If you came here from our ‘How To Apply Tactically To UK Medical School’ blog post, where we mention the importance of scoring highly on the UCAT, you’re in the right place! In this post, we will talk you through the basics of the Verbal Reasoning section of the UCAT.
Verbal Reasoning (VR) is considered to be the hardest part of the UCAT by many. So, read on for some tips to help you tackle this section!
The verbal reasoning section, which as the title suggests, is about language comprehension. The section assesses your ability to read and think carefully about information presented in passages and to determine whether specific conclusions can be drawn from the information presented. You are not expected to use prior knowledge to answer the questions, in fact, making assumptions using background knowledge will usually result in wrong answers.
Doctors and dentists need excellent verbal reasoning skills in order to understand complex information. Communicating this clearly and simply to patients is essential. Medical practitioners must also be able to interpret findings from published materials and apply this to their own practice. It is essential that they are able to critique such materials and draw their own conclusions as to the validity of any findings.
The thinking behind this is that being a doctor or dentist involves a lot of reading of all sorts of materials, from patient notes to letters to articles. You need to consume a lot of volume in short periods of time and also be able to pull out the relevant bits of information. Then you need to communicate information effectively with patients and other colleagues.
About the Section
This section has:
- 11 sets
- Each set has 4 questions
- This means that there are 44 questions in total
- 1 minute for reading instructions
- 21 minutes to do the 44 questions
- This means that you have less than 30 seconds per question!
The entire UCAT exam is quite time-pressured and VR is by far the worst of all the sections. The time constraints are why this section is so despised.
The text passages will usually be 200-400 words on subjects that you may have heard of before, but it’s really important to keep an open mind and answer questions based on what’s in the text, no matter how much you already know about the subject matter.
Once you’ve read the text, you’ll get one of two question types:
- A set of 4 true, false can’t tell style questions
- A set of 4 comprehension style questions.
Sets of questions will all be of one style, and about 65% of the sets will be comprehension style.
True, false, can’t tell questions are pretty self-explanatory. Can’t tell means that it’s not 100% clear from the text that it’s yes or no. It could be either but you can’t tell for sure. Don’t be scared to select “can’t tell” as an answer – a lot of candidates get put off by it as this option is usually wrong in high school exams, but this is certainly not the case for the UCAT.
Comprehension style questions are more complex. You’ll have a question, followed by 4 answers ranging from a word to a full sentence, and for example, you’ll need to pick the one that is ‘most correct’. These will take a bit more time to master, but once you’ve got the hang of them you’ll be answering them with ease.
A key term you need to grasp from these VR questions is ‘logically follows’. This means that you can infer something FROM THE TEXT without adding any of your own opinions or outside knowledge into these. This term pops up quite a lot in the UCAT, so you need to make sure that you have a solid understanding of it!
Let’s take the following statement.
“Jim has a brother called Steve.”
The question can ask
“Jim has one sibling; True, False, Can’t tell?”
The answer in this case would be can’t tell because it doesn’t logically follow that Steve is Jim’s only sibling.
Tackling True/False/Can’t Tell Questions
There’s not enough time to read the passage, remember all the information, then answer questions accurately about it. So, the best way to approach true/false/can’t tell questions is to actually ignore the passage at first and go straight to the question. Then, pick out the main keywords in the question. Next, scan for all the mentions of the keywords in the passage. Then read that part including the preceding and following sentences on either side. Only then should you go about answering the question.
- Read the question
- Pick out the keywords
- Scan the passage for all mentions of the keywords
- Read around the keyword
- Answer the question
Another big tip is to look out for the type of words the questions use. Broadly these are conclusive vs non-conclusive words. Often you can tell the answer by the language the questions use. For example, the text might say that a certain event occurs infrequently, and the question says ‘never’. This is often a quick way to know that it’s not a match. Words like NEVER should always ring alarm bells because never is an absolute that you shouldn’t assume unless it’s clearly stated in the text. This helps you to make educated guesses when you’re not sure and choosing between possible answers, or if you’re running short on time.
If the types of words between the question and the options match, the answer is likely to be either “true” or “false”. If they’re different, it’s more likely to be “false” or“can’t tell”.
The comprehension questions are fairly recent and introduce a bigger challenge than previous years.
Tackling Comprehension Style Questions
There are four main types of questions that come up for comprehension style questions:
- Incomplete Statements: you’re given a part of a statement and need to pick which end to the sentence is correct – you have to apply logic from the passage
- Cause & consequence: How one thing might lead to another
- Long-form true, false, can’t tell: These will be more like “Which of the following is most true?” and you’ll have to go through each statement
- Conclusions: these are the inferences that logically follow from the passage, which is essentially what can be inferred.
The strategy for comprehension style questions is similar to the true/false/can’t method. Look at the question and identify the relevant keywords, find them in the passage, read the surrounding sentences and answer the question.
Once you’ve found the correct answer, and you’re confident it’s right, don’t bother reading any more of the answer options. However, this doesn’t apply to value judgements, because when it’s the MOST correct, you may have read one that is correct, but there might be a better one further down. They will often do this to catch people out who aren’t paying proper attention.
Some general tips:
- There is no negative marking, so always have a stab at an answer.
- Allow at least one minute at the end of the section to at least make some quick guesses if you didn’t have time to get through all the questions.
- Be ruthless with your time management, if you don’t know the answer, make a quick guess and move on. People who actually finish the section are the most likely to score highly.
- You can flag the question number and come back to it if you have time.
- You’ll be doing the exam on a computer, so practice on a computer – it’s more taxing on the eyes. It feels different and it is different.
- Mimic the conditions of the exam as much as possible!
To summarise, Verbal Reasoning can be tricky and is very time-pressured.
Just remember, these tests are the first real barrier to you getting into your first choice medical school. You need to take this test really seriously, and get as much practice and teaching on it that you can. I really strongly urge you to take a formal course and do some practise questions at the bare minimum.
If you want to score highly on your UCAT, check out our brand new ‘Ace the UCAT’ course, which includes:
- 200+ lessons
- 20 hours of video lessons
- 350+ practice questions, with Dr Hilton walking you through the answers and the best way to tackle them
Written by Dr Hilton