Using Bubbles Correctly: One Simple UMAT Hack To Save You 15 Minutes

Ron Purewal

Standardised Test Expert
Stanford University
MedStart Senior UMAT Hacker

Did you know that one of the most effective strategies for improving your performance under time pressure in the UMAT is also one of the easiest?

It all revolves around using your answer sheet efficiently. Let’s look at how you can do that.

How Can You Lose Time By ‘Bubbling’ Answers Inefficiently?

Most test takers are shockingly inefficient at transferring answers to the ‘bubbles’ on the answer sheet. In fact, most people taking the UMAT follow exactly the worst possible protocol here: ‘bubbling’ (or colouring) one answer at a time.

By so doing, these test takers are forcing themselves to shift their gaze — and ‘get re-oriented’ — twice per question: from the test booklet to the answer sheet, then back again.

You’d be ill advised to ignore the cumulative effect of all these visual transfers. In fact, if you aren’t finishing the test, this is almost certainly the single most important reason why you aren’t.

If you don’t believe this, just calculate it yourself. Even if you take just four seconds to find your place and move your hand into position, the act of ‘bubbling’ individual answers still wastes a total of eight seconds per problem: 4 seconds from the booklet to the answer sheet, and 4 more seconds back.

Eight seconds times 134 problems is almost 18 minutes of completely wasted time… and that’s if you waste only four seconds in each direction.

If you have to physically rearrange your papers to mark the bubbles — for example, if you have to slide your answer sheet into position in addition to just moving your hand — then you’ll definitely need more than four seconds for each ‘transfer’.

If it takes you six seconds each way… bye-bye, 27 minutes.

If it takes you eight seconds each way… so long, 36 minutes… it was nice knowing ya.

You might think it’s crazy to think that the single best way to become more efficient at this exam is something as unimpressive as changing how you bubble your answers … but it’s absolutely true.

The Best Way To Use Your Answer Sheet

So, how should you deal with the problem posed above?

  1. When you finish a question, you should write the letter of your chosen answer directly next to the question number in the test booklet. Write the letters to the left of the problem numbers, since that space should originally be blank.
  2. Wait until you’ve done this for an entire page spread (2 opposite pages) before using your answer sheet.
  3. Then, transfer your answers from those two entire pages to the bubbles on the answer sheet all at once. 

Not only will this protocol save you a truly astounding amount of time, it will also virtually eliminate any chance of the dreaded ‘line skip’.

Every move between the test booklet and the answer sheet is another chance to accidentally skip a line. So, by going back and forth far less often, you’re cutting out 80-90% of potential ‘line skips’.

On top of that, by writing the letters of your choices directly next to the numbers, you’re also reinforcing the correct numbers in your mind — even further reducing the possibility of a catastrophic mistake. Even if you’re running low on time, you should NOT change this protocol. Just wait until you have 1-2 minutes remaining. At that point, transfer all your answers from the pages where you’re currently working and then fill random bubbles for any problems you don’t have time to try.

Remember, there’s no ‘penalty’ or ‘correction’ for wrong answers — so you should never leave anything blank!


This one simple hack could potentially save you well upwards of 15 minutes in the UMAT – and even more if you’re currently particularly slow with filling out your answer sheet. Make sure to put it to use!

You can find UMAT Hacks like these and more in our full UMAT Preparation Courses.

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Ron Purewal

Standardised Test Expert
Stanford University
MedStart Senior UMAT Hacker

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