UCAT Verbal Reasoning: 16 Tips For Success

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James Gibbons

Senior Writer

On the surface, UCAT Verbal Reasoning seems to be one of the more straightforward sections in the UCAT. You read a passage of text and then answer questions on it accordingly. Unfortunately, it is not quite as simple as this. Time is often tight in this section and the text is often long.

The themes in the text are often complex, while interesting, so it is easy to find yourself sucked in and reading the whole passage. Therefore, it is key that you have a plan in place to keep you on track.

When starting out on your UCAT preparation is key that you understand the section and have adequate resources and support. For resources for this section we have an article here.

Let’s show you sixteen (yes 16!) key tips to help with devising your strategy for UCAT Verbal Reasoning success. 

1.   Use our Keyword Technique 

As mentioned above the passages of text in this section can be really quite long. So this means that almost all of the tips for improving your performance in the Verbal Reasoning section are based on reducing the amount you are reading.

Don’t read the whole VR passage – it will take too long and you’ll run out of time. The key word technique is arguably the most important. 

How this technique works is very simple. First off you read just the first two lines of the text, and then the question statement. Next you pick a key word from that question and then scan through the passage looking for that key word.

Once you find it you then read the sentence with it in, and the sentence before and after. Hopefully this will give you enough information to answer the question without having to read the whole passage. 

You might be thinking, how do I find a keyword?

You want your key words to be nice and specific: The more specific they are the less likely they are to be repeated, meaning the sentences that contain them will be relevant to the question at hand.

So, to recap, this is the step by step strategy to use:

  1. Pick a keyword

    Pick a keyword in the question statement. Dates, numbers and capitalised words tend to be good keywords because they’re easy to spot.

  2. Search for keyword

    Scan for the keyword in the passage

  3. Read around the keyword

    If you find the keyword, then read the 2-3 lines around the keyword and hopefully you should find your answer! 

Of course this doesn’t always work, so you might need to look for alternative keywords too. Check out the Medic Mind UCAT Verbal Reasoning tutorials for more detail on this!

UCAT Verbal Reasoning Tips Video

Free Online UCAT Tutorials:
Medic Mind UCAT Verbal Reasoning Series

2.   Identify Extreme Language in UCAT Verbal Reasoning

Another key technique to use during UCAT Verbal Reasoning is extreme language.

This tip might be more new to you. To save time, you can look at the wording in the question and use this to help you predict the correct answer. 

Let’s say I told you that ‘this article WILL improve your UCAT score’. You might be a bit unsure, maybe yes, maybe no. Now change this to ‘this article MAY improve your UCAT score’. You’re more likely to say yes, right? 

This is an example of extreme and mild language. If you see extreme phrases in the UCAT, they are less likely to be true, and more likely to be false or can’t tell. You can bear this in mind when looking past statements, and you can even guess based on this if you’re short of time. 

This is particularly useful with the ‘True, False, Can’t Tell’ questions. This technique requires you to decide if a phrase is mild or extreme (examples below). And then based off this it will help you to decide if the answer is more like to be true or false. 

This technique can be applied to other questions too. As extreme phrases will help either support or undermine an argument in a question, as they tend to be very definite. 

3. Don’t Miss out True, False, Can’t Tell Questions in UCAT Verbal Reasoning 

The True, False, Can’t Tell questions are normally the quickest to answer compared to the statement questions. So you don’t want to miss them out! This is because you’ll only have to evaluate one statement to get your answer, compared to the other question types where you can have to evaluate if up to four statements are true, this is much quicker!

Sometimes the TFCT questions can be hidden right at the end, so don’t miss them out by taking too long on earlier or harder questions. Remember that all marks are equal in the UCAT, so it doesn’t matter if you get one hard question right if it it means you missed out on 5 easier questions because you ran out of time!

UCAT Keyword
Keep a close eye

4. BUT, don’t skip through looking for True, False, Can’t Tell Questions 

On the other hand, don’t spend too long skipping back and forth looking for TFCT questions. This will mess up your timing and you’ll spend too long navigating.

For example, if you’re on question 28 but have skipped half of them, its really hard to use the timer to work out how long you’re taking because all your question numbers are distorted. 

5. For Author questions, look at the conclusion first for the author opinion. 

There are several different question types in the Verbal Reasoning section of the UCAT. It is still worth practicing each different type ahead of your test. This will allow for you to be familiar with each one, with a rough idea of how long they all take. 

All of the sections of the UCAT have different question types so it is always useful to keep a list of the different ones you have come across. Also, it means you can make note of any that you are finding particularly difficult and spend more time practicing them.

Make sure that you do not neglect the ones you find challenging, as it is impossible to know what the ratio of different question types will be on the day. And you don’t want to end up facing a large number of your least favourite ones having ignored them during your practise.

Sometimes in the UCAT you’ll get author or writer questions. These passages are based on someones opinion. They can be quite long and winding passages, and it might be hard to find the author’s conclusion. The best bet is to look in the final paragraph first, because this will usually have the closing argument of the passage. 

6. You may want to guess some author questions. 

Author questions can be long winded, and require lots of reading. If you are going to guess any, these are probably the ones to guess! 

The difficulty with the UCAT Verbal Reasoning section is trying to answer every single question in the time given. It’s better to be realistic and in most cases it is impossible to do so. If you struggle with timing, it may be better to guess some questions so you have longer for the other questions. In this case author questions may be the best to make educated guesses for the answer.

7. Watch out for ‘strongest opinion’ author questions 

Sometimes the question may ask for the author’s strongest opinion. All of the statements might be the author’s opinion and be true, but we’re looking for the strongest statement which is agreed with the most.

It is harder to eliminate for these question types, and it can take ages to work out the answer. You aren’t just looking at a back and white answer of true or false, you need to work out how true each statement is!

8. Watch out for negative questions too! 

Sometimes you’ll get negative questions in the UCAT. For example, the statement may say ‘which of these is NOT true’, as shown on the screen. Firstly, make sure you spot the negative turn to these questions, it can be hard to spot if you’re rushing. Secondly, it can take time to work out the answer because like ‘strongest opinion’ questions, 3 of the statements may be true and be mentioned. 

9. Don’t spend too long checking

In VR, time is precious. So be smart and don’t double check again and again. Often, students get scared of making mistakes because its the big day and the actual exam. But this means they spent too long checking their answers before moving on.

For the statement questions with four answer options, once you have found your correct statement, don’t spend too long checking the other statements. In fact, unless you have big doubts, just move on without checking all of the other statements – time is important! If the first statement you evaluate is true, there’s no need to make sure all the others are false. You can just move on to the next question and save previous seconds in the process.

10. Practice in a library 

Going to the local library to do a full 2-hour mock exam gives you the opportunity to practice the exam in conditions close to that of the real exam. It’s likely that your library will provide older desktop PCs which are similar to those you’ll be provided with. There may also be a low-level of distractions such as people moving around you, which you’ll also experience during the testing centre.

It’s a great idea to practice at least one full exam mock in these conditions. Don’t underestimate how different the exam can feel when you’re not taking it on your own laptop in your own home!

Go to a library to practice UCAT Verbal Reasoning
Go to a library to practice UCAT Verbal Reasoning

11. Work on SCREEN 

During practice, if you are using books don’t highlight the text because you can’t do this in the final exam! Try to practice on a screen wherever possible. Your eyes can get tired reading passages on a screen, but this is all part of the challenge.

This is an essential part of our online tutoring as we show you how to get used to working on a screen.

Try UCAT Tutoring today:
UCAT Tutoring

11. UCAT love to throw in time traps! 

Sometimes certain questions are deliberately made very difficult to throw you off. A large part of the UCAT is about time management, which is an important skill for future doctors. The best candidates are able to identify when a question is too difficult or too time consuming, will make an educated guess and then move on. Weaker candidates will get fixated on the detail of the question and be determined to arrive at the correct answer regardless of how long it takes them. This means that, even if they get the answer right and gain a mark, they may have sacrificed several easier marks by running out of time.

UCAT Verbal Reasoning timing
Timing is key in UCAT Verbal Reasoning

13. Prepare yourself mentally

This is the first section so go into the exam prepared prepared for it. Don’t be a perfectionist when you walk in – so many students try to double check answers because its the real exam and they are too cautious and are scared to make mistakes. 

14. Work on Skim Reading 

To do well in UCAT Verbal Reasoning, you have to skim read the text to find the keyword you’re looking for. This is a skill which you will develop over time, and practice helps. Some people say its good to read newspapers to practice this.

But to be honest, if you’re going to spend time practicing, why not just do more VR questions and practice skim reading doing that rather than reading a newspaper?

15. Use the Flagging Function 

In the UCAT you can flag questions and come back to them later. If you’re unsure about an answer or simply don’t know, its worth flagging incase you have some time left over.

BUT, always put an answer down, even if it’s a guess, before flagging and moving on. It’s really unlikely that you’ll have time left over at the end! It can be quite difficult to re-read / re-understand a passage when you come back to it. So with VR try not to flag too much. 

UCAT Flagging Function in Verbal Reasoning
Use the flagging function in VR

16. Consider Operational Time

The area in which UCAT Verbal Reasoning can be the most challenging is timing. This is because the passages of text are so long and many students feel they must read the whole thing to get it right.

As discussed with Tip 1 this is not the case and it is about being as efficient as possible with extracting the information you need to answer the question. Don’t waste precious time in each question doing extra things, as this adds up. I’ve had students in the past who always write down the keyword on their whiteboard, for example.

It would take 5 seconds to do this every question by the time you wrote things down and looked back up, which is 220 seconds across 44 questions. This is just under 4 minutes, nearly 20% of your time!

The same goes for people who skip through the whole section to find TFCT questions first. It takes too long to navigate and find these, and then come back.

If you can’t find exactly what you are looking for make sure to flag and move on, so as to not commit too much time to one question.

If timing is something that you are really struggling with then you may benefit from some of our one-to-one sessions. These sessions can be tailored exactly to your needs and our tutors can go through questions step-by-step with you to improve your timing efficiency.

Bonus: UCAT Verbal Reasoning needs confidence

The final tip for UCAT Verbal Reasoning is to have confidence in yourself. The answers to these question may not appear as black and white as the other sections. And often there is a degree of inference required to get to the answer. So if you have a gut instinct as to what the answer is but you can’t find it exactly in the text trust yourself and select that answer. You can always come back and review if you have time at the end. But trusting in yourself in that moment could save you lots of time that could make a large difference over the course of the test. 

Remember, as with every UCAT section, there is no negative marking so make sure you do not leave and question blank. Even if you have no idea there is still a chance you may guess correctly.

UCAT Verbal Reasoning
Have confidence in your choices

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RakelMedic Mind Tutor

1 May 2020

Verbal reasoning is a nightmare, my least favourite section. Thanks for these tips does anyone have more?