UCAT Situational Judgement: The Definitive Guide

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What is the UCAT?

Let’s start at the beginning.

The UCAT, or University Clinical Aptitude Test, is an exam used as an entry requirement for Medical and Dental schools in the UK (and in a few other countries too, such as Australia).

It’s a 2-hour test sat in an external test centre (not in school like the BMAT or other exams), and you sit it sometime between 1st July and 1st October the year you send off your UCAS application.

Also unlike the BMAT, this test is required by almost every UK Medical School, meaning you don’t have much of a choice about whether you want to take it or not.

Each university uses your UCAT result slightly differently, with some putting more weighting on it than others in their admissions criteria.

The test itself is made up of five sections – Verbal Reasoning, Decision Making, Quantitative Reasoning, Abstract Reasoning and Situational Judgement.

Each section has a different number of questions and a different allotted time, and all but Situational Judgement are scored between 300 (lowest) and 900 (highest).

Your mark from each section is added together to give you a total score between 1200 and 3600, which is then sent off with your university application.

The Situational Judgement section is scored differently to the others, but we’ll cover this in more detail here.

Introduction to Situational Judgement

Situational Judgement is the final section of the UCAT and works pretty differently to the others.

It assesses your ability to understand situations (often in clinical workplaces) and determine the most appropriate action for each. This section presents you with a tricky situation and requires you to judge the most appropriate course of action.

This section doesn’t require any previous academic knowledge, it basically just tests your common sense.

According to the UCAT website, the test assesses several qualities:

  • Integrity
  • Perspective-taking
  • Teamwork
  • Resilience
  • Adaptability

All of these qualities are vitally important for doctors, especially in the clinical environment. They rely on your ability to understand other people’s opinions and beliefs of how certain situations should work and balance them against your own.

The situations are often things that in real life would throw you far out of your comfort zone, and they want to assess your ability to stay level-headed and think logically about the best course of action.

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Why is Situational Judgement included?

Situational Judgement is a huge concept in medicine and a key skill needed for all prospective and current medical students.

It’s something you’ll come across throughout your entire career, and something you’re likely to use more often than you’d think.

When you sit your medical school finals (in 5th or 6th year), you’re required to sit the ‘SJT’ (Situational Judgement Test), the most important exam in your time at university. The results of this make up 50% of your final ranking for Foundation Jobs, which really demonstrates how important it is.

Even after you graduate, Situational Judgement tests are used in selection exams for many specialities, including GPs.

Your ability to deal with difficult situations, both with your colleagues and with patients, will constantly be tested and good medical practice requires you to deal with these problems appropriately.

If you are not able to respond in an appropriate way, or a way that other doctors agree they would do in that situation, it can cause a number of problems and get you in trouble!

That being said, most prospective medical students are level-headed and sensible, and are often good at judging what is or isn’t appropriate in certain situations.

However, some people really have no idea, and this is quite a worrying sign for someone who could be placed in a difficult clinical environment and be required to interact with patients and staff.

The qualities listed above (integrity, resilience, adaptability etc.) are arguably the most important qualities a doctor can have, and it’s key that you have the foundations to build on before you even get to Medical School.

do-not-resuscitate-tattoo-ethical-dilemma

Doctors in Miami faced an ethical dilemma with a man who had “DO NOT RESUSCITATE”, along with his signature, tattooed on his chest. Source.

What are the questions in Situational Judgement like?

Number Of Questions22 scenarios with 69 total questions
Total Time1 minute reading + 26 minutes testing (total 27 minutes)
Time Per Question22.5 seconds

The Situational Judgement section is made up of 22 scenarios, with a total of 69 questions. Each scenario question will be associated with up to 5 most appropriate/important style answers or multiple-choice questions.

With most appropriate/important style answers, you will (unsurprisingly) be required to choose the “most appropriate” or “most important” answer to the situation presented.

With multiple-choice answers, you will be required to drag and drop a choice of answers into their respective slots or rank the answers in order of importance or appropriateness.

As stated above, you have 22 and a half seconds to answer each question. At first, this may not seem like much, but once you’ve read the scenario and the answer options you can usually rank them pretty quickly (it definitely won’t take over 20 seconds).

If you aren’t sure, it’s worth going with your gut feeling, flagging the question and reviewing it if you have time at the end.

Example Situational Judgement Question

Each Situational Judgement question will present you with a short passage of text (50-150 words) that gives you a scenario to put yourself in.

Below is an example Situational Judgement question. This particular question is an “importance” ranking question.

ucat situational judgement practice question 1

Situational Judgement Answer Types

Some questions ask about the appropriateness of actions, whereas others ask what the most important considerations are for the situation. Each question will either;

Type 1 – Ask you to choose the most appropriate or most important answer.

Type 2 – Ask you to rank them from most to least appropriate/important for that specific situation by dragging and dropping the most and least appropriate/important answers.

Here’s a little more detail about these two answer types:

TYPE #1

Most AppropriateMost Important
A Very Appropriate Thing To Do This is the very best option out of the ones presented to you.Very Important This is the most valuable response and means it considers critical elements of the situations.
Appropriate, But Not Ideal A reasonable option, but not necessarily the best one available.Important A good response that you should consider, but isn't vitally important.
Inappropriate, But Not Awful Not the ideal option as it's not great, but it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world.Of Minor Importance Something to take into consideration but won't affect the outcome of the situation if not considered.
A Very Inappropriate Thing To Do This is the response that definitely shouldn't be taken and would likely worsen the situation.Not Important At All This is usually something that is not relevant and not important to resolving the scenario.
ucat situational judgement practice answer 1

TYPE #2

You’ll be given three possible actions and be asked to rank them from most to least appropriate for that specific situation, whilst others will ask you to rate the four answer options.

ucat situational judgement practice question answer type2
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Worked Example Situational Judgement Practice Question & Answers

Situational Judgement Practice Question

Scenario: You are a third-year medical student shadowing a doctor on the wards. They ask you to go and take a history from a patient by yourself and report back whilst they go and see another patient. Mid-way through your history taking, the patient starts to ask questions too as they don’t fully understand why you’re there and talking to them. They ask several personal questions about where you live, your family etc. You are unsure about how much information you are allowed to disclose without crossing the professionalism boundary.

Rate the following based on how appropriate they are to the situation:

Question 1: Speak to the patient openly about your life:

  1. A very appropriate thing to do
  2. Appropriate, but not ideal
  3. Inappropriate, but not awful
  4. A very inappropriate thing to do

Question 2: Explain that you aren’t just there for a chat and have been asked by the doctor to see them:

  1. A very appropriate thing to do
  2. Appropriate, but not ideal
  3. Inappropriate, but not awful
  4. A very inappropriate thing to do

Question 3: Politely answer their questions without going into too much detail and moving on with your task:

  1. A very appropriate thing to do
  2. Appropriate, but not ideal
  3. Inappropriate, but not awful
  4. A very inappropriate thing to do

Careful scrolling beyond this point if you are working through the questions yourself!

Situational Judgement Practice Question Answers

Answer For Question 1: A very inappropriate thing to do

  • You should not disclose personal details to patients if you can help it.
  • Bear in mind that your full name is on your ID, and some patients will think it’s okay to look you up on social media (it’s not).
  • You should maintain professionalism at all time and remember the task at hand.

Answer For Question 2: Appropriate, but not ideal

  • It’s important to maintain a good relationship with your patients. If you don’t, they are much less likely to disclose important information about how they’re feeling etc.
  • When you’re on a busy ward it’s important to focus on the task at hand, so it’s appropriate to explain this to the patient as long as it’s in a polite or casual way.

Answer For Question 3: A very appropriate thing to do

  • As long as you’re comfortable, you can ‘chat’ with patients about yourself as long as you don’t become too comfortable and disclose any deeply personal information.
  • Giving short, polite answers to ‘chatty’ questions are good for maintaining patient rapport but also not wasting too much time when you have a task to complete.
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How To Prepare for UCAT Situational Judgement

As with all sections of the UCAT, it’s difficult to just ‘revise’ as you would with a normal school exam.

Situational Judgement requires a degree of common sense and empathy skills, to allow you to understand the views of others in these tricky situations.

You’re likely to have come across a real-life situation where you’ve needed to use the skills for Situational Judgement, especially if you’ve done any work in a team and encountered any problems along the way.

However, to really understand what’s required of you in a medical Situational Judgement test, it’s really, really important to have a read over the General Medical Council’s ‘Good Medical Practice’ leaflet or web page.

This page lists all the requirements of a doctor and describes how they are expected to act in certain situations. The GMC is the governing body for UK doctors and regulates your ability to practice, so there really is no better place to go to for this.

Other ways to practice are through practice tests (6med have lots you can work through), or through UCAT textbooks.

GMC Good Medical Practice website

How is Situational Judgement scored?

Situational Judgement is scored completely differently to the other sections of the UCAT and isn’t included in your total score. For each question, you’re awarded full marks if your answer is the correct answer and partial marks if it’s near the correct one.

The correct answers for this test are determined by a panel of ‘experts’ (i.e. medical and other professionals).

The results of this section are given in Bands 1-4, with Band 1 being the best and Band 4 being the worst. The band descriptions are as follows:

BAND 1

The highest level and means that most of your answers match those chosen by the panel of experts. The candidate shows an ‘excellent level of performance’.

BAND 2

The candidate shows a ‘good’ level of performance. If you’re given band 2 it means that a good deal of your answers match those from the expert panel and making the ‘appropriate judgements frequently’.

BAND 3

The candidate shows a ‘moderate’ level of performance. It means that you got the most appropriate answer for some questions, but a lot of your answers were slightly different or didn’t match that of the expert panel.

BAND 4

This is the lowest band attainable. It means that your answers are substantially different from those given by the expert panel, and you have not shown an appropriate judgement for most situations.

Below is a table showing the percentage of students in each Band over the past 4 years.

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

Band20202019201820172016
131%17%21%28%26%
237%40%34%42%44%
323%33%32%21%22%
49%10%13%9%9%
The percentage is the number of students who were in the corresponding band for each year.

Situational Judgement Usage By Universities

As with your total UCAT score, each university uses your Situational Judgement result differently.

Some Medical Schools, such as Birmingham and Bristol, don’t use your band from this section at all in their selection criteria, but use the total score for the UCAT.

Other universities, such as Dundee and Hull York, specify that you won’t be invited for interview if you end up in Band 4.

The following table will give you a better idea of which universities place more weight on the SJT section. For further information, you should visit the specific university website and see their UCAT marking/usage criteria.

Universities That Don't Use The SJTAberdeen
Birmingham
Bristol
Glasgow
Liverpool
Southampton
University That Won't Accept Band 4Dundee
Hull York
Keele
Leicester
Manchester
Nottingham
Universities That Use SJT But Don't Specify BandingEdinburgh
King’s
Sheffield

Top Tips for UCAT Situational Judgement

As always, here are our top tips to nail the Situational Judgement of the UCAT.

By far the most important tip to take note of is #1 – GMC quite literally wrote the book on good medical practice so it’s required reading to understand Situational Judgement.

1

Read the GMC’s ‘Good Medical Practice’ guidelines.

For the medical scenarios you’ll come across this information will be invaluable and give you a really strong foundation on which to deduce the most appropriate answer

2

Know your priorities.

Remember that some actions are more appropriate than others, and some factors are more important than others

3

Don’t think of the extremes.

Don’t assume that everything is either ‘Most Appropriate’ or ‘Not At All Appropriate’, some answers won’t be the first thing you do but are still important, so will be somewhere in the middle.

4

Practice, practice, pratice!

As always, practice questions and tests are your best friend – when you go to mark these make sure you read the reasoning for the answers properly as it will explain more what they’re looking for

5

Take your time.

Read the scenarios carefully, you don’t want to miss any important factors.

6

Know the format.

Know your timing before you start so you’re not thrown on test day

Closing Notes For UCAT Situational Judgement

Thanks for reading this article, we hope it gives you a good overview of the Situational Judgement of the UCAT and how to do well in it.

Everything works slightly differently to the other sections of the UCAT, so it’s important to understand what you need to do and how to ace it.

Good luck from everyone at 6med – go and smash it!

If you’re looking for support with your UCAT exam, check out our UCAT Bundle to get everything we have on offer to help you get the highest score possible.

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