If you’re looking for the simplest answer, it’s around 250 to 300 hours—that is, IF you’re correctly preparing. If you’re preparing incorrectly, expect close to 1000 hours, if not more.
But here’s a much more comprehensive answer:
If you think about it, the question “How long should I spend on UCAT prep?” should really be posed as “How long will it take me to be fully prepared for the UCAT?”. This is the question we really need to answer.
The precondition here, of course, is that you need to be using preparation methods that actually work. After all, spending more time on prep won’t give you a higher chance of UCAT success if your prep isn’t actually effective or efficient. (Lots of students unfortunately spend close to a thousand of hours on preparation without seeing any real improvement!)
But assuming you’re using the right prep methods, how long would it take you to reach a consistently high level of performance on UCAT questions? We can break this down by looking at the three key stages of UCAT study and figuring out how much time is required to complete each stage.
The best way to master the UCAT is to complete preparation in three stages:
- Learn the steps for solving questions (to lay a solid theoretical foundation);
- Do mindful practice using practice questions (to develop accuracy and speed);
- Complete practice tests only after achieving mastery in step 2 (to fix any test-specific issues).
(For more advice on the best ways to prepare, check out this article.)
From experience, we find that students usually need to allocate their UCAT prep time to these three stages in the ratio 2:7:1. For example, if you spend 100 hours on UCAT study, the most ideal allocation of your study time is to spend 20 hours learning the theory for solving UCAT questions, 70 hours doing mindful practice, and 10 hours doing practice tests.
As a side note: while you may find it surprising that students aren’t encouraged to spend more time doing practice tests, we’ve learned from experience that it’s not actually necessary to spend a lot of time on Stage 3. After completing the first two stages, students have already developed a solid understanding of the questionsolving process and can apply it with high levels of speed and accuracy. At that point, the only remaining issues that could affect their performance on test day are exam-specific problems (e.g. feeling pressured by the timer, being unfamiliar with the UCAT calculator), which can be resolved very quickly.
On average, iCanMed students take around 250–300 hours of preparation to achieve consistently high results for all five sections within the exam time limits. Based on our experience, few or none of the students who achieve above 90th percentile on the UCAT spend less than 150–250 hours on preparation. Following the ratio of 2:7:1, this means that you should ideally spend around 60 hours learning the steps for solving questions, 210 hours doing mindful practice, and 30 hours doing practice tests for a total of 300 hours.
With that in mind, it’s critical that you start on UCAT preparation as early as possible to avoid last-minute cramming and stress.