Use of UKCAT scores in student selection by U.K. medical schools, 2006-2010

BMC Med Educ. 2011 Nov 24:11:98. doi: 10.1186/1472-6920-11-98.


Background: The United Kingdom Clinical Aptitude Test (UKCAT) is a set of cognitive tests introduced in 2006, taken annually before application to medical school. The UKCAT is a test of aptitude and not acquired knowledge and as such the results give medical schools a standardised and objective tool that all schools could use to assist their decision making in selection, and so provide a fairer means of choosing future medical students.Selection of students for U.K. medical schools is usually in three stages: assessment of academic qualifications, assessment of further qualities from the application form submitted via UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service) leading to invitation to interview, and then selection for offer of a place. Medical schools were informed of the psychometric qualities of the UKCAT subtests and given some guidance regarding the interpretation of results. Each school then decided how to use the results within its own selection system.

Methods: Annual retrospective key informant telephone interviews were conducted with every UKCAT Consortium medical school, using a pre-circulated structured questionnaire. The key points of the interview were transcribed, 'member checked' and a content analysis was undertaken.

Results: Four equally popular ways of using the test results have emerged, described as Borderline, Factor, Threshold and Rescue methods. Many schools use more than one method, at different stages in their selection process. Schools have used the scores in ways that have sought to improve the fairness of selection and support widening participation. Initially great care was taken not to exclude any applicant on the basis of low UKCAT scores alone but it has been used more as confidence has grown.

Conclusions: There is considerable variation in how medical schools use UKCAT, so it is important that they clearly inform applicants how the test will be used so they can make best use of their limited number of applications.

MeSH terms

  • Decision Making*
  • Educational Measurement / methods*
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Interview, Psychological
  • Psychometrics
  • Retrospective Studies
  • School Admission Criteria / statistics & numerical data*
  • Schools, Medical / statistics & numerical data*
  • Students, Medical / statistics & numerical data*
  • United Kingdom