5 Tips For UCAT Timing
Part two in the series, check out part one here
If you ask any candidate sitting the UCAT what the hardest part of the UCAT is, they will inevitably say one thing: timing. All questions in the UCAT are do-able if you are given unlimited time. If sufficient time is given, most students would be able to score very highly in the UCAT. However, the UCAT is designed intentionally to give you less time than is required to answer UCAT questions. This is the only way the UCAT Consortium can distinguish the top performers from the rest of the pack. In fact, each year over one fifth of UCAT candidates fail to mark an answer for every UCAT question – that is, they run out of time to even guess!
So how can you manage the extreme time pressures placed on you in the UCAT? Here are five top tips:
1. Leave your perfectionist tendencies behind
If you are aiming for medicine, chances are you are a grade A student. Perfectionism is a trait that probably helped you get there. However, perfectionism works against you in UCAT. It is simply not possible to answer all UCAT questions perfectly within the time limits. The good news is that if you recognise this early, you will set yourself up for UCAT success.
Early in your UCAT preparation, become comfortable with the idea that you will need to make educated guesses, and are unlikely to have time to ‘check’ your answers. For some UCAT questions, you may even need to go with your gut instinct.
Answering UCAT questions in this manner will not seem natural at first, but with sufficient practice, you will get much better at it.
2. Keep an eye on the UCAT timer
This may seem obvious, but it is easy to get absorbed in the content of the UCAT and disregard timing. This does not mean you need to check the UCAT timer after each question, but you should have a general idea of where you should be after a certain number of UCAT questions.
For example, in the UCAT Verbal Reasoning subtest, you will have 21 minutes to answer 44 questions. UCAT Verbal Reasoning is composed of 11 units, each with four questions. You should therefore aim to answer each UCAT Verbal Reasoning unit in less than 2 minutes.
3. Use keyboard shortcuts
Keyboard shortcuts will help save you time in UCAT. For example, Alt + N will help you proceed to the next UCAT question, while Alt + P will take you to the previous question. Alt + F will flag (or unflag) a UCAT question. In 2020, there will be a “scratch pad” for students (Alt + D) due to the COVID-19 changes with no physical noteboard/marker.
Using your keyboard is particularly important in the UCAT Quantitative Reasoning section, where you will sometimes need to use the UCAT calculator. Use the number pad on the right hand side of your keyboard to easily input numbers. This is far quicker than selecting numbers with your mouse.
Using keyboard shortcuts can help you save, on average, one second per UCAT question. This may not seem like much, but if you save one second for every UCAT question, you will save almost four minutes by the end of the UCAT. Four minutes is enough time to answer 17 questions in the UCAT Abstract Reasoning section!
Make sure you practice using keyboard shortcuts with every UCAT practice exam you complete. Any practice tool you use should be able to stimulate your exam (I personally used MedEntry). I found practicing these shortcuts with every UCAT question, drill, subtest mock or exam really carried over well.
As a high performing student, you are probably not used to guessing. You are probably used to knowing the answers to most questions in your school or university exams. But UCAT is a very different test. Due to the extreme time pressure placed on you in UCAT, guessing is a very important strategy.
Ideally, you should make an educated guess, to increase your chances of answering the UCAT question correctly. There are many strategies for making effective educated guesses in UCAT, such as the process of elimination.
5. Flag sparingly
The UCAT flagging function is very useful when used properly. Flagging allows you to easily return to UCAT questions that you find difficult. However, if overused, it can actually waste time.
So flag sparingly. Only flag those UCAT questions that look time consuming or difficult, and those you feel you will be able to answer relatively quickly at the end of the UCAT subtest. Avoid flagging UCAT questions just because you are unsure of the answer – for these questions it is better to make an educated guess. If you flag too many UCAT questions, you will run out of time.
Also, ensure that you mark an answer before flagging a UCAT question, in case you do not have time to return to it.
Ultimately, the best way to improve your UCAT timing is by acquiring UCAT strategies, and practicing them. If you’re interested in what I used, I found MedEntry gave me great drills, subtest mocks and full length exams to be most useful for myself. The skills trainer in particular meant I could really focus on my weaker areas.
Our next blog in this series will discuss the strategies to succeed in the first subtest of the UCAT: verbal reasoning.