Before the introduction of the UMAT as a component of university entrance requirements, the sole criterion for entry into medical or health science degrees was final year high school (Year 12) results. A consortium of universities found this criterion too restrictive, as it did not reflect all the qualities required to successfully study and practice medicine. Consequently, the UMAT was introduced to assess the qualities deemed by ACER and the UMAT Consortium universities to be important to the study and practice of medicine and the health sciences. These qualities include: critical thinking and problem solving, ability to understand people, and abstract non-verbal reasoning.
The 2005 UMAT consisted of three sections:
A candidate's UMAT score consist of three numbers, one for each section of the test, as well as a percentile ranking (out of 100) for each section. These UMAT scores are valid for 2 years.
The nature of the UMAT is quite different from typical school examinations; academic brilliance does not necessarily equate to an outstanding UMAT result.
The UMAT is now an entry requirement for all UMAT Consortium universities, which constitute the vast majority of medical schools in Australia and New Zealand. Each university determines its own cut-off scores for UMAT results (based either on the "raw" section scores or section percentiles, depending on the university), obtaining the results directly from ACER. In determining whether or not a candidate should be awarded a place, most universities also take into account a structured or semi-structured interview with the candidate, as well as Year 12 results. The University of Melbourne, the University of Queensland and the University of Otago (except for Dentistry, Pharmacy and Physiotherapy) do not use interviews as part of the selection procedure.
Due to its inclusion as a mandatory admission requirement into medical and health science courses, as well as the highly competitive nature of entry into such courses, there has been some controversy regarding the UMAT's relevance, structure and necessity.
ACER do not release their marking and scaling procedures. As well as this there are a number of different test booklets, with many of the questions uniquely appearing in one. From other tests administered by ACER (e.g. the Programme for International Student Assessment, PISA), it is known that ACER likes a simple version of item response theory presumed to correct for varying item difficulties. The accuracy of this scaling is, however, disputed.
Although ACER does not endorse any preparation course, a number of schools and organisations provide UMAT preparation/training courses. ACER has explicitly stated that no intensive preparation is advisable or necessary for performance in the UMAT. The cost of attending these courses may vary, ranging from AU$200 to in excess of AU$1000, all presented with each of their own preparation package to go along with the course. These vary from standard binded question books to online log-in practice tests.