Verbal Reasoning – Introduction

James ChoiVerbal Reasoning2 Comments

Here’s a sample from the first 4 pages of our Verbal Reasoning section of the UKCAT Crash Course Handbook. The whole section is 49 pages long (A4) and includes chapters on strategy and technique for the two subtypes of Verbal Reasoning question, and also a workbook full of questions that you’ll work through, both on the day of the course, and during your own UKCAT preparation as well. 

Objectives

By the end of this section you should:

  • Be familiar with the format of the Verbal Reasoning exam.
  • Have an effective approach that will maximise your score on test-day.
  • Understand how to evaluate statements.
  • Recognise, and know how to tackle, the two different passage types in Verbal Reasoning.
  • Be comfortable with the different question categories (and have a strategy for each).

Why do we have to do VR?

Without question, reading and evaluating a wide range of written information will form a big part of your medical education and future career as a clinician, whatever you decide to go in to. Certainly as a student, you’ll come across many forms of information: textbooks, course material, Internet articles, case studies, journals, exam questions, and lecture slides. You will need to understand, digest, and scrutinize this information, as well as selecting the areas relevant to your study.

As medical information is becoming more readily available, there is a greater need to distinguish trustworthy sources and to carefully assess claims made. Moreover, later on as a clinician, you’ll be continually working with novel medical research, and will have to evaluate and examine published articles in journals. Patients are frequently exposed to presumptuous, unreasonable, and sometimes extreme statements in health news and around the Internet. Consequently, it’s imperative for doctors to question assumptions, identify poorly drawn conclusions, and spot unsound inferences – you’ll become sick of these if you take the BMAT!

In the treatment of a patient, doctors must quickly sift through all the information directed towards them (on the Internet, from the patient themselves, from other doctors etc.), and must be careful not to make unreasonable assumptions. The VR exam requires you to work with a wide range of passages, and you should not consider any information or knowledge beyond the passage. You may also be expected to understand the difference between correlation and causation; it’s essential to consider confounding factors before drawing any firm conclusions.

As a clinician, it probably won’t come as a surprise that you will often need to select and evaluate information quickly and under pressure. When speaking to patients in a clinic, or when a patient is in a critical condition, there is limited time in which a doctor must make a diagnosis and draw upon the information given to him. Having strong reasoning skills, as well as being able to identify relevant information under pressure, is crucial. In a nutshell, this is what’s being tested this subtest.

To be perfectly honest, we can talk until the cows come home about why we have to do VR, but at the end of the day, the most important answer is “because it’s in the UKCAT”. This is the case for all five sections, but we’ve included a short “Why do we have to do this” at the start of each chapter just for fun 🙂

Important Information

  • 23 minutes in total
  • 1 minute for instructions
  • 22 minutes for questions
  • 44 questions in total
  • 11 passages (4 questions each)
  • Two question types – (1) True/False sets, (2) Single-Best-Answer sets

You have 22 minutes to do 44 questions. There are 11 passages of text, which means you have to do 4 questions per passage. You can work it out: that leaves 2 minutes per set of 4 questions or passage, which amounts to around 30 seconds per question. You’re not alone if you feel horrified at those timings. We’ll give you all you need to know to be efficient as possible and the timings you should stick to in the strategy section.

With this section, you may come across a small number of very difficult questions that you won’t be able to do, even if you have all the time in the world – but these are rare. A few extra seconds can make a huge difference for sets that require you to run systematically through a large number of options before you reach a pattern. Thus, a good strategy will ensure you maximise the amount of time spent on harder questions and minimize time wasted on easier questions.

 Some things test takers should look out for:
  • The relatively strict timing. Some say this section can be just as intense as QR, so you’ll need a good approach for a good score.
  • SBA (Single Best Answer) Sets. Unless you’re using older UKCAT books, you should know the majority of questions this year will be passages with multiple-choice questions requiring a single answer, and not statements with ‘true/false/can’t tell’ attached (those only make up 2/11 of the passages).
  • Unclear information. There is more room for ambiguity in the VR subtest than in the others, so make sure you don’t waste undue time thinking about something you don’t need to know.
  • Long and dense text. Candidates can be overwhelmed initially, but a good approach should prevent that.
  • Over-thinking and hesitation. A good proportion of test-takers do this – as tempting as it can be, please try not to do it!
  • Harder questions. These will include questions that demand a lot of scanning in the passage (questions which don’t have many high-yield keywords), and also the more subtle inferences. Remember that each question is worth the same number of points, so don’t neglect easier questions in an effort to solve the harder ones.
  • Spotting qualifiers and absolutes in the passage/statement. This is important when scrutinizing statements, so be ready to use these in your exam.
  • Effective scanning. As you’ll see, this will form a big part of your approach – do it the right way!
Preparation tips

1. Always practice under timed conditions

For this section, you must be extremely strict with your timings in order to have a good chance of getting a high score, so you must always practice everything under timed conditions. Given enough time, you should be able to get almost everything correct. You don’t want to develop a false sense of security by being lax with your practice sessions and not properly keeping exam conditions. You will get the most out of the strategies by continuously applying them under pressure, and remember, the ultimate goal is to develop good habits, so you have less to worry about on test day.

2. Be ruthless in discarding and selecting answers

Whenever you do VR sets, either a set at a time or part of a mock exam (always under timed conditions), you must be willing to discard questions and be confident when selecting your answer. We’ll touch on this more later, but in terms of preparation, make a point of discarding answer options that might be wrong and just going for the correct answer, even if it’s an educated guess. Likewise, discard entire questions that you know will take too much time or that you’re spending too much time on (even if you’re just doing a set of 4 questions). Students may lack a sense of urgency and ruthlessness when practising at home or during smaller practice sessions, but this is absolutely required if you want to have an edge on test day.

3. Stick with an effective strategy

Don’t play around with different strategies and end up mastering none of them. Stick with a solid strategy and keep employing it in your practice until it becomes second nature. Luckily for you, you don’t need to worry about what strategy is best because we’ll give you all of that in our later sections. We just want to implore you to stick with it and don’t do your ‘own thing’ when you feel like it. That way, you’ll have the best possible chance of getting a high VR score.

4. Practice speed reading

You’re going to have to go through relatively large amounts of text very quickly in this section, so you’ll have an advantage if you’re a fast reader. We don’t teach you to read the passage in our strategy, but rather skim for keywords from the question or statement. Nonetheless, being able to skim and quickly digest information at the same time will be invaluable for this section. Look through our speed reading section and practice the technique with whatever you read on a daily basis – perhaps you might actually find it useful for many things beyond the UKCAT.


That’s it! As mentioned earlier, this was just the opening section to our 49-page Verbal Reasoning guide. We admit that it’s a bit waffly, but we hope you’ve found it somewhat useful at least. You’ll find the more practical stuff (strategy, technique and questions) in the UKCAT Crash Course Handbook which every student who attends our course gets for FREE.




About the Author

James Choi

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I'm a fourth-year medical student at University College London, and co-founder of 6med. I currently head up everything UKCAT-related and have been doing this for over 4 years. Let me know if you have any questions!


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2 Comments on “Verbal Reasoning – Introduction”

  1. Fatimah Alaya

    Hey James,

    Thanks for posting this concise and super informative piece on the verbal reasoning section.
    I am a final year midwifery student in Trinity College Dublin aiming to further my studies & do medicine on finishing. I’m sitting the UKCAT exam at the end of August & prep has begun.
    Is it possible to do your 6 hour crash course online?

    Looking forward to your favourable reply,
    Fatimah
    ( alayaf@tcd.ie )

    1. Ali Abdaal

      Hi Fatimah,

      I’m afraid we don’t have an online course. We’re working on one, but that won’t be ready for this application season :/

      Sorry about that.

      -Ali

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