HPAT tips straight from the horse's mouth

The Health Professions Admissions Test is part of the entry requirements for Medicine in Ireland. As you can imagine, there is a doctor in the house (or 10), so we are delighted to answer your questions sent in via Snapchat.

No part of this post is in any way sponsored.

1. What is the best way to study for the HPAT?

Anna: Your preparation will depend on the materials you have available to you. I started by doing sets of questions at a time. The next day I would look over the solutions to see where I may have gone wrong. 
There is no point doing HPAT style questions if you do not spend the time trying to understand the solutions afterwards.
This way, if you meet that type of question again, you will be in a better position to answer it. Over time, I moved on to doing full HPAT exams. I set myself the same time limit that I would have in the actual exam. I would usually try to do a sample HPAT exam on the weekend and then work through the solutions during the week. I suggest doing the sample exam on a Saturday morning as this is when you will be doing the real HPAT exam.

how to study for HPAT exam

Michael: I've been told that you can't study for the HPAT as it's an aptitude test, but I believe this to be wrong. Our whole lives we've been taught to study in a particular way, sit exams in a particular way and answer questions in a particular way. Since we were in primary school, we were told to always get the answer by following the question to the end. In the HPAT, you don't always have this privilege and so you have to train your mind to think in a faster, more logical and critical way. You have to train your mind like you would your body. Different people approach the HPAT in different ways, however, I found it most beneficial to dedicate some practice on separate sections every evening (this may seem like lot but everyone is different). For example I concentrate on Section 1 on Mondays, Section 2 on Tuesday, Section 3 on Wednesday. Whatever section needs extra attention, I look at that on Thursdays. On Fridays I don't do any HPAT, you really need a break from it all! Over the weekends I do and correct one of the practice exams.

  • You require a massive vocabulary for section 2, so over the couple of months coming up to the exam, I've been noting any tough words I come across during the drills and exams. I've made a list using the website vocabulary.com. The website allows you to test yourself by showing you the definition of a word you put in your list and then asks you to choose the word it is defining. It's extremely useful and free. 
All the words you learn will also help with your English essays.
  • I found reading newspaper articles and trying to find wholes in the topic discussed to be helpful in developing your critical thinking and analysis, an extremely important skill for section one.

  • It's a good idea to get comfortable with converting fractions and ratios into decimals and percentages. This may sound basic but it is the basics that could let you down when you're under pressure. I found the book 'Speed Mathematics' by Bill Handley to be really helpful for finding little tips and ticks for fast multiplications, division, adding, and subtracting. 

  • It's also advisable to familiarise yourself with the layout, timing, the different sections, the different types of questions and the HPAT answer sheet you will have to use on the day. Just knowing what you're facing puts your mind at ease.

  • Spend the most time going through the solutions. Knowing where you went wrong is so important. 
Have a note book beside you and note things you got wrong, got right, misinterpreted, didn't see, etc.
  • Always give the questions you got wrong another try to get the right answer. 
You figuring out where you went wrong is much more beneficial than being told. 
  • Try and meet up with someone else doing the exam to swap tactics, the way you approached questions and just general observations. 

how to prepare for HPAT Medentry ACER

2. Do you really need to study for the HPAT or is it just an aptitude test?

Anna: It is not essential that you prepare for the exam, but it is helpful to familiarise yourself with HPAT style questions prior to the day of the HPAT. The HPAT is comprised of three sections. 
  • Section one measures a candidate's problem-solving skills. 
  • Section two deals with a candidate's ability to understand the emotions and thoughts of others. 
  • Section three draws on a candidate's skills dealing with sequences and patterns. 
Many students find these skills can be improved with practice. Candidates are given a certain amount of time to complete each section. The type of questions in the HPAT are often unfamiliar to students. Preparation and familiarisation with the question styles will help you to work on the skills assessed in the exam. In particular, students note that preparation can significantly help them improve their scores in section 3 of the exam, which looks at patterns and sequences. 
Some students secure a place in medicine without preparing for the HPAT.
Michael: Yes, it's an aptitude test but it's like nothing you've ever seen before. I feel that the biggest misconception about the exam is it's content and the reason we have to do it. I have friends who think it's really hard, too hard and others who think it's just plain stupid. Ever year questions get released on social media and people make fun of them calling them riddles and saying that there is no real answer. People don't realise what the exam actually entails they just think it's a run of the mill aptitude test that gets way too much media time. 
Many people go into the exam with these misconception and no preparation, some do well while others don't, is it worth the risk? No.
HPAT preparation tips from students

3. Are there any places online that offer free sample tests and corresponding answers?

Michael: To be honest, I haven't come across any. I really do believe the online courses are the only way to go. They are very expensive, but if you buy the packages in a group it's cheaper. In my opinion the MedEntry course is the best.

4. I find MedEntry questions much harder than ACER questions. Which of the two is a more accurate representation of the real exam?

Michael: MedEntry. The acer exams are comprised of questions that didn't make it to the actual exam for being too easy, too hard or because they just weren't up to scratch. Also the ACER exams are a little outdated, whereas the MedEntry ones are constantly being updated and actually give you percentiles after each exam. The MedEntry exams are said to be, at times, a little harder than the actual exam itself which is more beneficial then hindering in the long run.

5. How long should I spend on each section of the HPAT?

Michael: Remember that Section 1 and 2 are worth 40% each, while Section 3 is only worth 20%, so this may impact your preparation times. 

On the day you only have 65 minutes for Section 1, 45 minutes for Section 2 and 40 minutes for Section 3. When the time is over for the section, you cannot go back if you have spare time from another section.

6. What is the best way to study for Section 2?

Anna: I suggest doing sample tests to familiarise yourself with questions in Section 2. This section measures how well you can understand people, their thoughts and feelings. I suggest trying to see situations from the point of view of others. Try to understand why the people around you feel the way they do.

Michael: There aren't many ways to study for Section 2, you're really just developing your ability to understand people. As I said earlier, the vocabulary is really important, so do concentrate on that, building it up as much as possible. Read lots in your spare time to get used to reading and concentrating on characters etc. Practice lots by doing drills, it's the best way to improve. Cartoons have featured a lot over the last few years in Section 2, so look at ways to analyse those types of questions. Practice putting yourself in the situation presented in the passage, be empathetic and honest when answering the questions.

hpat preparation tips Ireland

7. Four weeks before the HPAT, can I still improve my Section 3?

Anna: A lot of people note that preparation can significantly help them to improve their scores in Section 3. Section 3 deals with sequences and patterns. A person's ability to identify patterns can improve with practice. Before the exam, I would practice doing Section 3 style questions and then go through the solutions. 

Michael: Yes. There is always time to improve. I believe that Section 3 is the easiest to study for. Remember that Section 3 is only worth 20%. It is important to do well in it, but if it's your worst section, that isn't that bad. There are lots of different methods for answering Section 3 questions like 3-2, 2-2-1, mapping, counting and common base. Learn these methods and practice applying them to questions under the 75 second time limit. Certain patterns can be learned off as well as sequences like the Fibonacci sequence allowing you to spot the pattern fast.

8. Do you have any tips for improving reading speed for the Comprehension section?

Anna: Try to do sample tests when you are fully alert so you are in a better position to absorb and analyse information. Excessive stress will make it difficult to concentrate on a given question, so try to stay calm. 

Michael: There are lots of things you can do. Try blocking, a technique where you read large sections of the text at a time or use your pencil as a pointer moving it two words in front of where you are to speed you up. Sometimes "reading aloud quietly" is helpful to be faster. Also you should figure out the best distance between you and the page that maximises your reading speed, about 30/40 cm is good as it allows you to minimise you eye movement and allow you to use more of your peripheral vision. There isn't much time left but the book 'Speed Reading' by Tony Buzan is worth reading to really help you maximise your speed reading potential.

The best advice is to push yourself, see how fast you can go while actually understanding the text. If you are a paragraph in and have no idea whats going, on start again. Those few seconds aren't lost: they will help you in the long run with answering the question.

9. How do you balance the study between the mocks and HPAT?

Michael: At the end of the day your mocks are only your mocks, they aren't the real thing, whereas the HPAT is. You have to set priorities, really. You have 3 months after the HPAT to prepare for the Leaving Cert. Everyone goes about it in their own way, but being crazy stressed out over the mocks and the HPAT isn't going to help anyone, is it?

best prep course HPAT

10. Is the stress of the exam hyped up compared to what it is actually like?

I'm not going to lie: it is extremely stressful, but you really can't let it get to you. Also, compared to the Leaving Cert, they are both high pressure exams with a lot depending on the results, so no wonder they are hyped up. The atmosphere in the test centre beforehand wasn't very enjoyable. You could really see people struggling with the pressure.

11. Do you have any tips for the last few weeks in the run up to the HPAT?

Anna: Coming up to the HPAT exam, I aimed to get a full sample test done on a Saturday morning and then work through the corresponding solutions during the week. 

As per the amount of time spent on preparation, it is best to focus on the amount of work you get done, not the time spent doing it. 

There is no need to cram for the HPAT. You should go into the exam in a relaxed state of mind. Try to avoid potential stress triggers the week before the exam. Stay as relaxed as possible and try to stay positive. Being in a good frame of mind the week before the exam is key.

Michael: You will be surprised how the time leading up to the exam goes so quickly, so don't let it slip away. Concentrate on your weaknesses more than your strengths, but swap this idea the week before and on the day. Don't cram all the exams in to 4 weeks just because you felt you have to get them done, only do as much as you can. 

The HPAT tests you not just mentally, so you have to be feeling positive and alert, get your 8 hours' sleep. 
Don't have a major meltdown, or if you feel like one is coming, step away from your preparation for an evening, relax, take your mind off it, talk to some and put your head down the next night. You will feel revitalised. 
The week before the exam, take it easy. Go to bed early and get up early to get your mind accustomed to being active in the morning as the exam is in the morning. Sounds stupid, but it is a good tactic. I recommend doing one or two ACER exams the week before too as they are that little bit easier and will give you a confidence boost before the big day. The night before - collect yourself, don't start doubting your abilities, make sure you have all the documentation printed off and ready for the morning.

what is the HPAT like on the day

12. Would you recommend any of the prep courses?

Michael: I found the MedEntry one to be really good. Their online question bank and information are excellent. I haven't heard good things about any of the others. Be careful with your money and which one you choose. Before you book, maybe run it by your Career guidance counsellor at school. They can sometimes get vouchers or know which ones students found good from previous years.

13. Does the registering process take ages on the day? How long before it starts should you be at the exam venue?

Michael: It really depends on the venue and the amount of people to be registered. It can be long and tedious. Be there as early as you can, sitting in your seat acclimatising to your surroundings is helpful before the exam. Check the ACER recommendation regarding arrival time (I don't want to quote them in case it changes). Remember you can't bring food into the actual hall so have something before you go in. It can be a very long day. 

Once everyone is registered things move quickly enough. They read out the rules, hand out the papers and then the answer sheets. They check your admission tickets again. Once it all starts, it flies by. There isn't a substantial break between each section, so don't expect to have time to compose yourself. Have your own timer with you: you may not be close to a clock on the wall.

14. Do you get rough work paper before the exam?

Michael: No, but you are allowed to write in the margins. At the beginning they say "you are not allowed to allowed to deface the booklet". Some people think this means you cannot write on it, but that is wrong, you can. You are not allowed to rip it or anything like that.
On the day the only things you can bring in with you are your water bottle (clear with no labels), a rubber, some pencils, a stopwatch (that doesn't beep), your admission ticket and your ID. 
No rulers or highlighters, you can bring in your phone, but it has to be off and left face down under your chair (or at least that was how it was in the test centre I was in).

15. When is a good time to start preparing for the HPAT? Is 5th year too early?

Anna: This depends on the individual. I started preparing in the September of sixth year.

Michael: I've heard of people starting as early as TY which I think is a little too early. I believe the end or middle of 5th year would be ideal if you know that it's medicine you really want. You could start with some spacial reasoning books, puzzle books or the Mensa test books. 

The courses are expensive and you probably will have forgotten a lot by the time 6th year comes around, so maybe leave them until then. Also you could try an ACER exam to see the layout and everything. Use the extra time to come to terms with the exam, learn what you are good at and weak at too. If it's possible, try to find out if there is anyone else in your year doing the HPAT. When 6th year comes, you should really try to form a study group. They are extremely beneficial and I can assure you that you will really learn a lot form others and how they approach questions.

The questions were answered by 2 students who have successfully sat the HPAT. The students preferred to remain anonymous. Their names are changed.

If you wish to contribute to the discussion, please email answer@625points.com

625 points Leaving Cert Notes
Leaving Cert Sample Answers and Notes




Get Excellent Free Notes From Top Leaving Cert Performers Straight To Your Inbox

* indicates required