Welcome to Oxbridge medicine!!

Oxford Dons’ take on interview process

Some great points in here on choosing a college….


– tourists or tranquility?

– how college tutors are pooled themselves

– Academic content is similar at every college, and you can always contact tutors at other colleges if you have a  specific question.

Upcoming BMAT

We’d like to draw your attention to a BMAT preparation advice entry…..


Choosing a college

Hi all,

We previously wrote a post on how to choose your college – http://oxbridgemedicine.com/which-oxbridge-college-is-for-me/.

Just wanted to make a slight addendum.

The above post relates mostly to quality of life or ‘best fit’ principles. I appreciate however, that for many people the most important thing is getting in…..anywhere. Certainly when I was applying I had a vague idea of colleges, and I found it useful going there to look at them all, but when it came to it, I would have been happy anywhere.

So here I give you a few more practical pointers about picking the college that will pick YOU.

Grades – assuming you all have the grades, then it is well worthwhile spending time researching the colleges in depth with regards to how they weight the BMAT/GCSE’s/A-levels. All of the colleges work hard together to ensure that a good candidate doesn’t slip through the net somehow (pooling system), but you should not waste a first choice on a college that places most weight on BMAT if you are feeling underprepared. This holds true for your GCSE results.

Topics – If you have been a budding researcher/ have done lots of work experience in a particular area, you may consider applying to a college where one of your interviewers has a similar area of expertise. They will not favour you, but it is only human nature that they will be impressed by your knowledge and dedication, particularly if it is what they have dedicated 15 years of their lives to. You may even find a kindred spirit and develop a real rapport with the interviewer in the short time that you have to be assessed.

Gap-years – some look particularly unfavourably on these. Almost all will want you to do something worthwhile.

Extra-curricular – This does matter. All of the tutors want candidates who will excel academically AND in their lives outside of study. From a practical perspective this means that you will cope with the course, and will add more to the student population. Everyone wants each candidate to get the most out of their Oxbridge experience, and so it is useful to know what a college has a particular reputation for. Some for rowing, some for music etc etc.

Your extracurricular excellence is not a substitute for academic ability, however, your tutors may be more sympathetic to particular activities or hobbies that particularly inpress them and make you an asset to the college.

Hope this helps

Hugh Stevens

Oxford and Cambridge Medicine – The Final Word

Medicine is one of the caring professions, operating under the umbrella term of careers where people are at the heart of what is important. Not returns to shareholders, not profit margins, but the patients and their health outcomes once they set foot into a care pathway. Nevertheless, any number of motivated and ambitious people, each with their own goals and priorities are attracted to this career. As a career, it combines a stable job with the promise of a continuing professional development, an ever-changing clinical landscape and both academic and clinical science to whet one’s appetite.

In fact, despite incremental decreases in Doctor’s pay grade and pension outlook, since 2001 the numbers of school leavers applying for the 150 places on the Oxford standard medical course has doubled from about 750 to more than 1500 in 2011; the number of applicants for the 30 places on the graduate-entry medical course is also about ten applicants per place (342 in 2011). So with hundreds of capable and suitable candidates, we ask who it is and what it is that makes the cut? How do medical schools approach the admissions process to  identify not only the academic criteria, but also the ability to interact and empathise with patients, crucial team working skills and the relevant problem solving and organisational skiing?

In recent years Oxbridge colleges have overhauled their own admissions process, partly in keeping with changing times and partly as a result of Laura Spence and tabloid sensationalism.  Academic excellence is not enough, nor is volunteering at the local charity cake store, but it seems that colleges have developed  a formula by which college tutors at least hope to make the process as fair as possible.

Every medical school has its own unique approach to admissions, combining the fundamental beliefs on medical education which its principals hold and the necessary fairness regulations to which they are held accountable. However, Oxford and Cambridge both make no apologies for the fact that they hope that their alumni will be among the high flyers of tomorow’s doctors, giving their typically elitist perspective to the heavily debated “does it even matter what medical school I go to?” It is felt that the strong scientific grounding that the course at Oxbridge provides will equip future doctors with the tools to excel in any field. Here we explain the matrix system by which Oxbridge accepts or rejects its students.

Taking Oxford as an example:

“Interviews for the standard course are therefore offered to ~450 candidates (i.e. ~3 per place) on the basis of an algorithm that uses two measures: their school academic achievement as represented by their GCSE performance (proportion of A*s (pA*)) adjusted for their school’s average performance (i.e. are they doing better or less well than the average at the school); and a biomedical aptitude (BMAT) test used by Oxford, Cambridge and some London schools, which has three sections — problem solving, GCSE science knowledge, and a short essay on a given topic — which is sat in early November. The data for pA* is very heavily skewed to the right; that for BMAT approximates to a normal distribution. The dossiers of all candidates who would not be offered an interview on the basis of the algorithm are sent to tutors who can ‘flag up’ candidates for whom the algorithm might be misleading by reason of disrupted schooling or other problems. These are then considered by a panel and the final 40 places determined on this basis. A similar process is adopted by the G-E course except that the algorithm is based on the UKCAT score and rankings by panels of tutors of the very diverse application dossiers which include those in the final year of undergraduate courses, through those with DPhils, and those with a wide variety of posteducation

working experience.”

(John Morris, Head of Preclinical medicine, Oxford)

Where many medical schools differ is the relative weighting of academic record versus the interview. Some use observed simulated tutorials. Most now use multiple mini-interviews given concerns about interviewer variance or differing ‘chemistry’ between interviewer and interviewee.  A number use some form of aptitude test.

Where Oxford and Cambridge differ is that they have both devised systems which equally incorporate their unique college structures.  Candidates can choose a specific college or allow the university central selection office to allocate them a college. To equalise the chances of candidate success, proportional balanced interview lists are produced centrally so that each college interviews about four times more candidates than it has places. To make the interview process unbiased by either the aptitude test score or any college preference expressed interviewers are not made aware of this information.  In Oxford, to overcome problems associated with single interviews, candidates are interviewed by two colleges , and by two panels in each interviewing college. At Cambridge however, candidates are only interviewed by one college.

“ Each interviewing panel consists of at least two interviewers and all candidates must be interviewed by both a practising clinician and a male and female interviewer. Each interviewer then evaluates the candidate in relation to a set of criteria — problem solving, ethical awareness etc.

Each college then produces a ranked list of the candidates it has interviewed; this is repeated at the second college. For the standard course ranking information is then shared, allowing the possibility of discussion (e.g. “why did you rank candidate A so low,  he/she did rather well with us?”); colleges then produce a second ranking based on all the interview information. Finally the BMAT/UKCAT scores are released, BMAT essays (which experience suggests are poor predictors) are made available, and each college produces a list ranking all those who it has interviewed. The office then links this ranking with the previously determined college priority; tutors are informed of the outcome and colleges contact candidates to offer places.”

Despite the vast amounts of research and effort that go into making the interview process as fair as possible and the undeniable facts that academic fortitude does not necessarily guarantee a good doctor, evidence from previous years strongly suggested that the chances of being offered a place can still be predicted from previous academic achievement.

Academic achievement is undoubtedly important, but perhaps less so than one might think. Surveys conducted among patients have shown that bedside manner is a far more important indicator of the perceived value of a clinician versus the number of degrees on their wall. Indeed, there is a stronger correlation between litigation or negligence cases and how ‘liked’ a doctor is than their clinical capabilities as assessed by peers!!

These paradoxes present a dilemma for the prospective Doctor – is there time best spent helping Grannies cross the road, or swatting up in the library and performing research.