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How to Balance the UCAT And The HSC | 3 Must-Know Preparation Tips

The UCAT and HSC exams are key components of your entry into Australian medical schools, but how can you prepare for both at the same time? The below tips will help you ace the UCAT without neglecting your HSC!

In this article, we discuss these 3 tips to help you successfully prepare for UCAT without sacrificing your HSC mark:

  1. Treat the UCAT as seriously as any HSC subject
  2. Effectively target each section
  3. Collaborate to learn


What is the UCAT?

The UCAT exam (formerly the UMAT) is an aptitude style test split into five sections:

SubtestNumber of questionsTime (mins)
Verbal Reasoning44 21
Decision Making29 31
Quantitative Reasoning36 24
Abstract Reasoning55 13
Situational Judgement6926

The UCAT exam is a key component of your entry into medical schools within Australia, with several universities placing equal emphasis on your UCAT score, ATAR and medical interview when ranking you against other applicants.

While the UCAT is framed as an aptitude test and the nature of the logical, critical and creative thinking required may come more naturally for some students than others, consistent practice (as with all subjects in the HSC) will lead to marked improvement.


What you will come to notice when considering the UCAT strategies of others, who are performing or have performed as well as you would like, is that the tools and techniques they employed may not necessarily be as useful for you.

Strategizing to perform better in the UCAT is a very personal endeavour and requires constant self-reflection.

Here are some tips to help you form these strategies and guide your exam preparation.


1. Treat the UCAT as seriously as any HSC Subject

Since the UCAT often has equal weighting to your ATAR in the scheme of medical school entry, you should treat the UCAT exam as if it is another two-unit subject in your HSC workload, and if anything, more important than that. In the same way that you ideally dedicate equal amounts of time to all of your subjects in order to maximise your performance across the board, you can schedule frequent time to practice UCAT questions and revise strategies.


Depending on the UCAT resources you are relying on, there are many programs available online which give you both practice of full-length UCAT exam mocks and drills for each of the five UCAT subsections.

The earlier you begin the UCAT practice the better – a great time to begin is around Year 11 where there is not as much pressure to achieve high marks in your HSC subjects.

One way of navigating UCAT study is to dedicate frequent practice throughout the week to completing drills and then attempting a full-length UCAT mock paper on the weekend where you have enough time to sit the entire paper and review all of the solutions. For example, you may allocate one hour to practising UCAT drills for your weakest sections on Monday, Tuesday and Friday, and then complete a mock paper on Sunday mornings.


2. Effectively target each section

As you complete the drills for each section of the UCAT, it is important to make some observations about technique and approach so that you may implement what you have learned on exam day and improve your performance.

Verbal Reasoning

A few very common observations students make as they study is that the first option or the option your gut instinct chooses is often the correct one. In order to efficiently study for this section, you need to focus on improving your ability to skim passages and mentally locate where the important ideas are located.

Bear in mind that you are selecting the best option, not necessarily one that is absolutely correct.

Practice different approaches as you complete UCAT drills, for example, reading the questions before reading the passage, and find out which way works best for you.


Decision Making

You will notice that a mastery of the simple probability mathematical techniques are required. Preparing for this section can actually be achieved by revising and practicing the probability sections of your HSC Mathematics course.

Quantitative Reasoning

For this section, you need to improve your capacity for mental mathematics and computation as the in-built calculator function of the UCAT exam is rather fiddly and time-consuming to use.


Need more help preparing for the UCAT?

Our beginner’s Guide to UCAT has all of the answers you need to understand the UCAT! Read it here.


Abstract Reasoning

This is arguably the most challenging section and you want to log the patterns and combinations which frequently occur in a book so that you effectively have a toolbox of approaches on exam day. A mistakes log would also prove a helpful resource for this section.


Situational Judgement

To ace this section, you need to begin to read more critically and think about scenarios in light of your limited position and ethical principles. You may find it helpful to read into codes of conduct for good medical practice and consider how principles such as patient autonomy and confidentiality can complicate decisions in the medical field.

balance the ucat and the hsc situational judgement photo showing empathy


In much the same way that each section has been broken down into a set of strategies and pitfalls to avoid in general, during your UCAT study you want to compile a list of techniques which reflect your natural strengths and weaknesses. In almost all cases, the UCAT score is considered holistically by universities and as such you want to focus on building upon your weaknesses during your preparation and playing to your strengths on exam day to maximise your mark.


3. Collaborate to learn

While the UCAT is an aptitude style exam, there is a lot of personal improvement that can be made when you compare thinking and answers with a peer. Selecting a UCAT buddy or forming a UCAT study group will mean that you can review solutions together, as well as keep each other accountable throughout the week.

In much the same way as the ATAR, the UCAT is a currency for your entry into medical school and should be treated just as seriously.

balance the ucat and the hsc study group photo


Unlike your other subjects, you cannot possibly cram for this aptitude style test, but must dedicate frequent time to become accustomed to and increase your speed at the problem solving and critical thinking demanded.

Want to ace the UCAT?

Get the practice you need and sit a free UCAT exam with our affiliates at UCAT Masterclass. Set up your free UCAT Masterclass account here.


Written by Guest Author

We have regular contributions to our blog from our Tutor Team and high performing Matrix Students. Come back regularly for these guest posts to learn their study hacks and insights!


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