Applying to Medical School Strategically: Part 1 - Using Your UCAT Score

Applying to Medical School Strategically: Part 1 - Using Your UCAT Score

8 months ago by Stan

With the UCAS October 15th deadline soon approaching, narrowing down the 33 medical schools into 4 is a difficult decision. To improve your chances of securing a place in medical school, it is important to use your UCAT scores and GCSEs strategically. Depending on how you have performed, you should apply medical schools where you are most likely to be offered a medical interview.

In this blog series we will be focussing on how your UCAT score, achieved before the September 29th UCAT deadline, should help you decide which medical schools to apply to. Using your UCAT score strategically will give you the best chance of obtaining an interview and then place at medical school.


How do medical schools select students for interview?

To select students for interview, medical schools generally use a combination of:

  • An aptitude test (most commonly UCAT, occasionally BMAT) and
  • Academic performance (GCSE, Achieved A levels or Degree, depending on what has been achieved)

Each applicant is given a score using a numerical scoring system, and then the top scoring students are offered an interview. Note that each medical school uses different scoring systems and criteria when assessing candidates.


How does my UCAT score compare?

Each year the UCAT consortium publishes previous UCAT scores to help you compare your UCAT score to others who took the UCAT in that year.

The statistics published split UCAT scores into blocks called deciles, and then ranks them from 1st (lowest) to 9th (highest):

Decile Rank 2020 Final Scores 2019 Final Scores 2018 Final Scores 2017 Final Scores 2016 Final Scores
1st 2170 2170 2160 2230 1640
2nd 2290 2280 2280 2340 1730
3rd 2370 2360 2360 2420 1790
4th 2450 2420 2420 2480 1850
5th 2510 2480 2490 2540 1890
6th 2580 2540 2550 2600 1940
7th 2650 2610 2610 2670 1990
8th 2730 2690 2690 2750 2060
9th 2850 2800 2810 2860 2150


The UCAT consortium also publishes the mean (average) UCAT scores achieved for each UCAT subtest:

  2020 2019 2018 2017 2016
Number of Candidates 34,153 29,375 27,466 24,844 23,359
Verbal Reasoning 570 565 567 570 573
Decision Making 625 618 624 647 n/a
Quantitative Reasoning 664 662 658 695 690
Abstract Reasoning 653 638 637 629 630
Total Cognitive Mean Scaled Score 2512 2483 2485 2540 1893


UCAT Situational Judgement subtest performance (in bands) is also published:

  2020 2019 2018 2017 2016
Number of Candidates 34,153 29,375 27,466 24,884 23,359
Band 1 30% 17% 21% 28% 26%
Band 2 36% 40% 34% 42% 44%
Band 3 24% 33% 32% 21% 22%
Band 4 9% 10% 13% 9% 9%


Note that interim statistics for 2021 UCAT UK are due to be published on the UCAT Official website in early-September.


How do I know if I have achieved a good UCAT score?

What determines a ‘low’, ‘medium’, ‘high’ or ‘excellent’ UCAT score changes slightly each year.

However, in general:

  • An excellent UCAT score would be around 705+ (which is the average of the 9th UCAT decile scores achieved over the last 4 years). Candidates with an excellent UCAT score are likely to secure a medical interview at all universities which require UCAT, if their academic achievement is also high.
  • A high UCAT score would be in the range of 655-705. This represents the average UCAT scores achieved in deciles 7-9 over the last 4 years. A high UCAT score would secure candidates an interview at most medical schools.
  • A medium UCAT score would be in the range of 615 to 640 (which is the average UCAT scores achieved in deciles 4-6 over the last 4 years). The ‘mean average’ UCAT score is around 625 (which represents the average of 5th decile UCAT scores). Students with a medium UCAT score may obtain an interview at some universities that place less emphasis on UCAT.
  • A low UCAT score would generally be considered less than 610. This represents the average of the lower 4 UCAT deciles over the last 4 years. Students with a low UCAT score would generally find it difficult to obtain an interview offer at universities which have UCAT as a requirement. Such students should consider sitting BMAT.
  • Candidates who achieve band 4 in the UCAT Situational Judgement Test are not accepted into most medical schools which require UCAT. Therefore, it is advisable to take BMAT instead.


How can I use my UCAT score strategically?

It is important to research each individual medical school’s scoring system (described further in our university admissions guide) and apply to schools where the specific system matches your strengths.

A good strategy is to check whether last year with your UCAT score, you would have received a medical interview offer. (Note however that the UCAT cut off scores required for an interview do change depending on the UCAT and GCSE scores achieved by the cohort each year).

Note that applying to medical school strategically might mean applying to a lower ‘ranked’ university to improve your chance of obtaining a place in medical school. However, the difference in rankings between the top and bottom medical schools in the UK is very small. Every medical school in the UK is GMC approved, which means that your degree will qualify you as a doctor and allow you to work in the NHS. Thus, the medical school you attended makes very little difference to your prospects after medical school.


Check out other blogs in this series:

Note: UCAT score thresholds do change year-to-year and are impossible to predict with certainty until after the UCAS October 15th deadline.

Written by George Garratt

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