How To Score Highly In The Decision Making Section Of The UCAT
Decision Making (DM) was first introduced in 2016 (having only been a part of the test since 2017) before which it was known as ‘Decision Analysis’. The section requires you to use logic and deductive reasoning to reach conclusions and evaluate arguments based on the data given. This section is important as it tests some crucial skills required to be a doctor as doctors are often required to make quick decisions in stressful situations and deal with day-to-day uncertainties.
The average score for this section from the years 2017-2021 ranged between 618-647, however, ideally a high score in this section would be considered as 700+. Having a score of 700+ in the 4 cognitive sections (abstract reasoning, decision making, quantitative reasoning, and verbal reasoning) and a band 1 in situational judgement would very likely put you in the top 10% of test-takers and put you well above the UCAT cut-offs set by various universities.
About the section
- This section has 29 questions
- Total time – 31 minutes
- Rough time per question – 64 seconds
Each question in this subtest will be an ‘individual’ question, unlike other sections that have a set of questions associated with each case. The questions will have data present in various forms such as charts, graphs, text, tables or other diagrams. You will be required to interpret and analyse this data in the short time given and select the best answer.
General tips to score highly in DM
Know the question types
When practising any section, it is crucial to know what the various question types that usually turn up are. This is important as it helps guide your practice if you know which question types you are weaker in and this is more effective than aimlessly practising an endless number of questions and potentially spending an exorbitant amount of time on questions you don’t need to practice much.
The primary question types in DM are:
- Probability questions – Basic probability questions where some mental maths skills would be very helpful. Be sure to revise this and know the common equations.
- Syllogisms – A form of reasoning where a conclusion is drawn from two or more given or assumed propositions (premises).
- Logic Puzzles – these questions often present in the form of some data given in textual or diagrammatic format and you will need to infer the data.
- Recognising Assumptions (strongest argument questions) – This will require you to view the question objectively, without putting any weight on your own beliefs and biases. You will have to figure out how strong an argument is and whether or not it presents as a solution to the given problem.
- Data interpretation – These questions also require objectivity and cannot be answered using your own assumptions or past knowledge. The answer must be supported only by whatever data and evidence are given in the question.
- Venn diagrams – You could either be presented with statements that will require you to make Venn diagrams or you will be given them as answer options.
Although these are the main question types that follow throughout the subtest, there are 2 types of actual questions in the subtest.
- Drag and Drop – These are the syllogism questions. In this, there’ll be a statement given and based on that, there will be 5 conclusions given. You’ll be required to drag and drop a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ based on whether or not that conclusion follows. All 4 right answers would amount to 1 mark.
- Draw Conclusions – Most of the questions would be like this. There will be some data or text present in the question. You will be required to make a conclusion based on your interpretation of the data and choose 1 best answer from the 4 answer choices.
Make use of the tools provided if required
In this subtest, as there could be various data to keep track of, it would be helpful to note it all down using the whiteboard function so that it is easier for you to visualise the information better. For some questions, you may also find it easier to draw out tables and Venn diagrams than simply trying to do mental calculations. It would also be helpful to be familiar with the calculator function as using this could make those math questions a lot quicker and more accurate but be careful to not fall into the trap of using this function too often for even just the basic calculations as this can be time-consuming and slow you down. It would be helpful if you have a strong understanding of Venn diagrams, probability and strengthen your mental maths capabilities to ace this section as these form the base for a lot of the questions.
Use the ‘flag’ function when needed
What works for one may not work for everyone but it is strongly advised to not spend too much time on 1 question. If after 60 seconds you are still struggling and are nowhere near figuring out the answer, it might be worth choosing a random answer (as you do not get marked down for wrong answers), flagging the question and moving on. Once you’ve finished all the questions, you can always come back to the flagged questions and review them. What you don’t want happening is that you’ve spent 5 minutes on just a single question and then towards the end, you know how to answer the question but simply don’t have enough time.
Pay attention to the language used
This is considered to be the trickiest part of DM. The wording of the questions is often phrased in such a way that not taking the time to interpret and understand the question properly can completely change the meaning of the question and thus lead you to the wrong answer.
For example, pay attention to words like ‘must’ vs ‘might’ as this changes the possibility of something happening. Also, pay attention to words such as ‘all’, ‘some’, ‘only’, and ‘none’ as these can also change the implication of the question.
The best way to ensure you’ve understood the wording of the question correctly would be to understand the difference between definitive and mitigating words.
Definitive (absolute and final) – Impossible, certainly, never, cannot, always
Mitigating (still some uncertainty and doubt) – can, could, maybe, sometimes, frequently, often
Tips for practice
Ensure you’re very familiar with Venn diagrams as they are key for a lot of syllogism and Venn diagram type questions. Practice with both, the Venn diagram being part of data given and having statements and making Venn diagrams on your own.
Be sure to revise your basic GCSE probability as this will be crucial prior knowledge to have when answering some of the maths type questions here and further on the quantitative reasoning section as well.
Make sure you are strict with timing when practising as the tricky bit is to finish on time since the questions tend to be fairly easy once you get the hang of it.
Tips for different question types
1. Probability questions
- Ensure you include probability revision as part of your preparations and know basic formulas such as:
- Probability (event) = (Number of ways an event can occur)/ (Total number of possible outcomes)
- If two events A and B are individual, then the probability of both occurring is P (A and B) = P(A) x P(B)
- You don’t need advanced knowledge of statistics.
- Might be helpful to eliminate options that absolutely cannot be correct first and then make an educated guess if unable to reach an answer
- Might be helpful to read the question and then directly move on to solving the question rather than spending time going through each answer individually but this approach might not work for everyone.
Ensure that you do not make any assumptions based on prior knowledge and biases. Consider whatever data is given objectively.
Ensure you have understood the question correctly and consider each option carefully.
As mentioned in general tips, it is very important to be careful of the wording used as it can completely change the meaning of the sentence.
Example: All animals have four legs; A cow is an animal.
The logical deduction that can be made from this statement is that cows have four legs.
Not all the people present at the book convention were authors but all the authors at the book convention were writers and some authors were not poets.
Place ‘Yes’ if the conclusion does follow. Place ‘No’ if the conclusion does not follow.
Some poets at the book convention were writers.
Some writers at the book convention were both authors and poets.
All the writers at the book convention were either authors or poets.
Not all writers at the book convention who were authors were poets.
All the poets at the book convention who were writers were also authors.
1st conclusion – Does follow because some authors were poets but since all authors were writers this also means that some poets were writers.
2nd conclusion – Does follow because since all authors were writers and some authors were also poets (because some were not) it can be concluded that some writers were both authors and poets.
3rd conclusion – Does not follow because we cannot conclude from the given statement that all writers were either authors or poets.
4th conclusion – Does follow because some authors were not poets therefore not all writers who were authors were poets.
5th conclusion – Does not follow because though we can conclude that all authors who were poets were also writers, we cannot conclude that all poets who were writers were also authors because there could be some poets who are writers but not authors.
Eliminate answers that can’t be correct first.
Sometimes, some parts of the question might be irrelevant. Try and figure out if this is true for the question you are solving and leave the irrelevant bits out while figuring out the answer.
Figure out the correct positioning/order of facts as this could be a reference point for other positions. Using the whiteboard function might be helpful for doing this.
This once again comes down in part to the wording used and whether the wording was definitive or mitigating. Definitive words generally indicate strong arguments and mitigating words leave room for interpretation and hence form weaker arguments.
Stronger arguments also tend to be the ones that are more well explained than others and have reasons for why they are doing something, whereas weaker arguments will rely on assumptions, not facts.
Be sure to not use your assumptions and beliefs when answering these questions.
Example question: Should there be laws in place to prevent social media networks such as Facebook from allowing children under the age of 14 from signing up?
Select the strongest argument from the statements below.
Yes, signing up for social media websites exposes children to the dangers of the internet.
Yes, social media companies should be held accountable for user activity and legalisation concerning age limits enables this accountability.
No, children are best safeguarded by schools educating them on the dangers of the internet.
No, having age limits for the use of social media does not help children in the long term; responsible parents must educate children and make decisions that are right for each child.
Correct response: D
This is because it is the parent’s responsibility to keep their children safe online.
Option A is incorrect because it does not deal with who is responsible for the children signing up for social media accounts.
Option B is incorrect because companies are not responsible for the activities of users.
Option C is incorrect because it suggests schools are responsible for keeping children safe online, rather than parents.
You will be provided data in a variety of forms such as text, graphs, charts, etc. and will be required to interpret these.
As in most cases the answers don’t have to be exact, you can round up numbers if the question requires you to do basic maths.
Since there can be a lot of information, it might be helpful to quickly go through the answer choices and focus only on exactly what data you need to and ignore the rest.
- Ensure you have revised Venn diagrams as part of your preparations.
- Use a systematic approach
- Sketch out the information
- Fill in what you can and complete the missing areas if possible.
- Assess what conclusions can be drawn
- Try not to get thrown by the more obscure presentations
- There are three subtypes of Venn diagram questions you may be asked in the UCAT Decision Making subtest.
- You can be given a Venn diagram and be asked to choose the best conclusion from a list of statements.
- You can be presented with a passage of information that you can interpret as a Venn diagram and then be asked to choose an answer
- You can be asked to choose one of the given Venn diagrams as part of the answers and be provided with a list of statements that you’ll have to interpret.
Decision Making has various types of questions and because of this, it might be worth keeping a track of what types of questions you seem to be getting wrong during practice as this can help structure your revision closer to the test date time by focusing mainly on the types you are weakest in. The best advice would be to join a formal course and do some practice questions from there as this can also easily help you keep track of what your weaker and stronger areas are.
As mentioned earlier on in the article, a competitive UCAT score would be getting 700+ in all 4 sections (verbal reasoning, decision making, quantitative reasoning, abstract reasoning) and a band 1 in SJT. If you want to have a competitive score on your UCAT, check out our brand new ‘Ace the UCAT’ course, which includes:
- 200+ lessons
- 20 hours of video lessons
- 350+ practice questions, with Dr Hilton walking you through the answers and the best way to tackle them
- Lots of support and help with the UCAT
- UCAT advice
If you want help getting into your dream university then also be sure to check out our Elite Coaching Programme. As part of this programme, you will get in-depth help with the entire application process from whatever stage you join at till you get into the medical school of your choice. This is done through 1-on-1 mentoring and the founder of the course, Dr Ashley Hilton is always available for any questions. You can find out more about the Elite Programme here.
However, if you choose not to join the FutureDoc team and this article is the last time you engage with us then best of luck for the future and I hope you’re able to get into the medical school of your choice!
Written By Muskaan Sharma