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When Should You Take The UCAT? (7 Points To Consider)

When Should You Take The UCAT? (7 Points To Consider)

Updated on: December 8, 2023
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Written By Dr Ollie

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

The UCAT window actually gives you considerable choice for when you want to book and take your exam.

So, to give yourself the best shot at getting a high score, when should you take the UCAT?

A student should take the UCAT at a time that will give them a sufficient revision period before the exam while still leaving time to rebook the test in case of unforeseen circumstances. For most people, this will generally mean sitting the exam in either late July or August.

I took my UCAT during the summer holidays when I was applying to medical school.

This worked well for me, but it might not be the ideal solution for you.

In this article, I’m going to discuss 7 factors that you should take into consideration when you’re deciding when to book your UCAT for.

1. When Can You Take The UCAT?

The first factor, which is the only one completely set in stone, is when you’re actually allowed to take the UCAT.

Every year, the UCAT Consortium releases the dates that students are able to sit the UCAT.

It slightly varies from year to year but is generally between early July and late September.

This sets the boundaries within which you’ll have to sit the exam.

There are no exceptions to this testing window, so if you want to apply to a UCAT university then you’ll need to get the test done within this timeframe.

There’d be nothing worse than not going to university because you missed the UCAT

While these dates act as bookends, you do also have to book an exam slot at your local testing centre.

If there aren’t any slots available, then you’ll either have to travel to a different test centre or choose a different date (or sit the UCAT online).

The sooner you select a test date after bookings open, the more choice you’ll have for exactly when you want to take the UCAT.

2. When Will You Have Time To Revise For The UCAT?

In my humble opinion, this is the single most important factor in deciding when you should take the UCAT.

You want to take it at a time when you’ll have a clear run for revision in the lead-up to test day.

Ideally, you’ll want at least two weeks free to just smash UCAT revision before sitting down at a test centre.

Whether that means you should book it at the very start of July or the very end of September, the most important thing is you having time to revise.

I personally spent two weeks straight of my summer holiday just cramming for the exam.

You in no way have to replicate this, but I think coming back from a holiday the day before your UCAT just isn’t going to do your mindset any favours.

Even if you’re taking a more steady approach, with regular revision sessions over the months leading up to your test date, I’d recommend you keep the days in the final run-up to the UCAT free.

That way you can target any last-minute weaknesses and keep yourself in the right frame of mind for taking on such a challenging test.

3. What Other Commitments Will You Have?

It’s been shown time and time again, that we humans function best when we’re focussing on just one thing at a time (source).

What this means is you don’t want to have to be juggling UCAT revision with writing your personal statement, taking mock exams at school or trying to figure out which universities you’re going to apply to.

When Should You Take The UCAT Pixel Infographic

Taking the UCAT at a time when it can be your one and only focus is almost always going to result in you getting a better score.

I think for the vast majority of people, this will mean taking it in the summer holidays.

While not at school, you can focus all your revision efforts on the UCAT and not have to worry about homework or being busy all day.

Equally, if you leave taking the UCAT too late, you’ll start to butt up against both the UCAS deadline and dates for the BMAT.

All these minor stresses will add to the feeling that you’ve got too much on your plate and only divide your attention.

If you take the UCAT mid to late August, you’ll be able to focus all your efforts on working towards such an important exam and then can come back to school ready for the next steps in your medicine application.

4. Will You Have Time To Postpone The UCAT?

As I mentioned above, if you want to apply to a UCAT university for medicine this year, you need to have a UCAT score on your application form.

Universities won’t make any exceptions to their UCAT entry requirements.

This means, to protect against unforeseen circumstances, I’d book the UCAT with enough time left in the testing window to rebook it should something happen.

For example, if you’ve got your test booked for the last week of September, but get sick that week so can’t do any meaningful revision, you’re going to have no choice but to sit the test anyway.

But, if you originally had a date set for the start of August, but need to go to a wedding/funeral/birthday last minute, you shouldn’t have any trouble in rebooking a date for slightly later on.

By taking the UCAT later in the testing window, you’re cutting off options for yourself should something unexpected crop up.

The closer to the start of UCAT season your original booking is, the easier it will be for you to find alternative dates in the coming months.

Slots do fill up, especially towards the end, so if you’re tossing up between two dates I’d say earlier is always going to be a bit safer than later.

5. When Do You Want To Know Your UCAT Result?

On the whole, I think it’s fair to say the UCAT is a pretty mean exam.

However, it’s one saving grace is that you get your results almost immediately after finishing the test.

No lengthy, nail-biting waiting period for your results to be released, I was given an envelope with a printout of my score on only a few minutes after clicking the final question.

I remember I actually went to the toilets of the test centre to open them!

What all this means is that the day you book your UCAT is the day you’ll likely know your UCAT score.

A student receiving their UCAT results

And once you’ve got your UCAT score you can start thinking tactically about what universities you want to apply to.

If you want to maximise your chances of getting in this year, you’ll want to apply to universities that suit your application’s strengths.

Some universities are better to apply to if you’ve got a high UCAT score and some universities suit candidates with low UCAT scores.

To truly give yourself the best possible shot of getting in, I’m afraid you can’t just apply to a university because you’d heard good things about the local bars!

The earlier you sit the UCAT, the more time you’ll have to deliberate and go on open days before the UCAS deadline in mid-October.

I applied to the University of Leicester, which is where I ultimately ended up studying, because I knew with my UCAT score and GCSEs I’d almost certainly be invited for an interview.

Once you’ve got your UCAT score, you can take exactly the same approach with your application.

6. What Time Should You Take The UCAT?

When you should take the UCAT also extends to what time you should take it.

Pearson View test centres allow you to book slots throughout the day- so it’s up to you what time you want to sit it.

Now, if you have strong feelings one way or another, as to whether you’re definitely a morning person or definitely an afternoon person, I’d try to stick with that.

You know yourself best and whenever you feel most comfortable is probably when you’re going to perform best.

However, if you’re undecided, I’d recommend mid to late morning.

That way, you’re not sat around all day letting your nerves build up before the exam, but equally you have time to get up, eat breakfast, and potentially scan through any last-minute revision materials you want to look at.

I’ve got friends who took the UCAT as late in the day as possible, so that they’d have the maximum time to revise on the day, but that just isn’t me.

I know if I did a mock exam just before the real thing a didn’t do well, it would really psych me out.

Play to your strengths and book the UCAT when you think you’re going to be most alert and in the best mindset possible for taking on the extreme time pressure of the exam.

7. Do You Feel Prepared To Take The UCAT?

Finally, this last sentiment pretty much trumps every other point on this list.

You should not take the UCAT if you don’t feel prepared to sit it.

You can only take the UCAT once per season.

So, you’re stuck with whatever UCAT score you get this year.

If you don’t feel prepared to sit down and knock it out the park, there’s absolutely no shame in rearranging your test date to give yourself a bit more time to revise.

This is another luxury of not having your test date right at the end of September.

Perhaps your revision timetable was a little too optimistic or you found yourself distracted by the TV way more than you thought you going to be… Either way, if there are slots available at your test centre it’s relatively simple to ring up and have your test day changed.

Considering how much of an influence your UCAT score has on your prospects of getting into medical school, I think walking into that exam room feeling unprepared would be a huge mistake.

When You Should Take The UCAT FAQs

Do You Do The UCAT In Year 12 or 13?

Students generally take the UCAT in the summer after the end of year 12 and before the beginning of year 13. However, depending on the school, the window in which the UCAT can be sat may include the very end of year 12 and will almost certainly include the start of year 13.

Can You Do The UCAT In Year 11?

If desired, a student could sit the UCAT in year 11. There is no minimum age for sitting the UCAT so a candidate could sit it a year prior to their application to medical school. However, due to the fact that UCAT scores are only valid for one year, they would then have to resit it in year 12/13.

What Age Are You When You Take The UCAT?

The majority of students will be 17 when they take the UCAT. However, if a student has an early September birthday and sits the UCAT towards the end of the testing window, they may be 18. Equally, a late summer birthday with an early UCAT test date could mean a student is still 16.

Final Thoughts

The best time to take the UCAT is always going to be completely individual to you.

The best time for you depends on your summer plans, other commitments, motivations and study preferences.

However, by considering these seven points it will hopefully have helped narrow down when would be the ideal time to book your test.

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.