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HPAT Preparation

HPAT Practice

The HPAT practice techniques presented below should be of assistance in improving your HPAT performance. They focus on general and common sense tips aimed at improving your percentile ranking during a limited time multiple choice exam. These techniques should be supported by your own HPAT training, practise and mindset, as well as preparation using the HPAT NIE Books.


HPAT has been designed so that most students will have difficulty completing the set task in the time allowed. For this reason you will need to work efficiently and effectively. Given the number of questions and the time allowed you probably can’t afford to spend on average more than 90 seconds on any one multiple choice questions. Some questions will be harder than others and may require more time to answer, so you will need to learn to pace yourself.

Work as quickly and efficiently as you can

What is the best speed at which to work? The answer varies from person to person. You must find the best rate for yourself. As you do the practice problems, check your results to see whether you are pacing yourself correctly. If you find that you are not answering many questions in a section, but are very accurate, speed up. If you are answering most of the questions but are not very sure about the accuracy, then slow down. 

A minority of sitting candidates - the gifted ones - have enough time to work out each and every question on the test. If you don’t belong to this group consider ignoring the hard questions to give you more time to find the correct answers on questions you can handle. Of course, if you have time left, tackle hard questions, but remember not to spend more than the required time on hard or difficult problems.

Anyone can finish HPAT Sections early - don’t!

You do not get extra credit for finishing the test early. In fact, anyone who finishes a section early is either a genius or an idiot. Just work effectively during the time available but also make the most of your time by attempting as many questions as possible whilst still maintaining your accuracy.

Do not become preoccupied with keeping track of time

The time limit is important, but don’t become obsessed with keeping track of exactly how much time remains. Keep a note of the time and focus on answering as many questions as accurately as you can.

Check your work

If you do have time at the end of a section, go over your work. Go back to items you were unsure of and check your answers. This rule also applies when you will be practising the NIE trial tests.

An obstacle to consider

Those perfectionist tendencies that made you a good undergraduate student may work against you in HPAT. For example, you are probably used to working through tough questions until you get an answer, or understanding everything in a passage before hitting one question. On HPAT you don't have the luxury of indulging your perfectionism and looking for detail. You cannot afford to spend twenty minutes on a tough question - you'll run out of time. You do not need to understand every word of a passage before you go to the question(s). What's tripping you up may not even be relevant to the question(s) that follow.

HPAT is what psychometricians refer to as a “highly speeded” test. That is, most students will struggle to finish the test within the limited time available. If you have perfectionist tendencies to work out every question in fine detail, you will avoid careless mistakes, but you may run out of time.

Transferring your answers and saving time

To save time, keep your pencil in your writing hand; you would be surprised how much time is wasted picking it up and putting it down between questions. This will also save time when transferring your answers to the answer grid.

Another trick for making the most out of your time is to transfer your answers in say groups of five or a page at a time. Simply circle the correct choices (a, b, c or d., on the exam paper, and transfer your answers in blocks. This will eliminate excessive turning back and forth between the exam paper and the grid leaving you with more time for more questions. Exercise extreme care when transferring the answers though and only utilise this technique if it works for you.


If someone offered to give you the answers to HPAT before you took it, you would probably be shocked. The fact remains that each candidate who sits the test gets to see the answers. There is nothing

strange about this for HPAT is a multiple choice test. This means that every question is followed by four or five answer choices. In every single instance (unless otherwise stated) one, and only one, of these choices will be the answer or the best answer. All you will have to do is identify which one it is.

How do I identify the best answer?

One approach is to focus on the incorrect choices. It is almost always easier to see why a particular choice is incorrect than to see why the answer is “best.” You will discover that for many HPAT questions, the quickest way to find the answer is to find and eliminate the incorrect choices.

Process of Elimination (POE)

POE is an extremely important concept. It is an important strategy to deal with HPAT effectively and efficiently. You will be able to use POE to answer many questions you may not fully understand.

Remember: The basis of POE is focusing on incorrect choices rather than worrying about the answer or best answer. Simply select the option you can't find a valid reason to eliminate.

Keep track of your responses

POE will also increase your test-taking speed. Many students waste valuable time re-reading answer choices they have already disqualified. To keep from doing this, cross out choices as you eliminate them. 

POE is also the key to good guessing

Your HPAT score is based solely on the number of correct or best responses you make. You are not penalised for incorrect answers. A wrong answer counts the same as a space left blank – zero! By using POE and other techniques wisely, you can improve your statistical chance of hitting the correct answer choice. Eliminating one or more of the answer choices will improve your guessing odds. Increasing your chance of success from 1-in-4 to 1-in-3 may not sound great but observed over an exam the size of HPAT, just may raise your percentile ranking to the status of interview or a place in the desired university course.

Realise when you are not making progress on a question, guess and move on

If you have spent more than 90 seconds on a question, chances are that you are just “spinning your wheels” and need to move on. But because there is no penalty for a wrong answer, fill one in anyway. Even a random guess may improve your score. Use the last few seconds of test time to fill in any unanswered questions on your answer sheet.

But don't forget the lucky guess

When all else has failed and you cannot eliminate any answer choices, throw your lucky pick, a letter either A, B, C, D or E that you have pre-selected. This will ensure that you minimise wasted time on a question you could never answer.

Understand the specific rules of HPAT

  • All questions have the same value.
  • No marks are deducted for wrong answers.
  • If you mark more than one answer to a question it will be considered wrong.
  • Answers should be marked on the answer sheet, not in the test book.
  • Rough work and calculations may be done on the test book but no scrap paper is allowed.
  • Grey lead pencils and an eraser are permitted. Rulers, coloured pencils, dictionaries, etc. are not allowed.

Understanding HPAT Scoring

  • HPAT scores come in two forms: Scaled scores and Percentile rankings.
  • You will receive a scaled score for each of the three sections.
  • Scaled scores are adjusted raw scores that are modified to strict statistical guidelines to reflect commonality from year to year as well a balanced spread of scores.
  • The difficulty of HPAT can vary from year to year. Hence scaling adjusts the scores to make them equitable and comparable.
  • Scaling will not alter the order of candidates.
  • Please note, HPAT – Ireland scores and HPAT-Ireland percentile rankings are valid for only one year. That is, HPAT – Ireland scores can be used for admission to an undergraduate medical course only in the same year in which the course is due to commence. For example, results from HPAT – Ireland 2019 can be used for undergraduate medicine courses beginning in 2019 but not 2020.
  • Percentile rankings are an indication of a student’s performance compared to all other candidates who sat the HPAT that same year.
  • HPAT scores will in no way indicate the number of questions you answered correctly as they are strictly scaled.
  • Both the scaled scores and percentile rankings will be presented separately for each of the three sections of HPAT and typically sit in the 0 – 100 range (but are not necessarily out of 100) irrespective of the number of questions for each section.
  • Each section is marked and scaled independently.

Some final tips for the real thing… 

The HPAT is a week away.  What should you do?

First of all, you should practise the techniques in this manual and the ones we have taught you. Use practice problems as close as possible to the real HPAT. Even our questions are not as good as the real thing, although we have designed them according to the same statistical requirements used by the test writers.

Getting Psyched

The HPAT can be a big deal, but don't let it intimidate you. Sometimes test candidates become so nervous and anxious about doing well that they set up their own poor performance. Instead, think of the HPAT as a game. It's a game that you can become good at. The better you get, the less nervous you'll be. When you go into the test centre, just think about all those who haven’t prepared and who lack the HPAT mindset. They will probably be shocked by the questions or busy reading the first question while you have already answered one or two and know what to expect. The best way to avoid nervousness is to practice problems under simulated test conditions (like the trial or practice exam on workshop day). Of course, taking the actual HPAT is much more nerve-racking than taking a practice test. Adrenaline somehow makes the time go by much faster, but it's all right to be nervous; the point of being prepared is to keep from panicking. Visit the testing centre if you can, well before the actual test. This may help to calm your nerves and add to the all-important HPAT mindset.

Rest and Sleep the night before?

Avoid intensive studying less than twenty four hours before the test. By this stage, you should have evaluated where you stand. There is little point stressing or burning yourself out. Mental fatigue won’t help on the big day. Some students have been told that they should get a lot of sleep the night before the HPAT. This probably isn't a good idea. If you aren't used to sleeping twelve hours a night, doing so will just make you groggy for the test. The same goes for going out and partying. People with hangovers are not good test takers. And of course, craving doesn’t help either so do not decide the week in which you are to sit HPAT to quit smoking (which a health professional shouldn’t be doing anyway). A much better idea is to get up early each morning for the entire week before the test and do practice questions as soon as you wake up. This will get your brain accustomed to functioning at that hour of the morning. You want to be sharp at test time. The morning of the test, do something with your brain before you leave home. A crossword or jigsaw puzzle is a good idea. While waiting at the test centre you should keep clear of distractions.

A few pointers on the test day

  • You are supposed to take identification to the test centre. Bring the official HPAT written notification document and photographic identification. Organise, the above-mentioned items as well as anything else ACER recommends the day before the test.
  • The only outside materials you are allowed to take to the test are HPAT Admission Ticket, photo-bearing identity document, grey-lead pencils (medium soft HB), eraser, a bottle of water, non-stopwatch capabilities wristwatch. The latter is important when a HPAT candidate wants to know whether he or she has a minute or 10 seconds left. If you don't own one, borrow one. Take a watch that allows easy reading of the seconds and minutes that pass and avoid the hassles. Make sure it doesn't beep during the test. (By the way, don't bring pencils that are too sharp.  Sharp points break easily and take longer to fill in the answer sheet.  Bring four slightly used pencils.)
  • The following items will not be permitted in the test room: Mobile phones, Calculators, Stopwatches/watches with stopwatch capabilities, Dictionaries, Audio or recording devices of any kind, Food (unless permission is granted by the HPAT Office based on medical reasons), Bags, Stationery items other than pencils or erasers
  • Eat a normal breakfast that morning, but don't drink too much coffee or tea. Avoid all forms of alcoholic beverages. You're going to be sitting in the same place for over two hours; you don't want to spend half your time needing the bathroom. It takes about ten minutes for sugar to work its way to your tired brain.  If possible eat or drink something sweet before you go in (Remember that lollies and chocolate will work fast but the high will end quickly leaving you feeling low. For lasting sugar highs hit the fruit).
  • Dress in layers of clothes for maximum comfort. This allows you to adjust to the testing room’s temperature.
  • Leave early on test day and leave yourself plenty of travelling time in case of transport and traffic delays. Always carry an umbrella for the weather may not always be supportive on test day. A cold and uncomfortable water soaked candidate is in no keen position to tackle HPAT.
  • Make sure your desk or seat isn't broken or uncomfortable. If there are any possible sources of distractions ensure they are attended to before you start. If the sun is in your eyes, ask if you can move.  If the room is too dark, ask someone to turn on the lights.  Don't hesitate to speak up. Feeling comfortable and ready to take on the challenge before you is essential on test day.
  • Listen, read and carefully follow all instructions on test day.
  • During the test, don't spend a lot of time darkening in your responses. You will see some test takers trance-like, aesthetically darkening in every last white space before going to the next question.  Darken the response, and then move on. 
  • During the end of each section, clear your head. Remember, HPAT is really three tests in one. Once a section is over, it's OVER. You should avoid thinking about a question or questions you may have answered incorrectly when you are onto the next section.

Summary of the strategies 

  • Pace yourself effectively and efficiently.
  • Never leave a question blank, eliminate as many incorrect choices as possible and if necessary guess.
  • Don’t waste time on hard questions. Guess and move on.
  • Decide on how you best glean information from questions and passages. Deal only with the information contained in each passage.
  • Learn from your mistakes - get the most from practice. Plan, prepare and develop a confident mindset.

Look at HPAT as a challenge, the first step in your medical career, rather than an arbitrary obstacle!

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