Can you study and successfully prepare for the UMAT?
There’s no denying the obvious: the UMAT is hard. For almost all of us, this three-hour exam is completely different to any secondary school test you’ve ever sat. You can’t memorise paragraphs or rote learn phrases, you can’t learn formulas and you definitely can’t bring in a reference book. The UMAT is designed to be a difficult and foreign examination, and to challenge your ability to think logically, emotionally and visually. And the best way to handle any challenge, is to prepare.
Can you study and successfully prepare for the UMAT?
The traditional stance taken by most medical schools (and ACER itself) is that the UMAT is an exam for which one cannot prepare. In theory, the test is intended to test pure aptitude, rather than skills that can be learned and mastered. Ask almost any medical student however, and the odds are they’ll tell you that they did some sort of preparation for this exam. The results are undeniable – preparation works, and practice does make perfect. While the UMAT is unlike any year twelve subject, it can be mastered.
Where do you begin your UMAT preparation?
The first time you look at a UMAT question, you’ll most likely experience a feeling that is equal parts confusion and panic. Don’t worry – almost everyone goes through that shock-horror moment when they start preparing. No matter what year level you’re in, the best way to handle this situation is to read up on the exam itself. Working through the theory literature in the NIE UMAT books is a key step to give you the foundation you need to begin tackling the questions themselves. Depending on what year level you’re in and how much time you have for study, you may want to simply skim through the books, or read them in greater depth. Once you’re familiar with the style and structure of the questions in the exam, you’ll be better positioned to wrap your head around the skills needed to answer them.
Once you’ve conquered the theory parts of the UMAT NIE books, the best way forward is to simply get started with answering questions. However, the amount of time you spend on these questions will really depend on what year you’re in, and how much free time you have.
UMAT preparation during Year 12
If you’re beginning your preparation at the start of year 12, you only have around five (or fewer) months before the exam itself. In this case, you want to begin the practice questions in the UMAT Books straight away, and you want to begin fast. Start by doing them untimed – you need to get comfortable with the questions before you do them to time. You should be aiming to spend a minimum of 4-5 hours per week on these questions, trying to break them up into 45 minute chunks throughout the week. Any less than this, and you may not be able to make the improvements you need to get a top mark.
Within a few weeks, you want to slowly work up to doing the questions to time (80-90 seconds per question) – this will be hard at first, but you’ll get the hang of it. Try to divide your time between the three sections using the following system: spend 50% of your time on your weakest section, 30% on your next worst section and 20% on your strongest section. Also keep in mind that section three is typically the easiest to improve in, while section two is the hardest; if you find that you simply aren’t improving in section two, it may be worth spending more of your time on the other sections where you have greater potential to increase your score.
Depending on what package you’ve decided to go with, the number of UMAT practice exams you have may vary. Remember: ‘practice exams’ is where you’ll get your greatest improvement. UMAT drills are critical, but only the full exams replicate the actual environment of the UMAT itself. Aim to do one exam per week up until the UMAT day, starting early enough so that you can get through every exam. Once you begin exams, you may decide to decrease the number of drills you’re doing, depending on your time commitments. You’ll also need to spend adequate time going through the answers and explanations for each exam and drill.
Year 11 and Earlier
If you’ve begun your preparation prior to year 12, you’re a little less pressured for time. Try to adopt the same system as described above, but allow yourself a bit more time and flexibility to move through the different stages. You want to be consistent and do a few hours of UMAT every week, without doing so much that you burn out before the day of the test!
UMAT Tutorials and Workshops
Most of us learn best when we have someone experienced to help us through the process. If you find that you just aren’t improving, or you simply feel like you need a bit of guidance, utilising tutorials and workshops can be a great way to jump start your preparation. These can be general learning sessions, or section-specific tutorials. Most of us have at least one section of the UMAT where we just don’t seem to make much improvement – spending two hours with an expert can be a very effective way to get you up to speed in your area of weakness.
What to do on the day of the UMAT?
Depending on your personality, the day of the UMAT exam may be very stressful or no big deal. In either case, the important thing is to give yourself as much time as possible. Wake up early, arrive early and don’t be rushed. Remember: during the exam, time is your enemy. If a question is taking more than a few minutes – move on. Be sure to have a watch with you, and know roughly how many questions you need to have answered every 15 minutes in order to be on pace to finish the test. This way, you can monitor whether you’re falling behind, or if you have time to spare. The UMAT is designed to be time-pressured; being as prepared as possible will help you on the day.