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So you have begun practising for the UCAT ANZ exam and you are getting scores in the 500s or the 600s. You have heard that the UCAT uses scaled scores and not raw scores but you do not fully understand how the number of questions you are getting correct translates into these scores.

The UCAT scoring process is actually quite complicated, with Pearson VUE using advanced statistics to go from your raw score to your scaled UCAT score. But what does scaled UCAT results mean? Are you getting a good UCAT score? What UCAT percentile are you in?

Let’s delve into the UCAT scoring system and simplify what it all means. I will cover the following below:

  • How are UCAT questions scored
  • How are UCAT sections scored
  • What is a good UCAT score

How UCAT questions are scored

There are a few really important things to know about how UCAT questions are scored as this will impact your strategy on how you take the UCAT exam. The key points are:

  • There is no negative marking for wrong answers
  • For Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning and Abstract Reasoning, each question you see is worth 1 point
  • For Decision Making, questions that have 1 correct answer are also worth 1 point. This is the case for 20 questions out of the 29 questions. Those with multiple statements, often referred to as conclusion drawing questions, are worth up to 2 points. There are 9 in a full-length decision-making section.
  • In Decision Making conclusion drawing questions, you need to get all 5 statements correct to score the full 2 points. If you get some of the statements right, you can score 1 point. The UCAT does not release how many out of the five statements you need to get 1 point. I think it is likely to be 3 out of 5 but have not been able to confirm that.
  • For the Situational Judgement Test section, partial points are also used. Each question is worth 1 point, but if you get close to the correct answer, then partial marks are awarded. For example, if the correct answer is “very appropriate” and you chose “appropriate”, you are still getting the right idea, so you get partial points. If the correct answer is “inappropriate” and you picked “very inappropriate”, you would again get partial points.
  • You need to be on the right side of the argument to get the partial points. So if the correct answer is “appropriate” and you pick “inappropriate”, you will score 0 points, although you are one answer away.

One important point to make about the scoring of questions is that although it seems quite simple, in reality, scoring 1 point in one question is not equivalent to getting 1 point in another question. Why is that? Well, that is because the scores are scaled using IRT scaling. This means that getting a point in a harder question will actually increase your final score more than getting a point in an easier question.

Another important and interesting fact about question scoring is that every year, a number of questions in the exam do not count in the scoring. As a student writing the exam, you have no idea which questions you are doing may not even be counted, but knowing there are some should definitely convince you to never spend too much time on any question, sacrificing getting through the full exam as a result.

How UCAT sections are scored

Although your points for Verbal Reasoning add up to 44, your points for Decision Making add up to 38 and your points for Quantitative Reasoning add up to 36 etc. the final score you get is always a score between 300 and 900.

I will get to how the score is scaled in just a moment, but before, let’s try to understand why is the UCAT score scaled?

There are 2 key reasons why it needs to be:

  1. It needs to be scaled to compare different sections. You cannot really compare a score out of 44, one out of 38, and one out of 36 easily. Scaling the scores allows comparison at a glance. They are now all out of 900.

  2. The second reason the UCAT score is scaled is that it allows Pearson Vue to give a higher reward to a student who got a difficult question right compared to an applicant who got an easier question right.

    Two students may have the same raw score, let’s say 30 out of 36 in quantitative reasoning, but they are unlikely to end up with the same score out of 900. The student who missed hard questions will have a higher final score than the student who missed easier questions. 

This is really important in your preparation. Do not spend a long time on hard questions and run out of time on easy questions. You may end up doubly penalised. Our question bank is designed to help you understand how you are managing your timing during your practice and has a specific dashboard to help you reduce the time lost on wrong answers.

So now we know why it is so important that the UCAT scores are scaled. But how does Pearson Vue do this? They use a method called Item Response Theory Scaling or IRT scaling. The exact details of how they use IRT for the UCAT is not released publicly but the key elements are as follows:

  • A question’s difficulty level is first established
  • A model (complex statistics) is created that shows a correlation between which questions a student gets right and wrong vs. that student’s ability.
  • This model is then used to assess a student’s ability, looking at which questions they got right and which questions they got wrong.

This method only works if first, every question has a difficulty level established. It thus seems logical that every year some UCAT questions are presented to the students but do not count in the results. By having these questions in the exam, the UCAT can test and establish the difficulty level of these questions by simply seeing how many people get them right or wrong. These questions are then ready to be used in future UCAT exams.

If a question that was thought to be “difficult” is suddenly answered correctly by more students than expected, then a recalibration of the model takes place to readjust/rebalance the difficulty level of that question.

 

How to prepare for the UCAT

how-are-ucat-scores-calculated

What if you do not understand how IRT scaling works?

Well, to be honest, it really does not matter. Many students ask me about it and this is why I wrote about it here but you do not need to understand this to do well. The key message is:

  • Your overall score depends on your raw score (how many questions you got right) and the difficulty level of those questions.
  • The difficulty level of a question is established in great part by how many people get this question right or wrong.

What does this mean for you?

When you practice for the UCAT, never overspend time on a question:

  • It could be that this question does not count.
  • It could be that because of overspending time in one place, you end up having to skip late, easy questions and loose more overall points for skipping an easy question.
  • Your time management and how you score compared to other students matters. You can be in the top UCAT decile and get a few questions wrong so time management matters more than trying to get all of them right.

In our UCAT question bank:

  • We show you how you compare to other students in every part of the exam.
  • On the question slide, you can also see the answers that other students choose and by looking at the percentage of people that get it right, you can start to establish how “difficult” a question is.
  • Our advanced dashboard keeps track of your time so that you can learn to not waste time on wrong answers. Getting it right is not enough. You have to get it right, in good time.

What is a good UCAT score?

The answer to this question is “it depends”. And to be more specific, it depends on 3 key things:

  1. Which programme you are applying to
  2. Which universities you are applying to
  3. What is the average UCAT score the year that you get your test result in

Medical schools and Dental schools are the most common programmes students apply to with the UCAT exam. On the whole, the UCAT score needed to apply to Dental school is lower than the UCAT score needed to apply to Medical school. This is not true for every programme of course, but what is true is that the average UCAT score for Dentistry application is lower than the average UCAT score for Medicine application. Your target UCAT will thus be different based on the programme you have your heart set on.

The school you are targeting has an even greater impact on what will be considered a good score. Some schools need you to achieve in the top 3rd Decile on your UCAT scores, such as Queen Mary University of London while others require you to take the UCAT, but your score counts for quite little in the selection to get a medical interview. Keele medical school or Queen’s University Belfast Medical School are two great examples of this.

For Keele University, School of Medicine:

  • The 2019 UCAT threshold was 2280 (or 570).
  • The UCAT cutoff is always low and they mainly use the exam to rule out students who score in the bottom 2 deciles or who have an SJT band 4
  • They put more value in a modified personal statement called the roles and responsibilities form when their select student for an interview

For Queen’s University Belfast School of Medicine:

  • The UCAT counts for only 6 points out of 42 points in the interview score
  • GCSEs have such a big weight on the pre-interview score that a UCAT score in the low 600 can be competitive for Medicine

At the same time, there are some medical schools that select for an interview almost exclusively based on the UCAT score, The University of Newcastle, the University of Southampton and the University of Sheffield are 3 examples of medical schools that use such shortlisting criteria. Students who have a high UCAT score apply to these schools and thus a good score there is much higher than a good score for Keele university or for Queen’s University Belfast.

All the examples above refer to medical schools in the UK. For students applying to Australia and New Zealand, the same principles apply. Just like with the UCAS application universities in Australia each has their shortlisting criteria and each given different weight to the UCAT exam.

On top of the programme and the University, the scores of other students in a given year also affect what it means for you to have a good score. The difference between a good score on any given year has been as wide as 100 points in the past. The score report you get on the day of the exam only tells you about your performance.

To understand how you rank compared to other students, which percentile you are in, you will need to check the official website for the breakdown of results. If you are interested in understanding how this works and how to interpret previous year’s UCAT test statistics, I have written a separate post on this.

Bearing in mind all the variable factors mentioned above, this is what I consider to be a high UCAT score, without fail. This is also the score I advise my students to aim for:

  • For a student applying for Dentistry - a score over 660
  • For a student applying for Medicine - a score over 700

Now within a given year and other conditions, it would be fair to stay that most of the time the following scores are also considered high scores:

  • For a student applying for Dentistry - a score over 640
  • For a student applying for Medicine - a score over 680

Not everyone that gets into medical and dental school achieves the highest UCAT score. So if you are struggling to reach the high 600s, don’t despair. First of all, there are many methods out there to improve your preparation. I recommend you check out those two to start with:

Next, the UCAT is not the major element in the selection process for all Medical and Dental schools. I gave two examples above of medical schools that use the UCAT but do not give it a lot of weight in their shortlisting criteria. There are other schools like that. Achieving highly in the UCAT is important, but having the strategy to apply to universities where you are most likely to be selected is just as important.

If you need detailed help selecting which schools you should apply to with your profile: the sum of your grades, personal statement, exam score or preparation, feel free to get in touch with me.

 


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