19 Tips for Acing the UCAT’s Verbal Reasoning Section

10 min read


UCAT Verbal Reasoning may appear to be one of the more simple UCAT sections when you are first starting out. In this section, you must read a passage of text before responding to questions regarding it. 

Although it may appear easy, what most test-takers find most difficult is the time limit for the verbal reasoning UCAT section. This is because a lot of the passages in this section are very lengthy. On top of that, test-takers only have 21 minutes to answer 44 questions. This leaves them only slightly more than 30 seconds to answer each question. Hence, test-takers find they have to rush this section. Of course, the test was designed this way on purpose! The examiners want to see if you are able to handle demanding, time-constrained scenarios.

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It is crucial that you fully comprehend what each component of the UCAT is testing at the start of your preparation. And, that you have access to reliable materials and help. In this post, we will go through 19 UCAT verbal reasoning strategies to help you to devise your own strategy on how to improve verbal reasoning. You can take a look at what each of the sections is testing here.

tips for verbal reasoning UCAT
UCAT Verbal Reasoning Tips

Verbal Reasoning UCAT tips from the Experts

How to Get Better at Verbal Reasoning

1. Use our keyword technique

The text excerpts can tend to be pretty lengthy. However, the more time you spend reading the less time you have left to respond to the questions. Because of this, most of the advice in this post focuses on reducing the amount you need to read. That being said, the first piece of advice would be to not read the entire paragraph for the UCAT Verbal Reasoning section. This might sound obvious, but reading it all would take too long and you would quickly run out of time.

Instead, we advise using the keyword approach. This is a method that you should use when approaching the passages in the UCAT Verbal Reasoning section. To begin, read only the first two lines of the text to get a general understanding of the subject. Next, read the question after that so that you are aware of what is being asked. Afterwards, you should select a keyword from the question. You can use this as a search engine in order to locate the pertinent information in the text. Find that term by skimming the text and reading the sentence that it appears in, as well as the sentences before and after. You should not find a need to read the entire passage because this method should provide you with enough information.

You might be thinking, how do I decide which keyword to choose? The keyword should be specific. The more specific the keyword is, the less likely the keyword is to be repeated throughout the text. Ideally, you would also want the keyword to be something that will only appear in the sentence relevant to the question.

In summary, the keyword strategy involves you to:

  1. Read the question and choose a keyword
    1. Pick a term from the question statement. Dates, numerals, and capitalised words tend to be good keywords because they are simple to recognise. They tend to stand out from other words, hence making them easier to identify.
  2. Search for the keyword in the passage
    1. You can check the passage for the keyword by quickly scanning through it
  3. Read around the keyword
    1. Once you have located the keyword, you should read one to two lines before and after the keyword. You should be able to find your answer in these sentences!

Sometimes your keyword might not appear in the text or it will appear much too frequently to be of any value. If this happens frequently when you are practising the UCAT Verbal Reasoning section, you can take a look at our UCAT Verbal Reasoning tutorials for more advice.

UCAT Verbal Reasoning Tips Video 

2. Identify extreme language in UCAT Verbal Reasoning

Finding extreme language to make educated guesses for the UCAT Verbal Reasoning questions is another crucial strategy that you can use. As mentioned, there is a severe time constraint in this section. Hence, the majority of test-takers would not even complete all the questions. It is common for them to run out of time near the end of the section while still having a few questions left to answer. As such, it is preferable for you to make quick, educated guesses in this situation as opposed to leaving every other question unanswered.

In these situations, you can look at the wording of the question and use this to help you predict the correct answer. By doing so, your estimate has a better probability of being accurate than if you merely choose an answer at random.

Extreme language such as “never”, “always”, “will”, and “most” indicates a false response significantly more often. This is because it is a more absolute assertion and does not allow for any exceptions. On the other hand, milder language such as “may”, “can”, and “occasionally” is more likely to be accurate for the opposite reasons.

This method may be used with various sorts of questions, but it works particularly well with “True, False, or Can’t Tell” questions. You can try utilising this method to practice several questions first, before attempting the questions correctly by properly reading the text. If you compare the number of questions that you would have gotten correct using this method, you will probably realise that using harsh language is more accurate than you would have imagined! The beauty of this method is that it can be done in a matter of seconds. It can be particularly useful for you to speed through this section.

3. Do not miss out on “True, False, Can’t Tell” Questions in UCAT Verbal Reasoning

In comparison to questions where you must assess many claims at once, “True, False, Can’t Tell” questions are typically the easiest to answer. The “True, False, Can’t Tell” questions are usually the ones where you can get the most points in the shortest amount of time. So you definitely do not want to skip any of them.

If you spend too much time on the first few questions and run out of time, you may miss these questions that are concealed near the end. Hence, try and keep a close look out for these kinds of questions!

how to get better at verbal reasoning UCAT
Keep a close eye out for these questions

4. However, don’t skip through looking for “True, False, Can’t” Tell Questions

That being said, you should try and resist the urge to skip through all the questions in search of the “True, False, Can’t Tell” questions right away. This is because you would be taking too long exploring the exam user interface. This would be extremely costly in terms of time taken up. There is no way to know how many questions you would have skipped at the beginning. So it might be difficult to estimate how much time you have left to complete the remaining questions. For example, if you skipped through the majority of the questions but are now on question 28 and have 15 minutes left.

The ideal course of action is to answer the questions in the order that they are offered to you, until the very last minute. When the time runs out, you can bear in mind that there could be some easier questions left to answer. Then you can start skipping through the more difficult questions. For example, if you still have 10 questions to finish with three minutes left, it could be wise to start scanning through the remaining questions and skip past the ones that include lengthier passages. You can then devote the majority of your remaining time to the “True, False, Can’t Tell” type of questions.

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5. For author or writer-type questions, look at the conclusion first for the author’s opinion

We have already mentioned the “True, False, Can’t Tell” type of questions in the UCAT Verbal Reasoning section. But there are other distinct question types to look out for as well. Prior to your test, it is important for you to build a strategy for each type of question by practising them and using your own unique method. This will enable you to become familiar with each type of question. It will also give you a general estimate of how long you require to complete each type of question.

That being said, author or writer questions are one such question type seen in the UCAT Verbal Reasoning portion. These questions would give you a passage, and then ask you a question based on the author or writer’s perspective. However, these passages might be lengthy. If you do not read the entire passage, it can be challenging to determine the author’s conclusion or general viewpoint. That being said, it is still not a good idea to read the entire passage because this can be very costly in terms of time. Therefore, without having to read through the entire paragraph, the ideal place to start looking for answers to author-related questions is the last paragraph. The final paragraph is often the closing argument and hence would contain the overall conclusion. It would also summarise the entire article’s tone without you needing to read through the whole passage.

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6. You may want to guess some author questions

It can take a lot of reading to answer an author or writer-type question, especially if the conclusion is not in the last few words. Hence, when it comes to deciding which type of questions you would like to guess, author or writer-type questions would certainly be a smart choice.

The challenging aspect of the UCAT Verbal Reasoning is not so much the difficulty of the questions, but rather trying to answer all of them within the time limit. As you have to answer rather lengthy questions within a time limit of 21 minutes, you should keep in mind that it is very difficult to respond to every question without skimming or guessing a few questions. As a result, you will have to make some educated guesses – so you should practice doing so. You can maximise your score by choosing wisely which questions to guess.

7. Watch out for ‘strongest opinion’ author questions

The author’s strongest opinion may be requested in some questions. There may be more than one “right” solution to these questions, which makes them exceptionally challenging. In such cases, you must choose the response that the author is most likely to agree with in order to score well on the exam.

As you must read a significant portion of the paragraph to fully get the author’s point of view, it might be challenging to narrow the field of possible responses for this kind of question. Hence, once again, these types of questions may be the type of questions that you would be looking out for to guess and skip or save for the end of a set when you are more familiar with the passage.

8. Watch out for negative questions!

Negative questions occasionally pop up, which may be very confusing especially when you are pressed for time. For example, the question can be, “Which of these is NOT true?” In order to avoid costly careless mistakes, make sure you are careful in recognizing the negative turn to these questions so that you know exactly what to look for in the text.

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    9. Do not spend too long checking

    Time is crucial in the UCAT Verbal Reasoning test. Hence, you should be wise and refrain from checking your answers. This may seem strange because the UCAT is a huge factor in your application to medical school, so you would want to be extra careful with it and make sure that you did not make any mistakes. However, this might be counter-intuitive and would even work against you. This is because if you double-check your responses in the Verbal Reasoning section, especially before you have completed all your answers, you will undoubtedly run out of time and be unable to complete the section. This would cause you to lose more points than if you accidentally made one or two careless errors by not checking.

    This is crucial in statement-type questions in particular. In such types of questions, four statements would be presented to you for your evaluation. Evaluating the remaining statements would not be necessary once you have the solution. Hence, unless you have any big doubts or serious uncertainties, there is no point for you to check your answer. This method would help you save valuable time to spend on other questions that you otherwise might have to blindly guess.

    10. Practice in a library

    Many students study for the UCAT but do not fully prepare for the two-hour mock tests under test circumstances. The testing setting will probably be different from any examination you have ever taken. There are only brief breaks, it will be on a more traditional desktop computer, and it will be in a crowded room.

    We advise taking at least one fake test in a setting similar to this. Your local library can be one such setting as it is likely to be pretty comparable. If someone is sitting or moving about next to you while you are trying to concentrate, you might be shocked at how distracting it can be. You should have fewer surprises on test day if you practice for it beforehand!

    verbal reasoning UCAT
    Go to a library to practice UCAT Verbal Reasoning

    11. Work on screen

    You should strive to simulate the exam format as closely as you can during practice. When taking the actual test, you would not be able to highlight the content in books or other printed materials because it will be on a computer screen. Where possible, try to practice on a screen. Reading sentences on a screen might fatigue your eyes, but that is also part of the examination-stimulated experience. This is an essential component of our online UCAT tutoring as it teaches you how to become accustomed to using a computer screen!

    12. Do not fall for time traps!

    Some questions are purposefully meant to be complex in an effort to confuse you. The most qualified applicants can anticipate when a question will take too long and will then make an accurate guess and move on without wasting time.

    Convoluted questions are created on purpose and are a test of one of your abilities. You may have seen physicians triaging in an A&E department during your work experience; this is effectively the same expertise, just applied to questions rather than actual patients. If you can predict which questions will take too long, you can sacrifice one mark while picking up additional points by devoting this time to simpler questions.

    verbal reasoning UCAT tips
    Timing is key in UCAT Verbal Reasoning <br>

    13. Prepare yourself mentally

    The UCAT Verbal Reasoning section is the first one, so go in prepared for it. Keep in mind that the majority of test takers do not complete this section. Many students finish this session feeling extremely discouraged because they were not ready for the reality that they are unable to complete the initial part of the examination. However, do keep in mind that you can still receive a very high score even if you do not respond to every question. Do not get discouraged! Even if you think it went poorly, try not to let it affect the rest of the exam.

    14. Work on skim reading

    You must skim through the material to identify the term you are looking for in order to perform well on the UCAT Verbal Reasoning. This is a skill which you will develop over time, and practice helps. Some people find that newspaper reading is a fantastic way to develop this skill. However, the most effective method would still be to practise mock Verbal Reasoning questions instead. You can only try other methods of practising when you are tired of too much UCAT practice or when you want to find alternative methods to keep you engaged during your revision! Otherwise, when it comes to revising for UCAT, having access to a large question bank or UCAT book will be really beneficial.

    15. Use the flagging function

    You can mark questions on the UCAT so you can revisit them later. It is good to note questions that you are not sure about or just do not know the answer to in case you still have time. However, you should proceed with caution! It is important to keep in mind that most test-takers do not have enough time to even complete the section, so it is doubtful you will have time to return to anything. Always enter a response—even a wild guess—before flagging and continuing. You are not going to have much time left over in the end!

    UCAT verbal reasoning flagging function
    Use the flagging function in VR

    16. Consider your operational time

    Sometimes students develop their own techniques for each section. This is great and you should always do what works best for you, but do not waste precious time doing extra things as this really adds up. For example, this might be to consistently put the keyword on your whiteboard, in case you need to refer back to the question. However, by the time you have jotted down the answers and checked them, it would have taken 5 seconds for each question or 220 seconds over 44 questions. This will end up taking slightly less than 4 minutes, or almost 20% of your time.

    If timing is something you struggle with a lot, one of our one-on-one sessions might be helpful for you. These lessons may be specifically tailored to your requirements, and our instructors can walk you through questions step-by-step to increase your timing accuracy. Our tutors can help you identify certain habits that you might have been adopting that are an impediment to completing your UCAT examinations on time.

    17. Take time to figure out where you went wrong

    After completing each practice problem, you should always take extra care to review the questions that you have answered incorrectly. It is quite simple to just glance at the correct answer and think that the answer is obvious or that you would have gotten it correct if you tried it again. Instead, try to fully understand why your initial reasoning is incorrect, think about how you could have arrived at the correct response, and take the time to explore alternative solutions and their methods. 

    Furthermore, try to find the balance between skim reading as well as reading thoroughly. Despite the fact that speed is the main objective of skim reading, reading too quickly is a very common error. If you read too quickly, you could overlook information that makes you select the incorrect response. You should make an effort to recognize your typical errors and note them in a checklist. Afterwards, you can read over this checklist as a reminder of things to stay away from doing before you practice questions.

    18. Read the question carefully

    Although you should definitely skim-read the passages in order to make the most of your time, one item you should not do so for is the question. Make sure you read it thoroughly to avoid making careless mistakes. For example, if you only scan through the question, you might misread it and assume that it is asking for a statement that is true instead of a statement that is not true.

    19. Only use the information given

    You should only base your answers on the facts provided in the paragraph, otherwise your answers may conflict with what is written and may take you down the wrong path. Furthermore, you should try and avoid making any assumptions based on real life. For example if the question was a “True, False, Can’t tell” question and the statement is “Bananas are yellow”, if the text does not mention bananas, the answer will be can’t tell! Even though we all know they are actually yellow, you have to stick to just what you are told in the text.

    That being said, do not be intimidated if you are unfamiliar with the material offered because many of the issues covered in the sections are extremely specialised and difficult to understand.

    Bonus: UCAT Verbal Reasoning needs confidence

    The final UCAT Verbal Reasoning study suggestion is to believe in yourself. The answers to the questions in this section might not be as obvious as they are in other sections because they frequently require some inference. Therefore, when you cannot locate the precise answer, trust your instincts more than ever. You can always go back and check your work if you have time at the end. However, putting your confidence in yourself and the educated guesses you have made might help you save a lot of time and significantly impact how the exam turns out. 

    As with every UCAT section, you should answer every question, even if you have no idea what the answer would be, as there is no negative marking. There is still a 25% possibility that you will guess right and receive an additional mark.

    how to get better at UCAT verbal reasoning
    Have confidence in your choices

    If you want more information on how this section is scored, check out our UCAT conversion table.


    How do I get better at UCAT Verbal Reasoning?

    Practice is essential for the UCAT Verbal Reasoning. Do not only concentrate on obtaining the right answer— you should also ensure that you get the correct answer while adhering to the strict time constraints. To help you speed through this section, you can look through our keyword and extreme language tips in this article!

    What is a good UCAT Verbal Reasoning score?

    The UCAT Verbal Reasoning score often has the lowest average score amongst all sections, and is typically the most difficult section to most students. The typical VR score was 570, which is much less than the average overall score of 627. A score greater than 650 is generally considered “good”, but as VR is generally a trickier section do not be too worried if you score lower than this!

    How long do you have for UCAT Verbal Reasoning?

    44 questions must be answered in 21 minutes. There will be a total of 11 passages to read, each with four questions. You have around 30 seconds to answer each question or a little under 2 minutes for each paragraph.

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