Traffic Light UMAT Questions


Using A Traffic Light System To Maximise Your UMAT Practice

Dilshan Seneviratna

100th Percentile UMAT
USYD Science (Adv)/Medicine, Junior Medical Officer
MedStart Head of UMAT

Let me guess. You tend to spend most your time on harder questions you get wrong, spending spend little (if any) time on the questions you found easy. These easy questions deserve your attention though, for the simplest reason imaginable: The things you did on those questions … worked!

One hallmark of the UMAT is that harder questions almost never involve greater conceptual difficulty. All UMAT questions — regardless of difficulty level — are fundamentally based on the same concepts and skills. The key to solving hard questions is to analyse the methods that worked on easy questions and generalising the recognition and execution of these questions.

We’ve developed a Traffic Light System to help you do that. Let’s have a look at how it works.

What Is The Traffic Light System?

To optimise your UMAT practice, you need to break down UMAT problems into three ‘buckets’ that we label according to traffic light colours. These are green lightyellow light, and red light problems.

Not all UMAT problems are born equal. You need to identify your strengths and weaknesses, categorise particular problems with them in mind, and study differently for different problem types accordingly.

Green light problems are those that you can solve confidently, efficiently, and without hesitation.

Yellow light problems are those that  mostly went well, but that contained one or two specific ‘sticking points’ or ‘stumbling blocks’. These may have actually caused you to get the problem wrong, or they may have just made you hesitate for more than a moment. Or perhaps your first approach failed, and you needed a ‘reserve’ strategy to solve the problem.

Red light problems are those that you can’t solve without being walked through the major steps of the procedure. That is, you need to read through an answer key, step by step, and understand each step individually.

What Does The Traffic Light System Mean For Your Preparation?

A question’s categorisation according to the traffic light system has ramifications for how you should review that question.

Studying For Green Light Problems

Green Light UMAT Questions

Since green light questions are those you are most comfortable with, the strategies for studying these problems are to:

  • Document the strategies you used, as well as the clues ‘telling’ you to use them.
  • Generalise these ‘takeaways’ as much as you can.
  • Apply these lessons to other, more difficult problems.

Studying For Yellow Light Problems

Yellow Light UMAT Questions

By definition, these problems expose specific weaknesses or areas that need attention.

  • Document the specific stumbling blocks that made you hesitate or go wrong.
  • Derive a particular lesson from each one, of them form “if this, then that”.
  • Be able to complete the blanks in this sentence: ‘Next time I see _____________, I should _____________’
  • Drill these lessons by finding other problems to which they apply.

Studying For Red Light Problems

Red Light UMAT Questions

Believe it or not, your best bet for red light questions is actually to not invest any time at all, until you have a useful way of approaching them! So, your study strategies are to:

  • Leave these problems alone! If you study these now—while they’re still ‘red’—you’ll be wasting the question and your time.
  • Return to these problems later, when you are more familiar with the concepts (perhaps because you better understand similar yellow light questions).
  • Once they’ve become yellow light, because you’ve improved and better understand the areas of weakness that make these problems difficult, then derive take-away points as described above in the previous section.

Far too many students ‘review’ by following answer keys / other people’s explanations for all the red light problems, and just repeating those problems endlessly until they’ve memorised the entire problems. This kind of ‘studying’ is worthless — and, worse, you’re burning the most challenging problems for fuel.


You should spend more time reviewing questions you found easy, so that you can learn why you found them easy, and apply these strategies to harder questions. By using a Traffic Light System to categorise your questions, you’ll ensure that you get the most out of your UMAT practice.

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

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Dilshan Seneviratna

100th Percentile UMAT
USYD Science (Adv)/Medicine, Junior Medical Officer
MedStart Head of UMAT

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