5 min read

How to Balance High School Study with UCAT Preparation

Published on
July 8, 2024

The UCAT is an online test that is a major hurdle to admission into undergraduate medical, dental programs at universities participating in the UCAT Australian and New Zealand Consortium (UCAT ANZ). This is a psychometric aptitude exam, the  results of which are un-combined with your academic qualifications (ATAR, NCEA or GPA) and a medical interview, to determine whether you are accepted into the program.

The UCAT is primarily taken by Year 12 students. As the test usually takes place in the middle of the year, it is reasonable that many students struggle to find a balance between preparing for the UCAT and studying for their high school exam.

Given the importance of high-school exam marks when it comes to university admission, some students may even question whether the UCAT is worth it. From an admission perspective, the UCAT and your academic results, whether ATAR, NCEA or GPA, usually have equal weighting at most undergraduate medical programmes in Australia and New Zealand.

This means that time management, and specifically effective study habits, are the key to undergraduate medical admission

Understanding The UCAT

The UCAT consists of 225 multiple choice questions which must be answered over a period of 1 hour 55 minutes. These multiple choice questions are broken down over five sub-sections, which aim to assess various attributes and qualities that universities see as essential in their prospective medical students. 

Section Verbal Reasoning Decision Making Quantitative Reasoning Abstract Reasoning Situational Judgement Test
Question Number 44 Questions 29 Questions 36 Questions 50 Questions 66 Questions
Time 21 Minutes 31 Minutes 25 Minutes 12 Minutes 26 Minutes

What UCAT Score Do I Need To Study Medicine?

There is no formal threshold score published by universities in Australia and New Zealand. The marks required to gain admission depending on the strength of your competition in a particular application round (as well as your school marks, and interview performance). This effectively means that there is no prerequisite score to gain an interview or admission into medical school for UCAT applicants. 

How Do I Prepare For The UCAT?

There are two key aspects to preparing for the UCAT exam.

The first step is always working through practice questions. It is important to familiarise yourself with the format and pacing of the exam. The reason why this is critical is because you need to develop a system of logic for approaching the questions. A good analogy to use when explaining psychometric exams such as the UCAT, is that they are similar to a Rubik’s Cube.

Solving a Rubik’s Cube is equal parts technique and improvisation. It is the same case with the UCAT - working through an exam question involves both soft skills that you have developed over the course of high-school, as well as specific techniques that you have developed specifically for the assessment. This is the exact reason why  we, at Fraser’s, teach an iterative model of UCAT preparation.

This involves three key stages: 

The iterative process of UCAT preparation is dynamic and engaging.  It is important to us that  students distance themselves from the mindless and obsolete repetition-based learning.

The second aspect of UCAT preparation is group study. The benefits of studying in a team are well known to health professionals, and working doctors study as a team all the way through to their qualification exams. The social aspect of team study relieves stress, but it also allows you to learn from the UCAT techniques developed by your fellow students. 

Finally, remember to grow your soft-skills with less formal methods of UCAT preparation. Reading books, listening to complex podcasts, learning languages and musical instruments are just a few of the extra-curricular activities that indirectly build your UCAT skillset, while also making you a more worldly person!

How can you efficiently prepare for the UCAT while still in high school? Download the full infographic to create the perfect UCAT study schedule! 

How Do I Balance UCAT Preparation With High School?

The most important piece of Year 12 advice for students wishing to sit the UCAT exam, is that it should be treated as an additional ATAR subject. This does not mean that it will come with the workload of a high school subject, but only that it needs to be studied regularly. As mentioned previously in this article, the UCAT is a psychometric - to use a crude analogy, it is a gymnastics exam for the five very specific cognitive skill sets described in the table above.

This is why it is unreasonable to expect a few weeks of crammed study to adequately prepare you to face your competition. You should aim to allocate a few hours a week, starting from the summer break to UCAT preparation

Another key point to reiterate is that performance in the UCAT benefits from diligent work on your ATAR subjects. The reason for this is most ATAR subjects require you to develop reasoning skills that are ultimately tested in the UCAT exam. For example, extended-solution maths problems require you to use the same abstract and quantitative reasoning skills that are tested in the UCAT. Therefore, an approaching UCAT is not an excuse to neglect your school-work, but is quite the opposite! 

Finally,  remember to take well deserved breaks during your study, especially in light of the challenges of Year 12. Ideally, students should spend between 8 to 12 weeks studying for the UCAT and practicing questions at 30 minutes per day; however this is totally dependent on the student’s individual strengths and weaknesses.

Studying for the UCAT consistently for more than three months is not advised as they can develop burnout amongst their other responsibilities with regard to extracurricular activities, academic achievements and spending time with friends and family. It is an objective fact that burn-out decreases the efficiency of your study time. You should also consider that a career in health sciences only gets more challenging, and if you do not learn to take care of your mental wellbeing early in your professional journey, you will find your training quite challenging! 

Perfecting well in the UCAT is not an easy task, here’s a roadmap to UCAT study!

Where To From Here?

Here’s a range of FREE RESOURCES for you to get your UCAT preparation going:

  1. How to apply for undergraduate medicine in Australia?
  2. How to study for UCAT Situational Judgement Test?
  3. How is the UCAT scored?