The UK Clinical Aptitude Test (UKCAT)

The UK Clinical Aptitude Test (UKCAT) is an entrance test used by most medical and dental schools in the UK. It was introduced in 2006 and is now used by nine of the 14 dental schools and 26 of the 31 medical schools.

It's designed in a similar way to intelligence tests in that it is trying to find a candidate's maximum capability. Lots of people worry when they find that they run out of time on the practice tests or when they come across some questions which they just can't answer - but the test is designed that way on purpose. Nobody is expected to get all the questions done.

Think of it like a stress test, where they take a piece of wire and hang weights off it until the wire snaps. To find out the maximum weight that the wire can hold, you would have to be ready with loads of weights, some of which will be too heavy.

The UKCAT is not a knowledge-based test, like A Levels where you are expected to learn what they tell you to learn and then apply it. It has no science questions and there are no books to read, nothing to memorise and no essays to write.

Format of the Test

The test has five sections:

• Verbal reasoning - there are 11 passages of text, each about 200 words long with four questions about each passage. The questions are all the same format. A statement is given; the question asks you to say if, based only on the information given, the statement is true, false or if its logically impossible to tell. You are given 22 minutes to answer 44 questions.

• Quantitative reasoning - there are nine sets of data - usually a graph or a table. Each of these has four questions based on it. All the questions have the same multiple choice format. You are given 23 minutes to answer 36 questions.

• Abstract reasoning - there are 13 sets of questions. Each set has two groups of shapes that are related in some way (Set A and Set B) and five test shapes, each of which you have to categorise as belonging to Set A, Set B or to neither set. You are given 16 minutes to answer 65 questions.

• Decision analysis - there is one set of codes and 28 questions based on the code. The majority of questions will be a coded message and a set of possible translations where you choose the best match; there are also some questions where it's the other way around - you are asked to choose the best code for a message or to suggest additional words that would be useful to the code. You are given 32 minutes to answer 28 questions.

• Non-cognitive analysis - this is basically a personality test - you are given a range of statements and you have to say how strongly you agree or disagree with each one. You are given 27 minutes for this section.

The results of the personality test are not used to decide whether you will be offered a place at university or not. The universities that you apply to will not be able to see the results of this section unless they have already offered you a place.

Who Has To Sit It?

The test is compulsory for almost everyone who wants to apply to the following universities:

• University of Aberdeen
• Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry
• Brighton and Sussex Medical School
• Cardiff University
• University of Dundee
• University of Durham
• University of Edinburgh
• University of Glasgow
• Hull York Medical School
• Imperial College School of Medicine, London
• Keele University
• King's College London School of Medicine
• University of Leeds
• University of Leicester
• University of Manchester
• University of Newcastle
• University of Nottingham
• University of Oxford (Graduate Entry Only)
• Peninsula Medical School
• Queen's University Belfast
• University of Sheffield
• University of Southampton
• University of St Andrews
• St George's
• University of London
• University of East Anglia
• University of Warwick

Candidates from some countries do not have to sit the test - the UKCAT Website has details.

When To Sit It

The test should be taken the summer before you apply – the UKCAT testing deadline is just before the UCAS submission deadline for Medical and Dental Schools.

You can only sit the UKCAT once each year. If you try to sit it twice in the same test cycle, they will just carry on using the first results you got.

The results are only valid for one year; if you don't get in and need to re-apply, you also have to resit the UKCAT.

What It Costs

The cost varies according to when and where you will be sitting the test. Full price details can be found on the UKCAT Booking Page.

Preparing for the Test

The official position of the UKCAT administrators and the universities that use it is that you cannot improve your score by studying in advance, but they do recommend getting used to the format of the questions. Some practice tests have been produced by the UKCAT administrators which you can download.

How the Results are Used

The use of the results varies from university to university. Some use an absolute cut-off score below which they will not interview; others just use it to decide between candidates where all else is equal.

Where a university uses a cut-off score for the UKCAT, this will usually be set once the testing cycle is finished for that year and is likely to vary from year to year. It may be possible to estimate a range for a particular university based on previous years but this should be done with caution. Each round of admissions is self-contained and applicants are only competing against other applicants in the same cycle, so cut-off scores from previous cycles are irrelevant as soon as that round of applications are over. The UKCAT is marked on a normal distribution curve so the 'average' score on it will vary from year to year. It is possible for cut-off scores to go down as well as up and there is no real way to predict which way they will go.

There are a number of sources that will claim to know a cut-off score for the current admissions cycle and many candidates worry a great deal about finding out what that magic number is so that they can torture themselves with it. It is important to remember that by the time the universities will be in a position to decide on the cut off score for that year, you will have already sat the test and submitted your UCAS application. It might be wiser to spend all that energy you would have worried with enjoying your last summer before medical/dental school!

Good Luck!