UK Clinical Aptitude Test
The UK Clinical Aptitude Test (UKCAT) is a test that is beginning to be used in the selection process by a consortium of UK university Medical and Dental Schools. It is run by the UKCAT Consortium in partnership with Pearson VUE. It was first introduced in 2006, and will remain in test mode for some years beyond this date.
The test is designed to give information on the candidates' mental abilities, as well as attitudes and possible professional behaviour. The test is expected to start helping universities make more informed choices between medical and dental applicants in the years to come, once the test has been fully validated.
The UKCAT is designed to be a test of aptitude and attitude, not academic achievement. The latter is already demonstrated by A-Levels, Scottish Highers or undergraduate degrees. It attempts to assess a certain range of mental abilities and behavioural attributes identified as useful. These mental abilities include critical thinking as well as logical reasoning and inference.
For candidates sitting the examination in summer 2013, the UKCAT consists of four subtests with the time allocation mentioned:
- Verbal reasoning - assesses candidates' ability to think logically about written information and arrive at a reasoned conclusion. It will take 22 minutes, doing 11 passages and makes up 44 marks.
- Quantitative reasoning - assesses candidates' ability to solve numerical problems. It will take 23 minutes, doing 9 tables, charts, graphs etc.; and makes up 36 marks.
- Abstract reasoning - assesses candidates' ability to infer relationships from information by convergent and divergent thinking. It will take 16 minutes, doing 13 sets of questions and makes up 65 marks.
- Decision Analysis - assesses candidates' ability to deal with various forms of information to infer relationships, to make informed judgements, and to decide on an appropriate response. It will take 32 minutes, doing 1 set of information and makes up 26 marks.
The UKCAT also tests an additional domain:
- SITUATIONAL JUDGEMENT - identified aspects of each candidate's personality and character in order to determine their suitability for a career in medicine or dentistry. It will take 27 minutes with 13 scenarios and makes up 60 marks.
The entire test is delivered by computer. Candidates are not allowed to bring external materials in to the exam. A basic calculator used to be provided in the past years of 2011, along with a white board and a marker pen or paper with a pencil, for taking notes, however in 2012 there will only be a simple digital calculator on the screen. The equipment and conditions vary slightly between different test centers.
Including warm-up time (time allocated to reading the instructions), the test lasts a maximum of two hours. Each of the UKCAT subtests is in a multiple choice format and is separately timed.
Content and preparation
There is no curriculum content, as the test is designed to probe innate skills. These include basic arithmetic, reading and writing ability, along with character, and personal and social attitudes.
Past papers are not available. There are however specimen questions on the UKCAT website. All candidates are urged to read this attentively. However the UKCAT Consortium specifies "The UKCAT does not contain any curriculum or science content; nor can it be revised for". So UKCAT Preparation is not necessary, desirable or advantageous". Indeed the Consortium says that for the 2007 edition it has placed questions such that it can cross check whether candidates are replying honestly or are giving prepared answers.
Contrary to the above statement, several companies and websites offer various forms of preparation for the UKCAT. Websites offer free practice questions and support, companies claim that psychometric tests can and should be practiced for, and since UKCAT is mainly a psychometric test, practice can improve one's chances immensely. This is apparently quite obvious to the students themselves considering the fact that thousands of students prepare months in advance for the test, as can be seen in student forums across the web.
Usefulness and controversies
The UKCAT Consortium specifies, "Every university uses the UKCAT result as part of a well-rounded admissions policy in which several other factors also carry considerable weight." That said, the universities in at least several instances (University of Leeds, Cardiff University) (University of East Anglia) have indicated that for now, UKCAT will play a very small role in selection, until it has been properly validated. Concerns also exist over the high price of the test (£65 - £80) and the profit making nature of Pearson Vue. In addition, reapplicant candidates on average get a significantly higher score, throwing further doubt on its relevance as an 'aptitude' test.
For 2009 entry, the UKCAT must be taken by all applicants (except for some accelerated, graduate-entry courses) applying to study medicine or dentistry at the following university Medical and Dental Schools:
- University of Aberdeen
- Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry
- Brighton and Sussex Medical School
- Cardiff University
- University of Dundee
- Durham University
- University of East Anglia
- University of Edinburgh
- University of Exeter
- University of Glasgow
- Hull York Medical School
- Imperial College London - Graduate Entry Programme only
- Keele University
- King's College London
- University of Leeds - not for Dentistry Undergraduates
- University of Leicester
- University of Manchester
- Newcastle University
- University of Nottingham
- Peninsula Medical School
- University of Sheffield
- University of Southampton
- University of St Andrews
- St George's, University of London
- Queen's University Belfast
- University of Warwick Graduate Entry Medical Degree
- BMAT - the Biomedical Admissions Test. This is similar to the UKCAT, and is required as part of the applications process to Oxford, Cambridge, UCL and Imperial College medical schools.
- GAMSAT - the Graduate Australian Medical Schools Admissions Test. This has a similar selection function to the UKCAT, but has in part a curriculum basis and is required as part of the applications process to the graduate entry programmes at Keele, Nottingham, Swansea and St. George's University of London medical schools.
- "UKCAT Breakdown".
- "UKCAT Details".
- "Free Resource".
- McManus et al. (2013), "The UKCAT-12 study: educational attainment, aptitude test performance, demographic and socio-economic contextual factors as predictors of first year outcome in a cross-sectional collaborative study of 12 UK medical schools", BMC Medicine, 11:244
- McManus et al. (2013), "Construct-level predictive validity of educational attainment and intellectual aptitude tests in medical student selection: meta-regression of six UK longitudinal studies", BMC Medicine, 11:243
- McManus et al. (2013), "The Academic Backbone: longitudinal continuities in educational achievement from secondary school and medical school to MRCP(UK) and the specialist register in UK medical students and doctors", BMC Medicine, 11:242