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How Long Should You Prepare For The UCAT? (For Best Results)

How Long Should You Prepare For The UCAT? (For Best Results)

Updated on: December 3, 2023
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Written By Dr Ollie

Every article is fact-checked by a medical professional. However, inaccuracies may still persist.

If you’re aiming to get into medical school then you’ll need to take the UCAT this summer.

But for a score that will give you the greatest chance of getting an offer, how long should you prepare for?

For best results, students should spend 4-6 weeks preparing for the UCAT. The length of this preparation period is influenced by how many hours a day a student is prepared to work in addition to their natural aptitude. It is possible to fully prepare for the UCAT in as little as 2 weeks.

The key to a high UCAT score is an organised revision plan.

In order to make this timetable, the first thing you need to nail down is how long you’re going to spend revising.

In this article, I’m going to explore some of the key factors you’ll need to consider when deciding on how you’ll tackle this incredibly important exam.

When Should You Start Preparing For The UCAT?

There’s never going to be one perfect period of time that will apply to every student who takes the UCAT.

To achieve the best score possible, you’ll want to select a length of time that will allow you to build up to becoming exam-ready without becoming burnt out from revising for too long.

I actually took the UCAT in the middle of my summer holiday from school.

Although I’d learnt a bit about the exam and it’s sections in term-time, this let me just spend pretty much a solid two weeks revising in the run-up to the exam.

It definitely wasn’t a ‘young wild and free’ summer to remember but did result in me achieving an average score of over 800 per section!

This suited me as I work best when I have a single focus that I can concentrate on for a brief period of time.

I know one of my best friends actually took a completely different approach.

She revised slowly and steadily for about 8 weeks in the run-up to her exam, only working for a couple of hours each day.

Sample 8-Week PlanFocus for Revision
1Exam familiarisation
2VR + DM
3QR + AR
4General + SJ
5Mocks + exam technique
6Weakest sections
7Speed work in all sections
8Mock exams + final prep

Although we each took almost polar opposite approaches to our preparation, she also managed to get a score that got her four out of four interviews.

In order to get a score you’ll be proud of, you’ll want to play to your strengths.

Do you work best in short, sharp bursts? Or do you work best in a longer, more sustained manner?

Naturally, you may find yourself constrained by more practical limitations- school, exams, work experience commitments and even the set UCAT dates for when you can take the exam.

However, just by making a mindful decision about how you’re going to approach the challenge sets you one step ahead of a huge number of candidates who leave things too late and have to rush their prep.

How Many Hours A Day Should You Revise For?

In the build up to your UCAT, how many hours a day should you be revising for?

Students studying for the UCAT should ideally revise for 1-2 hours a day. A consistent approach of concentrated work for a couple of hours a day will result in a solid preparation plan with a lower risk of burnout. Longer study periods are required if a student is preparing in shorter amounts of time.

When I was working solidly for the 2 weeks before my UCAT, I was aiming to complete 9-4 study days with an hour for lunch.

So about 7 hours a day of work, which did however include plenty of breaks.

If, however, you can’t think of anything worse than studying for the UCAT for 7 hours straight then have no fear.

This approach is in no way necessary to achieve a top score.

It’s simply the one I personally chose to take.

A student revising for the UCAT in her kitchen

Consistent revision, for a couple of hours a day, for about a month leading up to your exam will put you in very good standing.

The key is to just make sure you’re fully concentrating during those couple of hours.

The UCAT is a short, sharp exam with immense time pressure.

To reflect this in your preparation, once you’ve mastered the basics you need to be focusing on speed- without losing too much accuracy.

This will never translate from your revision if you were always only half concentrating because you were distracted by your phone.

How Many UCAT Questions Should You Do A Day?

Instead of using time, some students prefer to measure their preparation in terms of how many questions they’ve completed.

Students preparing for the UCAT should aim to do approximately 50 questions per day. This is a very rough estimate as there’s considerable variation in the time it takes to do questions from the different sections. Students should also take the necessary time to review their completed questions.

A lot of the online UCAT question banks have impressively advanced analytics.

You can see exactly how many questions from each section (and even the sub-type of every question) that you’ve completed over your preparation period.

By using ‘number of questions completed’ as opposed to simply ‘time sat in front of computer’ you can get a bit more of a direct measure of how much effort you actually put into your session.

50 questions is a very rough target that I think is reasonable to aim for over a day of revision.

It is however entirely dependent on the type of questions you’re doing.

Four abstract reasoning questions with a common stem can take half as long as a singular verbal reasoning question.

One danger with this approach is that you can start aiming for that golden number of completed questions and lose sight of why you’re actually doing the questions.

Your evaluation of why you got a question right or wrong is just as valuable as completing the question alone.

Reviewing your work, although not bumping up your total number of completed questions, is incredibly important to cementing your learning as you progress towards your test date.

How Many UCAT Mocks Should You Do?

Ideally, a student should aim to do 8-10 UCAT mocks during their preparation period. As a minimum, students should complete the 4 official UCAT mocks freely available from the UCAT Consortium. If possible, these mocks should be evenly spaced out throughout the preparation period.

A mock exam is one of the most valuable tools in your arsenal when it comes to preparing for the UCAT.

No number of endless practice questions is comparable to a full mock under real time pressure.

A mock is the closest you’ll get to replicating sitting the real thing.

Student taking a UCAT mock exam

Because of their value, you should aim to be a bit tactical about when you want to use them.

If you’ve got either a UCAT book or have signed up to an online UCAT question bank, you should have access to a fair number of their mock exams.

If, however, you’ve chosen not to pay extra for any revision materials, you’ll only have the 4 free mocks available on the UCAT Consortium’s website.

Either way, I’d recommend spacing them throughout your revision period, building to a bit of a crescendo just before your exam date.

You might choose to do a mock at the end of each revision week in the month before your exam, or you might want to save all the mocks till you think you’re exam-ready.

Whatever your strategy, when I asked members of my applicant club most successful candidates seemed to do about 8-10 mocks in the run-up to the real thing- so I’d aim to do the same.

Is 2 Weeks Enough To Prepare For The UCAT?

If you’re a last-minute kind of person then there’s a good chance that you’ve left your UCAT prep till (you guessed it) the very last minute.

Depending on how much time you have till your test date, is it possible to prepare for the UCAT in 2 weeks or less?

2 weeks can be a sufficient amount of time to prepare for the UCAT. For a condensed preparation period, students will however be required to work for longer hours each day. Some students prepare for as little as 3 days but this can result in lower scores than they could otherwise have achieved.

There’s nothing stopping you from only doing a couple of days of prep before your exam.

However, at some point your score will begin to suffer.

As I mentioned earlier, two weeks was in fact how long I worked towards the UCAT for.

But, this was me studying full-time and I had become familiar with the structure of the exam and its basic question types before this period.

DayWeek 1Week 2
MonExam familiarisationSJ focus
TueExam familiarisationStudy + mock
WedBenchmark mockSpeed work + mock
ThurVR focusWeakest section + mock
FriDM focusStudy + mock
SatQR focusSection timings + mock
SunAR focusx2 mocks pre-exam

I wouldn’t recommend you attempt revising for any less than two weeks part-time if you don’t want your score to take a significant hit.

Of course it can be done, and you’ll meet people at medical school who’ve done it, but for such an important exam personally I’d always want to play it safe.

If time is of the essence then you may want to consider hiring a UCAT tutor.

Final Thoughts

Shaping a UCAT study plan around you as an individual is going to be what leads to best results.

Only you know how you work best, how much stamina you have for the weird and wonderful UCAT questions and on which days you won’t be able to revise because you’ve got to look after your neighbour’s pet piranha.

If you give yourself slightly more time than you end up needing you’ll be in a much better position than if you end up short and exam day has come around too early.

After all, you can only take the UCAT once.

Start prepping in good time and I’m positive all your hard work will be worth it when you open that results envelope.

About the author
After studying medicine at the University of Leicester, Dr Ollie now works as a junior doctor in London. His interests include medical education and expedition medicine, as well as having a strong belief in the importance of widening access to medicine.