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How The UCAT Assesses Your Ability To Become A Doctor

Published on
April 15, 2024

What Makes A Good Doctor? 

A good doctor is attentive to details, empathetic in nature and communication, has analytical skills, and importantly a strong work ethic to function effectively in an evolving hospital setting.

Becoming a doctor means that you are focused on self-guided improvement from a preliminary stage. It may usually start around Year 11 and 12, where your primary goal is to have a strong academic record to secure a higher chance of entering a suitable medical school

Your textbook knowledge from high school is good enough to fulfill the ATAR requirements for med school but not to demonstrate your actual abilities which are crucial for a doctor. Hence, high-order intellectual tests like the UCAT and GAMSAT were created to bridge the gap of evaluation at an undergraduate and postgraduate level of study.

The UCAT ANZ critically analyses your sheer depth of knowledge and skills, which surpasses the basic Year 12 subjects you studied and focuses on your ability to display cognitive skills. In short, on a base level the UCAT is a skill-based examination that evaluates your potential to provide correct responses to challenging situations under strict time constraints.

What UCAT Score Is Needed For Medicine?

As discussed earlier, the UCAT is one of the important prerequisites, besides ATAR and medical interviews to enter undergraduate medical school. Before we dwell into how each UCAT subsection measures a range of skills needed for a doctor, it is worth understanding how the UCAT is scored and taken into account by med schools.

There is no definitive UCAT score to apply for medical schools in Australia as the average UCAT score changes every year. This is because the UCAT score is based on many interdependent factors - the difficulty of the test in that year, whether you are a rural or local applicant, and your performance among the cohorts.

However, it is beneficial to know that the first four UCAT subtests - Verbal Reasoning, Decision Making, Quantitative Reasoning and Abstract Reasoning are delivered as scaled scores marked between 300-900. The Situational Judgement Test, however, has its unique assessment and scaling method. Usually, students are given a band score that ranges between 1-4 for SJT, which can then be converted to a scaled mark. 

Therefore, a student in the top 10% has a higher probability of getting into medical school than those in a lower decile. So, there is no way to put a pin on a high UCAT score, rather it is good to aim for a high score to eliminate competition and enter a suitable med school

What Does UCAT Verbal Reasoning Assess?

The Verbal Reasoning subtest measures your ability to interpret information from written passages. It also evaluates your credibility of judgment from the provided information and ensures that your judgement is not clouded by personal biases.

Verbal Reasoning skills are an important skill for a doctor, because in real-life scenarios, you are not expected to use prior knowledge or experience to interpret a situation in the hospital or with regards to a patient’s condition. 

In addition, medical practitioners need to have sound verbal reasoning skills in order to decipher complex information and communicate it in a simplified manner to the patients. The written passages in the test mimic the many published materials you have to read as a doctor to continuously improve your expertise and effectively apply it in your medical practice. 

So the only way you can be confident of your conclusions is if your ability to critique is not influenced by prejudices and is construed based on your maturity and clinical research knowledge.

UCAT Quantitative Reasoning And Its Assessment

The UCAT Quantitative Reasoning section evaluates your ability to perform swift mental calculations and apply the laws of mathematics on algebraic and geometric expressions. Do not be misled that it is a basic application of formulas, as the test is largely about understanding your problem-solving skills.

As a medical practitioner, besides patient care and application of clinical sciences to your day-to-day diagnoses, analysing complex statistical data is another key responsibility. It is important to critically study and review data in order to increase your clinical research skills and incorporate the results into your patient assessment. 

Medical schools in Australia consider those students who can perform adequate research and interpret numerical information within any given situation, which is similar to a hospital environment. However, don’t be surprised if you get questioned on tax brackets, as they are classic question types that usually occur in the UCAT exam to observe your aptitude on mathematical problems.

UCAT Abstract Reasoning: What Does It Measure?

Undergraduate medical schools that consider the UCAT score often look for students who exhibit a core cognitive skill that involves balancing knowledge and judgement.   

With regards to the Abstract Reasoning test, you are given 12 minutes to interpret 50 questions that comprise of visou-spatial patterns. Something very unusual to what you have previously encountered during high school. The purpose of this test is to judge how quickly you can identify the shift in shapes and trends without getting distracted or leading up to wrong conclusions. But how does it help to have abstract reasoning skills as a medical practitioner you might ask?

In practicality, to become a doctor you need to have the ability to critically evaluate and trace your patient’s symptoms, based on the information your patient provides. Often to generate credible hypotheses, you have to ask the right questions to your patients and reach reliable conclusions.

There could be a scenario wherein your patient is not comfortable or may lack crucial information about their symptoms, so you as the doctor need to advocate with inquiry to deduce the correct diagnosis and ensure that no harm is caused to your patient.

And that is the main reason behind incorporating Abstract Reasoning in the UCAT. The alternating shapes and patterns are designed to be distracting to understand whether you can make clear and relevant decisions, without getting carried away by excessive information.

UCAT Decision Making And Its Importance

As you can guess, Decision-Making in the UCAT assesses your ability to infer logical conclusions and evaluate statistical data, usually from a complex set of information.

Doctors are often exposed to risky situations, and even a small scale error can bear heavy consequences. Therefore, your final decision should consider authentic data, scientific knowledge and accommodate any unforeseen circumstances that could take place in the hospital. Also, your decisions need to be evidence-based to hold sound reputation and credibility among your peers and patients.

Coming to the UCAT Decision-Making, you are expected to demonstrate problem-solving and high-order thinking skills that take into account uncertainties to provide the best possible outcome under a given situation, similar to a hospital environment.

Situational Judgement Test And Its Relevance

Although few undergraduate medical schools exclude the Situational Judgement Test during their ranking process, it is still a decisive assessment because it judges your understanding of the real-world. The test closely observes how you would tackle complex scenarios, taking into account integrity, resilience, adaptability and professionalism. 

The Situational Judgement questions are not driven by your medical knowledge but how you rate the appropriateness of your action based on a given scenario.

In the medical field, you will encounter an array of complexity within single or multiple situations, and you need to be able to make a clear distinction between actions that are a priority versus those that are low-yeild.

In order to avoid confusion and practice a strong work ethic in hospitals, the Medical Board of Australia advocates that you to apply the principles stated in the Good Medical Practice: Code of Conduct for Doctors in Australia. Additionally it is essential to understand the ‘Four pillars of medical ethics’ to make ethics-based decisions during medical practice.

These two aforementioned guides are the backbone of the Situational Judgement Test and provide in-depth theoretical knowledge for students and practitioners on appropriate behaviour in difficult real-world situations. Thus, SJT is a crucial component in the UCAT examination because it helps you gain insights on morality and professionalism in the workplace at an initial stage, so you can refine it throughout medical school and systematically apply it in your practice.

Where To From Here?

We hope that this article has given essential information about the purpose of the UCAT in medical schools and its relevance to future practice.

If you wish to learn more about the UCAT space and useful courses that can refine your preparation, feel free to visit Fraser's UCAT website.

If you are a first-timer sitting the UCAT, we also have an article about how to register for the UCAT! Here are a few articles to get you started on the basics of the UCAT exam and its different subsections:

  1. What is the UCAT?
  2. UCAT Decision Making: What Does It Assess?
  3. What is the UCAT Abstract Reasoning?
  4. What is the Verbal Reasoning in the UCAT?
  5. What is the Quantitative Reasoning section?