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Preparing for the UCAT as an ESL Student

Published on
May 13, 2024

Entry into medical programmes across Australia is highly competitive, and is an arguably long process. The University Clinical Aptitude Test, or UCAT, is used for admission into undergraduate medical, dental, and clinical science programs at universities under the ANZ Consortium in Australia and New Zealand. UCAT test results are used in conjunction with your academic qualifications (ATAR, GPA or NCEA results) and a medical interview

What Is The UCAT?

The UCAT itself is a computerised, 225 multiple choice question test that lasts approximately 1 hour 55 minutes at an authorised testing centre. The test is designed to examine the attributes that universities see as essential in applicants for medical programs, and can be seen as more difficult from the perspective of an English as a second language (ESL) student looking to gain entry into medicine.

Click here to learn more about the UCAT exam and how the UCAT is scored.

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

What Is An ESL Student?

English as a second language (ESL) students are students who come from a background where their primary language is other than English. Whilst ESL students may be born in Australia or New Zealand, or perhaps in an overseas English-speaking country, they may require additional support in various areas of the UCAT

How Do I Prepare For The UCAT As An ESL Student?

Regardless of your background, it is important to note that a one-size fits all study approach is not ideal for the UCAT. Each subtest within the UCAT assesses a different cognitive skill, and each student has their own individual strengths and weaknesses. This diversity in subtests and candidate backgrounds allows students to excel within specific subtests, whilst allowing them to potentially perform above-average in others. For example, an ESL student may struggle in subtests such as Verbal Reasoning and the Situational Judgement Test as both subtests are heavily reliant on reading comprehension and understanding of the English language, and may excel in areas such as Decision Making, Quantitative Reasoning and Abstract Reasoning as these subtests are inclined towards mathematical reasoning and pattern recognition.  

Nonetheless, it is incredibly difficult to standardise a study journey that will maximise a student’s UCAT score in a way that speaks to their individual strengths and weaknesses. It is for this reason that we believe an iterative, yet personalised study approach, is the best way to prepare for the UCAT exam as an ESL student. 

You can read more about the iterative study process here. 

We also recommend completing a diagnostic exam prior to exam preparation planning. It is important to understand your strengths and weaknesses prior to planning your UCAT study to ensure that you focus on necessary areas to maximise or improve your UCAT score

Advice From A Former UCAT ESL Student 

We spoke to a second year medical student at Curtin University (Western Australia) regarding their experience with UCAT preparation as an ESL student.. 

What section was the most difficult for you, and why?

Verbal Reasoning and the Situational Judgement Test were the most difficult sections for me. With Verbal Reasoning, the difficulty is mostly related to keeping track of time and balancing speed and accuracy. 

The Situational Judgement Test was also quite difficult as I found it hard to understand what concepts were being tested and what cognitive understanding the Situational Judgement Test wanted me to show.”

What section was the easiest for you, and why?

Quantitative Reasoning was the easiest UCAT section for me as I am much stronger at mathematical reasoning. I also found that it was easier to improve upon out of all the sections in the UCAT.”

How did you prepare for the UCAT as an ESL student? 

“I first sat a mock test to understand where I was struggling and found that I needed to improve my timing in Verbal Reasoning and the Situational Judgement Test. I geared most of my study to improving in these sections, but I still practiced questions from the other subtests to make sure I could still accurately and quickly work my way through the questions in the lead up to the exam. From the diagnostic mock, I researched skills that I needed to improve upon in order to gain accuracy and get quicker at the questions types and sections I was struggling in. I also found that prioritising balance between study, work and life was also really important. In my preparation, I would reward myself with extracurricular activities or even just spending time doing the things I enjoyed after 30 minutes of study. This helped keep me goal-oriented in the lead up to the exam.”

How did you tackle the UCAT exam day? 

“I took a break before the exam day to clear my mind. I found that being in a calm state of mind and environment was essential to my exam performance. During the test, if I couldn’t immediately solve the question (or if it was a really long text to read) I would flag the question and move onto easier questions.”

If you had 3 tips for UCAT ESL Students, what would they be?

“Try to expand your knowledge and vocabulary before exam day by reading a variety of texts. 

During practice, try to figure out which questions are taking longer to answer and why. You might ask yourself: is it a lack of understanding the topic? Have I not understood a specific word in the text? Am I getting overwhelmed?, etc. and try to work around it. 

Lastly, and above all, focus on accuracy over speed. At the end of the day, you are marked on every correct answer you give, not how quickly you can work through the exam.”

Where To From Here?

Hope our article on UCAT for ESL was useful, check out our range of Free Resources and Free Tools to guide you during your UCAT prep!

Alternatively, here are more useful resources:

  1. GAMSAT or UCAT: What is the difference?
  2. How to apply for undergraduate medicine in Australia?
  3. How is the UCAT scored?