Preparing for the UCAT

Firstly!

You can absolutely prepare for the UCAT, and you do not need to spend money on resources in order to prepare well. Practice questions and tests provided on the UCAT website are extremely realistic examples of what you will see in the test – be wary of other practice questions as these may not be a true reflection of exam content.

Techniques

Each sub-section of the UCAT can be conquered by practicing techniques that enable you to get through the content correctly and in a timely fashion. 

Get to know GMC good practice and the 4 pillars of medical ethics

Situational Judgement

Key word approach

Skim reading

Verbal Reasoning

Techniques to conquer the UCAT

Using a notepad

Understanding Venn diagrams/probability

Decision Making

Abstract Reasoning

Simplest box first

SCANS

Quantitative Reasoning

Mental maths practice

Online calculator practice

How to approach the Verbal Reasoning section

This section is made up of 11 passages, with 4 questions accompanying each. Some passages will be much longer than others!

 

You may wish to triage the longer passages, however, with a keyword approach you should be able to skim through the information to find what you are looking for (usually a paragraph, or above and below the keyword. A common mistake is for applicants to assume that the keyword only comes up once, and stop at the first appearance. It could be that the answer is further along).

 

Remember that you should never read the entire passage, as this will eat up all your time! You can practice skim reading in day-to-day life. We don’t see this as reading fast as such, but being able to “skim” over material and draw conclusions from that material. Try skim-reading advertisements, posters, book blurbs etc. and see what you can summarise in your head. 

Be aware!

  • You should also never use outside knowledge or assumptions to answer a question (if the text says bananas are blue, then for this question, bananas are blue!).

  • If you cannot directly infer something from the text, then it cannot be true, it’s either false or can’t tell. Don’t be afraid to use can’t tell.

  • Be wary of questions containing “NOT” and quantifying words, e.g. “ALL”.

How to approach the Decision Making section

This section consists of 29 questions that provide you with data in text or visual format to solve problems. 

The main pitfall encountered is not practicing all question types. 

  • Syllogisms – not paying attention to quantifying words, such as “ALL” or “ONLY”, using outside knowledge beyond the statement/s given. You can draw your own Venn diagrams to approach these questions too, as they may help you to better visualise the information given.

  • Logical puzzles – using a grid approach can help you to tackle these questions, which is where your notepad comes in handy – you may not need all the information given, and it is likely you won’t be able to solve every aspect of the grid. As soon as you figure out the answer, click it and move on, don’t waste time!

  • Selecting the strongest argument – leave your own beliefs at the door, base you answer on fact, not opinion or assumption, ensure the argument is relevant to the question (it may be making good, statistical points, but if it is not related to the question then it is likely not the strongest!) 

  • Interpreting information and drawing conclusions – again, do not use any prior knowledge to answer these questions, use only what is given to you in the question, it may help to practice interpreting graphs and drawing information from tables.

  • Venn diagrams – not familiarising yourself with these beforehand, thus getting confused and overwhelmed, practice is key, as is mental maths. These questions can be easy marks if you familiarise yourself with how venn diagrams display information.

  • Probability and statistical reasoning – missing that some information given is equivalent, just written differently e.g. lost by 80% and won by 20%. 

How to approach the Quantitative Reasoning section

This section has 36 fast paced questions requiring you to quickly evaluate data sets and testing your numerical skills

The main pitfalls:

  • Reading all the data instead of the question first which wastes time

  • Missing unit changes when selecting an answer

  • Relying too much on the calculator as opposed to mental arithmetic

  • Not learning how to do tax questions (there aren’t many of these, but like probability, they can be practiced!)

How to approach the Abstract Reasoning section

This section tests your ability to 'generate hypotheses' which simply means your ability to look for patterns and sequences and reasoning behind your thoughts. This truly is an abstract section, however, this does mean most candidates are on an even playing field. There are several different types of questions: 

  1. Set Discrimination: You'll be given two sets of shapes (A & B) where each set has it's own rules. You're then given five test shapes and need to decide if those below with set A, set B, or neither. 

  2. Sequence Recognition: You need to observe a sequence of shapes that transition from one box to the next. Your goal is to identify the shape that logically follows the sequence among four given options.

  3. Transformation Matching: You are given two sets of shapes with a pattern of transformation. You need to apply this transformation to the test set of shapes and select the option that correctly follows the pattern. 

  4. Simultaneous Set Analysis: Similar to Set Identification, but with a twist. You'll be presented with four test shapes simultaneously and tasked with identifying which shape belongs to either Set A or Set B.

Top tips:

  • Look out for distractors, e.g., colour. It could be that colour has nothing to do with the rule, yet it is easy to assume it does and waste your time focussing on this.

  • This is a very time pressured section, but just be wary of missing additional rules – it could be that there are two or more rules to each set, e.g., an overall even number of shapes and always a black circle. To identify these, it is always best to start with the simplest box first. 

  • Try using the SCANS approach if you're stuck: 

CLASS

POSSIBLE TARGET

Shape

  • Which shapes are present

  • Does the presence of one shape cause a change in the others?

  • Straight vs curvy

  • Open vs closed

Colour

  • Number of shaded vs non-shaded shapes

  • Are a specific number of shapes shaded?

Arrangement

  • Are more shapes in the upper area of each box

  • Does position rely on colour/shape/size/number of sizes

  • Rotation between shapes

  • Arrows pointing in a certain direction

  • Is there symmetry/are shapes being reflected?

Number

  • Number of a type of shape

  • Number of sides of shapes

  • Number of line intersections

  • Number of spaces inside a shape

Size

  • More big vs more small

  • Is there one shape bigger than the rest?

How to approach the Situational Judgement section

This section tests your emotional intelligence and ability to deal with 'real-life' situations. Remember, you should answer based on what the model student/doctor would do, which in some cases might differ from what you might actually do! 

Top tips: 

  • Read the GMC good practice guidelines! This will serve you well not just for the UCAT, but for interviews and throughout your entire medical career! We also always remember the 3 Cs when making decisions: confidentiality, capacity, and consent.

  • Know your role (medical students and junior doctors have different levels of responsibility, and the question will be referring to a specific character)

  • Patient care is paramount

  • Respect all members of a healthcare team (this includes not pushing jobs onto other staff if you are able to handle them initially yourself)

  • Understand what happens in healthcare after a mistake: identify a mistake, stop any harmful treatment, give additional/reversal treatment to prevent further harm, inform the patient and apologise.

  • React to a situation promptly

  • The answer shown may not be the best or only possible solution to a problem​

Final You Can Be A Doctor Tips/Info for acing the UCAT

General Advice
  • Try not to cram too much revision into one day – start early and spread out your study sessions so that you only do 1-2 hours/day and have enough practice questions for each session. We recommend 1-1.5 months preparation time for the UCAT.

  • Put your books away the night before – the UCAT isn’t an exam you can do a last minute “cram” for, it requires you to practice techniques and perform these techniques well on the day. Going into the test very tired will not serve you well, as you won’t be able to just jot down a load of information in your head and hope for the best!

  • Leave in plenty of time on the day, so that even if you get stuck in traffic, or get lost trying to find the venue, you won’t miss your slot.

  • Remember that each sub-section is a fresh start – even if you did badly on the previous section, you need to put this to the back of your mind so that you can try your best in the next area of the exam. The 1-minute instruction slides contain information that you will already be more than familiar with – instead use this precious time to breathe and jot down minders of techniques you will be using in the next sub-section. For example, you could note down the acronym SCANS before Abstract Reasoning begins.

  • If you are completely stuck on a question and will be guessing an answer, always select the same answer every time. For example, always clicking C if I totally unsure and cannot make an educated guess.

Question Types

There are many different question types that come up in the UCAT, particularly for Decision Making. It is important to familiarise yourself with these and ensure that you practice all of them, not just those you are best at. For example, Verbal Reasoning True/False/Can’t Tell questions may be easier to practice, but the test is currently made up of more of the other 4 types of questions, such as “According to the passage…” The UCAT website contains a detailed guide of all question types and examples of how to tackle these:  https://www.ucat.ac.uk/prepare/question-tutorials/ 

Timing

The UCAT is a notoriously time-pressured exam:

  • VR - about 28s per question, 2 mins per passage

  • DM - about 1min 4s per question, thus time to use your whiteboard to work through problems and calculations

  • QR - about 41s per question 

  • AR - about 14s per question - very time pressured, however, once you figure out the pattern you should get through the accompanying 5 shapes quickly (note that some questions are standalone such as complete the sequence)

  • SJ - about 22s per question

You cannot afford to spend too long on one question – remember that most questions are worth the same: 1 mark. If you are stuck, select an answer, flag and move on. This is ‘triaging’ - be ruthless with this! When you begin revising, it makes sense to spend longer on each practice question as you familiarise yourself with techniques. However, as time goes on you should start to complete these questions against the clock, until eventually you are giving yourself only the time you would be allocated in the actual exam. 

Scoring
  • VR - 1 point for each correct answer

  • DM – for drag and drop questions, 5/5=2 points, 3-4/5=1point, any less than 3=0 points

  • QR - 1 point for each correct answer, in this section there are 5 options to choose from, not 4

  • AR - 1 point for each correct answer 

  • SJ - 1 point for being on the correct side (AB or CD), 2 points for selecting the correct answer (e.g., B)

Test Conditions

Test conditions:

While studying for the UCAT, it is important to remember that you will not have access to your phone or scientific calculator in the actual exam – practice using an online calculator and familiarise yourself with navigating the question platform with a mouse and keyboard shortcuts. As your test date nears, we recommend you attempt the full practice tests on the UCAT website under exam conditions – then you can go through answers/feedback afterwards:

https://www.gmc-uk.org/ethical-guidance/ethical-guidance-for-doctors/good-medical-practice# 

Our charity run an annual UCAT course throughout the summer. If you meet eligibility criteria, you will be invited to attend one of our in-person or online sessions, where we go through techniques and timed practice questions with the help of medical volunteers. This course is completely free! ​In addition, we have made a YouTube playlist which contains helpful information and revision tutorials:​

How is the UCAT used in my application?

The first four sub-sections of the UCAT (Verbal Reasoning, Decision Making, Quantitative Reasoning and Abstract Reasoning) are scored between 300-900, with average scores for Verbal Reasoning usually being in the 500s and for other subsections, in the 600s. Situational Judgement is marked from Band 4 (lowest) to Band 1 (highest). Thus, the highest score you can attain is a 3600 and Band 1.

 

However, you do not need to score this high in order to be within a chance of getting a place in a medical school. Even if you score badly in one sub-section, you can make up for it in subsequent areas in order to boost your overall score.

The UCAT website contains statements from previous test takers who scored extremely high. Again, try not to be put off by this – you need to do well, but not exceptionally well.

Universities and UCAT

Aberdeen: no minimum cut-off score, band 4 SJT not normally considered

  • UCAT = 20% of application

Dundee: no minimum cut-off score

  • Dundee do not explicitly state how they score the UCAT as part of their application process

Edinburgh: 2470 minimum cut-off score for 2024 entry (unless plus flag applicant), band 4 SJT not considered

  • UCAT total score = 17.5% of the total application score, and the SJT banding = 7.5%

Glasgow:

  • Glasgow do not give a minimum cut-off score or explicitly state how they score the UCAT as part of their application process

 

St. Andrews:

  • “In recent years, the lowest score for applicants called to interview at St Andrews has been around 2400.”

  • “Applicants meeting these requirements will be ranked on the basis of their UCAT global score. Those ranked in the top 500 or so will be given an interview. Decisions to make offers will be based on the interview score and the ‘route’ to which applicants have applied. Where applicants have the same interview score, the global UCAT score will be used to differentiate between them.”

The GAMSAT

GAMSAT

The GAMSAT (Graduate Medical School Admissions Test) is a standardised entrance examination taken only by post-graduates (students who have already completed a university degree) who want to study medicine. It measure skills and knowledge that are relevant to studying and practicing medicine, and tests a candidate's ability in reasoning in biological and physical sciences, as well as in critical thinking, problem-solving, and written communication.

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