What Is The UCAT? (Complete Exam Guide)

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 planning on applying to medical school then at some point you’re going to have to overcome the UCAT.

I remember not really knowing what it even was before I had to start revising for it in year 12.

The UCAT is a 2-hour computer-based admissions test used by the majority of UK medical schools. It’s an aptitude test that consists of 5 separate sections: Verbal Reasoning, Decision Making, Quantitative Reasoning, Abstract Reasoning and Situational Judgement.

It’s an incredibly important exam for your medicine application as a lot of universities use it to help them decide whom to invite to interview.

In this article, I’m going to cover the main questions you might have if you’re learning about the UCAT for the first time, as well as give you a few of my best tips from when I sat it.

What Does UCAT Stand For?

UCAT stands for University Clinical Aptitude Test. The UCAT was formerly known as the UKCAT (United Kingdom Clinical Aptitude Test) but was renamed following the launch of the test in Australia and New Zealand. The UCAT, UKCAT and UCAT ANZ are all essentially the same aptitude test.

The UCAT was renamed from UKCAT in 2019 after Australia and New Zealand moved from the UMAT (Undergraduate Medicine and Health Sciences Admission Test) to the UCAT.

In order to differentiate between the UK UCAT and Australasian UCAT, the Australasian UCAT is denoted as UCAT ANZ.

Again, it’s the same test but just conducted over different testing dates- due to the differing university deadlines of UK and Australasian medical schools.

The UCAT is used for both UK medicine and dental programmes. So students wishing to apply to either medical or dental school may have to undergo the test.

Do You Need To Take The UCAT To Apply For Medicine?

If you’ve got any friends who have applied to medicine in previous years, the chances are they’ll have taken the UCAT.

But do you actually need to take the UCAT in order to apply for medicine?

Not every applicant to a UK medical school needs to take the UCAT. Only medicine applicants who are applying to medical schools that specifically require it need to sit the exam. However, if applying to multiple medical schools the chances are at least one of them will require candidates to sit it.

The UCAT is the most commonly used entrance exam by UK medical schools.

The majority of medical schools require their applicants to sit it- so if you’ve got 4 different medical schools on your UCAS form, the chances are that at least one of them will require it.

A medical student giving a presentation

However, the fact stands that you don’t actually need to take the UCAT in order to apply for medicine.

For example, if you wanted to just apply to one medical school that either required an alternative entrance exam or didn’t have one at all then there’d be no need for you to sit the UCAT.

However, almost everyone who applies to medicine in the UK does sit it.

Making a successful medicine application is often about applying tactically and hedging your bets- so having at least one UCAT university on your application form is often the right move.

Which Medical Schools Require The UCAT?

Whether a UCAT score will be required from you as an applicant depends not only on which medical schools you select but also on which of their courses you’re applying to.

For example, the undergraduate medicine course at Nottingham requires the UCAT but the graduate entry medicine course requires the GAMSAT.

The medical schools and courses that currently require students to sit the UCAT are as follows:

UniversityUCAS Course Code
University of Aberdeen A100, A201
Anglia Ruskin University A100
Aston University A100
University of Birmingham A100, A101, A200
University of Bristol A100, A108, A206, A208
Brunel University London A100
Cardiff University A100, A104, A200, A204
University of Dundee A100, A104, A200
University of East Anglia A100, A104
Edge Hill University A100, A110
University of Edinburgh A100
University of Exeter A100
University of Glasgow A100, A200
Hull York Medical School A100, A101
Keele University A100, A104
Kent and Medway Medical School A100
King’s College London A100, A101, A102, A202, A205, A206
University of Leicester A100, A199
University of Liverpool A100, A200
University of Manchester A104, A106, A204, A206
Newcastle University A100, A101, A206
University of Nottingham A100, A10L, A108, A18L
University of Plymouth A100, A206
Queen Mary University of London A100, A101, A110, A120, A200
Queen’s University Belfast A100, A200
University of Sheffield A100, A101, A200
University of Southampton A100, A101, A102
University of St Andrews A100, A990
St George’s, University of London A100
University of Sunderland A100
University of Warwick A101
University of Worcester A101

From year to year, a small handful of universities will change their requirements for applicants.

Before finalising whether you definitely do or don’t need to sit the UCAT, it’s best to check on the medical schools’ websites themselves.

Alternatively, you can find the latest list of UCAT Consortium Universities on the official UCAT website here.

When Do You Take The UCAT?

The UCAT can be sat anytime between the end of July and the end of September each year.

Your UCAT score is only valid for one year however, so you have to take it the summer before you apply to medical school.

You also can’t retake the UCAT in a single testing cycle.

For most people, this means sitting it in the summer holidays between years 12 and 13.

The UCAT testing dates do however often extend into the final term of year 12 and the start of year 13- so depending on when you choose to take the test you may take it whilst still in school.

There are lots of different factors that can influence when the best time to take the UCAT is.

For example, any other summer plans you might have (holidays!), other commitments you might have going on (e.g. work experience), or whether you’d have time to postpone the exam if something unexpected comes up.

I personally chose to take my UCAT in the summer holidays where I had a 2-week run of absolutely nothing on.

This let me focus entirely on the UCAT, have a bit of a break afterwards, and then go back to school and be able to just think about school work.

Although the timeframe of end of July to end of September stays consistent, the exact testing dates for the UCAT can slightly vary from year to year.

You can find this year’s specific dates here.

How Do You Register For The UCAT?

In order to sit the UCAT, you need to register online ahead of time.

It’s pretty quick and easy to do through the UCAT website.

Screenshot of the UCAT registration page

You just need to fill in some personal details and then you’ll be able to select a time and a date for sitting the exam.

However, you won’t be able to select a date until bookings for the year open- which is normally about mid to late June.

An important thing to note is that you should register with your legal name exactly as it appears on the photo ID you intend to present on test day.

If you arrive for the exam with an ID that’s not got your registered name on then you won’t be able to sit the test… so save yourself a headache now!

Where Can You Sit The UCAT?

You have to take the UCAT in a ‘Pearson VUE Test Center.’

These are official test centres where people go to sit a number of different tests. For example, you might have done your driving theory test in one.

They’re mostly big rooms filled with old-looking computers where you’re supervised by professional invigilators.

You’ll turn up, have your ID checked and then be led to one of the testing terminals.

There are Pearson Vue testing centres all across the UK- so there should be one relatively close to you.

You can only sit the UCAT online in special circumstances, so if there’s not one nearby then you’ll probably have to just travel a little while to get to one.

The UCAT can be sat both in the UK and abroad. Again, this is as long as there is a suitable testing centre in the country in question.

How Much Does The UCAT Cost?

The UCAT costs £75 for tests taken in the UK and £120 if you take it outside the UK.

Although it is a lot of money, unfortunately, it’s just one of those costs incurred in a medicine application.

This article looks at some of the other costs associated with taking the UCAT that you might not have thought about.

If required, there is financial help available, however.

The UCAT bursary scheme is open to all UK candidates and can mean you get a voucher for the full cost of the test fee.

To be eligible for a bursary you (or your parent/guardian) need to meet one of the criteria below:

  • You get free school meals
  • You’re on a 16 to 19 bursary
  • You get Learner Support (FE 19+)
  • You get the full rate maintenance award from Student Finance
  • Your parent/guardian receives Universal Credit
  • Your parent/guardian receives Working or Child Tax Credit
  • You or your parent/guardian get Income Support (or JSA)
  • Your or your parent/guardian get Asylum Support

If you meet any of the criteria, you just need to apply online with the UCAT Consortium and submit at least one piece of evidence for any of the eligibility criteria you meet.

What’s In The UCAT?

The UCAT itself consists of five different subsections that you complete in order: Verbal Reasoning, Decision Making, Quantitative Reasoning, Abstract Reasoning and Situational Judgement.

Each subsection has its own unique style of questions and time limits- once you’ve moved on from a section you can’t go back.

The exam is done entirely on a computer and every question is multiple-choice.

UCAT Sections Pixel Infographic

Verbal Reasoning

In the UCAT Verbal Reasoning section you have to complete English comprehension exercises but extremely quickly.

You’re given eleven passages of text with each one having four questions accompanying it.

The questions themselves aren’t actually too difficult.

However, it’s the fact you have to quickly skim through the big chunks of text due to the time limit that makes it one of the hardest sections.

Decision Making

Decision Making is the most varied section in the UCAT.

The UCAT Consortium say their aim is to test your logical and analytical abilities with the questions in this section.

However, it seems to me that they just use this as an excuse to throw a whole host of weird and wonderful questions at you!

You’ll come across everything from Venn diagrams to probability questions to logic puzzles… as well as a whole lot more!

But don’t worry, once you start practising you’ll soon get your head around all the different question types and candidates generally do pretty well.

Quantitative Reasoning

The easiest way to think of the Quantitative Reasoning section is as a maths test.

It’s not quite the same as your GCSE maths though.

For one, it’s multiple choice and you don’t get any marks for working out.

They also try and pose all the questions in real-world scenarios, rather than testing you on any pure mathematical theory.

The UCAT Consortium are aiming to test your problem-solving abilities using numerical skills: a subtle but important difference between it just being a maths test.

Abstract Reasoning

Abstract Reasoning is probably the strangest section in the UCAT.

It’s all about finding rules and patterns to do with sets of abstract shapes.

You may have come across something similar in ‘non-verbal reasoning’ if you sat the 11+ exam to get into secondary school.

Getting to grips with the section is a very steep learning curve but people tend to score pretty highly once they’ve got the hang of it.

Situational Judgement

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

It’s the final section of the exam and challenges you to select the most suitable actions in sensitive situations.

This might be choosing the best thing to say to a colleague who’s stealing hospital supplies for example.

Instead of getting a numerical score like the other sections, you’re given a banding of 1-4.

Universities use your performance in the section differently as well- some don’t even look at it while others may use it in addition to your interview performance to decide who should get an offer.

How Long Is The UCAT?

The UCAT is a 2-hour long exam (120 minutes).

The time limit is however split into different limits for each of the sections.

As I mentioned previously, once you move on from a section you can’t go back- and if you have spare time in one section you’re not able to use it to answer questions from another section.

The timings in the UCAT are as follows:

UCAT SubtestTime Limit
Verbal Reasoning21 minutes
Decision Making31 minutes
Quantitative Reasoning25 minutes
Abstract Reasoning12 minutes
Situational Judgement26 minutes

As I’m sure you can imagine, 2 hours is a long time to concentrate for in a high-pressure exam like the UCAT.

It’s why I think it’s so important to do some full-length mocks under exam conditions before the day of your real test- so you know what getting to those last few questions will really be like in terms of fatigue.

How Many Questions Are In The UCAT?

In total, the UCAT has 228 questions in it. These are split across the subtests as follows:

UCAT SubtestQuestions
Verbal Reasoning44
Decision Making29
Quantitative Reasoning36
Abstract Reasoning50
Situational Judgement69

Generally, every question in the UCAT is worth one mark each.

The only time when this isn’t true is for certain Decision Making questions- some particular Decision Making questions are worth 2 marks if correct, or 1 mark if partially correct.

The takeaway from this is that no matter how hard or easy a question is, it’s still only worth the same number of marks as the next one.

This means a big focus of your exam technique should be on being careful not to get bogged down in tricky questions- as there may still be easy marks left in the section.

How Is The UCAT Scored?

I think it’s fair to say the UCAT has a pretty confusing scoring system. There are actually two different types used for the exam.

Verbal Reasoning, Decision Making, Quantitative Reasoning and Abstract Reasoning use a numerical scoring system.

Situational Judgement on the other hand uses a banding system.

The UCAT Numerical Scoring System

For the first four sections in the UCAT, you’re given a score between 300 and 900.

So even if you get no questions correct you’ll get 300, and if you get all of the questions right you’ll get 900.

These numerical scores are scaled from your raw marks.

That means you may not need a perfect raw mark to get the top scaled score of 900 for the section.

UCAT scores therefore can sometimes be referred to as a mark out of 3600 (four times 900).

Another way people talk about it is an average scaled score: Your average mark out of 900 for the first four sections.

You can find my complete guide on how the UCAT is scored here.

The UCAT Banding System

The Situational Judgement section is the only section that uses a banding system.

You’re given a banding from 1-4, where 1 is the best and 4 is the worst.

In many ways, this banding is considered somewhat separate from the rest of your score.

Often, medical schools have a cut-off: they’ll automatically reject you if you get a band 4 but won’t necessarily reward you for a band 1.

Others only use it to get a fuller picture of you with your personal statement at the interview.

When Are UCAT Scores Released?

Students are given their UCAT score immediately after finishing the exam in an official test centre. This result is then automatically sent in early November to any universities that require candidates to have sat the UCAT and that the student has applied to.

The good news for those who hate to wait is that you get your UCAT results immediately after sitting the exam.

I remember taking my results envelope straight into the testing centre’s toilets to gingerly find out what score I’d got!

A UCAT results envelope being handed to a candidate
A student being handed their UCAT results envelope

Although it’s great not to have to wait months and months to find out how you did, it’s also pretty nerve-wracking as you’re doing the test knowing that you’re about to find out how you did!

The UCAT Consortium will then automatically send your result to any universities you’ve applied to in early November.

You don’t need to pass your test result to your university choices or include it anywhere on your UCAS application.

What Is A Good UCAT Score?

Each year how people do in the UCAT slightly varies with the difficulty of the exam and who’s sitting it that year.

In general terms:

  • An average section score of above 685 on each section would be considered high
  • A score between 600 and 685 would be considered average
  • A score below 600 on each section would be considered low

In these terms it’s fair to say if you get an average scaled score of above 650, it’s not massively going to hinder your application.

There also isn’t actually any specific UCAT score needed for medicine.

It all just depends on where you apply: each university in the UK decides how it wants to use applicants’ UCAT scores.

If you apply to a medical school that doesn’t look at candidates’ UCAT scores at all then you could get an offer for medicine with the lowest score in the country!

However, broadly it is far easier to get into medicine if you do have a high UCAT score- it just leaves more doors open for where you can reasonably apply.

You should check out this article if you want to find out the best medical schools to apply to depending on your UCAT score.

How Do Universities Use Your UCAT Result?

Each medical school uses an applicant’s UCAT score in different ways.

Broadly speaking, there are three common methods universities use:

  1. Universities rank every applicant by their UCAT score. They then choose to interview a portion of the top-ranked students.
  2. Universities calculate a score for each applicant. These scores usually take into account your UCAT score, grades and possibly personal statement.
  3. Some medical schools give very little weight to a student’s UCAT score or don’t even require it at all.

It’s best to research exactly how a university considers your UCAT score by checking their website before applying.

In many ways, a good way to start narrowing down university choices is to think about how your UCAT score would work with the different uses described above.

How Can You Prepare For The UCAT?

Due to how unique an exam the UCAT is, it’s best to thoroughly prepare for it.

For starters, most people have never come across anything similar to it in school, so some of the stranger UCAT questions can take a lot of getting used to.

Most people prepare using a mixture of books and online preparation materials.

The UCAT Consortium provide a question bank for each section and a couple of mock exams on their website too.

Many people also use a paid question bank too. I personally signed up to Medify when I was studying for the test but there are loads of different options out there.

The UCAT Consortium say their highest scoring candidates generally spent 25-30 hours preparing, built up slowly over time.

I personally sat down for two weeks in the summer holidays and did nothing but UCAT preparation! The tactic worked but certainly sent me a bit stir-crazy…

UCAT Access Arrangements

You may be entitled to extra time in the UCAT if you are currently entitled to extra time or other access arrangements in public exams based on a medical diagnosis.

These adjustments may relate to you if you’ve got:

  • Cognition and Learning Needs e.g. Dyslexia, Dyspraxia or Dyscalculia.
  • Communication and Interaction Needs e.g. Autistic Spectrum Disorder.
  • Sensory and Physical Needs e.g. a Physical Disability or a Hearing or Vision Impairment.
  • Social, Mental and Emotional Needs e.g. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

You can find out more on the UCAT website here.

The UCAT Consortium offer the following extended versions of the UCAT with the correct pre-approval:

  • UCATSEN (150 minutes): 25% extra test time
  • UCATSA (140 minutes): standard test time with 5 minute rest breaks before sections
  • UCATSENSA (168.75 minutes): 25% extra test time with 5 minute rest breaks before sections
  • UCATSEN50 (180 minutes): 50% extra test time

Final Thoughts

The UCAT can be a bit overwhelming when you’re first getting started but you’ll soon get the hang of it.

With all the new question types, time limits and scoring methods it can be daunting to think that a lot of your hopes of getting into medical school rest on this one exam.

However, with ample time to prepare and with a solid study schedule, I think you’ll surprise yourself with the learning curve you can achieve and I imagine you’ll feel ready to sit the exam in no time!

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.