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13 UCAT Situational Judgement Tips (From A Top 1% Scorer)

13 UCAT Situational Judgement Tips (From A Top 1% Scorer)

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.

With these UCAT Situational Judgement tips, you’ll hopefully be able to secure a top banding in the fifth and final section of the UCAT.

After all, Situational Judgement is… testing you on how you judge situations?

Isn’t that all just common sense?

And why on earth are medical schools interested in how you deal with everyday scenarios?

Well, in this article I’m going to explain the above as well as give you 13 tips for taking on any Situational Judgement question- giving you everything you need to know to master the section.

These are the exact strategies I used to get an overall score of 3210 and SJT Band 1 when I was applying to medical school.

1. Understand What Situational Judgement 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.

Situational Judgement is the final section in the UCAT and is all about evaluating possible actions you could take when dealing with sensitive situations.

Situational Judgement is essentially testing how you’d react in certain difficult situations and how you evaluate different courses of action.

You’re given a hypothetical scenario and then asked to evaluate either the importance or appropriateness of a number of different actions or things to say.

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

Understanding the reason why you’re being challenged with Situational Judgement (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.

Throughout your career as a doctor, you’re going to come across plenty of sticky situations. And each one will be different from the last.

You need to be able to handle them professionally and effectively.

They want to make sure you not only have the academic prowess to take on medical school, but you also have the necessary personal qualities to be a good doctor when you come out the other end.

The UCAT Consortium say the Situational Judgement section assesses your:

  • Integrity
  • Perspective taking
  • Resilience
  • Adaptability
  • Team involvement

These qualities are generally far more difficult to instil in a student than it is to teach them anatomy or physiology.

Therefore, medical schools may choose candidates that already rank highly in tests that assess these qualities.

3. Learn Some Situational Judgement Stats

For most people, Situational Judgement is the least time-pressured section in the UCAT.

You’ve completed four out of five of the UCAT sections and now have the opportunity to contemplate each question for a bit longer.

For the final part of the exam, you have:

  • 26 minutes to complete the section
  • 66 questions across 22 passages
  • An average of 24 seconds per question

Each passage is associated with between one and six questions depending on the question format.

Although 24 seconds per question doesn’t seem like a lot, the fact that you’ll only need to read one stem for up to six questions will generally give you time to spare.

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

4. Start By Identifying The Key Issues

If you’re stuck on an SJT question, the first step is to identify the key issue (or issues) present in the scenario.

You can do this by applying a medical ethics framework to the situation. 

A medical ethics framework is things like your four pillars of medical ethics, confidentiality, duty of candour…

Let’s work through a scenario as an example:

Anna had just finished the morning’s work as a junior doctor in general surgery. A few of the team’s jobs had been to take blood from some of the patients on the ward.

Hiu, Anna’s colleague, confides in her he accidently bled the wrong patient. He’s sent some of the blood  down to the lab labelled with the wrong patient details.

Hiu asks Anna not to tell anyone as he’s embarrassed at his forgetfulness and only sees it as a minor error.

So, what are the key issues raised here?

  1. Incorrectly labelled blood has been sent to the lab. This could have serious implications if a patient’s treatment is altered because of erroneous results.
  2. Hiu has caused a patient harm (although only a small amount) by performing an unnecessary procedure and putting the patient at risk of infection.
  3. Hiu has a duty of candour to tell the patient he incorrectly bled that he made a mistake. He does not seem initially willing to do this.
UCAT Situational Judgement Taking Blood
Taking blood from a patient


These three key issues broadly represent:

  1. A risk to patient safety 
  2. A violation of the pillar ‘first do no harm’.
  3. A rejection of the duty of candour.

If you’re not sure where to start, carefully read through the passage comparing each part to your ethical framework.

You’ll be sure to highlight at least one problem- it’s a Situational Judgement question after all!

5. Find Answers That Address The Problems

Once you’ve identified the key issues, you have to find solutions that address them.

Let’s imagine you’re asked how important a certain consideration is:

How important to take into account are the following considerations for Anna when deciding how to respond to the situation?

That Hiu may be embarassed if the patients found out he’d mixed them up.

A. Very important
B. Important
C. Of minor importance
D. Not important at all

So this statement doesn’t address any of our key issues. Therefore it should be rated D, not important at all.

UCAT Situational Judgement Blood Bottles
Blood bottles lying on a table

A consideration that addressed a key issue would be something like:

The patient incorrectly bled has a right to know they were subjected to an unnecessary procedure.

A. Very important
B. Important
C. Of minor importance
D. Not important at all

This statement is directly targeted at our third issue, Hiu’s duty of candour.

Therefore it should be rated Avery important.

It can be helpful to mentally compare each consideration to your key issues to see which actually are important to the situation.

6. Appreciate Each Question’s Constraints

This tip is especially important in ‘appropriateness’ type questions but can be useful to think about in all of them.

Appreciating your constraints is all about deciding what would be reasonable for the character in the scenario to do.

The best course of action in any given scenario can be wildly different depending on whether you’re considering it from a patient’s vs student vs doctor’s point of view.

UCAT Situational Judgement Medical Student
The correct answer in Situational Judgement questions depends on who you are

For example, let’s say you were asked about the appropriateness of the following statement for the scenario above:

“Hiu, I know you didn’t mean to bleed the wrong patient but I’m going to have to refer you to the General Medical Council for causing a patient unnecessary harm.”

A. Very important
B. Important
C. Of minor importance
D. Not important at all

The General Medical Council is who maintains the list of registered medical practitioners and has the power to strike people off.

This is a very inappropriate thing to say.

Although Anna would be addressing one of our key issues, the fact a patient did come to harm, she’s gone about it in a totally inappropriate way.

A referral to the GMC is not the best course of action for Anna to take after only one minor incident like this.

A referral to the GMC would generally come only after very careful consideration from a lot of people a lot more senior than Anna as a singular junior doctor.

That’s why it’s always important to think about whose point of view you’re answering the question from.

7. Learn Situational Judgement Theory First

Trying to prepare for something like the Situational Judgement section can be a real challenge.

There’s no curriculum, there are no textbooks, and all the answers are just subjective opinion anyway!

Now that’s not the same as me saying you can’t prepare for it. You can.

You just have to know the right way to go about it.

A trap a lot of people fall into when preparing for Situational Judgement is they only do practice questions to prepare.

This method will get you results- a lot of the same questions and topics do come up time and time again.

However, a much better way to approach the section is to actually look at some of the underlying theory first.

That way you’ll be able to work out correct answers rather than just knowing them because you’ve seen a similar question before.

UCAT Situational Judgement Student
Revising UCAT Situational Judgement theory

To do this you should start by reading the document upon which the Situational Judgement section is practically based:

The GMC’s Good Medical Practice.

This document lays out the duties, values, skills and behaviours expected of a doctor registered in the United Kingdom.

Another excellent resource is the GMC’s Outcomes For Graduates.

The first section is all about the professional values and behaviours medical schools want their graduates to have.

Now don’t get me wrong, practice questions certainly have their place in your preparation.

However, by familiarising yourself with the underlying standards set out for doctors, you’ll get a much deeper understanding of what actually makes an answer correct in Situational Judgement.

8. Prepare To Be Tired

The UCAT is a long exam. Two hours long to be exact.

And Situational Judgement is the very last section. This means you’ll have been concentrating for over an hour and a half by the time you get to it.

You’re going to be tired.

It’s only natural that after completing the incredibly intense first four sections you’ll find your energy levels dropping.

Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do to stop this. But you can prepare for it.

Towards the end of your preparation, make sure you’re completing some full-length mocks in exam conditions.

That means no getting up to get a glass of water or being distracted by Instagram halfway through…

By doing full-length mocks you’ll get an accurate picture of how you’re going to function in the real thing.

This might reveal you need to work on pacing yourself to keep your energy levels consistent.

It’s much better to find this out now than completely die in the final stretch on exam day because you’d only ever practised each section separately!

9. Learn From Every Mistake

For every section in the UCAT, I recommend doing plenty of practice questions.

And when you’re doing them for Situational Judgement it can be incredibly useful to keep a log of the ones you get wrong.

It doesn’t have to be an extensive essay, but just a brief note about the question, its themes, and the reasoning behind the correct answer.

This can be so helpful in Situational Judgement because often you have seemingly contradictory answers to pretty much the same scenario.

There can be a lot of nuance in the finer details that results in the best course of action being significantly different.

When this situation crops up you can then go back and review the previous similar questions, what was the same about them and crucially, what was different.

This insight into the more advanced decision-making that can change a question’s outcome will put you in a much better position to select the correct answer next time.

10. Don’t Worry If You Struggle With Situational Judgement

Situational Judgement is scored differently from every other section in the UCAT.

Instead of being given a scaled score between 300 and 900 like the other sections, you’re given a banding from 1 to 4.

For each question, the UCAT Consortium has got a panel of experts to sit down and vote on which they think is the best answer.

Your answers are then compared to what this panel thought the best course of action was.

Here’s the UCAT’s definition of their bands:

BandingDefinition
Band 1An excellent level of performance, showing similar judgement in most cases to the panel of experts.
Band 2A good, solid level of performance, showing appropriate judgement frequently, with many responses matching model answers.
Band 3A modest level of performance, with appropriate judgement shown for some questions and substantial differences from ideal responses for others.
Band 4The performance of those in Band 4 was low, with judgement tending to differ substantially from ideal responses in many cases.

I think it’s fair to say that if you get either a Band 1 or Band 2 you’ve done pretty well.

Either way, you’re only likely to be disadvantaged in your application if you get graded a Band 4.

Situational Judgement is a bit of an outlier in the UCAT.

It’s scored differently, it’s not an academic section like the others, some universities don’t even really look at it…

A poor score can hold you back, but an excellent Band 1 may not necessarily progress your application.

Prepare for it with the other UCAT sections but don’t become too fixated on it. Make sure you’re not losing time that could be better spent revising for the other sections.

11. Give ‘Perfect World’ Answers In Your SJT

By ‘perfect world’ answers I mean you need to answer as you know someone should act in a particular scenario in a perfect world.

Often there’s a difference between what a model answer declares is the best course of action and what people actually do in the real world.

Let me give you an example.

I’ll be the first to admit on a busy surgical ward round I’ve probably seen a bit of spilt coffee in the hallway between wards.

As I was hurrying after the consultant, I likely stepped right over it and didn’t give it a second thought.

UCAT Situational Judgement Corridor
People walking down a hospital corridor


However, this spilt coffee or other liquid is a slip hazard to any staff or patients walking down the corridor.

The best thing to do in that situation would be to stop the ward round, find a wet floor hazard sign and call a member of the domestic staff to help clean it up.

By the time you’ve found the sign, the consultant would have probably seen the first three patients on the next ward.

Just make sure you’re answering the questions as you know things should happen, not necessarily how you know things do happen.

12. Don’t Second Guess Yourself

The Situational Judgement section is about the only section that most people don’t have to madly race through trying not to leave questions unanswered.

You’ve got a bit more time to stop and think about each question. 

Beware.

Because of this extra time and ambiguous nature of many of the questions, some people can find themselves changing and then rechanging their answers for every question.

My advice if you get stuck in a situation like this is to just go with your gut instinct.

These questions aren’t set out to trick you, they’re there to try and assess how you might act in similar scenarios.

If you know something feels like the right thing to do, go with that option.

13. Eliminate The Incorrect Half

This is a technique for when you’re really not sure how to answer.

In ‘Importance’ and ‘Appropriateness’ questions you often have your four different possible answers:

  • Two saying the statement is appropriate/important
  • Two saying it’s not
  • One middle ground and one extreme for each side (e.g. ‘appropriate but not ideal’ and ‘very appropriate’)

The way to not get too caught up in more difficult questions is to spend just enough time to narrow down whether the statement falls on the positive or negative side of the fence.

Is it important/appropriate or is it not important/appropriate?

Once you’ve decided that, you’ve effectively eliminated half the answers. It’s then just a 50/50 as to whether it’s the moderate or extreme option.

Put down a 50/50 guess and flag the question.

Come back to your flagged questions at the end to think about them more carefully. But as I mentioned above, try not to second-guess yourself.

Final Thoughts

Although it may not sometimes seem like it, the Situational Judgement section isn’t actually out there to trick you.

It’s there for you to demonstrate that you’ve got the emotional intelligence, as well as academics, to be a doctor.

If you’re struggling, always putting the patient first is a golden rule in medicine that will pretty much never see you wrong.

Whether that be in the UCAT Situational Judgement or in your future practice as a doctor.

If there’s ever a risk to patient safety, this needs to be at the top of your priority list.

This doesn’t always have to be a direct risk, however.

For example, a surgeon turning up to work drunk is a direct risk to patients if they’re due to operate that morning.

But, a colleague stealing medication from a ward can also be a risk to patient safety.

If a nurse needs to give a patient some medication in an emergency, but it’s missing because it was taken without anyone realising, this could lead to harm to the patient.

Putting the patient first is a theme that will run through your entire medical career and is my final tip to improve your UCAT Situational Judgement.

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.