Verbal Reasoning - two words that can send shivers down every UCAT taker’s spine. As arguably the most challenging section of the UCAT, Verbal Reasoning (VR) is notorious for the intense time pressure.
Verbal Reasoning is the first section you’ll face on your UCAT exam and consists of 44 questions and lasts 21 minutes. This means you’ll have, on average, just 28 seconds per question.
You can expect to face about 10-12 texts of varying length and revolving around different topics. These can be anything from Wikipedia excerpts to newspaper interviews or cooking recipes.
If you were to read each of the texts calmly, it would probably take you longer than the entire duration of VR. For this reason, it’s more important than ever that you use your time efficiently and strategically. In other words, time is gold in the Verbal Reasoning section.
🔍 Learn to search for Keywords
If you’ve done at least one UCAT mock, you’ll know that time is especially precious in the VR section. For this reason, it’s crucial that you employ techniques and strategies that will minimise the amount of time you have to spend per question.
Don’t waste time reading the entire text first, and then coming back to it whenever you forget something. Learn to extract keywords from the question and search for them in the text.
What makes a good keyword? Good keywords are specific, rare and easy to find words. This includes everything that starts with a capital letter (names, surnames, locations, company names etc.), proper names, dates, numbers or names of species (as these will be written in italics).
Take a look at the example below:
In this case, we should be looking for the word nylon, because it’s a fairly specific and rare word and chances are it rarely appears in the text. And if we scan through the text that appears to be true.
Sometimes, you can think the keyword is specific, like nylon, to later find out the entire text is about nylon and that it’s used all over the text! In that case, you should be able to quickly switch to a different keyword.
Once you decide on the keyword, scan the text looking for it. Once you find it read 2 sentences before and after the keyword and see if this answers your question. If not, scan the text further.
What if there is no keyword in the question? Then try finding them in the answers. Sometimes, instead of finding and searching for 4 different keywords, you can group them. In this way, you’ll be able to use your time most efficiently.
📃 Flag and guess longer texts
Remember that no matter how long and complicated the text, each question is worth the same amount of marks. For this reason, you’d want to make sure you get all the short and simple questions right first.
And because every 10 seconds are precious in Verbal Reasoning, you have to be ruthless about the flagging and guessing. Don’t waste 20 seconds trying to gauge what the text is about. You see a wall of text = immediate skip.
You can apply the same technique to texts talking about topics you find confusing or challenging to grasp. Personally, I always found texts about politics and history quite daunting. Knowing it they will take me twice as long to understand and to get right, I usually left them until the end.
Having said that, you need to strike a good balance with the technique. You can apply it safely to 3-4 texts per exam, but anything more than that can be counter-productive, as you’ll then waste time coming back to half of the test again.
⌛Always simulate test conditions
No matter if you are just starting or long into your UCAT prep, always simulate the real test conditions when doing Verbal Reasoning questions.
This means doing questions in a computer format (you won’t go a long way when you get used to pen-and-paper tests) and under timed conditions (28 seconds per VR question).
While it may be stressful and frustrating initially when you aren’t used to the intense time pressure of VR, it will give you a sense of what you should be aiming for. And it’s the only way to create strategies around the challenging timing.
⏱️Habitualise checking the timer
It’s too easy to get absorbed by a compelling test and forget the clock is ticking.
During your mock UCAT practice, you need to get into the habit of checking the timer every 10 seconds or so, no matter how well you are doing.
😭 Don’t expect to have the time to go through each question
Unless you are a speed reader, don’t expect to have the time to go through each question. Most top-scoring students guess at least one of the texts (so 4-5 questions). But even if you won’t have time to finish all questions, don’t leave any question blank - always make a guess, even if totally random one.
And equally importantly, don’t let that fact discourage or frustrate you, as that will affect the following sections of your exam.
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