What is Verbal Reasoning?
Verbal Reasoning (VR) is the first subtest of the UCAT. It tests your comprehension of language- your ability to read information from a passage, understand it, and synthesize it to draw conclusions to answer questions. While this section seems pretty straightforward - students have consistently scored the lowest here. This can be attributed to the time constraints of the test; with around just 30 seconds per question, it's incredibly challenging to answer all the questions. Although time pressure is common in all the subtests, to test your ability to handle stress, verbal reasoning is the most pressured.
Because of this, we would suggest starting practice for this section early, especially if you think English language is one of your weaker subjects. Verbal Reasoning is the first subtest so it definitely helps if you perform well; this will help you feel calm and confident and set the tone for the rest of your exam. Read on so we can help you prepare to do just that!
Our Top 30 Verbal Reasoning Tips
✅ Answer every single question
There’s no negative marking; you won’t lose points for incorrect answers so, even if you don’t have time to answer properly, choose an option, even if it is a guess. Make sure you don’t leave any question blank!
❌ Eliminate, eliminate, eliminate!
This is an excellent strategy to save time is to eliminate options that are obviously wrong first, and then deciding from the remaining choices. However, make sure that the answer you have eliminated is wrong- the best way you can hone this skill is by applying this strategy while practicing UCAT questions before the exam!
💰 Do a coin toss
No, not literally. If you're spending too long on a question and still aren’t sure, try to eliminate the obviously wrong answers and guess between the last two. 50/50 odds give you a good shot of getting the correct answer. Don’t take wild guesses, make educated guesses!
😊 But you gotta trust your instincts
But sometimes, when you’re running out of time to make educated guesses, just go with your gut instinct! You might have eliminated some of the answers already simply choose the answer that seems right to you and move on.
⏰ Don’t spend too long on any one question
All questions are worth the same mark so it’s not worth obsessing on a hard question, when you can proceed and gain marks from answering easier questions. Instead use the UCAT’s “flag” function to come back to the end if you have time. Also, don’t double check every single answer- especially if the question is hard- your goal is to answer as many questions correctly in the time you have. If you spend even 10 seconds more obsessing on a single question, that is time you could’ve spent answering another question! Instead, flag it for the last. While answering, keep a cap of 30 seconds for each question. Time is money here and every second counts!
💫 30 seconds is the average, not the golden rule.
Although we'd recommend you stick to 30 seconds per question, this rule isn't set in stone. Many questions don’t take the full 30 seconds. Use the time you save on the harder questions, which might require up to a minute. Each second counts so be wise!
🙋🏻♀️ Read the questions first
It is much easier to find relevant information to answer the question if you have already read it. If anything, you can skim and scan the passage as you will only need to look for specific information instead of combing through the entire passage.
Take note of any keywords (dates, jargon) in the question and look for these keywords in the passage. When you find one, properly read around it- 2-3 before lines and after so you can answer the questions. If you feel that you have found the answer, move on. Do not finish reading the text as this simply wastes time.
📚 And read them carefully!
Read the question carefully so you don’t make silly mistakes that cost you marks; you may miss out that the question is asking which statement is not true but, as you were skim-read it, you read it is true.
⚡️Ace Speed Reading
Since you just have 2 minutes per passage, it is key to read the passages fast so you answer as many questions as possible. We would strongly suggest you ace speed reading- this would help you apply other useful skills such as skimming and scanning. The old-fashioned way would be to read books to gain practice, however, there are also other quicker ways you can achieve the same goal…
This is a website you can use to test your speed of reading. There is also a Chrome extension called 'Spreed' which can help you improve your reading speed while you're surfing articles on the net.
📚Skim and Scan
The passages are often long and winded, and have complex language. You do not have much time to dissect every single detail; instead, glancing over the text quickly to grasp a general understanding of the passage (skimming), and searching the passage for keywords relevant to the questions (scanning) will save you precious time. Focus on verbs and nouns to read faster.
😬 Don’t use prior knowledge to answer the questions
If, by chance, you come across content you have read about before, please do not let the prior knowledge you have of this topic affect your reading. Focus only on information in the passage. Remember, the question is assessing your ability to extract information and draw conclusions from the text, not what you already know. Take this question for example:
Let’s say a passage focuses on the history of Vikings. The statement is: The Earth revolves around the Sun. [true/false/can't tell]. Although we know the Earth revolves around the Sun, and this statement is indeed true, as the passage has no information about the Sun or Earth, the correct answer is 'Can't Tell'.
🤖 Channel your inner robot
Verbal reasoning is not standard reading. You have to approach it robotically and take it word-for- word. Don’t make any assumptions and be literal- do not ever use your own knowledge- like a robot, just focus on the question you’re being asked and only use the information in the passage to answer.
🥸 Knowing distinctions makes you distinguished
The UCAT will often purposely include inaccurate or illogical information to trip you up- this will especially confuse you if you will try to answer based your prior knowledge. Don’t fall prey to this trap!
However, a distinction to the previous rule is the use of synonyms or definitions- these are not considered prior knowledge; for example- if the passage refers to a solicitor, you are expected to use your knowledge of English to interpret that person as a lawyer.
🧢 Put your thinking cap on
Think critically while you’re reading the passages and their questions. When you’re tight on time, simple things like identifying if something is fact or opinion, and which the question is referring to, will reduce mistakes that could cost you marks. Similarly, think about the language being used in the question; qualifiers (always or usually, all, most, etc- we'll discuss this as absolute language later) changes what is being asked slightly, which can be important for choosing the correct answer.
🤓 It helps to be a bookworm
Just kidding! However, if acing English wasn’t your best subject in GCSE, then start reading for leisure- whether that is a Star Wars comic or an Austen novel. The more the better! Doing so, will help you read and comprehend what you have read faster- these are useful in helping you learn how to skim text. This section is the hardest to score and so every minute of experience would help to increase your score!
Ps- if you have ever been teased for being a bookworm, now’s your time to shine! 😉
💪 Play to your strengths
If you have practiced before, you should have a general idea of what sort of questions you’re good at (here’s another reason to start practicing now!). If you're struggling with time in the exam, flag the questions you struggle with and focus on what you find easiest. However, if you start practise early enough, you can focus on the questions you find difficult so you don’t struggle with them as much in the exam!
⚠️ Absolutely watch out for Absolutes
When answering the ‘True/False/Can’t tell” questions, watch out for words such as will, every, always, never, no, none, impossible, certainly, and rarely. These words are more likely to be associated with a false answer as they make the sentence absolute and do not allow for exceptions.
🕵️ Suave and Subtle
On the other hand, more subtle language is more likely to be associated with true statements as they accommodate for various types of situations. A few terms include some, sometimes, probably, possibly, could appears, seems, suggests, and indicates.
⛔ Look out for Dispersion and Contradiction
This is when key terms are referenced more than once in a passage and, the second time the keyword is mentioned, it contradicts or clarifies the first. The UCAT purposely includes these to throw you off so be careful!
🚦 Don’t TGIF TFCT
Who doesn’t want a holiday after the UCAT? But don’t go AWOL on the True/ False/ Can’t tell questions! You can often score the most points with the least amount of time in this section. Sometimes these easier questions are lying at the end; this is more the reason you should aim to answer each question on time so you don’t miss out on easier marks in the end!
Brb need to sip that Margherita 🍹
👀 But don’t go out of your way looking for them!
Don’t waste time skipping back and forth to looking for the True/ False/ Can’t Tell questions. This will cost you time as you’ll spend too long searching for them. Ideally, you should answer the questions in the order they’re presented to you. But as you come near your time limit, remember there may be some easier questions at the end; if you’ve got 4 minutes left but still have two passages to complete, it might be worth making educated guesses on the longer passages to save time so you can gain marks answering easier True/ False/ Can’t Tell questions in the end. The aim is not to spend too long on any one question!
💁🏻 It can help to read the introduction and conclusion first…
Especially for “author/ writer opinion” questions. For this question type, you’d evaluate the passage based on someone else’s opinion; the passages can be long and winded, and it can be hard to extract relevant information quickly. To extract the main theme quickly, we’d suggest you read the introduction and conclusion first. The introduction introduces a reader to the topic, and the conclusion summarises the main points made.
⚠️ Watch out for ‘strongest opinion author/ writer” questions
These questions are especially difficult as there cn be more than one ‘correct’ answer. You have to select the ‘most correct’ answer- the statement the author is most likely to agree with. It is tricky to eliminate answers for this type of question, and it can take a while to work out the answer as you’ll need time to the passage carefully to properly understand the perspective. So again, this would be a good one to flag for the end if you’re running short of time.
✍️ Practice is the new perfect
Practice is key to performing well. Practice both your speed, as well as reading comprehension skills. Practice at any given opportunity - read articles online or in the newspaper (these do not need to be scientific) and summarise the content into a couple of bullet points for practice. Make sure to also do this while using the Spreed chrome extension so you can practice speed reading at the same time!
👑 But targeted practice is even more perfect
It is important to address your mistakes and learn from them if you want to improve. Analyse your performance and focus on where you’re going wrong. Try to notice a pattern in the mistakes you make- more often than not- they are related to a theme rather than just being random errors. Do you continuously run out of time? This means you struggle with managing your time. Perhaps, you could work on speed reading and your skimming and scanning techniques. Or maybe it’s because you’re spending too long to answer? Is this just with all questions or are you struggling with a question type? If it is with all questions, be strict with how much time you spend and keep a cap of 30 seconds. If you struggle with a question type, especially focus on these questions to improve- try to understand where exactly you're going wrong. As your mistakes are due to not understanding a fundamental concept, read up on that specific concept and practice questions related to it.
🚥 Traffic light your questions
After noting down the types of mistakes you make, try to place each question type in one of the three categories below. This will help you determine how comfortable you are with each question type- which ones are you most comfortable with? Which ones do you struggle the most with? For instance, for green, you are less likely to make mistakes here as you find these questions easier to answer. However, for red, you are less confident in answering these so are more likely to lose marks here. Because you will have already figured out why and where you are going wrong (as discussed above), this is an easy way to categorise questions in terms of how much you should focus on them.
You can solve these questions easily
Mistakes are rare and often silly mistakes rather than following a common theme
You don’t have to focus on these as much
You find some of these questions easy but you struggle with some as well
For the questions you struggle with, you may notice they follow a common theme, for example: you run out of time
You should practice these questions more
You struggle with most of the questions for this type
You almost always or always make mistakes
These mistakes follow a common theme- conceptual misunderstanding, pressed for time, wrong strategy…
You should focus on these questions the most and develop strategies to tackle them
It is important you take the time to focus on these questions. After you have mastered them, you should start answering them under test conditions- have a cap of 30 seconds for each question.
🐻 Be the next Bear Grylls
Okay, ngl, that’s a bit extreme. But try to start practicing in a range of different environments with different equipment as well- if you are writing your test at a Pearson Vue test centre, it is likely that candidates who are sitting their driving learner’s exam as well; from personal experience, it tends to get a bit noisy there so I’d suggest practicing a bit in a noisy environment- ex: your kitchen, so you can easily adjust to the situation need it arise.
💛 Old is gold
Also, if you can, try using those old computers you used in third form- yes, the ones with the clunky keyboards! The test centres can have these keyboards and it might be uncomfortable to manage if you haven’t used them in a while- I found it really slowed me down. So, I would suggest you use them to practice if you can- your college, local library might have one! However, if you can’t get access one, that’s fine! Try to do as much practice as you can on screen because, ultimately, the UCAT will be online.
🇬🇧 Wavin’ Flag
The UCAT has a function where you can ‘flag’ questions for review- this stops you from wasting too much time on a question you find challenging- instead- you can come back to it later if you have time. Of course, whilst, you shouldn’t be guessing the majority of answers, this is a useful tool to move on after 30 seconds; in such a situation, a guess and a ‘flag’ is better than no answer.
👑 Keep Calm and Carry on
Stress can adversely affect your UCAT performance. And because VR is your first subtest, if you are stressed, it will affect the rest of your UCAT too. The key to not getting stressed is having ample practice before the exam. Before the test take deep breaths, and think of something that makes you calm. Have a good breakfast and a good night’s sleep so you
have the energy you need to sit the test. If you find yourself running out of time, move on. Stressing out will only hurt your performance.