Part 2: How to Study for Understanding People

Understanding People questions are designed to assess your skills in identifying and analysing feelings, behaviours and motivations of people in various scenarios.

UMAT Understanding People (Section 2)

The Understanding People section is about using your people skills to identify feelings, behaviours and motivations of people in various scenarios. In these type of UMAT questions, you are expected to differentiate people’s feelings based on words, actions and interactions with others. These skills are of great practical importance to people working in medical professions.

Medical practitioners need to be able to read and diagnose people and not just their conditions.

Not everyone is straightforward and direct with their health problems. Some people may be shy, others may be embarrassed, while others might not know how to explain or articulate what their issue is. Clearly, health practitioners need to demonstrate empathy and emotional intelligence (or Emotional Quotient – EQ) when dealing with patients and their families; both in how they read patients and how they choose to communicate with them.

The questions in this part of UMAT assess these varieties of competencies to ensure that the candidates entering these fields have the EQ and communication skills for the work as well as the IQ.

There are approximately 44 questions that can be categorised as Section 2 however this may change slightly from year-to-year. Section 2 is the most abstract out of all the UMAT sections and tests your emotional intelligence.

A large number of students often express how difficult it is to answer Understanding People style questions in UMAT.

In part 2 of the Beginner’s Guide to UMAT, we’ll explain how to study and solve some examples of Understanding People style UMAT questions.

Types of Interactions

There are a variety of scenarios that are presented to you in the UMAT. They can be classified into two broad areas.

1. Medical interactions
These interactions consist of:

  • Doctor to patient with/without family member
  • Doctor to family member only
  • Doctor to nurse

Examples of scenarios presented include breaking bad news, delivering good news, discussing progress of patient’s condition.

2. Non-medical interactions
These interactions can be presented either in the form of a narrative passage or a dialogue.

Also, the UMAT can include questions with a visual stimulus such as a comic strip that shows a character’s facial expression and you will have to answer questions on them.

How to Study for Understanding People Style UMAT Questions

The general format of these question types is a passage outlining an interaction between two or more people and then a few questions relating to the given passage. These passages can be quite lengthy, often ranging up to a page. Therefore, in the interests of saving time, it’s a good idea to follow this approach when doing Section 2.

Step 1. Read the questions FIRST not the passage

There will be a lot of irrelevant parts in the passage designed to use up your time and not help in any way to answer the question. In doing this, you are able to focus your reading a lot more on the relevant aspects of the passage. This will help you engage a lot more with the text.

Step 2. ‘Actively’ read the passage

To read actively means to be attentive and critically evaluate the relevant and important parts of the passage that will help you answer the question rather than just reading the words and taking it in passively.

  • First of all, understand the context of the passage you are reading. This will most likely be in the form of an opening italicised line at the beginning. It will usually provide you information on the backstory or relationship of the characters or the location.
  • Annotate as you read. This encourages active reading and allows you to highlight all thoughts, feelings, comments and behaviours that will assist you in answering the question.
  • Follow along with a pencil whilst reading. This will also ensure that your attention is solely on the line of text you are reading rather than anywhere else.

Step 3. Answer the question

Treat these questions like an English comprehension question. You have to make sure you can infer your answer from the text and there is evidence to support it (this is where your annotations come in handy).

Often with the multiple choice options provided, there will be two out of a usual four options that seem to be wrong at first glance and two other options that will seem very similar. For example:

Example 1: Medical Interactions

Doctor: How have things been going since you started the medication? I hope you’ve seen an improvement.

Bonnie: I must admit it was scary to be told I was suffering from post-natal depression. I was glad in one way that I had a name for what was happening to me but man, to be actually diagnosed with depression, that word, I don’t know, it frightens me.

Doctor: Why does it frighten you? Can you talk a bit more about that?

Bonnie: Well my dad had depression when I was a kid. It was pretty awful. I spent a lot of time visiting him in hospital and I just remember being very scared about his condition. I remember at least two suicide attempts, although it wasn’t explained to me at the time. His depression ruined our family and from what I could see, it was the most dreadful disease to suffer from.

Doctor: So, because of your dad’s experience of depression, you are frightened that you will experience the same?

Bonnie: Yes, that’s it. And I’m so worried about my family.

Doctor: Is that because you’re concerned that your depression will have the same kind of impact?

Bonnie: Exactly.

Doctor (looking at Bonnie’s file): You’ve been on the medication for 3 months, have you noticed any improvement in your mood, in your capacity to cope with things?

Bonnie: Ummmm… I suppose so. I don’t feel as panicky as I did before.

Doctor: That’s good.

Bonnie: Yes, but…I don’t know… it’s been a long time since I laughed.

Doctor: From what you’re saying it sounds like the medication hasn’t brought about the change or improvement you’re hoping for.

Bonnie: You’re right. I feel a bit better but I really thought I would feel fine and now I’m worried that nothing’s going to help.

What best describes the relationship between Bonnie and her doctor?

(A) Professional
(B) Challenging
(C) Empathetic
(D) Confident

We can see that there are two obvious options that will not be the answer which is B and D. Here you will be tossing up between A and C which are two quite similar options and these questions will test you on your ability to know the fine difference between the two. The answer here is C.

Professionalism refers to one’s ability and in this case, it’s the doctor’s ability to diagnose their patient and provide treatment options. Empathy refers to taking the extra step to understand the patient and their concerns. Here the doctor does go out of his way to try and understand Bonnie’s situation.

Doctor: Why does it frighten you? Can you talk a bit more about that?

In this line, the doctor is trying to encourage more information out of Bonnie so that he can understand her situation. And after Bonnie talks about how the depression has impacted her upbringing, the doctor then goes to say:

Doctor: So, because of your dad’s experience of depression, you are frightened that you will experience the same?

He makes an inference from the information that Bonnie has said to show that he is attempting to understand her position and trying to show his empathy for the situation. Hence their relationship is best described as empathetic.

Example 2: Non-medical Interactions

UMAT emotional response stimulus for UMAT understanding people

A typical stimulus illustrating emotional responses

Source: Norman Feuti Cartoons

What is the boy in this visual stimulus likely to be feeling at the end of this interaction?

(A) Depressed
(B) Devastated
(C) Vengeful
(D) Defeated


Answer: D

The boy is most likely to feel defeated as can be implied from his final slumped position over the table. He is not likely to feel vengeful as he blames himself for the B Plus as can be seen by the words “Stupid B Plus.” Hence he is unlikely to seek revenge on the girl. Hence we can rule out C. The creased forehead in the final image implies a response of more similar to anger rather than depression or devastation.

General Tips

Before reading the passage:

  • Read your questions beforehand and make note of the answers that are offered
  • Look out for modality words such as may, probably, definitely, always, never
  • Look out for words indicating which parts of the passage you should be referring to

When reading the passage:

  • Pay attention to any mention of:
    • Body language/facial expression
    • Tone/manner of speaking
    • Relationships between characters
  • Annotate and follow along your passage with a pencil whilst reading

When coming to an answer:

  • Eliminate the options that you can see are obviously wrong.
  • Avoid the options that are extremes of emotion unless there are signs in the passage for it – go for embarrassed rather than mortified.


  • Expand your emotive vocabulary and be able to identify the different intensities each emotive word expresses.


Are You Ready For Your UMAT Exam?


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