Ask Brian: Is there a cheap way to prepare for the Hpat test for medical courses?

Focus on sample papers which are provided as part of your registration fee

Leaving Cert applicants for medical courses have a one-in-six chance of success, so don’t spent too much time on Hpat preparations. Photograph: iStock

Leaving Cert applicants for medical courses have a one-in-six chance of success, so don’t spent too much time on Hpat preparations. Photograph: iStock


Question: I have always wanted to study medicine, but I am not in a position to pay hundreds of euro for preparatory Hpat (Health Professions Admissions Test) courses, which some of my friends are taking. Can you offer any advice to help me better prepare for the test on February 25th next?

Answer: Firstly, with only 483 undergrad medical places available to over 3,000 Hpat applicants each year, your chances of success are less than one in six. So, don’t undermine your Leaving Cert preparations by spending an inordinate amount of time on Hpat over the next two months.

Secondly, remember to pay your registration fee of €130 by January 20th as the fee increases by €70 after 5.15pm on that date. Your registration fee includes a copy of an online practice test e-book. Each test is equivalent to a full exam, which takes approximately two and a half hours.

Focus exclusively on these sample papers and do your best to master each of the three component parts.

Section one focuses on logical reasoning and problem-solving. Materials in this section are based on a brief text and/or piece of information presented graphically. As you will have four answers to choose from for each question, you can probably eliminate two options straight away.

With two answers left to choose from, finding something wrong with one of them gives you the correct one, by process of elimination.

The maths in the Hpat isn’t difficult, but under time pressure and without a calculator it can be challenging.

Practicing basic maths such as long division, fractions, percentages and decimals and being able to move between ratios and fractions will save a huge amount of time on February 25th.

Try also interpreting medical graphs and reading medical journals online. It will help you to become familiar with new medical words and conditions you won’t have come across.

Section two focuses on “interpersonal understanding”. This is aimed at assessing your ability to understand and think about people.

Questions are based on a scenario, dialogue or other text representing specific interpersonal situations.

Build up your vocabulary by keeping a word journal or use online resources such as Anki – a flash card program – which you can use to learn new words and to review the words you learned in the days/weeks previous.

Also practice speed reading and read emotive passages to try and get into the habit of putting yourself into someone else’s shoes.

Section three is based on non-verbal reasoning. Questions in this section may be of several kinds. All are based on patterns or sequences of shapes and are designed to assess your ability to reason in the abstract and solve problems in non-verbal contexts.

The initial three-year review of Hpat found that this section can be most improved on through rigorous preparation.

Finally, I along with three medical deans I have discussed Hpat with, have serious misgiving over its capacity to predict who is a suitable candidate to study medicine – so don’t give up your dream if you get a negative outcome.