So it’s your Leaving Cert year and you want to study Medicine at UCD, but on top of all the usual exams, you’ve also got to sit the HPAT?

The HPAT is the bane of most aspiring medical students in Ireland. Inconveniently timed during the most stressful year of secondary school, with no syllabus or possibility of rote learning and cramming, of questionable relevance and usefulness, and potentially worth up to 3 A1s in points terms. Seems impossible, right?

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It’s one of the most frequent things I get asked about by aspiring medical students, whether that be at open days, higher options or on campus tours, everyone wants to know what the almighty secret behind the HPAT is. The best advice I could give you is this: start early, and put time into preparing.

I’ve heard the same rumours you’ve probably all heard, that you can’t study for the HPAT, supported with case examples of people in the 100th percentile who hadn’t looked at the paper before going in. The truth is, you only hear the outstanding stories, and the hundreds of students who didn’t study and ended up in the 0 – 20th percentile category aren’t exactly newsworthy.

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Most people in my year would have done a HPAT prep course of some nature. The most popular ones available are by MedEntry and the Institute of Education. Usually these packages consist of a weekend course with a sample exam, then access to multiple online practice quizzes and sample papers. If you know anyone else looking to do one, team up and apply together as they usually have substantial discounts for two or more people!

I chose MedEntry because I had heard a number of good reviews about them; however not having attended the IOE course I’m not in a position to discredit it or say one is better than the other. I found the weekend course useful but not entirely necessary in hindsight. The sample exam we did at the course was the first I had ever done and I did horrifically, but my low percentile was a wake up call that I needed to start working! What I found most beneficial out of the entire package was the access to sample exams.

I would aim to do an exam every weekend; on Saturday I would sit down and do the entire exam, sometimes with breaks between to refresh, then on Sunday I would spend almost equally long going through that exam to check my answers.

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Failing to review your answers properly and thoroughly is probably one of the major pitfalls that many students meet. Some people only look at their final result and then move on, others may check which ones they got wrong then move on. I would go through every answer, in both the small practice quizzes and the longer sample exams, and if I got the question right I would make sure it was for the right reasons, and if I got it wrong I would try and follow the logic of the answer explanations given for each question. These explanations were invaluable, as they show you where you made a mistake and can thus prevent you from making the same mistake in future! Even if you got the question right, check, as I often got questions right by fluke using the wrong logic.

The HPAT is by no means a walk in the park, but it is very doable if you put in the work beforehand. Get started as early as you can with sample questions, and practice, practice, practice! The long hours and frustrating weeks will be worth it on the day!