Tips for applicants/mentors to medicine at Oxbridge, Imperial, UCH.

(90 Posts)
jamesforsythe Tue 23-Jan-18 15:29:08

Medical School at Oxbridge or Imperial/UCH

I'm a consultant dr. and my wife is a former dr. and admissions at Imperial Medicine and hence I am asked a lot about getting into medicine at Oxbridge, Imperial and UCH. I cannot speak for the many other excellent schools.

Firstly, Maths & Chem. both required - 3 &/or 4th A level grade A
(usually 4 A levels 2 x A* 2 x A, 1 x A if strong suite of GCSE's
(12A*/A is typical)

Re : Physics vs Biol A level. Biology is no better than Physics because no complex human biology is taught on any A level syllabi, which is why the gear-change in complexity once at med school in Biochemistry and Physiology slightly throws some candidates in year one.

Also, many applicants are thrown by the ubiquitous use of Applied Maths in modern medicine and research. You cannot really fudge your way here if you're just average at maths. But, you can apply for teaching support - in your limited extra time.

At Oxbridge, Imperial and UCH all that stuff about sport etc is cool but it is secondary to being truly excellent at maths and all sciences,having a superb school report - and having done some reading into medicine. IE at these schools you will very likely be questioned on what you claim to be interested in. Eg: An applicant claiming to be interested in Psychiatry as a career might reasonaly expect the question : may we discuss book(s) you have read?

But - note this well - the more difficult the questions are getting at your interview, the more interested the faculty is in you. If you've really done some reading into a field, they'll be impressed, provided you've understood it (even some of it)

Lastly, it's true: getting into Medicine is harder than the degree. Medicine is lots of hard work but, it's not as intellectually demanding as for example - the Cambridge Maths Tripos
- I know because I switched from that to medicine myself!

Good luck to all med school candidates and their parents.

OP’s posts: |
goodbyestranger Tue 23-Jan-18 19:08:19

james DS1 was offered places at both Oxford and Imperial but didn't do Maths at AS or A2 and has been absolutely fine (Oxford incl scholarship from Y2 and in his sixth year at the moment having enjoyed the entire course enormously).

Also, Oxford does really prefer Biology, if you read the website.

(I think you said elsewhere today that your DD was an Oxford medic too, so surely you know this confused).

Skiiltan Tue 23-Jan-18 22:24:45

None of these medical schools require maths A-level. Both Imperial and UCL require an A* and an A in chemistry and biology (either way round); the third A-level can be an A in anything apart from general studies or critical thinking. UCL traditionally preferred the third A-level to be a non-science subject but I don't know whether they still have this preference. Oxford requires A*AA in chemistry plus one from maths/physics/biology plus any subject apart from general studies/critical thinking. Cambridge is more rigid: A*A*A in chemistry plus two from maths/physics/biology.

All medical schools' entry requirements are summarized in a booklet published by the Medical Schools Council:

I do agree with the OP that biology A-level isn't particularly useful. There is much more human biology in PE A-level, but we're all creatures of habit and go on including biology in our required subjects and not permitting PE as an alternative. Anyone who struggled with GCSE physics and didn't take it at A-level is going to find some bits of medicine difficult to grasp. But then, pretty well all medical students have A-level chemistry at grade A or better but they look completely blank when you ask them to comment on redox states, bonding or organic structures. It seems to be most students' life mission to forget absolutely everything they learnt for A-levels in the 4 months between finishing A-levels and starting university.

Mrsramsayscat Tue 23-Jan-18 22:44:03

I'm not surprised at that. The way knowledge is taught and test encourages it.

titchy Wed 24-Jan-18 08:29:27

Maybe OP has a potential medic and wants to reduce the competition by stating untruths? wink

finnto Wed 24-Jan-18 09:10:15

It sounds as though JF has his ducks and ducklings in an immaculate row and is just trying to help, Titchy.

finnto Wed 24-Jan-18 09:15:46

Would be great if the JFs could use their considerable clout to lobby for much needed change in the med schools admission system. It's all over the place - much like the reorganised NHS post Lansley!


Pythonesque Wed 24-Jan-18 09:27:56

My husband teaches pre-clinical students. One of his frustrations is that many seem to have "switched off" so far as mathematics is concerned. A lot of the time he wants to show them things mathematically that they are all capable of following, they just don't believe they can. Even if you haven't done A level maths, what you have learnt at GCSE will be important as part of your scientific tool-box.

Needmoresleep Wed 24-Jan-18 09:43:02

Titchy, I am not sure if maths is required, however I think it is right that OP limits his tips to four BMAT medical schools. DD's academic secondary sent the majority of its medics to those schools, and admission seemed to focus on grades, academic reading, and strong BMAT.

What OP does not mention is shadowing or volunteering. Observation suggests that he is correct and that these schools give less weight to practical experience than some others. DD was too ill to sit BMAT and without a great UKCAT, found herself applying to schools that focused on the Personal Statement. (Luckily she had ticked the boxes on volunteering, working in a care home and three good sets of shadowing.) Her PS, based on the guidance provided, was very different from those produced by her peers. Bristol, where she got an offer, gives contextual offers of AAC, so several grades lower than Imperial/Cambridge.

I would also agree with OP that maths seems to be important wherever you go. Maths A level is not required for DDs course but she is glad she has it, as it has been the bit of the first term that others seem to have struggled with.

OPs post is a useful reminder that aspiring medics need to consider their strengths, and look for fit. And that if you have very strong academics these four schools are ones you might aim for. Remembering that it is far from uncommon for bright students with near perfect grades to be accepted by Triangle schools yet be rejected by Bristol, UEA or others.

I have no idea which approach produces the better doctors!

ProfessorLayton1 Wed 24-Jan-18 10:24:59

Does anyone know if medical colleges consider FM as a subjec ( would be 4 th A level)?
Dd was not very clear what she wanted to do - after carefully considering her choices she has decided she wants to do sciences ( either Natural sciences or Medicine ).
She has not done any work experience for Medicine as she has vehemently said no to this before. She is applying to our local hospital for WE and is going to ask our local NH to volunteer for the next few months
She knows that she is starting this process late and also realises how fierce the competition is!
Any tips on how to prepare for BMAT?
This may suit her if the universities mentioned above don't place much emphasis on WE.

goodbyestranger Wed 24-Jan-18 10:43:10

ProfLayton DS1 had no preparation help at school or from outside providers and we're a non medical family so no-one available to help here either. When he went to the Y12 Open Day at Oxford the tutor giving a talk recommended a BMAT preparation book as being the best way forward. As far as I recall DS told me the tutor had written or co-written or edited it obviously not saying he had a vested interest smile. But that was all DS used and he scored very highly in the BMAT. Be wary of expensive courses, they don't seem to correlate with high scores.

ProfessorLayton1 Wed 24-Jan-18 11:47:01

We are not planning to send to any courses unless she wants to - haven't looked into any
Everyone seems to go to medlink but she has missed that as it was in December
I believe if you prepare too much for the interview it will come through in the interview- may not be in your favour

finnto Wed 24-Jan-18 12:03:43

"He wants to show them things mathematically that they are all capable of following, they just don't believe they can"
This demonstrates the problem we seem to have with maths in the UK. Pupils suffer from lack of confidence, particularly those from the state sector.
My DC's secondary recommended maths A level to prospective medics as it had had little prior success with the Bio, Chem plus an arts' subject combo. However, all the rigorous subject applicants have suffered from conservative grade predictions this year. (All pupils have racks of As at GCSE) And in retrospect, my DC would have benefitted more from Bio, Chem plus Music or History combo, as it would have resulted in a greater chance of the crucially important AAA predicted grades which gets you through initial sifting to med school interviews.
He did very well in the UKCAT quantitative reasoning section - eighth decile - so has the requisite basic cognitive powers, I would imagine.
But it's a big leap from GCSE to A level maths, even for A grade students. My DC did not receive tutoring for his GCSEs. Tutoring, with wisdom of hindsight would have put him on more of a level with his private school counterparts and most of the wealthier students at his comp, who seemed to be more than a year ahead at the end of yr11. It's just another example of how the state sector pupil is disadvantaged in the med school application scrimmage. It's a bloody expensive business. We could afford to send him on two campus visits, only. There are travel grants and lots of leg up schemes, but many JAM and even MC families, come in just above the threshold for eligibility. You really do have to be on Skid Row/benefits/v.v bad neighbourhood to qualify. I would like the med schools to look at standardisation of the application process. The Med Schools Council should follow the lead of the Sutton Trust and university staff unions in calling for an end to predicted grades. (They are wildly inaccurate and there's abundant evidence that while med schools use them to exclude applicants at the first round, they do admit dropped grades after the offer confirmation stage.) These minor adjustments would go some way into making the medical profession more representative of the population it serves.

goodbyestranger Wed 24-Jan-18 12:11:09

finnto I know there's a disproportionate number of private school DC at medical school but our school had a good track record of getting DC in and plenty of those (incl DS) don't trail around the country doing visits. Indeed they're allowed a max of two days off for uni visits so that's a good deterrent in itself. The only Open Day DS went to (like a number of his peers) was the Oxford one which didn't cost anything because the school minibus drove them and a lot go just because it's a good day out with friends. If I relied on what other MN DC do in terms of visits I'd have freaked out and felt under serious pressure. On the maths front DS didn't find himself struggling at all, simply founds the statistics a bit dull. I don't think it's rocket science level maths at all.

finnto Wed 24-Jan-18 12:35:02

How many pupils does your school get in per year, goodbyestranger?
How does it achieve this, do you think? My DC's school gets only one or two per year. One of these successes is usually a foundation (extra year) student with a reduced grade offer. I read that 50 per cent of state schools don't send anyone at all!

Needmoresleep Wed 24-Jan-18 12:51:21

DD just went to open days at two local (London) Universities. Helpful in that it help crystallise what she did and didn't want, but this was only because they were close and she could go on her own. The priority is to apply to places who might accept you, and in DDs case there were not many, so no need to visit first. You usually get a campus tour with the interview, which helps should you end up with a choice. But other than that you don't need to have been to an open day, especially if money or time are tight. (Her school also limited days off to one or two.)

And again, and OP's post is helpful, apply to your strengths. Many applying to the Universities he mentions will have very very strong academics. If predictions are low, apply to schools that are balancing academics with other attributes. For example high UKCAT or lots of volunteering/shadowing. FWIW DDs impression is that not that many of her cohort at Bristol are from private schools. Instead quite a lot from the north and from NI, quite a few who are the first from their school to go to med school for a while, some with non-traditional backgrounds/access courses, with graduate students and internationals thrown into the mix.

I think it is good that different medical schools employ different approaches. There are lots of different roles in medicine and lots require skills other than being super clever. Courses seem to be very different. DD was having placements from her first week, which does not happen at Oxford. Teaching seems to have started (at least) in a more gentle fashion, and she has 12 week terms not 8.

I think it would be a real pity if a standardisation was applied which meant that only applicants who had top grades or a top UKCAT score could be considered. Interestingly some of the schools who are perceived to have gentler entry requirements (Bristol, SGUL to name but two ) seem to do pretty well in terms of graduate outcomes.

ProfessorLayton1 Wed 24-Jan-18 12:54:23

I have had a look at UKCAT and BMAT questions.
Prefer BMAT questions - of course I haven't done a full paper and it was only a glance. You could see how a strong maths would help you here.
Can't make head or tail out of UKCAT questions though!

goodbyestranger Wed 24-Jan-18 12:56:30

I'd say ten would be a usual average finnto, so approximately 10% or slightly less of the cohort. We've had very good A level teaching in Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Maths for a decade or so which has to be the key I'd have thought. Beyond that I don't know because the school itself recognises that it hasn't given additional help to medics in relation to admissions tests etc. The Head of Biology does do a practice interview for those about to go to one but beyond that I think it must just be good teaching. I don't know how this would change if the school lost its good teachers for whatever reason; they're not easy to replace where we live (we're a bit out in the sticks - another reason for visits being difficult).

ProfessorLayton1 Wed 24-Jan-18 13:03:34

Agree with you Needmoresleep - you do need doctors with varying skills and attitudes and the current selection method is not a bad thing.
Only disadvantage is that you should read the admission criteria for a number of universities your child is interested in and apply accordingly.

We are not planning to go to many open days - our local one ( which she won't apply as she wants to go away ) so she gets know what being a medic involves and may be another one or two( one of them will be a London College as some her school friends from the year above are at London so a good day out) colleges.

I dreaded this scenario with her choosing medicine as a last minute option - well, we are here to support our children.

we have been realistic with her regarding her chances and have explained that she may have to take a gap year!

finnto Wed 24-Jan-18 13:40:27

Goodbyestranger: An average of ten per year is an outstanding result.
My DC rates his STEM teachers. They are all highly qualified and got him through GCSEs with A stars. All go the extra mile with after school clubs etc. What I've noticed is that there's been a gradual increase, generally across subjects, in staff turnover in the past couple of years. Some of the older staff members are leaving. It's a very highly regarded comp which has had its budget slashed over this period, meaning key staff look stretched to breaking point. It could benefit from a full time UCAS coordinator who could provide BMAT prep, research opportunities, step in at Yr12 to identify anyone falling behind etc. But I believe this sort of provision is harder to find in the state sector than a dancing unicorn in the current climate.

alreadytaken Wed 24-Jan-18 16:13:07

I think I've said before that my own child was asked at Cambridge about their work experience. I remember them being asked about one of their slightly unusual experiences, about how they found their hospital work experience and also at least one of the medical school standard sort of questions about a doctor patient interaction. They also got one of the sort of questions you read about in books like "Tell me about a banana" and some other searching questions. Not true that all Cambridge colleges ignores WE, I cant speak for Oxford.

There are 1500 extra medical school places in 2018 and although the number of applicants picked up this year it had been declining for the previous 3 years (possibly longer, I could only look up that long quickly). It is getting easier to get into medicine.

Some people spend a fortune on tuition for their children/ interview courses and so on. It builds confidence but probably not much else. We passed the books our child used on to their school library. Old versions are in some public libraries, there are free online papers or questions even if most of the sites that offer them hope you'll sign up for paid courses.

Cambridge has the shadowing scheme for people interested in seeing the course, although you wont be allowed to attend dissection. Eton does a medical careers day that was upon to anyone when I last supported an applicant for medicine

Most medical schools have an outreach programme - including Imperial and UCH

For any potential applicant with determination and initiative there is quite a lot of help. For those that cant attend open days there is the student room website where you can pick up interesting snippets from those who did attend.

I have known a number of applicants from low income families who have had offers from several medical schools, including Cambridge, and been able to choose.

This thread seemed a bit depressing - applicants need initiative and determination and if they have that and seek help they will find it. Late decision makers are a bit trickier, they need to research more intensively and perhaps with more parental help.

finnto Wed 24-Jan-18 16:39:14

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Needmoresleep Wed 24-Jan-18 16:41:58

Bristol contextual offers go to pupils of the 40% lowest achieving schools. Not all very very disadvantaged.

Skiiltan Wed 24-Jan-18 16:50:54

Slight correction, alreadytaken. There are 500 extra places for 2018 and a further 1,000 for 2019. Some of the extra places in 2019 are likely to be in new medical schools: where these will be will be announced in March. A small number of places for 2018 will be at schools that didn't already take UK students: the University of Central Lancashire (Preston; only open to students from certain parts of NW England) and Aston (only open to students from the West Midlands on Aston's dedicated widening access programme). There are also 50 new places for graduates only in a rural programme run jointly by Dundee and St Andrews.

The number of 18-year-olds in the UK will reach its lowest in 2020, when all these new places are on-stream. So you are correct that - statistically, at least - it is becoming easier to get into medical school. Young people are also slowly grasping that medicine is not currently a very good career choice, which might push applications down a bit further.

finnto Wed 24-Jan-18 16:55:21

Posted too early! There are still over ten applicants per place for most med schools and the numbers applying are in an upward trajectory.
You have to have three A grades predicted in the hardest subjects. You must ace the UKCAT and BMAT .- most people take both. Your personal statement is scored for shadowing, community involvement, extra-curricular, academics, and some additionally insist on months of work in a care setting. Then you've got to shell out for rip off train fares to visit four med schools. (Once to do a recce, and then again, if you get an interview. ) Parent usually has to get time off work to attend. Yeah! It's a piece of cake.

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