Help! How to advise shortlisting for medical school

(62 Posts)
Poppiesarelovely Thu 08-Aug-19 17:07:20

Can I please pick the brains of parents who’ve been there!
My DD is about to start lower 6th, so we are starting to look more seriously at the options for applications. We live in N Ireland, so travelling to all of DD’s possibilities is just not practical or financially possible.
She is a high achiever, who is being encouraged by school to consider Oxbridge. But my question is how best to narrow down her choices, especially if Oxbridge means having to do the BMAT.
Would it be wise to pick 2 BMAT and 2 UKCAT? How does a student know if they are better suited to one test or the other?
Additionally, whilst she always considered an Oxbridge application, she has mentioned more recently that she might find it difficult being ‘average’ as she has placed 1st in her year since starting high school!

OP’s posts: |
titchy Thu 08-Aug-19 17:24:05

Look at BMAT and UCAT style questions. Which suits her better? That tells you which to go for - generally NOT both!

Do any of her A level subjects rule her out of some places?

How does she feel about problem based learning? Hospital experience from day 1 or happy to wait till year 3?

How does her existing work experience match up with what universities want?

Campus or city or small town or...?

Trawl websites, and MN threads, that should narrow it all down based on the best fit for her.

formerlondonlass Thu 08-Aug-19 17:28:25

She will need to get over feeling average fairly quickly if she wants to protect her mental health at medical school.

All medical students are high achievers and someone has to be in the middle, or even last.

No advice about BMAT/UKCAT as I'm old and didn't do them. Some will have a virtual campus you can look around, but to get a feel of the ethos of the place you'll need to wait until interviews.

Poppiesarelovely Thu 08-Aug-19 20:08:52

Thanks for your replies!
Her problem is that if Oxbridge doesn’t work out, there is only one other of the BMAT ones she’s interested in.
Yes, she has looked at the PBL/traditional/integrated courses and has ruled out PBL. Likewise, A-Level options will be biology, chemistry, maths and geography... so most/all institutions will work.
I feel like suggesting she drop the BMAT option, as there are probably 6-8 unis she likes with the UKCAT test, but I don’t want it to be my (bad) decision in years to come!

OP’s posts: |
HostessTrolley Thu 08-Aug-19 20:16:08

I wouldn’t just do the BMAT - only a very small number of medical schools use it, if it’s the only test she does, well the results are unpredictable and it’s a lot of pressure to put on herself for one day. Plus if you do the later BMAT sitting then you sit it after the ucas form goes in, so it’s a real shot in the dark.

My d sat her A levels this year so will find out next Thursday if/where she’s going to medical school. Hopefully either Imperial (BMAT) or Sheffield (ukcat) if grades are good - so we’ve been through the process recently.

My d was encouraged to apply for Cambridge medicine but chose not to - partly because they have no patient contact until year three, and partly because she didn’t think she’d get a good enough BMAT result so didn’t want to ‘waste’ one of her four choices. She sat the ukcat very early in July last year, she wanted it done while her head was still in ‘school’ mode before the summer break. Four weeks of medify, starting at a couple of hours a day for the first two weeks then increasing it for the next couple of weeks, got a better than expected mark. She’d chosen three ukcat schools to apply to, really wanted Nottingham or kings, and decided to sit the BMAT on a ‘ah why not’ whim, as she’d liked imperial when she went to the open day with her friends. When the BMAT marks came out (after the ucas forms went in) she’d done better than she thought - people with lower scores were getting Cambridge interviews but she had no regrets as she felt the course structure wasn’t right for her. She was lucky to get four interviews, received offers from three and was waitlisted for the fourth, but decided to withdraw from there as she was happy with the offers she had in hand and wanted to focus on revision.

There are lots of online resources to practice the entrance tests. Medify is great for ukcat as the interface and timing are the same as the real thing. For BMAT there is a published syllabus and past papers - my d felt that she ‘practised’ for the ukcat but ‘revised’ for the BMAT if that makes sense.

I’d strongly recommend looking at the student room forum for advice on shortlisting unis. Whichever medical school someone goes to, the qualification at the end is exactly the same, but competition for places is fierce, and each uni has their own way of deciding which students to interview. Some place emphasis on GCSEs marks where others just check that a boundary they’ve published has been met. Some rank purely on ukcat and interview everyone who scores above a boundary which is usually decided once the scores are out. Some score personal statements, other unis don’t even read them. There are people on TSR who will look at your daughters stats and say ‘with your gcse profile, ukcat and predicted grades, good options would be xyz university’ - because it’s best to apply ta tactically to try to get as many interviews as possible. There’s no point in applying somewhere she loves if her academic profile doesn’t fit what they’re looking for and she wouldn’t get an interview.

There’s lots of advice on applying for uni in general and applying to medical school in the higher education section here o Mumsnet x

HostessTrolley Thu 08-Aug-19 20:18:54

Also - no medical school requires four A levels. Probably better to spend her time getting the best possible grades for three, and using any spare time to do some reading/research/volunteering/work exp/EPQ etc

GoGoJo Thu 08-Aug-19 20:22:06

I agree with* hostess* I wouldn't only do BMAT as there are few options that use it and they are the most competitive. I would always recommend either only UKCAT or max 2 BMAT and 2 UKCAT unis.

If she fancies Cambridge she should go for it. Otherwise if she thinks she might want to work in London later then I'd try a couple of London ones as it does tend to lead to more opportunities that boost chances later on.


negomi90 Thu 08-Aug-19 20:28:41

I applied strategically. Applied to as big a variety of admissions requirements as possible - BMAT & UKCAT and none. Do both, so that if one goes one, you have a chance on the other. In the end I didn't visit any of the unis I applied for and it was fine. I got in.
She'll sink or swim we all do - I went from top of year in school to barely (and not always) passing in medical school. It was a horrific mental shock, but I'm on the other side now and I like being a doctor (most of the time).

SirTobyBelch Thu 08-Aug-19 22:11:33

If she does want to apply to Oxford she'll have to do the October/November BMAT (Oxford doesn't accept the August/September one), which means she won't have her result when she makes her UCAS application. Applying only to BMAT medical schools on that basis is recklessly risky. If she does do BMAT she should be advised very strongly to do UCAT, too, and to apply to no more than two BMAT schools. If there's a BMAT school that she really wants to apply to, though, it would be a shame for her not to have a go.

All past BMAT papers are available on the Cambridge Assessments web site. There are lots of practice questions and full timed tests available on the UCAT web site. It's very straightforward to see which test she feels she'll perform better in. However, she also needs to look at how the test results are used: a good BMAT score by itself isn't necessarily going to guarantee an interview at any BMAT school.

Four A-levels is rarely a good idea (unless one of them is the student's native or regularly-used modern foreign language, where an A* or A is pretty much guaranteed). Apart from the risk of dropping grades, it also uses up time that could be spent on gaining useful experiences through volunteering, community activity, coaching, mentoring, tutoring, etc. These are important for many medical schools, if not for getting shortlisted then for impressing at interview.

Out of interest, why has she ruled out PBL courses?

goodbyestranger Thu 08-Aug-19 22:26:17

OP DS1 was also (joint) top of his year. Both he and his joint top friend went to Oxford to read Medicine and have graduated very successfully with no angst about placing in each successive year. They remain very good friends as it happens and neither did UKCAT. Both did BMAT only and applied to the same four unis which required either BMAT or just filtered on GCSEs (both had 12 A*). Both did a large number of A Levels, DS's friend got four offers and he got three (Bristol rejected him on the first day without interview!). Both also ruled out PBL. Both are also now doing very well, having got their first choice of F1 placement in competitive areas. So - my advice would be to take advantage of being in a good place academically and not to overthink it or sell herself short. There's too much written on MN about how competitive medicine is and those who are strong contenders shouldn't be worried into compromising where they want to go - it's very, very competitive for some, less so for others. Your DD sounds as though she's at the end where she can afford to be more selective about where she applies.

goodbyestranger Thu 08-Aug-19 22:36:44

OP, just to add that DS1 didn't go to any open days except for the Oxford one and he only went to that because his school took the school minibus there and most of his friends were going and it meant two days off school and then a night at a friend's uncles house in Notting Hill. He reckoned he could see any other choices if they offered him interviews and other than that just read websites. We're not well placed geographically for lots of open days either and the school only allows two days off during sixth form for visits, so that was pretty much that.

Bimkom Thu 08-Aug-19 22:37:54

Question: somebody on another thread suggested that you didn't have to put all your choices on your UCAS form when first submitting it. ie that if you left a couple of choices blank, you could add them if they were before their deadline. If that is the case (and I don't know if it is true), if you generally preferred BMAT universities, but wanted a shot at Oxford, could you submit your UCAS form with Oxford only, take the BMAT, and then once you had your score, either add the BMAT universities you liked if you did well, or add UCAT universities instead if you didn't? Or is there not enough time after the BMAT comes out to meet the deadline for other medical schools, and not just Oxford? Having checked online, it would seem that the "October" BMAT in 2020 (ie for 2021 entry) is actually 4th November!
Or are all the other medical schools deadlines too early for this?

goodbyestranger Thu 08-Aug-19 22:39:33

Medical schools share the early deadline with Oxbridge.

goodbyestranger Thu 08-Aug-19 22:41:35

This year it's 30th Oct, next year it's 4th November

SirTobyBelch Thu 08-Aug-19 23:05:38

Both did BMAT only and applied to the same four unis which required either BMAT or just filtered on GCSEs (both had 12 A*)

But there aren't any of the latter any more. There are one or two that don't really use UCAT scores but you still have to take the test to be eligible. So not doing UCAT limits choices severely and is very high risk.

if you generally preferred BMAT universities, but wanted a shot at Oxford, could you submit your UCAS form with Oxford only, take the BMAT, and then once you had your score, either add the BMAT universities you liked if you did well, or add UCAT universities instead if you didn't?

No. You can't change your choices after the UCAS deadline. And if you do the October/November BMAT you won't even have taken the test by the UCAS deadline.

The BMAT date is usually the first Wednesday in November unless that's after the 5th, in which case it's the last Wednesday in October.

Bimkom Thu 08-Aug-19 23:57:09

The BMAT date is usually the first Wednesday in November unless that's after the 5th, in which case it's the last Wednesday in October.

Why do they set it so late? I would have thought it would be in Oxford's interests to reduce the number of unecessary applicants by having them know what their BMAT score is before they apply, rather than wasting an application, and them having to waste the time sifting these candidates out.

Bimkom Fri 09-Aug-19 00:02:13

Having looked at the two formats over the last couple of days DS is firmly of the view that he prefers the BMAT. He would much rather an exam based on knowledge than on answering rearrange the shape type questions under ridiculous time pressure. He thought that the BMAT logic and analysis questions were quite fun and manageable as well, but that the UCAT one, mostly because of the mindboggling number of them being asked within a tiny time frame just looked stressful. But it does seem clear he will need to do both!

Needmoresleep Fri 09-Aug-19 00:19:01

Taking BMAT without UKCAT is unusual, especially if you take the autumn BMAT exam. It is reasonably common to take UKCAT alone, but it means you cant apply to Oxbridge and some of the London medical schools. It used to be easier to get away with just BMAT but places like Bristol have changed their approach and now want a good UKCAT score. (DD crept in when they did not want either BMAT or UKCAT!).

Oxbridge offer a different approach. DD had patient contact in her first week. Oxbridge is regarded by some as more academic, and is six years rather than five, but some of the five year courses allow you to spend an extra year on an intercalation in your chosen speciality, not necessarily at the same medical school.

It is worth really thinking about what you want. Different does not mean better.

I don't get the 'only take three A levels'. If you are likely to get A* predictions and can manage 4, why not. DD took 5, played sport at high level, held a senior leadership role at her school, and did plenty of shadowing and volunteering. She was also up to date with Grays Anatomy and had time to hang out with friends. Medics are often busy people who are good at juggling. It does not necessarily help with getting in to med school, though may have been an advantage at BMAT. (DD decided that she did not want to go, and though many of her friends did, she has no regrets about branching away from the Oxbridge/London triangle.) The big advantage for her is that it gives her more intercalation options and would have given her a broader ranger of options had she changed her mind about medicine. Maths proved a big advantage in her first year.

In terms of choices it might be worth one aspirational, two achievable and one fall back. Each medical school selects in different ways, so strong GCSEs, strong A level predictions, and UKCAT and BMAT scores all come into play. DDs school normally advised against applying to both Oxbridge and Bristol as they were both competitive albeit in different ways. (Bristol's applicant to place ratio reached 17 to 1 before they started using UKCAT, in part becausethey were generous with contextual offers.) In contrast Queens Belfast has a good reputation but low applicant to place ratio, and probably lower still for students from England, so for students with the right profiles can be a fall back.

My advice is to start adding the different data to a spreadsheet so that your DC can start crossing off places that dont appeal or places who are looking for students with different profiles.

On MN it can feel as if everyone gets 4 offers. This really is not the case, even for students with top flight academics. It is worth treating it as a two year process, not least to help keep the pressure off in Yr 13.

SirTobyBelch Fri 09-Aug-19 00:20:04

The BMAT writing task is a major challenge to students doing all science/maths A-levels. Some medical schools don't take it into account but for those that do it's usually important to have done a lot of practice.

SirTobyBelch Fri 09-Aug-19 00:23:35

Why do they set it so late? I would have thought it would be in Oxford's interests to reduce the number of unecessary applicants

Oxford doesn't accept that the marks for the two sittings of BMAT are directly comparable. It therefore only recognises one.

HostessTrolley Fri 09-Aug-19 00:24:57

My (very basic lol) understanding is that the ukcat is about ability to think and make decisions quickly and logically under pressure, so it's testing potential and skills rather than knowledge/academic ability per se. Whether it actually does that is probably the subject of much debate. At the end of the day, to be realistically applying for medicine they’re all academic extremely able and have shown commitment etc, so they need to ‘screen’ candidates in other ways - they want people who are going to stay on the course and go into the profession, not drop out part way through if possible.

Poppiesarelovely Fri 09-Aug-19 06:37:04

I am finding this thread extremely helpful and appreciate all of your time, suggestions and advice.

Why doesn’t everyone do the BMAT in August? Is there something I’m missing as I thought it would be good to know the score before submitting applications?

Is there a central database where I can find out the ratios of applications/interviews or is it in each university’s webpage?

OP’s posts: |
Bimkom Fri 09-Aug-19 07:37:31

Oxford doesn't accept that the marks for the two sittings of BMAT are directly comparable. It therefore only recognises one.

I didn't mean why don't Oxford accept the August BMAT, I meant why is the November BMAT not a September/October BMAT - eg around beginning of October rather than round the beginning of November (ir however early it needs to be so that the results will be back) so students will be making informed choices. When I thought it was just Oxford with the early closure date, then I figured that, no matter how important, BMAT might decide not to arrange their schedules just for Oxford. But if every medical school is early, and the BMAT is for those wanting to get into medical school in that year, and cannot be used for the following year, why do BMAT not arrange for the second sitting to be just that fraction earlier?

Bimkom Fri 09-Aug-19 07:44:00

Yes I can see that the writing aspect of the BMAT could be a challenge for those (like DS) only taking science subjects - and English is not his strongest subject by a long way. But it feels to DS like it is a reasonable requirement, even if he will find it a bit harder (and he is thinking about an EPQ in a medical area of some sort, which will need to be written up). If one is going to research one does need to be able to write up the findings. He is not sure what the ability to rearrange geometric shapes in his head under speed will do to assist a medical career if he gets one - most people don't come in need geometric shapes, so even if he goes on to be a surgeon, he thinks working out that that bit of bone can instead go here instaed of there will need more than just rearranging geometric shapes. So it really will feel like jumping through hoops for no reason, as opposed to practicing skills that actually will be needed during the course itself.

fergusthefrog Fri 09-Aug-19 07:50:10

As someone who has literally just come out the other side of med school and started work two days ago (black Wednesday!) I have a few tips

- find a course she really likes. This whole dissection or not debate is pretty irrelevant in the end. I mean does she want to be in lectures all day vs more home study and group work?

- consider their Intercalation policy; Nottingham you get one thrown in but you don't get as much choice as other unis. You are allowed to leave and go to another uni in most cases but not all universities allow this. Ask if they allow external intercalation; it was a lifeline for some people who were homesick/ wanted to do something the uni didn't offer. Also as a NI student do you get intercalated degrees funded by student finance or not? We do in England but I'm not sure for you.

- crime rates where she might live. Liverpool and Manchester are fab but can be frightening. It's 5-6 years remember

- journey home. Believe me, the novelty wears off quickly of being far away

- what are the clinical placements like geographically? Does she need a car? I did and I didn't know this. Can you afford transport if she's in London? Can be ££. This also stands for accommodation- big variation!

- finally, look at the entry reqs and play to her strengths. I had a good UKCAT but poor AS levels ( back in the day!) therefore picked my unis based on those who weighted UKCAT more heavily.

I loved it. I chose my course because of the course contents but I was extremely homesick and can't say I enjoyed the place where my university was. Going 400 miles from home sounds like a great idea when you're 17 but the reality is I was 24 when I left with a boyfriend and family up north and me stuck miles away and could barely afford to go and see my family or was hard work!

On the upside, I didn't find medicine especially academically challenging. Some courses are more rigorous than most, mine honestly was pretty chilled. Best of luck

Join the discussion

To comment on this thread you need to create a Mumsnet account.

Join Mumsnet

Already have a Mumsnet account? Log in