by Tom Eckert, 24 June, 2018
The UMAT is a difficult test to prepare for and to sit. There is no question about that. This is for a whole host of reasons. For example, the fact that there is no “curriculum” and that it is not a knowledge-based test can make practicing for it seem like a futile task as it is very difficult to see if you are improving. However, the most challenging thing about the UMAT exam is what is referred to as ‘calibration.’
Calibration is a concept in learning theory that refers to the use of objective measures to determine where you sit in a cohort in terms of performance and so giving you a reasonably sound indicator of what level your performance is currently at compared to where you would like to be.
This is significant for two reasons.
The first reason is that this can severely compromise your capacity to ‘learn’ the test. Without an objective indicator of your performance, it is difficult to know if the techniques you are utilizing to practice are effective. Additionally, you are not provided with the positive feedback of seeing your performance improve which can have a negative effect on your motivation
The second and perhaps more important is that you are not able to easily compare yourself to other individuals sitting the test. This is significant because the UMAT exam is essentially one big competition. It would not be worth sitting the test if you did not have a reason to believe that you could beat roughly 85% of the other participants (depending on the school you wish to interview for).
Thus, it is essential to have objective indicators of your relative performance to ensure that you are performing at the right level and to warn you if your relative performance is slipping whilst you can still do something about it as well as providing you the positive reinforcement of improving performance. In the absence and ignorance of these objects relative indicators, there are two potential traps that a participant may fall into.
The first is hubris. You may see yourself improving the number of questions you get right throughout your preparation and walk into the exam with a great degree of confidence that you will achieve the necessary scores. You may encounter in the paper a few questions that you weren’t sure how to approach, but you are sure everyone else had the same trouble and so are not too concerned. You find out months later that you just missed out on a spot to interview with your preferred school because your score was just a little too low. This could have been averted early on with indicators of relative performance, the participant would have noticed that whilst they were improving they were still not at the level that they needed to be. This would motivate them to redouble their efforts and learn some additional techniques to approaching questions to improve their performance and avoid the unfortunate outcome.
The other trap is potentially the worse of the two, and this is too little confidence. Whilst your performance has been improving, you are convinced that your performance is not good enough to interview for your preferred school. You work very hard but still have no faith that you will get through without a miracle. When you get into the examination, you start off well, but then run into some questions you have difficulty with. Concerned that if you don’t get the right answer you will never get enough marks to get the score you need, you work on these problems until you arrive at a satisfactory solution. The next thing you know, the time is up before you finish the paper. You get your marks later and just miss out.
This is the worse of the two as this may crush your confidence meaning that you don’t make a second attempt the next year because you believe you just aren’t capable. If there had been some objective indicators of relative performance, however, you might have seen throughout your preparation that your hard work was paying off and you were consistently scoring the marks that you needed to get an interview. With this behind you, when it came to the exam you would have the confidence to make educated guesses about the questions you couldn’t tackle quickly and move on to ensure that you attempted as many questions as possible.
So here you can see the importance of calibration. It can be very difficult to achieve this. However, preparation programs are excellent for this. They will often run practice examinations under real conditions. They will then be able to compare your marks with a cohort of like-minded individuals who are also doing the courses to give you an assessment of your relative performance. This is invaluable for the calibration it provides. Additionally, these cohorts will generally perform better than the real-world cohort because they are clearly motivated and desire to do well and so you will often relatively rank lower than in the real-world exam. Not only will this motivate you to keep working hard, but you will likely be pleasantly surprised by how much better you perform when the real exam comes around.
Whilst the UMAT does present its own challenges, there are ways to tackle them. Keep this in mind and good luck with your preparation!