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Reflective Practice

You’ve familiarised yourself with what the 5 sections are all about, you’ve experimented with some questions, and now it’s all about banging out loads of practice. But is UCAT practice really as simple as that…? How many questions should I do for the UCAT? Do more questions lead to better results? What’s the best steps to improving at the UCAT? Let’s hold our horses a bit and take things step by step 🤣

What makes the UCAT so hard? 😵

There are loads of things that make the UCAT a pain in the butt. The ridiculous time pressure and the fact that you need to hyper-focus for 2 hours straight just to name two. But we want to focus on one particular struggle of the UCAT which is often overlooked: the unpredictability of the questions. This is the root of all UCAT tribulations.

Oh, unpredictability… It’s the reason you can practice questions for 100s of hours and still get caught out in the real thing. It’s the reason you can practice for weeks and still feel like you haven’t improved. It’s the reason the UCAT is the worst bloody exam ever!

But those students that say they never see improvement, despite working hard, are the same students who miss out on a very important step in their prep – reflective practice.

The natural plateau phase of the UCAT 😴

We don’t know you, where you are, or what you’re like. But we bet we can still predict how UCAT preparation is going to go for you.

Phase 1: You try a few questions for the first time. You get some right, you get a lot wrong and realise this UCAT thing might need some work.

Phase 2: You look up some guides for the UCAT and read up on all the techniques for the UCAT.

Phase 3: You get back to some questions and realise with the new techniques you’re doing much better! At this rate, you’ll be smashing the UCAT!

Phase 4: A week goes by and the improvement starts to level off. You realise more practice isn’t really making a difference and you’re getting more or less the same mark every time. Congratulations you’ve hit the dreaded plateau stage!

Don’t panic. Everyone experiences it. But to understand how we can avoid this problem we need to understand why it happens in the first place, which links back to unpredictable questions.

That amazing improvement you say in the first couple of weeks? All that really is, is your brain getting use to the new techniques you’ve learned and getting better at implementing them in questions. I like to call them ‘nooby gains’. Once this initial stage is over, you hit the plateau phase, where you can use all the techniques just fine, but all the unpredictable questions catch you out.

You see a weird pattern in abstract reasoning? No chance. A long tax question in quantitative reasoning? Your brain shuts down. And no matter how many questions you do, it always feels like a new pattern comes up, or something else catches you off guard. If you’re preparing for the UCAT right now, sound familiar?

So if practicing questions alone won’t get me to improve what is it? That secret ingredient to UCAT glory – reflective practice…

The art of reflection in the UCAT 🪞

90% of students prepare for the UCAT in the exact, incorrect way. They do questions, go through their mistakes, skim read the correct explanation to a question, and move on. If they get a high mark they’ll be chuffed with themselves, and if they get a lower mark, not so much. Rinse and repeat.

Einstein said ‘Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results’ and the average student does exactly that. Reflective practice in the UCAT is about working out exactly what you need to do differently next time to get that much better. It’s something that needs to be implemented whenever you sit down to do some UCAT practice – without it you’re wasting your time.

Now you’re all probably itching to know exactly what you need to do to reflect, so here is the step-by-step formula…

Step 1: Do some practice! You’ll get some questions right and you’ll get some questions wrong. Which is all part of the process.

Step 2: Whatever platform you’re using, be it MedEntry or Medify, you’ll be given an explanation for each and every question. These are gold dust. Take a screenshot of questions you struggled with and their explanations and store it on a document.

Step 3: Do this for every question you come across for every section and by the time you’ve done even a couple of hundred questions, you’ll have loads of screenshots to go through.

Step 4: Now you have a beefy document full of questions and their explanations, this is where the magic happens. What you’ll realise is that what once seemed to be complete chaos and randomness, actually has some order and similarity. You can group similar questions together in terms of their explanations and how to solve them.

Step 5: Next time you practice, with the new lessons you’ve taught yourself, you’ll realise how much more you pick up, and how much quicker too!

Now don’t get all giddy. This is a long-term process and it’s your job to keep up with it. This ensures that the more practice you do the better you get overtime (unlike brainlessly doing question after question). No matter how many questions you do, there will always be a new, weird question that trips you up. And that’s fine! There always will be, and you’ll always be ready to catch the question and reel it into your reflection document of gold.

Something else you might find is that after you adopt this reflective mindset, you simply cannot maintain the same number of questions per day. You might only be churning out 75%, 60%, even 50% of what you used to do. And that’s fine. The UCAT is all about quality over quantity and 300 questions is nothing if you didn’t reflect on a single one.

Things still aren’t going your way for a section 😭

Picture this. You’ve done hundreds and hundreds of questions for a particular section, reflected on every single one you got wrong, did everything I told you to do, and still nothing. Still stuck at the same score. That will be a harsh reality for many of you and certainly was for most of our team. We like to call it that the ‘stubborn section’. Most of you will have one, which is likely to be verbal reasoning. In the case of one of our team – out of all the sections, she did the most practice for VR. Hours upon hours upon hours, and she still scored in the 500s. We all have our strengths and weaknesses, and sometimes you need to think about where your energy is best extent.

If you’ve done everything, spent countless hours and it’s only led to frustration and anger, it may be best to take a hit on your stubborn section. Stop focusing on it so much. The plateau phase is normal. That’ll save you time to work on the sections you are more likely to improve on, plus your mental health will thank you, giving you a clearer mind to practice. In the real UCAT when you get onto your stubborn section don’t stress that you’re not doing as well as the other sections – that way you won’t panic for the rest of the exam. That battle is lost but the war is not over.

Sometimes in life, reflection is about accepting hard truths so you can continue to develop 💙

Phase 2: You look up some guides for the UCAT and read up on all the techniques for the UCAT.

Phase 3: You get back to some questions and realise with the new techniques you’re doing much better! At this rate, you’ll be smashing the UCAT!

Phase 4: A week goes by and the improvement starts to level off. You realise more practice isn’t really making a difference and you’re getting more or less the same mark every time. Congratulations you’ve hit the dreaded plateau stage!

Don’t panic. Everyone experiences it. But to understand how we can avoid this problem we need to understand why it happens in the first place, which links back to unpredictable questions.

That amazing improvement you say in the first couple of weeks? All that really is, is your brain getting use to the new techniques you’ve learned and getting better at implementing them in questions. I like to call them ‘nooby gains’. Once this initial stage is over, you hit the plateau phase, where you can use all the techniques just fine, but all the unpredictable questions catch you out.

You see a weird pattern in abstract reasoning? No chance. A long tax question in quantitative reasoning? Your brain shuts down. And no matter how many questions you do, it always feels like a new pattern comes up, or something else catches you off guard. If you’re preparing for the UCAT right now, sound familiar?

So if practicing questions alone won’t get me to improve what is it? That secret ingredient to UCAT glory – reflection…

The art of reflection in the UCAT 🪞

90% of students prepare for the UCAT in the exact, incorrect way. They do questions, go through their mistakes, skim read the correct explanation to a question, and move on. If they get a high mark they’ll be chuffed with themselves, and if they get a lower mark, not so much. Rinse and repeat.

Einstein said ‘Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results’ and the average student does exactly that. Reflection in the UCAT is about working out exactly what you need to do differently next time to get that much better. It’s something that needs to be implemented whenever you sit down to do some UCAT practice – without it you’re wasting your time.

Now you’re all probably itching to know exactly what you need to do to reflect, so here is the step-by-step formula…

Step 1: Do some practice! You’ll get some questions right and you’ll get some questions wrong. Which is all part of the process.

Step 2: Whatever platform you’re using, be it MedEntry or Medify, you’ll be given an explanation for each and every question. These are gold dust. Take a screenshot of questions you struggled with and their explanations and store it on a document.

Step 3: Do this for every question you come across for every section and by the time you’ve done even a couple of hundred questions, you’ll have loads of screenshots to go through.

Step 4: Now you have a beefy document full of questions and their explanations, this is where the magic happens. What you’ll realise is that what once seemed to be complete chaos and randomness, actually has some order and similarity. You can group similar questions together in terms of their explanations and how to solve them.

Step 5: Next time you practice, with the new lessons you’ve taught yourself, you’ll realise how much more you pick up, and how much quicker too!

Now don’t get all giddy. This is a long-term process and it’s your job to keep up with it. This ensures that the more practice you do the better you get overtime (unlike brainlessly doing question after question). No matter how many questions you do, there will always be a new, weird question that trips you up. And that’s fine! There always will be, and you’ll always be ready to catch the question and reel it into your reflection document of gold.

Something else you might find is that after you adopt this reflective mindset, you simply cannot maintain the same number of questions per day. You might only be churning out 75%, 60%, even 50% of what you used to do. And that’s fine. The UCAT is all about quality over quantity and 300 questions is nothing if you didn’t reflect on a single one.

Things still aren’t going your way for a section 😭

Picture this. You’ve done hundreds and hundreds of questions for a particular section, reflected on every single one you got wrong, did everything I told you to do, and still nothing. Still stuck at the same score. That will be a harsh reality for many of you and certainly was for most of our team. We like to call it that the ‘stubborn section’. Most of you will have one, which is likely to be verbal reasoning. In the case of one of our team – out of all the sections, she did the most practice for VR. Hours upon hours upon hours, and she still scored in the 500s. We all have our strengths and weaknesses, and sometimes you need to think about where your energy is best extent.

If you’ve done everything, spent countless hours and it’s only led to frustration and anger, it may be best to take a hit on your stubborn section. Stop focussing on it so much. That’ll save you time to work on the sections you are more likely to improve on, plus your mental health will thank you, giving you a clearer mind to practice. In the real UCAT when you get onto your stubborn section don’t stress that you’re not doing as well as the other sections – that way you won’t panic for the rest of the exam. That battle is lost but the war is not over.

Sometimes in life, reflection is about accepting hard truths so you can continue to develop 💙