The Quantitative Reasoning (QR) section of the UCAT assesses your ability to solve numerical problems quickly. While no extensive prerequisite knowledge is assumed and the mathematical manipulations are limited to the basics, we often find that even the most mathematically proficient students struggle to perform well or not as well as they think they should in this section. This is because of the limited time available, where you have to answer 36 questions in 24 minutes - that’s only 40 seconds per question.
Therefore, a key to mastering the QR section lies in improving your mental maths skills. While you are provided with an on-screen calculator for the UCAT, there is no doubt that you can save a significant amount of time by applying mental maths skills for simpler questions. Several seconds spent on entering numbers on the calculator and re-focusing your attention to the question can quickly build up.
While calculators minimise tedious computations and allow you to focus on the mathematical problems themselves, many students become too dependent on calculators for even simple calculations and lose the efficiency of arithmetic operations that they mastered during early school years. Here, we present five top tips for regaining your competency in mental maths skills to beat the QR section of the UCAT.
In primary school, most students are taught to start from the right and progress to the left when adding and subtracting numbers. While this works perfectly well for adding and subtracting on paper, it is more intuitive and easier to go from left to right when computing mentally.
For example, when you add 38 to 93, you can add 30 to 90 to get 120, then add 8 to 3 to get 11, then add the two sums to get 131. You can also use the front-end strategy for subtraction. For subtraction, if you were to solve 285 - 127, you can subtract 100 from 285 to get 185, then subtract 20 from 185 to get 165, then finally subtract 7 from 165 to get 158. There are some variations to front-end strategies so you can use the approach that suits you the best.
While this left-to-right strategy may seem like going through extra steps at first, you will soon be able to solve such equations in a second with some practice (see Tip 5 for some links). This is a powerful time-saving strategy for two or three digit numbers, but for four digits or more you may find that using a calculator is faster and less error-prone.
Many students will scratch their heads and reach out for their calculators if they had a question where you had to multiply 4 by 87. However, if you break this into parts by multiplying 4 x 80 and 4 x 7, and then adding the results (320 and 28), you will soon get the answer (348).
Again, with some practice, you will be able to save precious seconds reaching out for the on-screen calculator and then getting back to your question. Practice sessions will also give you a feel for which questions you should rely on mental maths skills and which you need to use the on-screen calculator.
½ is 50%, ¼ is 25% and ⅕ is 20%. Too easy for you right? But can you convert ⅞ to percentages or 4% to fractions off the top of your head?
While you should certainly not sweat yourself over memorising conversion of complex fractions and percentages, knowing common conversions can save you valuable time while sitting your UCAT QR section. For example, you can familiarise yourself with the percentage equivalent of all fractions with denominators of 6, 8, 9 and 12. Some larger denominators can be particularly useful too. For example, if you know that 1/25 is 4%, you can easily work out that 3/25 is 12% and that 28% is 7/25.
When you face a more tricky question involving larger numbers or decimal points, you should definitely use the on-screen calculator. However, when you manipulate more complex numbers on the calculator, you become more vulnerable to making mistakes, for example, adding an extra zero or missing out a decimal point.
In such cases, rounding individual numbers and estimating the solution can be very useful. It gives you a rough “feel” for the answer, which acts as an extra checking point. Since the UCAT QR section is limited in time and you will likely not have time for double-checking, this tip can save you from losing marks unnecessarily.
Just as you cannot learn how to play golf or drive a car by reading a book, simply reading about the smart tips above won’t automatically improve your mental maths skills.
To attain procedural fluency, you need to apply these tips on a myriad of practice sessions to really make them yours. The importance of practice was emphasised in Tips #1 and #2 but we will stress it here again, as it is fundamental to improving your mental maths skills. To get started, there are plenty of free websites that provide as many basic arithmetic practice questions as you need.
Once you feel more confident, you should try questions that closely resemble the real UCAT QR section. You will also be glad to hear that our UCAT Online Course features thousands of QR questions that get you fully prepared to ace the QR section, as well as other sections.
Feeling a bit overwhelmed and anxious? Please don’t worry, head over to our UCAT Online Course and we’ll get you signed up to guide you through this whole process.
We have a bank of over 10,000 questions, a decision-making section, and 8 full mock exams and 18 mini-mock exams; we even give you performance feedback too.
We’ve been lending a successful helping hand since 2009. Medify is here to support you, just reach out to us.