q
Warning: Cannot modify header information - headers already sent by (output started at /home/customer/www/medicalschoolexpert.co.uk/public_html/wp-content/plugins/code-snippets/code-snippets.php:1) in /home/customer/www/medicalschoolexpert.co.uk/public_html/wp-content/plugins/mediavine-control-panel/src/Security.php on line 49
21 UCAT Decision Making Tips (From A Top 1% Scorer)

21 UCAT Decision Making Tips (From A Top 1% Scorer)

Updated on: December 3, 2023
Photo of author
Written By Dr Ollie

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

With these UCAT Decision Making tips, you’ll hopefully be able to crank your score up a level in what is easily the most varied section in the entire UCAT.

It’s natural to feel a bit overwhelmed when you first come across Decision Making as part of the UCAT.

Many of the skills tested aren’t explicitly covered in other subjects at school.

This is in direct contrast to things like maths and Quantitative Reasoning or English and Verbal Reasoning.

But, you don’t need to worry as in this article I’m going to give you every tip you’ll need to master the section.

These are the exact strategies I used to get an overall score of 3210 when I was applying to medical school.

1. Understand What Decision Making Is Testing

My first tip is pretty simple; you’re never going to do well in the section if you don’t actually understand what you’re being tested on.

Decision Making is the second section in the UCAT.

It’s the most unique and varied section and uses a wide range of question types and formats to challenge your logical and analytical abilities.

You’ll do well in the Decision Making section if you can dissect problems in a logical fashion while withholding any of your own personal beliefs or prior knowledge.

Evaluating data in addition to arguments also plays a big role in the section and your critical thinking skills will be put to the test throughout.

2. Get To Grips With Why It’s Being Tested

Understanding the reason why you’re being challenged with Decision Making (when you’re just trying to apply to medical school) can give you the extra 1% drive over someone who doesn’t.

I’ve always found I’m far more motivated to succeed at something if I understand the reasons behind why I’m doing it.

The logical reasoning skills tested in Decision Making are in fact vital to successfully diagnosing disease in patients.

Reasoning in medicine often involves working through a logical series of steps, with different tests or scans at each stage, until you reach a diagnosis.

The evaluating arguments and the strength of conclusions questions also pretty much reflect the basis for evidence-based medicine.

Not all scientific studies are created equal, so you need to be able to judge for yourself whether or not a study’s conclusions should alter your medical practice.

Analysing statistical information is equally an invaluable skill in interpreting the latest medical research.

3. Learn Some Decision Making Section Stats

This tip comes back to the fact that the better you know the challenge, the easier you’ll be able to overcome it.

The Decision Making section actually gives you the most time per question in the entire UCAT.

But don’t let that stat fool you.

The sheer variety of curveballs they can throw at you in the six different question types can easily eat up that extra time.

The ‘Decision Making’ section replaced ‘Decision Analysis’ in 2017. You may still find it called that in some older books and resources.

And yes, I now feel old for having sat Decision Analysis in my UCAT…

In the newer Decision Making section you get:

  • 31 minutes to complete the subsection
  • You have to answer 29 questions
  • Across 6 different question types
  • Averaging at 64 seconds per question

By memorising these key stats about the section, you’ll be able to judge your progress as you’re going through the exam, allowing you to speed up or slow down as required.

4. Use The Whiteboard To Visualise Questions

The whiteboard is your best friend when it comes to logical puzzles.

Questions become way less confusing when you’ve drawn out the information in some form or another.

UCAT Decision Making Whiteboard
The UCAT whiteboard is great if you’re a visual learner

There are lots of different ways you can visualise the questions- tables, graphs, Venn diagrams, even just doodles…

Each question will be best suited to a particular method. Sometimes you may actually need a mixture of two.

The key though is to use something!

5. Don’t Be A UCAT Perfectionist

Logical puzzles can sometimes present this incredibly intriguing problem that you’d love to get stuck into and really figure out.

Don’t.

You have to remember the clock’s ticking down and every second counts.

You need to be like a crack hostage rescue squad getting in and out with just the answers you need.

Now I love a good brain-teaser as much as the next UCAT candidate but efficiency is key.

Double-check exactly what you need to work out before you dive into calculating what height Tim and Jim are when really you just needed to know Sandy was taller than Mandy.

Although not fully solving a puzzle is far less satisfying, by pinpointing exactly what you need to find out will save you tonnes of time across the section.

6. Draw Venn Diagrams For Syllogisms

Although Decision Making includes Venn diagram-specific questions, they can also be incredibly helpful elsewhere in the section.

Venn diagrams make syllogisms a thousand times easier to solve. 

Instead of trying to mentally grapple with the puzzling statements I always draw out the information you’re given in Venn diagram form.

So a statement like:

Some UCAT Decision Making questions are difficult. Some of these are pointless. All of them are confusing.

Would become:

UCAT Decision Making Venn Diagram Draw
Example Decision Making Venn diagram

Once you can actually see the information on the whiteboard in front of you, it becomes far easier to find the information you’re looking for rather than having to mentally picture it all.

7. Don’t Be Tricked Into Making Assumptions

The UCAT can be extremely sneaky with its syllogism scenarios.

One of the ways they can trick you is by using incredibly basic or familiar knowledge in the questions.

This might be a syllogism along the lines of:

Many cars carry a spare wheel. Those that don’t usually get breakdown insurance. All drivers have to be insured for collisions.

You might then be asked to evaluate a conclusion such as:

  • Drivers whose cars have spare wheels sometimes still get breakdown insurance.

Now, this statement is intuitively true because we know from common knowledge that this is the case.

However, there’s no evidence for this in the syllogism.

As with lots of situations in the UCAT, you have to be very careful not to use your own prior knowledge when answering the question.

Having this tip at the back of your mind should hopefully stop you from falling into their traps as they arise.

8. Read The Question First When Interpreting Information

In some interpreting information questions, you may be presented with a horrendously complicated graph/table/diagram etc.

It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the amount of information you’re faced with.

I’d always recommend having a quick look at the question first.

This will allow you to zero in on exactly where in the data you need to focus your attention. 

As an example, in complicated charts, there are often multiple lines of data plotted. However, there may be only one that you’re actually interested in.

UCAT Decision Making Interpreting Information Graph 1
An example Decision Making bar chart

For example, in the bar chart above there are two sets of data plotted from June onwards: the black bars and the orange bars.

But, if the question might only actually be asking you about the orange bars.

By looking at the question first you won’t waste any valuable time evaluating the excess information.

9. Details In The Data Can Make All The Difference

When interpreting data it’s vital you pick up on any crucial details provided with it. 

These might be units in a table format or a legend for a graph.

There’s nothing worse than giving an answer that’s a factor of ten out or doing a complicated calculation for the wrong variable.

Make sure you take a second to check you’ve got the right end of the stick before jumping into answering a tricky Decision Making question.

10. Suspend Your Own Beliefs To Recognise Assumptions

Recognising assumptions is such a strange question type. To be successful in answering them though it’s crucial to suspend your own beliefs.

It can be easy to think “Yes yes, I get it already, don’t use my own opinions, only look at the question” if you’ve come across this tip before regarding one of the other UCAT sections.

However, question writers will often try and actually lure you in by using contentious topics. 

This might be by using something about which people are likely to have a strong opinion such as politics or climate change.

Try and recognise your thoughts and feelings in instances like this and be extra careful to just evaluate each argument on its own merits.

11. A Strong Statement Addresses The Entire Topic At Hand

This is something I frequently get caught out by.

We know a strong statement is directly connected to the subject matter and doesn’t rely on assumption or opinion.

So, it can be easy to select a statement that’s clearly relevant with some supporting data included as a knee-jerk response.

This is where you can go wrong if you’re rushing. 

To be the strongest argument in the set of conclusions it has to address the entire topic at hand.

Read through the question carefully to make sure the conclusion you’re about to choose fully answers the brief asked of it in the stem.

12. Use Facts You’re Given To Eliminate Answers

Difficult Venn diagram questions can be a big time drain if you get bogged down.

This is especially true in the form where you have to choose a Venn diagram that best represents some information you’re given.

The way to avoid having to comb through four different (but very similar) Venn diagrams is to eliminate answers.

UCAT Decision Making Eliminate
Four example Decision Making Venn diagrams

Using the Venn diagrams above, let’s say the question stem told us something like:

“Out of the pensioners surveyed, 90 people said they enjoyed all three of the cheese string flavours.”

By extracting this fact from the rest of the text we can immediately eliminate options A and D because they don’t have 90 in the centre position.

We can then use the rest of the information provided to more closely compare the options remaining to get the right answer.

13. Don’t Let Their Distractors Distract You

Why do Venn diagrams in maths textbooks just use circles, whereas the UCAT uses a whole host of crazy shapes?

The simple answer is they’re just trying to make the information more difficult to interpret.

They’re trying to distract you.

Just by being aware of this fact means it’s now less likely to work on you.

The above Venn diagram represents the number of hours spent by Student A on different activities whilst ‘revising’ in a week.

Based on the diagram, how many hours did Student A spend eating while studying but not crying?

A. 1
B. 4
C. 5
D. 8

Remembering that a number inside of a double-headed arrow is exactly the same as a number inside a circle should let you cut through the smoke and mirrors and extract the data you need to answer the question.

Both Venn diagrams using only circles and Venn diagrams using weird and wonderful shapes both work exactly the same mathematically.

(The correct answer is B, four.)

14. Be Suspicious Of Alternative Answers

This is an absolute classic maths test technique that the UCAT uses.

It’s essentially including alternate multiple choice answers that are the answer you would get if you used a slightly wrong method.

So for example, if you were calculating the probability of two different OR scenarios they might include answer options that were the number you’d get if you forgot to ADD the probabilities.

Now you know this, the key is not to be falsely reassured if the answer you calculate is listed as a multiple choice option.

Of course the correct answer will be listed!

But if you’re uncertain that you followed the right method it can still be worth flagging and coming back after selecting your answer.

15. Draw Out A Probability Tree For Complex Scenarios

A probability tree is just sort of a visual aid for calculating probabilities. You may have come across them before in maths.

They can be really useful for tackling more complex or confusing questions. You just draw out all the different possible options and their probabilities.

A probability tree for two flips of a coin would look like:

UCAT Decision Making Probability Tree
An example probability tree for the UCAT

Once you’ve drawn out all the possible options you can just annotate in the different probabilities.

In our case here it would just be 0.5 for each limb- there’s a 50/50 chance of heads or tails with each coin toss.

Now probability trees do take a bit of time to draw. So you shouldn’t use them for every question.

But, for more difficult ones that you just can’t get your head around you can just follow the tree and times the probabilities together for AND scenarios and add them together for OR scenarios.

16. Venn Diagrams Are Doubly Important

When you revise Venn diagrams you’re killing two birds with one stone.

That’s because your knowledge won’t just serve you in Venn diagram questions but also in syllogism questions.

UCAT Decision Making Revise Venn Diagrams
A Venn diagram about revising for Decision Making

The good news is you don’t need any in-depth Venn diagram theory knowledge for the UCAT.

Just a solid understanding of the basics will do fine.

If you haven’t the foggiest and Venn diagrams are just a distant memory from GCSE Maths then it’s probably worth reading a quick BBC Bitesize article or skimming over your old notes.

17. Improve Your Odds With Probability

Probability is one of those topics where relying on common sense and instinct can actually really trip you up.

I remember struggling to get my head round this concept:

If you’ve flipped a coin nine times, and nine times it has landed on tails, what’s the probability that the next toss will land on tails?

It’s still 50/50, not a smaller chance as my common sense was telling me.

Now of course that’s not the same as saying “what’s the probability of landing ten tails in a row?”

UCAT Decision Making Probability Revision
Decision Making probability example

What I’m trying to say is you need to do your homework.

Don’t just rely on being able to logic your way to answers in probability questions.

Get to grips with the maths surrounding probability if you’re feeling a bit rusty.

Again, BBC Bitesize has an excellent article that will run you through things from the ground up if you need a refresher.

18. There’s No Substitute For UCAT Decision Making

Tip number 18 is that there’s nothing quite like the UCAT Decision Making section.

It’s just so unique with so many question formats and topics that you just don’t see anywhere else.

You don’t have lessons on recognising assumptions or logical puzzles at school for example.

So to fully prepare for the section, you’ve just got to just do the section.

That is, you need to find high-quality UCAT practice questions and mocks to learn from.

Be sure to make the most of all the official UCAT question banks. These are the best out there, being written by the same people who’ll write your UCAT paper.

Otherwise, I’d recommend signing up to an online question bank and/or getting your hands on some UCAT books- just be sure they were published after Decision Analysis changed to Decision Making.

19. Time Your Section To Perfection

Timing is a key factor in mastering any UCAT section. Use these three steps to master timing in Decision Making:

Keep An Eye On The Clock

Although it’s a more luxuriously timed section than others, it’s important not to get carried away.

Keep in the back of your mind important milestones such as halfway through (15 minutes and thirty seconds) and three quarters through (23 minutes 15 seconds).

Know Your Average Timings

With so many different question types within the section, it’s important you have a rough idea of how long a question will take.

This will let you make informed decisions if time gets tight to skip a long single-mark question for an easier double-mark one for example.

Flag And Come Back

It’s a technique essential to good pacing throughout the UCAT. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:

If you’re getting bogged down put down a guess, flag the question, then come back at the end if you have time to grapple with your flagged questions.

20. Don’t Clear Your Whiteboard After Flagging

This tip follows on from above and will save you tonnes of time.

If you do end up flagging a question to come back to, don’t clear any working out you’ve done for it on your whiteboard.

That’s because it will save you valuable time at the end if you don’t have to redo anything you’ve already written out.

This is particularly important with complicated logic puzzle questions- you don’t want to waste time sketching out that stick figure family again for example.

Just remember, for this technique to work you need to keep your notes neat.

21. Hoover Up Easy Decision Making Marks

In the UCAT Decision Making section, there are definitely some question types that are easier than others.

Don’t miss them.

Just as in the Verbal Reasoning section you don’t want to miss the True/False/Can’t Tell questions, you’ll find certain Decision Making question types that are easy marks for you.

As to what those question types actually are, it depends on you personally.

I found recognising assumptions questions initially very difficult, but once I got the hang of how to answer them they offered a good time : mark ratio.

Once you know which question types play to your strengths, be sure to pick them out if you run tight on time.

Final Thoughts

The UCAT Decision Making section is a real melting pot of lots of different questions types and topics.

This means to do well in it, you actually need to implement a myriad of different strategies for dealing with all the different question types.

These 21 UCAT Decision Making tips will hopefully set you up for success so that you’ll be ready to take on anything the UCAT can throw at you on test day.

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.