Welcome to Oxbridge medicine!!
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- Medicine at Oxbridge
Welcome to Oxbridge medicine!!
The biomedical admissions test was created in 2005 as a standardised aptitute test to distinguish between candidates with similarly high examination results in the most competitive universities such as Oxford and Cambridge for subjects such as Medicine, Veterinary Science and Biomedical Sciences.
It was designed to test qualities which are not easily discernible from the GCSE and A-level results such as logic, scientific thinking and rational, structured reasoning. Acendotally, this exam is considered to be difficult by even the most able of candidates and is practically impossible to complete.
For students who are accustomed to finishing and perfecting every exam this can be a daunting experience. However, the marking is such that the scores as relative to all the other candidates sitting the exam giving the universities a clear idea where along the normal distribution a particular student lies in terms of aptitude in these domains.
The exam is typically set at the beginning of November, with results becoming available online a few weeks later. Oxford and Cambridge will receive these results directly from the assessors to give them time to use the results to decide on candidates for the December Medicine interview.
Dates for 2011 for BMAT:
BMAT exam: 2nd November
BMAT results: 23rd November
The exam is split into 3 sections, totalling 2 hours.
Section I is a test of Aptitude and Skills over 60 minutes, with 35 questions. It is a multiple-choice section testing logic, critical thinking and reasoning. These questions are unlike any seen in the A-level and GCSE exams and can resemble the kind typically seen in IQ tests. The following is a sample question from section I:
Oakley is west of Carson, which is west of Newton. Earith is east of Carson and west of
Wembourne must be east of:
A Carson, but not necessarily east of Oakley or Newton;
B Newton, but not necessarily east of Carson or Oakley;
C Carson and Oakley, but not necessarily east of Newton;
D Oakley and Newton, but not necessarily east of Carson;
E Carson, Oakley and Newton.
Our advice would be to limit the time spent on each question and to move on quickly to the next if you are spending too long on a single question. As many of these are based on intuition and quick, logical thinking, and spending longer than 2 minutes on a question suggests that you are overthinking the question and that you are less likely, under the pressure, to get the right answer.
We would also advise to draw diagrams and write down figures wherever possible. Visual aids in conceptual questions such as this can be very helpful.
Preparing for this section is purely a case of practice, practice, practice, and further down we have a list of books we recommend.
Section II is a Scientific Skills and Application and lasts 30 minutes for 27 questions.
These questions are multiple-choice and require knowledge in Physics, Biology, Chemistry and Maths up to GCSE standard. Two sample questions are shown below:
3 A resistor of resistance 1.5 kΩ has a voltage of 30V applied across it. What is the current
through it? (Give your answer in amperes.)
4 The pH of arterial blood is 7.4. Which one of the following is the likely pH of venous blood?
With 30 minutes for around 30 questions we advise spending no longer than 1 minute on each question. In order to prepare for this section we would advise looking over those subjects which you are not currently taking at A-level. Physics GCSE formula sheets can be useful to familiarise yourself with the basic laws of physics if you are not currently taking Physics A-level, for example.
Section III is the Essay task. This lasts 30 minutes and you will be required to choose 1 out of 4 titles to write a concise, clear and logical essay showing off your skills of reasoning and your use of appropriate scientific language and knowledge.
This is a difficult task for many science-orientated students who would never normally be required to write an essay. Re-learning essay writing skills as learnt in GCSE Enlighs and History can be very useful, and again, repeated practice of these techniques is essential .
A little learning is a dangerous thing.
Write a unified essay in which you address the following:
Explain what you think the author means by this statement.
Advance an argument against the statement above, i.e. in support of the proposition ‘a little
learning is not a dangerous thing’.
What do you think determines whether or not learning can be a dangerous
The titles are generally extremely broad and allow for a great deal of different opinions and discussion. The key is to plan your essay carefully. Start with an introduction where you describe the scope of the question, Then move on to the pro’s and con’s, concentrating on both individually and using evidence where appropriate to back up your arguments. Conclude by saying which side you feel has stronger arguments and why, and finish off the essay as elegantly as possible.
Remember you only have 30 minutes, and although you can be preliminary notes, your actual essay is limited to one A4 page. Quality is far more important than quantity here; from an examiners point of view a short, concise, slick piece of writing is much more enjoyable and impressive than a long, drawn-out essay with few salient points.
Scoring for section I and II is out of 35 and 27 respectively, and these results are converted to a score from 1-9 with one decimal place. Results are standardised to fit a normal distribution curve for all the applicants with a mean score of 5, where 6 is a score given to a very able candidate.
Section III is scored from 1-5 with a score A,C,E given for use of language and communication skills. Marks are given by two examiners and averages are taken, so that a candidate may score a 3.5B for example.
According to Cambridge Assessment the examiners are intructed to look at the following when deciding on scores:
o rephrased the proposition or explained its implications;
o set out reasonable or plausible counter-propositions;
o proposed reasonable ways of assessing the competing merits of the propositions
o or resolved their conflict logically?
In the 6 years the BMAT universities such as Oxford and Cambridge have relied heavily on the BMAT as a means of distinguishing between straight-A students. Our experience is that both Oxford and Cambridge take BMAT scores into account more than perhaps the previous AS results, as these can change by re-taking modules. Indeed, we have found that it is very difficult to get to interview without BMAT scores which are at least greater than average. The BMAT scores combined with the GCSE results seem to be the strongest objective indicators of the likelihood of students getting to interview.
The following graph shows the 2005 sucessful to unsuccessful applicant BMAT scores for section I and II in Cambridge. This graph is typical of subsequent years.
As a point of interest, retrospective analysis of the predictive value of BMAT scores in the 1st year Veterinary and Medical examinations in Cambridge in 2007 have shows a stronger predictive value of part II of the BMAT for higher performance in the 1st year exams. In particular, the section II scores seem to predict quite strongly both the highest and the lowest class degree.
How can I prepare?
We advise you start practicing as early as possible to give yourself the best possible chance of performing on the day. There are several BMAT preparation books on the market which can also be useful and these can be found on amazon. Your school may also have copies of these books in your library.
The official Cambridge Assessment BMAT preparation book:
How to Master the BMAT:
Let us know if there are any other useful BMAT sources and share them here
The time of year has come around where you need to be doing some serious thinking about your UCAS form. Getting the right mix of academic, extracurricular and work experience information into your personal statement is crucial. You can have all the A*’s in the world, but that may not get you past the first hurdle if you can’t articulate how strong a candidate you are. Medicine is getting more and more competitive every year, and it’s a sad truth that many capable, diligent candidates don’t even make it to interview because they didn’t approach their application seriously enough -so showing due care when it comes to your personal statement is of utmost importance.
It’s mid-September now, later than I have written this piece in the past, but hopefully your school will have given you some useful advice on how to approach your personal statement, and here I aim to provide you with some details on the medical personal statement specifically.
Have you thought about what your reasons are for doing medicine? You will be asked this time and time again – from the personal statement, to the medical school interview and onwards for the rest of your career. You have to convince the reader is that you are someone who wants to help others, gets on with others but also that you are intrigued/attracted to/ideal for a lifetime pursuing a scientific path. Medicine may be very practical, but as an undergraduate you must display an interest in human science – this is particularly important for Oxford and Cambridge medical schools.
For most people, this will tend to be the bare bones of the first paragraph. If you have another great reason then share it, but know that you must be prepared to be grilled on this in an interview if your reasoning is eccentric or unconventional. I know of some people who over-weighted the idea of helping people in their personal statement, and were pointedly asked why they weren’t becoming aid workers, and others who over-emphasized the academic side and were duly grilled about their lack of compassion. Getting the right balance is crucial.
1/ Your first thoughts when you entered this world don’t necessarily have to have been “I want to do medicine.” People have lots of varied and good reasons for wanting to be Doctors, and many applicants seem to believe that they will be disqualified from this unless they say that they have wanted to be a doctor since age 5. In many ways it may show that your decision was more mature and considered.
2/ Beware the epiphany – People’s reasons for doing medicine are weird and wonderful, but beware saying that you had a dream or saw a man die and therefore want to save lives. The universities may feel that this is a little impulsive and may also doubt your soundness of mind. Many people have grown up around infirmity or had a particularly difficult experience as a child and subsequently decided that they want to make a meaningful contribution, but this is completely different from the “evangelist’s approach”. Medicine is a life choice and not something to be taken lightly. See the section on work experience.
This is an area that you should not need to comment on. Your grades are self-evident, and your referee should know to discuss your academic aptitude in their part of the statement.
Your work experience –
If you are applying to medical school this year, then by now you need to have conducted some work experience!
Now I know that it is incredibly difficult to get any work experience for young people these days unless you have family connections. Hospital trust administrators are notoriously pernickety (something which will undoubtedly plague you for the rest of your career) requiring mountains of paperwork before you even get near a hospital – but persistence is the name of the game here, and if nothing else it shows that you have the motivation to overcome adversity.
You need to have done some work experience to show that you understand the realities of medicine – this is a career that is not for everyone, and you must demonstrate that you understand all of the implications that illness and infirmity can have for an individual and their families, and thus can understand the importance of your decisions and demonstrating a keen sense of empathy. Furthermore, you actually need to make sure that this is the right thing for you. 6 years is a long time studying, and 30 years practising is even longer, so make sure you like the idea of working with people from all walks of life, and that you can stomach the idea of your Saturday night spent in A&E and a lifetime of studying!
Most medical schools will like you to demonstrate what the work experience meant for you. Whether it was a liver transplant, excision of big toenail or groin swab that you have seen, what did this mean for you? What have you learnt from the experience, and how did your perceptions change from when you first entertained the prospect of studying medicine?
The T-word – sigh, the word team is an over-used, but highly important word in medical school interviews and personal statements. Do you really know what an MDT is (mutli-disciplinary team for the un-enlightened)?
I am sure this is no news to you, but no one is going to let anyone into medical school if they don’t realise the importance of the nursing staff, the physiotherapists, the occupational therapists and the rest of the hospital staff. If you are mean to nurses they will bite. FACT. It is the nurses who will save you when you do your first on-call night 6 years from now and can’t quite work out what to do with this urine specimen or that blood form. They will be your best friends, so neglect them at your peril.
EXTRA-Curricular – This is your chance to wow us all with just how awesome you are. Whether you are the world underwater chess boxing champion, serious gamer or Greco-Roman wrestler extraordinaire, be sure to mention this and what you have learnt from it.
The personal statement is an opportunity for you to display a small part of your personality and to shine. Why would you study for 13 years and then not give due care to this snapshot of your life. It doesn’t have to be the most mellifluous piece of prose, but it certainly should capture the reader’s attention. Be succinct and make sure you aren’t shy – if you aren’t prepared to let the reader know about your hidden talents or display your passion for medicine, then there is a strong chance you might not get that medical school place you deserve. Get writing early, and show it to your reference writer as soon as possible. Good luck!
Tom is an Oxbridgemedicine tutor and studied at Oxford.
This is possibly one of the areas that people give least thought to when making their Oxbridge application for medicine. Whilst most of your teaching including lectures, labs and demonstrations will take place centrally taught by the medical school and you will only have a few tutorials with your college tutors per week, the college is still the place where you will live, sleep, eat and make friends for the duration of your time there.
In the final 3 years your friends become very ´medic-centric,´ as your old college friends willl most likely have left and gone to London or further afield, and you will also be posted on out-firms in various locations throughout England. But in the first few years, the college you belong to is fairly important.
This character of each of the individual colleges is very different, ranging from some of the older and grander, to some of the much younger modern looking pieces of modern art (sometimes more of a 60´s architectural monstrosity than modern art in my opinion). Wherever you go, you can guarantee that the people will be friendly and you will be able to find like-minded people. This is the beauty of intellectual hotspots such as Oxford and Cambridge. Debate, pontifications and even rants can be found everywhere from the college tutorial to the college cafeteria.
But each college differs in size, provisions and demographic and this can dramatically alter the landscape for those first few years
– how many people do you want around you on a daily basis? If you prefer to be left alone or are a blossoming socialite you should
consider how many undergrads you will be surrounded by.
-How self contained? Some of the colleges are particularly impressive for how many different clubs and societies they have, and the strength that the JCR can have in college decisions. This can be great, but can get claustrophobic for some.
– What are your interests? If you are really into rugby, you might want to consider a rugby college. If you really like rowing, you might want to go to a rowing college. Find out. It makes sense.
– To live – in or to Live – out? One of the biggest regrets that people have about their college is not finding out whether there college can guarantee a room for all 3 years, or whether they may have to live out in 2nd year. Many students prefer to live out with a few friends in this year, and then return to college for their final year, but it can be quite financially penalizing. If you sign a tenancy agreement for 1 year you are locked in to a year of rent, whereas the Oxford and Cambridge terms are only 8 weeks long, and the Colleges will usually have you pay only 27 weeks at a relatively favourable rate
– Hall? Is your college hall operating an opt-in or opt-out system. This can actually make quite a big difference financially, as through either forgetting to opt out every day, or through a slightly screwy rebate system, you may end up paying a lot.
– Where is the college located? This really shouldn´t make a difference, but when you spend 24 weeks a year in an incredibly small place, you sometimes wish you had chosen that college which was 2 minutes closer to the centre of town than you did. A consideration if you are as lazy as I was.
– On site facilities? Does the college have sports pitches nearby or on the site, or is it a 30 minute bike ride. It makes quite a difference. Will there be kitchen access for you and a bar which can delight your palate.
There are a million and one considerations to make when choosing a college. I am sure you won´t regret what ever choice you make, but the above are some of the things I had known when I was applying. Please find some youtube videos and virtual prospectuses below which might help you make the decision, but ideally you should get up there and try to speak to the students.
James Oliver, Oxbridgemedicine.com
First and foremost, congratulations on getting the grades to get in to Oxbridge to study medicine. Whether it´s Oxford or Cambridge, UCL or Leeds, the new A* system certainly spices up the exam results day.
So what to expect in your first week? Most of the colleges will have you arrive in your parents´ packed-to-bursting-point cars at some point in the week before term formerly begins – known as 0th week (take heed, this is a week that may plague you for the rest of your university career with collections being a regular fixture). Whilst bidding farewell to tearful mums you will normally be greeted by the college freshers scouts who will show you to an over-sized bay-windowed room where you will spend the first year. From then on, you can expect champagne and canape receptions, pub quizzes and themed nights out for the rest of that week. For me however, there was one moment that sticks out – the first meeting with the college tutors. I have asked all of my friends about their individual experiences, and each unanimously described a scene of 5 or 6 nervous freshers sipping awkwardly on a glass of wine in an opulently decorated study filled with an intimidating array of books (not to mention the stuffed puffer fish that my tutor fondly held in his). It´s paramount not to embarrass yourself here, but in general the tutors are happy to see you and keen to work with you – remember they are already predisposed to your charm as most will have interviewed you 10 months previously.
And the rest of the term?
For medics at Oxbridge, there is a lot to stuff into 8 weeks. DR (dissection room) demonstrations and anatomy may be especially difficult to stomach on the Thursday morning, after the Wednesday night and after the 5am session on the river. Whatever you are into, this first term will be something of a blur as you charge through the krebs cycle and all the biochemical pathways at breakneck speed, acquaint yourself with Nernst and Professors Hodgkin and Huxley, and discover just how hungry the smell of formaldehyde makes you before lunch. Just get your essays in, enjoy your tutes and try to get on with the other medics in your college – they are your most useful allies!
Allow yourself to make use of the plethora of experiences, clubs and societies that University life has to offer. Formal, tutes, Hall, Porters, cuppers and grimacing gargoyles are all terms with which you will rapidly become au fait, but enjoy the first impressions. But REMEMBER! Medicine is a demanding course and beware the follies of over extending yourself!! No one wants to be hauled in front of the dean to explain the effects that their excesses might be having on their studies, or have to sheepishly confess to your tutor that the essay that was due last night is in fact non-existent.
Enjoy, and I wish you the best of luck.
Oxbridge Medicine mentor
After a tough run-in to your AS levels, first and foremost be sure to give yourself a break. The most important thing to consider is to be well prepared for the next academic year, and for the interview season to come. Medics tend to be well rounded people, and the Summer is the best time to pursue all of those extra-curricular activities which you have (most probably) been neglecting during exams.
However, as you bask in the wonders of a British Summertime (!) it is worth considering some light reading to bolster your knowledge – the kinds of interesting facts which might just help pull you out of a tight spot come the beginning of December.
So what should you be reading?
When I applied to medical school there were a few ‘standard’ text which everyone read, the tutors assumed you had read, and consequently these are worth perusing – if only for peace of mind.
1. Oliver Sachs – The man who mistook his wife for a hat.
A fun read, outlining some of the most weird and wonderful cases that Dr Sachs came across as a Neurologist. Prosopagnosi and neglect to name but a few.
2. V.S. Ramachandran – Phantoms in the Brain.
Of Ted Talk and the Reith lectures fame, V.S. Ramachandran is another Neurologist providing a compelling read. A favourite among non-medical school applicants too!
3. Ben Goldacre – Bad Science –
What Oxford and Cambridge medical tutors are looking for in applicants is a critical mind. This book begins to ask the kinds of questions you will be asking as a Doctor providing a critique of primary research, but targets some of the murkier areas of “medicine” – namely nutritionists, drugs companies etc. A lovely book which anyone with an interest in Science might benefit from reading.
4. Baroness Susan Greenfield – Tomorrow’s People: How 21st-Century Technology is Changing the Way We Think and Feel
As a student at Oxford, Baroness Greenfield always used to be cropping up on the news, on the radio and at various talks. A controversial figure who seems to like the limelight, and I am certain made my tutor scoff into his tea regarding some of her views on more than one occasion. Nonetheless this book is a fun read, taking a view on what our ipods, playstations and iphones are really doing to our physiology. While you may not agree, it covers some basic physiology which will provide a potential Oxford or Cambridge Medical student with concepts that they can then read up on further.
5. Matt Ridley – Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters
My tutor recommended this to me, and it doesn’t disappoint. With a little more substance than some of the other ‘pop-sci’ books, it is an interesting read, and perhaps also explaining why it doesn’t have the same sales as some of the other more readable books. It provides a multitude of little anecdotes and a nice historical perspective.
So there we have it. If you are lacking in imagination, or your hours are not already filled with work experience this Summer, here are some books you might like to browse through in the coming weeks.
Disclaimer – Beware anything written by Richard Dawkins. I quite like his ideas, but some of the Oxbridge Dons don’t really see him as a real scientist. So beware turning up at interview with assiduously prepared Dawkins quotes!!
By John Milne
p.s. Here’s a video to keep you ticking over….