The UK Clinical Aptitude Test (UKCAT) is a test that is beginning to be used in the selection process by a consortium of UK university Medical and Dental Schools. It is run by the UKCAT Consortium in partnership with Pearson VUE. It was first introduced in 2006, and will remain in test mode for some years beyond this date. The test is designed to give information on the candidates' mental abilities, as well as attitudes and possible professional behaviour. The test is expected to start helping universities make more informed choices between medical and dental applicants in the years to come, once the test has been fully validated.
Sample verbal reasoning question from the UKCAT program. The UKCAT is designed to be a test of aptitude and attitude, not academic achievement. The latter is already demonstrated by GCSEs, A-Levels, Scottish Highers or undergraduate degrees. It attempts to assess a certain range of mental abilities and behavioural attributes identified as useful. These mental abilities include critical thinking as well as logical reasoning and inference. For candidates sitting the examination in summer 2008, the UKCAT consists of five subtests:
* Verbal reasoning - assesses candidates' ability to think logically about written information and arrive at a reasoned conclusion.
* Quantitative reasoning - assesses candidates' ability to solve numerical problems.
* Abstract reasoning - assesses candidates' ability to infer relationships from information by convergent and divergent thinking.
* Decision Analysis - assesses candidates' ability to deal with various forms of information to infer relationships, to make informed judgements, and to decide on an appropriate response.
* Non-cognitive Analysis - identifies aspects of each candidate's personality and character in order to determine their suitability for a career in medicine or dentistry.
The entire test is delivered by computer. Candidates are not allowed to bring external materials in to the exam. A basic calculator is provided, along with a white board and a marker pen or paper with a pencil, for taking notes. The equipment and conditions vary slightly between different test centers. Including warm-up time (time allocated to reading the instructions), the test lasts a maximum of two hours. Each of the UKCAT subtests is in a multiple choice format and is separately timed.
UKCAT Content and preparation
There is no curriculum content as the test is designed to probe innate skills. These include basic arithmetic, reading and writing ability, along with character, and personal and social attitudes. Past papers are not available. There are however specimen questions on the UKCAT website. All candidates are urged to read this attentively. However the UKCAT Consortium specifies "The UKCAT does not contain any curriculum or science content; nor can it be revised for". So UKCAT Preparation is not necessary, desirable or advantageous". Indeed the Consortium says that for the 2007 edition it has placed questions such that it can cross check whether candidates are replying honestly or are giving prepared answers. Given that, several companies and websites offer various forms of preparation for the UKCAT. Websites offer free practice questions and support, companies claim that psychometric tests can and should be practiced for, and since UKCAT is mainly a psychometric test practice can improve one's chances immensely. This is apparently quite obvious to the students themselves considering the fact that thousands of students prepare months in advance for the test, as can be seen in student forums across the web.
UKCAT Usefulness and controversies
The UKCAT Consortium specifies "Every university uses the UKCAT result as part of a well-rounded admissions policy in which several other factors also carry considerable weight." That said, the universities in at least several instances (University of Leeds, Cardiff University) (University of East Anglia) have indicated that for now, UKCAT will play a very small role in selection, until it has been properly validated. Universities such as University of Sheffield highly rate the UKCAT scores and often have a high cut-off mark a candidate has to achieve before they will be considered for an interview. The usefulness of non-cognitive tests remains hotly disputed. The use of such tests in the USA SAT, GRE and so on for university selection has for a long time been very controversial. As a result, they are only made available to the universities once an offer has been made and accepted.
UKCAT Participating universities
For 2009 entry, the UKCAT must be taken by all applicants (except for some accelerated, graduate-entry courses) applying to study medicine or dentistry at the following university Medical and Dental Schools:
* University of Aberdeen
* Brighton and Sussex Medical School
* Cardiff University
* University of Dundee
* Durham University
* University of East Anglia
* University of Edinburgh
* University of Glasgow
* Hull York Medical School
* Imperial College London - Graduate Entry Programme only
* Keele University
* King's College London
* University of Leeds - not for Dentistry Undergraduates
* University of Leicester
* University of Manchester
* Newcastle University
* University of Nottingham
* University of Oxford Graduate Entry Medical Degree
* Peninsula Medical School
* Queen Mary, University of London
* University of Sheffield
* University of Southampton
* University of St Andrews
* St George's, University of London
* Queen's University Belfast
* University of Warwick Graduate Entry Medical Degree