UCAT Decision Making: The Definitive Guide

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What is the UCAT?

The UCAT, or University Clinical Aptitude Test, is the main admissions test required to get into medical school in the UK.

It is a 2-hour long exam sat by just about every prospective medical student applying that year.

You can sit the exam anytime between the 1st July (1st August in 2020) and 1st October of the year you apply, and the results are sent to your university along with your application. You’ll know your score immediately afterwards, but this is just for your own knowledge, you don’t need to do anything with it.

The UCAT is split into 5 sections (click them for a guide on each). These are:

They appear in that order in the test. Each section has a different number of questions in it, and each is allocated a different time limit, meaning some sections are more pushed for time than others.

Your UCAT score is used by universities as part of their admissions criteria, meaning the better you do, the more likely you are to get invited for an interview (alongside use of other application data such as your academic record and Personal Statement).

The website for each medical school will usually specify the minimum score they require their candidates to have, so it’s a good idea to check this before you apply anywhere!

Some universities don’t put less weighting on your UCAT score than others (and some use the BMAT instead), so if it doesn’t go perfectly on test day, you should apply strategically. It’s all about applying to your strengths!

Introduction to Decision Making

Decision Making is the second section of the UCAT.

It has only been part of the test since 2016, before which it was called ‘Decision Analysis’.

This section aims to assess your ability to apply logic to make decisions or reach a conclusion, analyse statistical data and evaluate arguments. It is the section of the test with the least amount of time pressure, so take advantage of this and use your time wisely!

Each question involves a passage of text or set of data, with questions that will present arguments to you. Your job in this section is to assess the information given and decide whether the statements given are valid and logical conclusions or not.

Why is Decision Making included?

Decision Making is one of the most vital skills needed in the medical field.

One of the most important parts of your job as a doctor is to information and make treatment decisions based on what is presented to you. In a clinical environment, this information will be given to you in the form of blood results, observations and clinical information you gather by speaking to your patients.

Often data can be conflicting and what the patient tells you may not match the clinical information you have at your disposal, so it’s vitally important to be able to extract the relevant pieces of information and make valid conclusions.

Your Decision Making ability is key to assessing risk and make plans that benefit your patients the most. This ties into one of four pillars of medical ethic (here’s an article on the ins and outs of medical ethics): Beneficence – an important factor to consider for the Situational Judgement section and your interviews when you come to them.

doctor-reading-chart

What are the questions in Decision Making like?

Number Of Questions29
Total Time1 minute reading + 31 minutes testing (total 32 minutes)
Time Per Question64 seconds

The 29 questions in this section are presented as free text, as well as data in the forms of tables, charts and graphs. Each data set or piece of text is associated with one standalone question, unlike for other sections where there are several questions associated with each case.

Because of this, it’s really important to completely clear your mind at the beginning of each question. The last thing you want is to be thinking back to the previous question when you’re against the clock!

With that said, the timing for the Decision Making section is the least pressured in the whole test. With 29 questions and 31 minutes to complete them, you have plenty of time to digest the information you’re presented and think it over properly.

Just remember that this section involves a fair amount of reading, so don’t go too far the other way and take too much time!

As I mentioned above, there is only one question per piece of information for this section.

There are two types of questions you will come across in the Decision Making section.

We’ll explain both of these question types in the next section, so read on.

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Types of questions and answers

Type 1: "Drag & Drop" Questions

  • These questions will include a single statement with four ‘drag-drop’ options.

  • There will be four conclusions or assumptions and you will be required to drag ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ options to match each one.

  • For these question types, you need to get all 4 assumptions right to get 1 mark.

Decision Making Drag And Drop Question

Example of a “Drag & Drop” question and answer.

Question Passage: All of my jumpers are blue. Some of your jumpers are red, but none are yellow. The jumper is either yours or mine.

Answer ‘yes’ if the conclusion follows, ‘no’ if it doesn’t.

Type 1: “Drag & Drop” Solutions

  • (A) The jumper is yellow – No, as my jumpers are all blue and none of yours are yellow.
  • (B) The jumper is red – No, as all my jumpers are blue and only some of yours are red.
  • (C) If the jumper is mine, it’s blue – Yes, as the question states this.
  • (D) If the jumper is yours, it’s red – No, as only ‘some’ of your jumpers are red.
  • (E) If the jumper is not mine, it’s red – No, as only some of your jumpers are red.

Type 2: "Draw Conclusions" Questions

  • You will be given four answer options.
  • You will be required to draw conclusions and make arguments based on the text or data you’ve been given.
  • You will be required to choose the one best answer for each question.
Decision Making Draw Conclusions Type Question

Example of a “Drag & Drop” question and answer.

Question Passage: Rebecca’s shopping bag contains three green apples and five red apples. She chooses two apples out of the bag randomly and states that the probability of choosing one green apple and then one red is ½.

Is she correct?

Solution

  • The correct answer is (D).
  • The probability of choosing one green apple first is 3/8. The probability of then choosing a red apple is 4/7. So the probability of choosing this combination is (3/8) x (4/7) = 3/14.

BONUS: "Draw Conclusions" Question

  • You will be given four answer options.
  • You will be required to draw conclusions and make arguments based on the text or data you’ve been given.
  • You will be required to choose the one best answer for each question.

Example of a “Drag & Drop” question and answer.

Question Passage: Should students from underperforming state schools be given more contextual offer for top universities?

Solutions

  • (A) This is the correct answer. Poorer standards of teaching in these schools may mean that top students may not achieve their potential and therefore won’t perform as well in exams as they would in a different environment.
  • (B) Incorrect – there is no suggestion that these underperforming schools will start to encourage their students.
  • (C) Incorrect – The idea of contextual offers is to take into account all factors and thereby place students on a level playing field.
  • (D) Incorrect – There is no suggestion that these students will not perform equally as well as others with better teaching.
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How is Decision Making scored?

For every section of the UCAT, you’ll be given a score between 300 and 900 (300 being the worst, 900 being the best).

This makes 600 the median score for each section. Each question is worth 1 mark. Generally, the average mark for Decision Making each year is just above 600.

Below is a table showing the average scores for the Decision Making section over the last 4 years:

Each year, this information is published along with all the other test statistics on the UCAT website.

YearAverage score for Decision Making section
2017647
2018624
2019618

Top Tips for Decision Making

As you can see from the scoring above, candidates usually score above the median UCAT score in the Decision Making section – here are a few tips to make sure you score highly in this section!

1

Take your time to digest all the information and data given to you.

You won’t be able to draw a valid conclusion or assess the information properly if you’ve just skimmed over it.

2

Skimming over the information can be risky!

Skimming means that you’re unlikely to have picked up the most important arguments, so you’ll have to go back and read over them all again, which wastes so much valuable time! Skim with care.

3

Don’t confuse your own personal views and opinions with the arguments presented to you.

You may think you know the answer but you’ll be drawing on things you know from life, not what’s written in front of you.

4

Use your whiteboard and calculator!

It’ll save you so much time and allow you to jot down some of your ideas. This is especially useful if you need to flag a question and come back to it as you’ll still have all your ideas in front of you to look back on.

5

Make sure to do enough practice questions.

It’s a really good idea to get used to the format and presentation of each question and data set, along with how the answers are worded and given to you.

6

Use questions with worked solutions.

Start off by doing some questions with worked solutions so you can get more of an idea about exactly how they want you to think and analyse the text. Once you’re comfortable with them, try some on your own!

7

As always, practice questions to time.

The last thing you want on test day is to miss out lots of questions because you ran out of time!

8

Made an educated guess, flag and move on.

If you’re unsure of the correct answer, make some notes on your whiteboard, make an educated guess for the time being, and flag the question. You should have time to come back to it!

Good luck with the uCAT

We hope this article has provided you with all the basic information about the Decision-Making section of the UCAT.  This subsection requires a lot of thought, and you need to be able to think clearly if you’re going to be able to draw a valid conclusion from the information you’re given. Don’t forget that the aim of this section is to assess your ability to ‘apply logic to reach a decision or conclusion’ (from the UCAT website).

Make sure to take care with timing and start afresh every time a new question starts. You will definitely be able to excel at this section with the right preparation and the right mindset on test day.

Good luck from everyone at 6med!

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