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Balancing UCAT preparation with Year 12 studies

How much time should I spend on UMAT practice

Posted: April 08, 2017

How to balance UCAT with Year 12?

One of the biggest obstacles to successful UCAT preparation is focusing too much on your ATAR score. For everyone who isn’t trying to get into medicine, the ATAR is everything. Fixation on year twelve subjects amongst your peers is something you’re going to have to get used to, but not follow. Let’s be clear: year 12 is important, and so is your ATAR. You do not want to neglect your subjects in favour of the UCAT. However, the reverse is also true – you can’t push UCAT to the side just to focus on earning that 99.95 mark. In reality, both are equally important for most undergraduate medical courses in Australia. You need to find a balance and maximize your UCAT, as well as your ATAR.

How much time should I spend on UCAT vs Year 12 subjects?

As discussed in last week’s blog, you should be aiming for a minimum of 4-5 hours per week on UCAT preparation (and perhaps more if you’re starting with only a few months before the exam itself). So how do you balance this time with your year 12 commitments? The first thing to do is work out exactly how much free time you have during the week, and how much time you think you can spend studying per day. For most people aiming to gain entry to undergraduate medicine, somewhere between 2-4 hours of study on weekdays, and 5 hours per day on weekends, is a good estimate. Keep in mind that there may be days where you have far less time, and that’s okay! Just make sure you compensate for that by putting in more work on your lighter days.

Is there such a thing as too much UCAT study?

Using these figures, you should have around 25 hours a week for study. A lot of students worry that if they focus too much on UCAT, they may not get the ATAR they want. As we’ve discussed however, you can spend five hours per week on your UCAT training, and still have 20 left for year 12 subjects. When you consider the fact that the UCAT and ATAR are usually of equal importance for medical admissions criteria, this may not seem like much time on the UCAT at all. Keep in mind however, that with any training of any kind, your progress will eventually start to plateau. The nature of the UCAT is such that if you do enough preparation, you’ll eventually find that you stop improving. Your aim is to delay this plateau until the exam itself, which means not overdoing the preparation. While five hours is a minimum, you should try and limit your UCAT preparation to a maximum of 10 hours per week. This way, you can be sure you won’t burn out.

What if I’m doing year 12 subjects in year 11?

In Victoria specifically, many students have the advantage of being able to complete either one, or two VCE subjects in year eleven. Taking on two subjects in year eleven can be a helpful way to free up more time in year 12, which you can then devote to UCAT. Conversely, if you’re doing none, or one VCE subject in year eleven, your time in year 12 might be a bit more limited. In this situation, it’s often helpful to begin your UCAT study in year eleven. If you can build up your skill base before you start year 12, it will alleviate your time pressure during your final year.

As discussed, you can’t lose sight of your ATAR score. However, the beauty of the UCAT is that it is sat in the middle of the year, whereas the bulk of your ATAR isn’t earned until your final exams in October and November. For the months of May-July, it can often be worthwhile to put your year 12 studies on the back-burner if you feel you need more UCAT preparation. Remember: you’re going to have all of August, September and October to build your ATAR score without any UCAT commitments.

Is my ATAR even that important?

When working on your year 12 subjects, keep in mind how vital the ATAR is for medical course admissions. Not only is it part of the admissions criteria, but a higher ATAR will allow you more leeway if you have a lower UCAT mark. Moreover, if you don’t manage to get an undergraduate offer, you’ll need a strong ATAR to gain a position in one of the requisite courses (usually science or biomedical science) that lead into post-graduate medical degrees. Lastly, a very strong ATAR may earn you an academic scholarship, which can alleviate financial pressures during your course.

I keep avoiding UCAT study

This is a common problem that many students face. The UCAT preparation needs to be consistent and over a longer period of time, and this can be hard, especially when your non-medical friends are always focusing on their ATAR score. A great way to fit in your UCAT study can be to use free periods and time between different commitments. Because UCAT preparation is composed of doing practice questions, it often helps to squeeze some study into 20-30 minute slots where you otherwise would have done nothing at all. This can be an effective way to ease yourself into UCAT study, without feeling the daunting prospect of sitting down to do UCAT for hours on end.

The UCAT is critical

Remember! Just like your ATAR or GPA, the UCAT is similarly important component for undergraduate medical admissions. Whether you love it or hate, find it easy or impossible, you have to sit this test and do well in it if you want to study medicine as an undergraduate student in Australia or New Zealand. So buckle up, set aside some time every week and know that every question you answer takes you a little bit closer to the medical course and life as a doctor.


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