Overheard At the UMAT Test Centre

I sat the UMAT a few weeks ago.

…yeah. I’m still not ready to talk about it.

I am ready to talk about the conversations I overheard though.

When you get thousands of gifted people sitting a very difficult aptitude test which is the first obstacle that has to be passed in order to enter undergraduate medical school here in Australia…you get thousands of very nervous people. Nervous people say the darndest things.

It starts with false bravado. The UMAT is essentially a good old fashioned IQ test, there is not a whole lot that you can do to prepare that will increase your chances of passing. You either have the goods to pass or you don’t. This thought can be a depressing or a positive one, depending on what spin you put on it. The people who deal in false bravado sell the idea that you’ve done all you can do. However, no one takes them seriously, not even themselves.


For example:

A: hey guys.

B: Ya ready for the big test?

A: Ha!…All over it

Everyone including A: *hysterical laughter*


But there’s always one pessimist/realist in the group who attempts to keeping everyone grounded, probably as a result of their own anxiety. Although they ususally end up freaking themselves out and deciding that a bit of false bravado isn’t so bad after all:


A: We ARE all over it.

B: Yep, so many people do it every year, how bad can it be. How many people could possibly fail?

C: um, well 99 percent of us?


C: Considering that thousands of people sit this test to fill a couple of hundred medical school spots nationwide…

B: oh COME ON. Way to build our confidence!

A: Yeah! There’s a line, you know! You didn’t just cross it, you ran to the edge, jumped over, and kept running!

C: oh whatEVER! I’m ready, I was smashing the fish oil last night.


Many people who get into medical school have had to apply for a few years straight before getting in. There are several frequent flyers at any UMAT venue, and they seem to manage their anxiety by giving advice to rookies.


A: There’s the line, it goes all around the hall. It will take them nearly an hour to check in everyone so don’t go in just yet. Wait for it to get smaller. I checked in first last time and I had to sit in the hall for an hour. No talking, no reading, nothing to do in there.


I endorse the above advice wholeheartedly by the way.

By the time we’re in line everyone is getting rather fidgety. To distract themselves, for some reason they swap anecdotes about when things go wrong.


A: you know Amy’s mum forgot to register her.

B: WHAT. I. Would. Be. FILTHY!

A: it sucks but that was kind of avoidable you know?

B: yeah true. Who leaves something this important to someone else?

A: *adopts bogan accent* “muuuuum register me for UMAT ‘kay thanks!”


And then there was this:

A: how easy would it be to submit a false ID?

B: I don’t know, but there was one year where they caught this guy trying to pass for his wife.

A: um…why?

B: Obviously, she wanted to be a doctor but he was a lot smarter…and far too rugged


After the test though, whether it’s sheer exhaustion from three hours of mental exertion or the relief of finishing something which looms over the heads of medical school hopefuls like a storm cloud, people sound a lot more genuine. As we leave the exam hall the people around me seem to be analysing their performance with renewed perspective.


A: How was that?

B: ah…*shrugs*

A: well, we can’t know yet. it’s less important how you did, more important how everyone else did.

B: Yep, personal achievement doesn’t matter as much here…I need to remember that.


But some people, particularly the aforementioned frequent flyers, like to compare exam techniques, probably trying to convince themselves that they did the right thing.


A: I did all section three questions first, did you? Then I did section two, and section one.

B: I did section two first. Did you think they were easier this year?

A:…um, maybe.


This advice I do NOT agree with, and I’ll do another post later explaining why. There aren’t actually different sections, what these girls are referring to are three question types that are found in the UMAT – understanding people, scientific analysis and pattern sequencing. The questions are mixed up at random.

When faced with stressful circumstances, some people like to distract themselves by talking. A lot. Much to the delight of people like me, who like to distract themselves by people watching.

God I hope I make it to the interview stage…