5 min read

5 Tips To Improve Your Situational Judgement Thinking Skills

Published on
April 15, 2024

The Situational Judgement Test is the final section in the UCAT exam that uniquely evaluates your emotional intelligence. 

The test overlooks your academic performance to place a greater emphasis on your ability to perceive and demonstrate empathy in a confident manner. This subtest also assesses your mental stability and communication skills to overcome challenging scenarios during and  after medical school in your career as a health professional.

Aptitude for emotional intelligence will often vary significantly from person to person. Some may naturally have a mature outlook to tackle intricacies during a crisis. At the same time, it is possible to lack competent skills to work in pressured situations. The key is to balance critical thinking and empathetic communication to restore equilibrium during a crisis.

Ultimately, this UCAT subtest is designed to gauge your potential as an empathic doctor, so a large part of this subtest requires you to tap on your thinking ability to function efficiently in the medical profession. And it starts with changing the way you think during a crisis. However, not all are accustomed to resolving issues instantaneously, which is acceptable.

To help tailor your approach to succeed in the UCAT  Situational Judgement Test, we have put together five important tips that can change how you think and attune your assertiveness. 

1. Read The Good Medical Practice Guidelines

The Medical Board of Australia oversees the functionalities of the medical profession in Australia. Accordingly, it strives to establish a high work ethic among medical practitioners. For pre-medical students, it provides the Good Medical Practice Guide, which explicitly outlines the standards of ethical practice and code of professional conduct expected of doctors in Australia. This guide forms the foundation of the Situational Judgement Test.

As mentioned earlier, a change in perception can improve how you respond to moral dilemmas in Situational Judgement. Therefore, you can channel this 'change' based on fundamentals that characterise good medical practice. So it is crucial to understand the Good Medical Practice Guide and build attributes to function within the Australian healthcare system accordingly. At no point during your clinical internship or future practice should the stated principles be compromised. 

By understanding these fundamentals at a premed phase, you can also implement them during your medical degree. This guide can substantially increase your knowledge of the code of ethics to make prudent judgements in different health-related situations.

2. Understand The Four Pillars Of Medical Ethics

A situational judgement advice that you might come across is to hone your foundation on medical ethics. Although not all question types revolve around ethical scenarios, but there is a high probability to encounter an ethics question at some point in the SJT. Therefore, it is essential to have clarity in this subject matter. 

The medical profession is ingrained with ethics; however, as a medical student, you are expected to understand the core basics. It is best to base your thinking on the four pillars of medical ethics:

  1. Autonomy - The obligation to respect the patient's decision.
  2. Beneficence - 'Do good'. The patient's health and well-being is a priority.
  3. Non-Maleficence - 'Do no harm. In simple words, do not diagnose your patient with the intent to harm.
  4. Justice - Treat all patients in a fair and unbiased manner.

If you begin to mould your conception based on medical ethics, you are already a step closer to distinguishing the 'Dos and Don'ts' within medical scenarios

Besides, you will be required to provide an appropriate response that considers medical ethics during complicated, time-pressured circumstances. Therefore, when you solve SJT questions that incorporate rating 'actions' based on the scenario, you should apply the code of ethics to express your answer, setting aside personal biases.

3. Acknowledge The Abilities And Limitations Of Your Role

Situational Judgement questions usually designate a specific role for you to then evaluate your capability of execution. So each assigned role is associated with responsibilities that you need to identify in order to perform within the scenario.

The roles can fall anywhere between a medical student, junior doctor or a superior. So the first factor that comes into play is a hierarchy within the hospital settings. It is helpful to have a general understanding of the duties correlated with each role, or else you may lack an understanding of what your ‘role’ is required to consider in a certain scenario.

It is good to have an adaptive character, so every time you engage in a particular scenario, you can comprehend the responsibilities of not just yourself but of your peers and seniors.  

Once you narrow down the essential duties, it will be straightforward to differentiate the authority and limitations that come with the role. For example, a student in their clinical internship won't be expected to deliver bad news to a patient's family, as it is a sensitive matter that only a senior doctor can address. So you need to identify your limitations in this scenario, for example:

  1. a) Lack of authority to deliver the news
  2. b) Inability to prescribe medications or diagnosis to the patient

4. Learn Graded Assertiveness To Function In Medicine

Graded assertiveness refers to the approach you take to get your message across in a team setting. Usually, this is a framework utilised by junior doctors who need to communicate ideas and discuss critical issues within the hierarchical medical environment. The concept of graded assertiveness is essential to maintain a code of conduct and speak up on matters concerning the medical environment. 

During clinical internships, you are constantly tested on your professionalism and patient care. Medical schools do not have the time or resources to help you develop your interpersonal skills, hence they are selecting for them before you set foot into medical school at all!

Let us look at an example to understand the concept better:

You are a junior doctor allocated to a team that assists Dr James. You notice that a patient you admitted in the morning has a minor fracture in the left arm. However, the right arm has been incorrectly marked for surgery by the Registrar. You were the first one to speak to the patient when admitted and are aware of the situation. What would you do in such a situation?

In this situation, the first step is to advocate with an inquiry, which requires you to address the wrong placement of the mark with the Registrar. This highlights your concern and a level of uncertainty but does not display impoliteness. It is also good to escalate the situation until you receive an appropriate answer. It does not imply that you are arrogant, based on your prerequisite knowledge of the patient's condition.

In conclusion, it is safe to say that graded assertiveness is not about pointing out failures in your peers or seniors but how appropriately you raise an issue/situation. This is an essential skill tested in the SJT test, so it is good to understand its dynamics. 

5. Ensure Reflective Practice During Preparation

All the tips as mentioned earlier for SJT will be fully effective, if - and only if, you practice different question-types that incorporate medical, general and ethical scenarios. As the Situational Judgement Test measures your empathetic nature, UCAT tutors often advocate for you to practice the art of reflection. 

Reflective practice can attune your thought process, thus increasing your ability to address scenarios appropriately. Maintaining a journal that you regularly visit to jot down ideas and reflections SJT mock exams are a great way to enrich your learning. The things you write can be broad, for example, how you would go about problem-solving in an ethical scenario

A reflective personality is symbolic of learning from real-life experiences and executing those learnings into practice. Therefore, people who are reflective of their learnings and failures can truly fulfil the requirements put forth in the SJT test.

In addition, constant reflective practice can also improve the intensity of your comprehension and problem-solving skills required to do well across all domains of the UCAT, and later function in a medical environment. 

Where To From Here?

We hope that the above mentioned UCAT Situational Judgement tips can streamline your perception and enhance your ability to critically evaluate medical, ethical and general scenarios.

If you found this article useful, be sure to visit our Free Resources and Tools available on Fraser's UCAT website. In addition, our UCAT tutors have commendable experience in guiding students on their UCAT preparation. And many students have now successfully begun their undergraduate medical degrees

Feel free to reach out to us on UCAT related queries and check out our comprehensive course with everything you need to kickstart your UCAT prep for 2022.