What you need to know when applying to study medicine
Applying to medical school can be complex. Find out everything you need to know about the process in this helpful blog, and how our expert consultants can support you at each stage – including the medical school interview – in this helpful blog.
If you’re applying for a medical or health-related degree, you’ll read or hear the acronyms BMAT and UCAT, which may confuse you.
They’re both tests and all applicants are required to sit one of them in the summer or autumn a year before the course starts. Alongside medical school interviews, the results of these tests help universities differentiate between students who may have identical qualifications.
The rationale behind these tests is that medical schools historically have so many well-qualified applicants that it was becoming increasingly difficult to differentiate them, hence the introduction of an additional admissions test to select the very best candidates. Interviews have been a staple of the selection process for a very long time, but such additional testing is newer.
So, what are they, how do they compare with each other, what do they involve, and which should you take?
What is the UCAT?
The University Clinical Aptitude Test (previously known as the UKCAT) is taken by students applying for courses in Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences and is designed to test clinical aptitude and cognitive abilities. The UCAT is composed of five sections:
- Verbal reasoning
- Decision making
- Quantitative reasoning
- Abstract reasoning
- Situational judgement
This is a very different type of exam to that normally sat by students in the UK. Firstly, it is computer-based and secondly it is a multiple choice test. This means therefore it is immediately different to most, if not all, tests and exams sat by students in British schools, and therefore it requires very careful preparation and lots of practice. The sections themselves also test skills that are quite different to those examined in traditional exams, such as abstract reasoning. You must also get used to using a calculator on a computer screen for relevant quantitative questions, and this in itself requires practice!
Each section is timed and ranges between 14 and 32 minutes (with an extra minute per section to read the instructions). The first four sections each carry 900 marks and the average score is around 650. The final section is banded 1 to 4 with band 1 the highest.
Twenty-six universities, including King’s College London, Durham and Edinburgh require the UCAT. Some stipulate a minimum score, and others don’t.
Some, such as Newcastle, make selections by comparing the score against other applicants, while others, such as Keele, reject the bottom 20% of scores. Universities such as Warwick work from their own system.
Clearly the higher the score the better, but a score of at least 700 in UCAT should put you in a good position, depending how the medical school in question weights the UCAT score.
Registration opens in May and the test is sat between July and October, prior to the UCAS deadline. There is a charge of £70 to sit the test (£115 if you’re from outside the UK). You will be given your score immediately, before you leave the test centre.
What is the BMAT?
The BioMedical Admissions Test is for applicants for courses in Medicine, Biomedical Science and Dentistry at certain universities including Oxford and Cambridge, University College London and numerous medical schools overseas. Some universities, such as Keele, require domestic students to take the UCAT and overseas students to sit the BMAT.
The BMAT is a two-hour pen and paper test divided into three sections:
Section one is a one-hour aptitude and skills test consisting of 35 multiple choice-questions on critical thinking, numerical and spatial reasoning and problem-solving.
Section two tests scientific knowledge (to GCSE standard) and applications. You have 30 minutes to answer 27 multiple-choice questions.
The final section is a 30-minute writing task which tests your ability to select, develop, organise ideas and communicate them effectively. You complete one writing task out of three options.
Answers to sections one and two achieve one mark each before being converted to BMAT’s scale, which runs from one (low) to nine (high). Typical applicants score five. Section three is marked by two examiners – one is looking for quality of content, and the other marks the written English.
The test is sat in August and October and scores are released three weeks’ later. This means those sitting the earlier test will know their results prior to applying to medical school and those who sit the later test won’t.
Oxford University only accepts the BMAT if it’s sat in October. The test costs £61 to £95 depending on when you take it and, again, financial help is available.
Which one should you take?
Generally, all medical and dental applications should take the UCAT as you receive your results straight away. If your score isn’t very high, you can strike universities off your list that are unlikely to accept you, and apply to those with less demanding requirements. You can also sit the BMAT too. Many people sit both tests in order to increase their options.
Some people consider the BMAT a superior test because it is asked for specifically by a number of London medical schools as well as both Oxford and Cambridge. This is not necessarily true, as the UCAT is a very good discriminator indeed, and the medical schools that use this test are first-class institutions. Indeed, many students find the UCAT a trickier test to navigate because it is so different to any exam they have sat before.
A key advantage of the UCAT is that you can sit it well in advance of your medical application deadline and steer your application to certain medical schools accordingly, depending on your result. Some students understandably take the UCAT very late on as they want as much practice as possible, but this will depend on the student.
Taking the BMAT on its own, especially in October, when you’ve already applied to medical colleges, can be a risk. However, if you have your heart set on the universities that require the BMAT, it’s a risk worth taking!
How can you prepare?
UCAT and BMAT test skills that, theoretically, you already have. The best way to prepare is to practise with old papers and you can find these on the websites: UCAT is www.ucat.ac.uk and BMAT is www.admissiontesting.org. Both sites also include preparation videos, tips, resources and suggested revision timelines.
However, you could also enlist the support of our medical school application consultants here at William Clarence. They will not only help you prepare effectively for whichever of the examination pathways you choose, but also guide you on the written application and medical school interview process to boost your chances of getting your desired place!
Simply get in touch with our team today to arrange your free consultation, and we’ll be delighted to discuss options with you.