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UKCAT Preparation - Working With Distractors and Limiting Guesswork

Distractors are the incorrect answer choices in a multiple choice question as found in all UKCAT tests. The aim of the distractors is to make picking the correct answer difficult. They were chosen by the test writer because they are close to, but not quite, the right answer, which makes them confusing when you try to rule them out. 

Distractors are deliberately misleading. They can follow the correct path of reasoning on an incorrect base, look correct, or offer an answer very close to the correct answer, making you uncertain about discarding them. They can be based on attention traps or misinterpretation of data. In a test you have to locate and eliminate them one by one, preferably without guessing until you get to the right answer.

You can pick up tricks on how to identify the obvious distractors that will save you time in the test. Some of these tricks include:
  • Pay attention to the language used in the text, the question and the distractors themselves as they give you clues about what is being looked for. Phrases such as “at most”, “at least” or “as much as” will set out a series of boundaries. Any distractors outside of these boundaries can automatically be eliminated. 
  • In verbal tests, strong statements such as “all” or “everything” are usually not the answer you are looking for as they require a lot of background information to prove them correct. 
  • If there are three distractors that look the same, and another two which are different, the chances are the correct answer is one of the three, allowing you to reduce the number of distractors straight away.
After successfully eliminating the easy distractors you may find some of the following rules of thumb useful in reaching your final answer:
  • If an answer looks obviously correct, check it against the others to confirm your decision before moving on. 
  • If when you have finished your calculation your answer does not appear on the list of distractors, you may have missed out some information. Consider looking at the question again for any details you missed first time around. 
  • When you are stuck between two final options look back at the wording in the question. Look out for clues in the wording, including tricks in the words used. This should help you pick out another distractor to eliminate. 
  • Occasionally the question itself is ambiguous, and you find you need to use the distractors themselves to pull the question apart and pick the correct answer. 

Guessing

Taking an educated guess is often a temptation during your UKCAT test. If you want to guess, think carefully about when to do it. We would recommend that the two times to guess are when time is running out in the test, or when you have been stuck on a question for too long and need to answer the question in order to move on in the test. The test is not negatively marked, meaning you will not lose marks if you choose the wrong answer. Guessing is a quick way of answering a question that you feel you do not know how to answer at all. But guessing should definitely not be your first choice on each question.

If you do feel you need to guess, here are some ways you can minimise the impact of guesswork on your test. 
  • Eliminate those you know for sure are wrong, reducing the options to guess from.
  • Reduce the need to guess by working out several ways of identifying distractors in each subtest. Practice using your techniques in test conditions to see how they work under pressure. 
  • Flag up any answers you have guessed, enabling you to go back to them if you have time. 
Distractors are designed to be tricky and trip you up, otherwise why would they offer the correct answer on the page. The right answer is not always easily available, so you do need to ensure that you have developed ways of working with the distractors to reach the correct answer. Our online preparation packs contain more tips on how to work with distractors on each test. 

~ JobTestPrep Team ~