The question of the year – what really is the UCAT? How is it different to the UMAT?
And most importantly, how do we get good at it?
In this three-part UCAT series, we interview UCAT expert Michael Tsai to pick his brains and give you the low-down on UCAT.
And as usual, we keep it honest.
Part 1 of the interview
💬 Subtitles and ⏩ speed control available.
What is the UCAT?
The UCAT stands for the University Clinical Aptitude Test. And the main focus of this test is to assess the aptitude of the candidate, and their ability to make great evidence-based decisions.
These days, especially in Australia medical schools are looking at UCAT as of equal importance to your grades.
What can students expect?
It’s a faster, beefed-up version of the UMAT, which people may know about.
The UMAT was three hours and 134 questions; people had trouble finishing that already. UCAT is two hours and 233 questions. The less time you have and the more questions you have means that for you to do well in it, you really have to know your skills to solve these questions.
💡 For those who don’t know, the UMAT is the previous psychometric test used for medical entry in Australasia. It was controversial with many stating that it was an effectively pointless test – a sentiment we personally have always agreed with. As of 2019, it was replaced by the UCAT, which is largely considered a much more reliable test.
Facts about the UCAT
The UCAT is:
- An online, computerized test.
- Held in test centres spread across a city, usually at places like polytechnics and universities, where they hire out an actual computer lab. So instead of having a big auditorium full of people, you might have maybe 20 to 40 computers.
- Composed of five individually timed sections of questions.
- Held from the 1st of July to the 31st of July. In some small cities, you can only select a few dates, but for the bigger ones, you can select from a range of dates during that time period.
So how do people prevent cheating?
It’s interesting, so, first and foremost, because of how much, or how little time you have. It’s actually really difficult to remember any real detail in the questions.Michael
Because of the huge number of questions, not only does remembering a few questions not make much of a difference, but there are also multiple versions of it with entirely different questions (no-one knows how many but we suspect at least three).
In effect, it becomes pointless to even try to remember.
How is the UCAT scored?
Students receive a raw mark for each of the five sections.
For example, section one has 44 questions. If you get 19 questions correct, that’s a raw mark of 19 out of 44. After this, everyone’s raw marks for that section get put into an algorithm which calculates their relative percentiles.
So, according to UCAT, there is a process of standardization that occurs so that everyone’s marks are, you know fair, although they sat different exams.Michael
Students are then scored per section, given the range from 300 to 900. 300 means you got nothing right; 900 means that you got everything right. These scores are aggregated across the first four sections with a separate mark for the fifth section. The first-four section aggregate score ranges from 1200 to 3600.
💡 The fifth section, around medical ethics, is separate because some universities do not look at the fifth section as it is assessed in their medical interview.
When do you get your score?
Students will receive raw marks for the test within around 30 minutes of the actual exam but will have to wait until after the 31st of July for UCAT to process this information before receiving an individual mark from 300 to 900 for each section, the four section aggregate, and fifth section score.
What do most people score?
So it’s interesting… The curve isn’t very normally distributed, actually. There are pockets where there’s a congregation of marks, that have very little, I guess, variants between them.Michael
While the overall point distribution is grossly normally distributed, it tends to be concentrated in certain spots. We speculate that this indicates that there are a whole bunch of people that know what they’re doing and score highly, and then the remaining students follow the normal bell-curve.
What’s a good score to be competitive?
So, anything above 3000 out of 3600 is considered a very good score. So this year, 3000 was equivalent to 96th percentile… And then if you do a little bit better, your percentile goes up quite quickly.Michael
But it isn’t as simple as this.
There are actually regional differences and it depends on who ends up applying to that medical school and what marks they bring.
So what I see typically is that in Australian universities… their results tend to be much better than New Zealand candidates, and I think there’s a couple of factors, but the biggest factor probably is the fact that the university courses in New Zealand are extremely demanding.Michael
As a result, it may be that students in NZ are less focused on UCAT until a few weeks before, while Australian candidates tend to prepare much earlier.
🎯 Competitive scores* (estimated)
Australia – Typically around 2850+
New Zealand – Typically around 2650+
*Disclaimer: Competitive scores do not equate to guaranteed entry, but rather scores that give you a fair chance, assuming good academic grades. Many universities use a combination of UCAT and academic grades to qualify students for interview offers. The scores could change and will vary from year to year. Of particular note is that if students in NZ start to prepare earlier, we could expect the NZ score to rise.
How is the UCAT score analysed at the University of Auckland?
Here’s a quote from a previous page on the University website, taken on January 28th, 2020.
The UCAT is marked on the number of correct answers you give. As the number of questions varies between the four cognitive subtests it is not possible to make a direct comparison of the raw marks between these subtests. Raw marks are therefore converted to scale scores that share a common range from 300 to 900.
A total scale score is generated by summing the individual scale scores of Verbal Reasoning, Decision Making, Quantitative Reasoning and Abstract Reasoning. In 2019 a total scale score ranges from 1200 to 3600. Within the Situational Judgement test (SJT), full marks are awarded for a question if your response matches the correct answer and partial marks awarded if your response is close to the correct answer.
From 2021 onwards, it appears that the University of Auckland will use all five sections, including the situational judgement test as part of the total score, as seems to be indicated by the final sentence of the image below.
In the next part of this series, we will comprehensively dissect each of the five sections.
Check out part 2 here.
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Michael frequently holds events and workshops around UCAT. You can follow them for updates through their social media and website below.
Professional Reviewer/Guest Expert
This article has been checked for quality and reliability by…
Michael TsaiCo-Founder of iCanMed
As a qualified educator, professional interviewer, learning designer and assessment writer, Michael spent the last 11 years helping thousands of pre-med students with all aspects of the medical school entrance. He currently delivers UCAT workshops across seven cities in NZ and Australia, and also advises over 100 schools on preparation timelines and methodologies.