10th November 2017
This guide is taken from the Know How Library, a tool on the Unifrog platform. Not sure whether to take the ACT or the SAT? Or how to give the perfect Oxbridge practice interview? The Know How Library is an easily searchable library of 100s of expert guides for both students and teachers, covering every aspect of the progression process. It is included as standard for Unifrog partner schools.
- Subject choices
When picking your A Level / IB / Pre-U options, be very careful. Often Medicine courses have very specific subject requirements (as you can see from the examples below) so it is imperative that you check course websites to ensure you do not waste an application.
The vast majority of medical schools require a combination of Biology and Chemistry. The third option does not necessarily have to be Maths or Physics; other essay subjects like English Literature, History, or a Modern Language can be equally desirable.
Bristol University requires Medicine candidates to have studied Biology, Chemistry and one other laboratory based science subject (ie. Physics) at Sixth Form in order to apply.
For Birmingham University, if a candidate’s third subject is Physical Education, Theatre Studies, Dance, Art or Music, then a fourth academic subject is required at Sixth Form.
The A Level entry requirements for medicine vary from AAA – A*A*A. This is a tough goal, so you need to be realistic with yourself from the start. You need to sit down early on and consider whether these grades are achievable; you cannot get onto an undergraduate medicine course without them.
- Choosing your medical school
The key bit of advice here is to play to your strengths. Ultimately, you will leave any course with an equivalent primary medical qualification, so the advantage of studying at a ‘better’ university is much less than it is for other courses.
For example, if you’ve done really well in the UKCAT, use this to your advantage and apply to the schools that have a high weighting for this in their application process. If you look on a course website and see that their UKCAT cut off score is usually above what you achieved, don’t risk it.
Wherever you apply, ensure you fulfil ALL the entry requirements for that course. You can only apply to 4 medical schools (unlike the usual 5 choices for other courses) so it’s even more important that you don’t waste an application if you don’t have the right GCSE grades, or the necessary UKCAT score.
Location is an important factor to consider for any degree course. However, becoming a doctor will take upwards of 5 years, so you must be certain that the university is somewhere you want to live, as well as study.
- Work experience and volunteering
For a vocational course like Medicine, work experience is an essential part of your application. It shows you are aware of the practical element of the course, and that you are committed to the medical career that is expected to follow.
Admissions tutors are interested in work experience for two main reasons: it shows a candidate has made a commitment beyond their school studies, and it will improve the candidate’s understanding of the subject. It is not necessary to have loads of amazing names and placements on your Personal Statement - what you have learnt from your experience is more important than the experience itself.
Volunteering is generally much easier to get than work experience, but all the same it helps to think outside the box. Your experience does not have to be specifically medical. Helping out with St. John’s ambulance, or volunteering at a care home would be great, but assisting in a charity shop or tutoring younger students also show a desire to help others. With volunteering, it is better to do small amounts consistently over a year, rather than a one-off week, as the former demonstrates long-term commitment.
Work experience in a medical setting can be very tricky to get. Don’t expect just to turn up at your local clinic and automatically find a week shadowing a GP: this part requires preparation and persistence.
Write emails to local practices, or to work experience coordinators at hospitals. There will be a lot of students looking for hospital experience and placements can be very competitive; you normally need to write a convincing cover letter and CV to explain why you would suit the opportunity.
If you’re lucky enough to find work experience, DO NOT waste the opportunity. Keep a diary throughout your time, writing down what effect the experience has had on your own desire to become a doctor. The main objective here is to come away with a better understanding of what you want to do within the profession, and concrete, personal examples of how the experience reinforced your desire to pursue a career in medicine. This diary will be invaluable when writing your Personal Statement or doing interview preparation.
- Admissions tests
All undergraduate UK medical schools require you to do one of two admissions tests: the UKCAT or the BMAT. Different medical schools use these in different ways, with some operating ‘cut off’ marks to exclude the weaker scoring applicants, whilst others simply view it as another section of your application to be assessed alongside your interview, exam results and Personal Statement.
The UKCAT is used by the majority of UK medical schools.
- It is a two-hour computer test, comprising of 5 different sub-sections: Verbal Reasoning, Decision Making, Quantitative Reasoning, Abstract Reasoning and Situational Judgement.
- The exam does not require knowledge of the curriculum. Instead you will be relying on your ability to quickly process, interpret, and analyse new information.
- You need to register for the test on the UKCAT official website during the summer preceding your application.
- This is also where you’ll find resources like example questions and past papers.
- Further preparation should be done with the use of dedicated books of practice questions. Some companies offer courses, or online question banks, but be aware that these will only be helpful as a general practice, and will not provide you with any special expertise or knowledge that couldn’t be acquired online.
- You sit the exam in the summer holidays before you apply on a date of your choice at a local open test centre, and you will receive your results straight away.
The BMAT is only used by a few universities. For 2018 applications, the universities which require the BMAT are: Brighton and Sussex Medical School, Imperial College London, Lancaster University, Royal Veterinary College, University College London, University of Cambridge, University of Leeds and University of Oxford.
- This is another 2 hour exam, but it’s a traditional pen and paper test. It consists of a one hour aptitude and skills section, a 30 minute science section (testing your GCSE science and maths knowledge) and a final 30 minute essay question.
- You register for this exam through your school or on the BMAT website. Tests are generally sat in November.
- An important piece of advice: sitting the BMAT in November means you will not have results until after you have applied, so be careful not to apply to more than 2 BMAT universities. If you don’t perform as well as you would like, you don’t want this to entirely scupper your chances of reaching medical school.
- The Personal Statement and Interview
Your Personal Statement and Interview are the parts of the application which will make you stand out as an individual. Until now you’ve been applying with statistics, but here you can really show admissions tutors why you are uniquely suited to their course.
The first draft of your Personal Statement ideally should be finished before September of your final year at school. The UCAS deadline for Medicine applications falls in October, and you don’t want to rush this key part of the process.
Look at the department websites to gauge what the admissions tutors want to see in their applicants. If they’ve mentioned that they need to see evidence of work experience, extracurricular activities, or practical medical skills then include them!
Ensure that when you read your Personal Statement back, it answers the question ‘Why are you perfect for a degree course in Medicine?’ Each example you include of volunteering, work experience, academic achievement, sport, drama or music needs to be evaluated and discussed in a way that answers this question. You only have 4000 characters to work with so you don’t have space for irrelevant details or waffling.
Try to give an idea of the specific field you see yourself entering. It will demonstrate that you are serious about pursuing Medicine if you have a clear plan for the career that could follow.
Instead of: “I want to help people and I’m interested in biology so I would like to be a doctor.”
Try: “I have always coped with high intensity situations. I have a deep curiosity for human biology, and in particular, the inner workings of the brain. This, combined with my desire to help others, is why I aspire to a career in Neurological Surgery.”
Interview preparation can be done with the help of books, friends and teachers. Ask a friend who’s also applying if you could give each other practice questions, or try get a teacher to provide you with a mock interview.
There are always some standard questions you should be prepared for, like ‘Why do you want to be a doctor?’, or ‘Why choose medicine over nursing?’ but you shouldn’t just stick to practising these. There are many different potential interview formats: in a multiple mini interview (MMI) you will be asked to move around stations and role play situations whereas in an Oxbridge interview you will be asked longer, more scientific questions which will test your ability to form a logical argument.
For more information on acing the Medicine interview, check out Unifrog’s article Medicine interviews: Overview.