If you're thinking to apply to dentistry or medicine you will be aware that you will need to sit a few extra exams, The United Kingdom Clinical Aptitude Test (UKCAT) is one of them. Now a lot of people can become overwhelmed by the exam, particularly the layout, timing and style of questions. This post aims to help tackle the preconceptions of the exam and decipher the sections; overall it will provide you will a few simple tips which you can use to prepare for the test.

DISCLAIMER ?This post will not guarantee you a high mark or tell you how to pass. The UKCAT test, is viewed differently by each university.? You CAN NOT revise for it and hope for 700+ you can only be prepared for what the test throws at you. Some of it will be luck, but most of it is how prepared you are.

What is it? 
Firstly this is not your standard A-level/GCSE type of exam. There is no clear-cut pass or fail, people seem to be caught up in the idea that you need to pass the exam. The UKCAT is an Aptitude test, so what does that mean? Well it's a standardised exam designed to test your ability and skill set for your chosen career (Dentistry in this case). It's YOUR natural ability to do something relative to your career.

Time waits for no student

The UKCAT is a timed exam, if we sat the exam without a time limit I'm sure we would all get a really high mark, the time element of the exam is to do with how effectively you can make the right choice in a particular situation in a given time frame. So to put it into context, In a fast paced clinical environment you will be under pressure to make the right decision in a short amount of time. That's the rationale behind having the timed questions.

Knowing that you have a set time to answer some 50+ questions per section can be a daunting task and stress you out to the point of failure. My biggest advice, KEEP CALM and CARRY ON. Stay focused at the task at hand, keep a calm, level head DO NOT be put off by the question. Trust your initial instincts; remember it's a test on your natural ability. Now you've probably heard that if you don't know the answer, Guess you have a 1 in 5 chance of being right” well if you feel lucky, then go for it. But for the rest of us, try to eliminate a few wrong answers and increase your chances of getting it right. Make an educated guess, or try working backwards from the answer, this approach can help eliminate a few wrong answers.

The Sections

The four main sections are;

Verbal Reasoning

Abstract Reasoning

Quantitative Analysis

Decision Analysis

These are the big four sections of the exam, each one has its own time limit and various number of questions. Be aware of the time given per section. Read the instruction before the section.

Verbal Reasoning.

Ah good old Verbal reasoning.

Simple GCSE comprehension right? Well not quite. Here you'll read a short passage with some facts and opinions you'll need to be able to decide if it's true, false or neither.
True; The statement agrees with the passage, or follows it's logic.
False; the statement disagrees with the passage.
Neither; there is not enough information to make a decision, or it is not relevant to the statement.

Top Tip: READ MORE. A lot of us (including myself) don't read as many books as we should be, So why read? Well if you're someone who naturally reads a lot of books you know what information to look for, you know what's relevant to the story and you can recall back to it.

SPEED READING. Try this; Grab a book and read, simple right? Well most people tend to read one word at a time in their head, try reading full sentences in one go. Then move on to reading a paragraph in one continuous flow. Then try to read the whole page in one continuous flow. After you've done that get someone to test you on what you've just read. And then repeat the process. Reading continuously can help you sieve through the information quickly and therefore you'll have more time for the questions, it will also help you to retain more relevant information. You don't speak one word at a time, you flow to a certain degree when you talk so try reading in the same way.

Abstract Reasoning.
Look at all those pretty shapes:

Some people will naturally be good at this section, however if you find shapes to be confusing and struggle to see the patterns then don't worry you are not alone. ?Arguably one of the trickier sections of the test. With these types of questions its knowing what to look for, there are only a finite number of things that they can test you on in regards to the shapes. Size, Orientation, Reflection, Symmetry, Odd or Even numbers, Rotation, Colour, Pattern etc. Learn to look of for these and you'll be able to sail through. As you work your way through practice questions write down what each question was looking for, compile a list of things to look out for. It will help you to hone in on the correct answer. The only tip for this section is PRACTICE, PRACTICE, and PRACTICE.

Decision Analysis?

This section of the test is designed to test your logical reasoning skills, whereby you need to match the code to the closest sentence. It will test your ability to decipher relevant information from the question. So why the need for this section? As a Clinical professional you will be reading countless research papers, policies, articles and journals. You will need to be able to see what is relevant to you, whether you're reading or writing the information.

So where do you begin? Logically would be the answer here. Generally these types of questions should often be literally translated, then try to use your initiative to see which of the options make the most sense.

Be careful though, a few options may look very similar but the minor details make all the difference. All words in the code will generally be present in the answer. The second part of this section involves coded a sentence, with these parts you'll want to identify the key word. (Slightly easier you're just working backwards from the previous style)

Generally most people tend to fair very well in this section. The only tip for this would be the same as the Abstract, PRACTICE.

Quantitative Analysis.

Numbers, Numbers everywhere!

Problem solving is key for any medical profession, hence the reason behind this section. Now if you're someone who loves mental arithmetic you will be fine. The hardest part with this section is the time limit. Given enough time anyone could solve all the questions. The aim here is to be precise and accurate with your maths.

Top Tip that helps a lot of people is practice basic maths, times tables, percentages, rounding number and simple conversions. This will help immensely, by training your mind on these simple math questions you'll be able to score relatively highly in the exam. ?The key here is to trust your ability, do not get bogged down in reading the question, skim through and identify what you need to do (conversion, percentage change etc) then try to answer mentally. Work backwards from the answer, the answer will be displayed on screen (if you've rounded the numbers go for the closest match). Try not to use the calculator as it consumes so much time and you will run out. If scrap paper or a whiteboard is provided use it to your advantage but just for jotting down a few numbers. Speed and precision are paramount.

General advice for the test. KEEP CALM. Do NOT get too caught up in a question you can not do, make an educated guess and move on. By ensuring that you answer every question you'll have more of a chance getting the higher scores. Keep focused and don't give up, keep powering through. Ultimately just stay calm, collected and keep a level head, do your best and remember it's a test on your natural ability. Be as prepared as you can be, follow the tips from above and you should do well.

- ??Should I go on the KAPLAN/UKCAT course?
A lot of people ask me this question, I personally didn't. This is a matter of choice and dependent on you, the course is quite expensive but if you have the cash for it then go for it if you feel it will help. I've known people who've gone on the course and did no better or worse then people who didn't go on the course.

- What is the cut off point/What is a good mark to get into University with?

This varies year on year, from university to university. Generally anything over 600 is above average, but universities change the cut off point each year, ideally you should be aiming for the highest mark possible with your ability.

- What if I don't do so well?

It is NOT the end of the world; continue with your application, you never know! Most universities are looking for a well-rounded candidate as long as you have a good personal statement, sufficient work experience and the relevant grades then you stand a decent chance. It's just a matter of having faith and being positive.

Written By
Sorabh Patel A Postgrad 2nd year BDS Student

Sorabh is in his 2nd year of Dentistry at Kings College London. A post grad with a BEng degree in Dental Materials.
 "UCAS mentor helping fellow students find their feet at university and I'm also an avid fundraiser with a tendency to push myself beyond my limits. Over my last few years I've learnt to; Fear nothing, embrace challenges and hold no regrets."