The UKCAT – What You Need to Know

Picture courtesy of Pedro Gómez,
Definitely not the feline variety.

The UKCAT is the United Kingdom Clinical Aptitude Test. It is a two-hour exam used by the majority of medical schools in the UK to distinguish between applicants. It is sat in designated test centres via a computer and all the questions are multiple choice. It is also probably one of the most difficult tests ever to prepare for.

The reason for this is that the UKCAT isn’t testing you on anything in particular, and the stuff it does test you on isn’t to do with medicine. It’s more like a series of little puzzles and logic tests under a very restrictive time limit. The idea is to test your ability to think rather than remember, and to see if you can cope in doing it in such a small amount of time.

In this post I hope to provide some little nuggets of information to help you through, as well as a handy resource list at the bottom.


If you’re preparing to sit the UKCAT, the first thing you should do is click onto Amazon (or go to your local bookshop) and pick up a copy of ‘600 UKCAT Questions‘ by ISC Medical.  This is by far and away the best resource to prepare from. And I say prepare, not revise, because the test is built from the ground up to try to stop you revising for it.

The book contains a bulk of sample questions (well … 600 of them) covering four sections: verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, abstract reasoning and decision analysis. Here’s a quick breakdown of what these odd titles mean.

Verbal Reasoning

  • 22 minutes
  • 44 questions

Each question in this section starts with a big block of writing to read. After you’ve read it, you’re given a statement, and you have to deduce from the text whether the statement is correct, false, or cannot be proved to be either.

Quantitative Reasoning

  • 23 minutes
  • 33 questions

Basically, this section is GCSE maths in multiple choice format. The 600 UKCAT book sample questions for this section are vastly more difficult than the real deal. You’re given a calculator and some space to work out the answers.

Abstract Reasoning

  • 16 minutes
  • 65 questions
For each question, you are shown a shape, and have to decide whether it belongs in one group of shapes (A) or another (B). I found this section the hardest. Just try to look for traits about the shape that might identify it to a group – e.g. if it’s a rectangle, it probably belongs with other rectangles.

Decision Analysis

  • 32 minutes
  • 26 questions

Here, you are given a ‘decoding’ table which shows various symbols and their ‘meanings’. For example, there might be a plus sign ‘+’ with the word ‘elephant’, which means that whenever you see a ‘+’ in the question, you should identify it as meaning elephant. The questions are then given as codes, like ‘< + = B $’. After decoding the meanings via the table, you then choose between four written interpretations, picking based on whichever seems most appropriate to the original code.

N.B. There is technically a fifth section – the situational judgement test. Don’t worry about this though. It’s like a basic ‘what would you do’ set of scenarios to see what your personality’s like. You don’t get a score for this section, but hey, you may as well just answer honestly.

Flagging and Guessing

One of the most important things to remember when sitting the UKCAT is the idea of flagging. The UKCAT program has a little flag shaped button which when pressed ‘flags’ the question. You can then skip right on to the next question and review the flagged questions later. The reason this is so important is because of the very short time limit. There are simply so many questions with such little time to do them that there is no point sitting stuck on just one.

The moment you start thinking ‘wow, this question is hard’ is the moment you should be flagging and guessing. This is especially true in quantitative reasoning: I was advised that if I came across any question longer than one line, I should flag it, guess it and leave it. When you guess randomly, always guess the same letter to maximise your odds; as a set amount of answers are bound to be, say, answer C.

Use Their Stuff!

Another tip is that even though the test is done on a computer screen, that doesn’t mean you can’t jot things down. As well as a calculator, you are provided with a whiteboard and pen. These are very important tools. Use them to follow your working on maths questions with several stages (assuming you don’t just flag and guess these outright), and to jot down decoded phrases during decision analysis. It seriously makes the last section so much simpler to see it written out.

And finally – always keep your cool. Manage your time well and you will do great. If you liked this short guide, or have any questions, let me know in the comments. Good luck!

Essential Dates
  • Open from: July 3rd to October 5th.
  • Registration deadline: September 21st.

Picture courtesy of Pedro Gómez,

4 Replies to “The UKCAT – What You Need to Know”

  1. Hi, great blog!
    I have my ukcat in a few days, when you did it.. what letter did you use to guess anything you didn’t understand?!
    Also, any idea if the ukcat is as difficult as the official online ukcat mock on the website??

    1. Hi – thanks! 🙂

      I always used ‘C’ as my guessing letter. It felt like the most average one! From the people I have spoken to who have sat the UKCAT this cycle, they found the online mock to be harder than the actual test, which is the same as I found. In my case, quantitative in particular was a lot harder in the books than in the real thing.

      Best of luck!

      1. Ah, thank you! I’m terrified so this has made me feel a little better! And I may use ‘C’ too, hopefully it’ll bring me some luck!! Thanks!

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