Welcome back to another blog post in our Oxbridge Resources series! Following our blog post on the personal statement, we will now be giving you some advice and top tips on how to prepare for the BMAT. Buckle up, whether you’re thinking of applying to Oxbridge or any other universities that require the BMAT for that matter, and be prepared to get some pearls of wisdom on how to excel at the BMAT thrown your way!
(Disclaimer: As awesome as we feel this blog is, it doesn’t guarantee you an amazing BMAT score and still requires you to work hard and make the most of the tips and practice available!)
What is the BMAT?
The BMAT, also known as the Biomedical Admissions Test, is one of two entrance exams required by eight UK medical schools as part of their admissions processes. BMAT is the entrance exam required for Oxbridge and a couple of other medical schools whereas UCAT is the entrance exam required by the majority of other medical schools. In this blog, we will be uncovering what this four-letter mystery word is and how we would recommend you to go about tackling it and getting a great BMAT score which will boost in your application to Oxbridge!
BMAT is an online exam that lasts 2 hours overall and is often completed in your local test centre (usually your school). There are usually two sittings (this year only one, the November sitting, due to COVID-19) normally around about August and then October/November. It is an exam divided into three sections which we go into a lot more detail about in the next section.
For more information regarding the exam, we would recommend you to check out the BMAT admissions website. The link to the website is as follows: https://www.admissionstesting.org/for-test-takers/bmat/
What sections are there?
The BMAT consists of three sections:
Section 1: Thinking Skills
This section is multiple choice and is designed to test generic skills in problem-solving and critical thinking. In many ways, this section is similar to the Verbal Reasoning and Decision-Making sections of the UCAT and hence having prepared for the UCAT can be helpful for section 1 of the BMAT but taking the UCAT is by no means necessary!
Section 2: Scientific Knowledge and Applications
This section is multiple choice and tests the ability to apply scientific knowledge typically covered in school Science and Mathematics by the age of 16 (i.e. GCSE, IGCSE or IB). The topics you will be tested on include Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry and Biology. These could cover any GCSE exam board, so there might be elements which you might not be so familiar with you will have to learn. Don’t fear, though! CGP has once again come to the rescue by making the Assumed Knowledge Guide for Section 2, which is a CGP guide for section 2 of the BMAT! We’ll talk about this amazing resource further in the blog post but here’s the link to it on their website: https://www.admissionstesting.org/for-test-takers/bmat/preparing-for-bmat/section-2-preparation/
Section 3: Writing Task
This section tests your ability to select, develop and organise ideas, and to communicate them in writing, concisely and effectively. You must complete one writing task from a choice of three questions, which could be medic, philosophical or science-based.
In terms of timing for the BMAT, it could be argued that the BMAT is less fast-paced and frantic compared to the UCAT but getting an idea of the timings you have available per section is still incredibly helpful! We go into detail regarding this below:
It is made up of 32 questions, with 60 minutes to complete the section. Therefore, you have about 1 minute 52.5 seconds to complete every question. This is not the most time-pressured section, but it may take longer for you to work to get the final answer. We’ll go into more detail about how to tackle this section later on!
It is made up of 27 questions, with 30 minutes to complete the section. This means you have just under 67 seconds to complete every question. This section is slightly more time-pressured than section 1, so you will have to make sure to keep track of time and approach this section with an effective strategy. We will reveal our section 2 secrets later on!
30 minutes to complete one A4 essay. This is the least time-pressured section, and it could be considered as a “nice” way to finish the exam. It’s important that you practice and prepare properly though and we’ll let you know how to split your time up effectively later on!
How is it scored?
As well as getting an insight into how the timings for each section work, it’s important to know how the exam is marked so that you can maximise your marks and give yourself the best chance possible in the admission process! We have detailed this below:
Section 1 and 2:
Questions in both of these sections are worth 1 mark each. Your total marks are then converted to BMAT’s scale from 1-9 (1 being the lowest, and 9 being the highest) which compares your results relatively to everyone else who has sat the BMAT. Typical BMAT test-takers will score about 4.0-5.0, which is roughly half the marks. The best test-takers will score about 6.0, and a few exceptional test-takers will score higher than 7.0.
This section is marked by two examiners, and each one of them gives you two scores: one for the quality of the content (on the scale of 0-5, 5 being the highest), and one for the quality of written English (on the scale A, B, C, D, E; A being the highest).
Then, the two marks you get from both examiners are combined. If the two marks are exactly the same or only one mark apart, then you would get a score of the average of the two marks. In terms of quality of written English, if the two marks are exactly the same or only one mark apart, the scores are combined as follows: AA = A, AC = B, CE = D and EE = E.
For example, a writing task given a 4C by one examiner and 4A by the other will get a final score of 4B. A writing task given 3C by one examiner and 2C by the other will receive a mark of 2.5C.
If the discrepancy is larger than only one mark apart, the writing task is marked by a third examiner, and then the final mark is checked by the Senior Assessment Manager.
A breakdown of the results of everyone who took the BMAT last year is as follows:
We also have over the graphs copied about BMAT that are specific to Oxbridge applicants and the scores that are “required” for a strong application. (NOTE: Remember that other factors of the application process such as GCSEs are also taken into consideration!)
This graph shows the BMAT scores of all the students who applied to Oxford converted into ‘Oxford score’ which weighs the sections in the following way: Section 1=40%, Section 2=40%, and Section 3=20%:
Section 1 & 2: These are originally reported on a scale of 1-9. One mark is removed from this score (to give a scale of 0 to 8), and the resulting figure multiplied by 5 (to give a score out of 40).
Section 3: The ‘Quality of content’ score is multiplied by 2 and added to the ‘Quality of English’ score (with A=5, B=4, C=3, D=2, E=1, and X=0). This gives a score out of 15, which is converted to a score out of 20 by multiplying by 4/3.]
General tips for preparing for the BMAT
- Practice as much as possible – The more questions you come across, the more experienced you will be at tackling different scenarios and hence it will definitely help you a lot when you come to the real exam.
- Practise little (or lots if you’re feeling like it!) and often – This will help you build what you are learning into your long term memory so that you will be better prepared when it comes to the exam. This is much better than leaving everything to the last minute and cramming.
- Don’t wait until you have revised all of the content before you start practising. You should begin getting a feel for the questions from when you start revising, as this will help you spot what areas you need to focus on the most.
- Practise the topics that you find most difficult first – As you revise, you should ask yourself what topic would most annoy you if it came up in the exam tomorrow. Then, you should revise those topics to maximise your chances of getting the answer right. Something you could do is to draw up a list of all of the topics and rank them so that you can prioritise your weaknesses first to make the most out of your time revising.
- Make a plan – Structuring your revision will help you keep track of your progress and allow you to make the most out of the time you’ve got before the exam. This will also allow you to see the trends of your results and can guide you on whether the way you are working is effective or not!
- Reflect upon your mistakes – As good as it is to do practice, with anything, if you don’t have a look at your mistakes and reflect upon how you could improve and learn from them for the future, you won’t gain too much out of it! We would, therefore, recommend you to understand why you have made a mistake so that you don’t repeat it by grasping a better understanding of the topic in question.
- Be prepared to manage your time but also take care of your mental health – While preparing for the BMAT, you will probably have other commitments to balance as you will be submitting your UCAS application and will still have to keep on top of your schoolwork. This means that you will have to make time to prepare for the BMAT, but also make sure you take a break and try not to get too overwhelmed by the process and have an effective way of coping with stress such as exercise, doing things you enjoy and talking to your support network, etc.
- Stamina – While practising, make sure you keep the conditions as similar as to the actual exam in terms of trying out at least a few full past papers (doing all three sections with very short breaks in between) so that you can build your stamina. You will thank your future self when you sit the BMAT as you will need to have the strength to plough through all three sections on the day. Every time you finish a section, it’s worth reminding yourself that there’s nothing you can do to change what you’ve already done, so you might as well forget about it and carry on with a positive mind-set to get the highest score you can.
- Practise on paper – This links back to the point that you should aim to recreate the exam conditions while you are preparing for the BMAT. While online resources can be really useful, you should make sure you print out a few past papers and do them so that you can familiarise yourself with this format.
- Enjoy it! – Although it may be a stressful and overwhelming time if you see it as a challenge that you are working towards and try to compete with yourself or even your friends as to how many questions/past papers you do a day, that can help you stay accountable and keep you motivated which is really helpful!
- Do the questions you find easiest first – Some questions might take a bit longer than others depending on what style of questions suit you. Still, we would recommend you try tackling the questions you find easiest first and leaving any questions you may find more difficult to the end so that you have more time to do them and have built your confidence having answered the easier questions.
- Don’t get too bogged down on questions you don’t know – Every question is worth the same, and they’re all one mark in section 1 and 2! Therefore as well as tackling the questions you find easiest first, don’t be afraid to skip questions that you feel will be time-consuming/you don’t have a clue about and leave them till the end as this will be more effective in maximising your final score. Remember, there is no negative marking!
- RTFQ – Read the full question! You should make sure you know what the question is asking and what you are expected to do, as this will increase your chances of getting the question right. Understanding key bits of the question can be helpful in allowing you to pick out the useful pieces of information amongst distractors.
- Use the multiple-choice options – After reading the question, check the options and see if there are any that are clearly wrong. For example, some might have the wrong units, or give a result that is much larger or smaller than you would expect by estimating so you can immediately rule these out. Especially if you don’t have that much time left this can help you make a more educated guess.
- Estimation – For the logic questions in section 1 and the questions in section 2, this can be a useful technique to speed up processes. If used alongside effective mental maths that was mentioned above, it can help maximise your efficiency. We’d recommend this technique especially if the answer options are more spaced out, which leaves more room for error but will allow you to roughly arrive at the final answer more easily.
- Educated guessing – It is likely that you will be pushed for time, especially in section 2 and it’s important to remember that the exam is about maximising the number of marks you can get. Therefore, if you don’t know an answer for certain but are beginning to run out of time, we would recommend that you start making educated guesses by using methods such as estimation and by using the multiple-choice options on offer!
Tips on how to tackle each section
Now we’ve enlightened you with some general tips on how to prepare for the BMAT as well as some exam technique tips; we’re going to go into the nitty-gritty details of how to tackle each section! So alongside the general points, we mentioned these are some additional tips we feel will be helpful in tackling each section:
- Understand the different types of questions asked in section 1 – Realising what types of questions are being asked can allow you to understand what strategy to use to tackle a certain question type. There are two main types of questions asked in section 1, and within those, there are subtypes of questions which we have outlined fully below:
- Strengthening & Weakening
- Reasoning Parallels
- Critical Thinking:
- Problem Solving:
- Repeating Patterns
- Spatial Reasoning
We understand that this list of topics might seem daunting, but don’t worry
as you can find a more comprehensive explanation as to what each of these types of questions involve on BMAT Ninja – a fantastic BMAT resource that both of us used to prepare for the exam and would definitely recommend!
(NOTE: Ali Abdaal, if you manage to come across this, we’d be more than happy to be offered some sort of sponsorship deal or even just get the chance to meet and talk to you! 🙂 )
- UCAT prep can be helpful – The questions in BMAT section 1 are very similar to those found in the VR, and DM sections of UCAT so don’t toss away any notes you may have taken for the UCAT away too soon!
- TSA questions – If you use up all the section 1 past paper questions, you can also check out the TSA past paper questions as those questions follow a very similar style.
- Look for what the question is asking first – Instead of reading all of the information provided chronologically, you should understand what the question is expecting from you first. This will help you save time as you will be able to pick out only the data that you need while avoiding any distractors.
- Check out the assumed knowledge guide on the official BMAT website – You should use this to guide your revision as it contains all of the content you need to know inside out for the exam. Even better is that it is made by CGP, so it is in an easy to digest format!
- Focus on the topics that come up the most often – Looking back on the BMAT past papers, you might realise that there is a trend as to what topics always come up, which will help you structure your revision. By doing this, you will make sure that you maximise the marks that you get as although there may be various different things that appear in the BMAT specification there are some topics that often reoccur and if you know them thoroughly and have practised properly so should be able to get these easy, reliable marks.
- Practise mental maths –The BMAT is a non-calculator exam, so being quick at mental maths will save you a lot of time on the day, which you can spend on answering other questions. You should aim to know your times tables up to 15, the square of numbers up to 20 and the cube of numbers up to 10. Also, learning fractions can be really helpful as well as knowing their conversions to decimals, especially when estimating or using the answer options available. This will help save time. The link to an effective website that can help train your mental maths ability is as follows: https://www.mathtrainer.org/
- Don’t be scared of the Physics questions! – We understand that many of you may not have done Physics since GCSE and may not have even enjoyed it but don’t worry at all as with effective practice it can actually turn out to be one of the easier topics!
- While you might feel tempted to skip and guess all of the Physics questions, this is definitely not a good strategy as you will be losing valuable marks that you might have got by memorising a few simple equations and plugging some numbers into them. Both of us found the physics questions the easiest having not done A-Level physics as it just requires regurgitation of knowledge so, who knows, you may even end up enjoying physics again!
- Know your formulae – Memorising and being comfortable using all of the formulae required for the BMAT will help you save precious time which you can then use to answer other questions which may require more application of knowledge. Making a list of all of the formulae you need to know will ensure you don’t miss out any of them.
- Make a plan – This is one of the most important steps as although it may take a bit of time to formulate a plan it gives structure to your answer and allows you to have more flow in your essay. We’d recommend that you spend around 5-10 minutes trying to make a detailed plan and if you do this, this will allow you to write a lot faster and to the point such that you maximise your marks and don’t waste the limited space.
- Answer all the sub-questions within the main question – Typically, the essay choices will be a quote followed by three mini sub-questions that make up the question. It is very important that you answer each of these sub-questions in a relatively equal manner as well as presenting a balanced argument as this is required to score at least 3 out of 5 which is a good score.
- Summarise the initial statement effectively – One of the sub-questions will be about summarising the statement. You should aim to not only rephrase the statement that you are given in your own words but also explain your understanding as this will help you guide the examiner through your reasoning from the start of the essay.
- Have structure – If you structure your essay using your plan such that you have arguments for and against the statement as well as your own opinion, this will naturally shape a strong essay.
- Have a strong conclusion – As tempting as it may be to sit on the fence and just summarise your points, especially in the conclusion where you probably won’t have too much time left; this is probably the most important section as this is the final impression the examiner gets of your essay. The final sub-question will often ask you to conclude with your opinion, so make sure that you include it and talk about to what extent you agree with the initial statement or not and why. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you always need to go one way or the other but always make sure to answer the question properly and try and provide some valuable personal insight.
- Provide real-life examples and statistics if possible – This can help you support your arguments with evidence. However, don’t be tempted to make up facts in the exam as the examiners will be able to check them, and this might work against you.
- Timing – Although section 3 of the BMAT is probably the least time-pressured, it’s important that you have a clear strategy beforehand. Hence, you know how you are going to split your time and don’t get carried away with a particular part of the process. We’d recommend that you spend 10 minutes on the plan maximum followed by around 15 minutes on the essay itself making sure that you have addressed all the sub-questions. Then you should try to leave yourself 5 minutes or so to briefly read through your essay again and make sure your spelling, punctuation and grammar is good to guarantee yourself an A.
- Practise makes perfect – Although we mentioned that practice is important in our general tips, it is particularly important for section 3! We would recommend that you do a few essays without timing yourself, ask for feedback, then do some timed essays and ask for feedback again. If you reflect upon how you can improve your writing each time, this will help greatly for the real thing and will also make sure that you know which strategies to use whilst tackling the real exam questions. Moreover, doing a lot of practice will mean that you may pick up some useful quotes and statistics along the way which you can employ in your essay to make yourself stand out. If you don’t have much time, we would recommend that you focus on writing essay plans instead of fully written essays as this is also effective, but in the lead, up to the exam you should get practise writing out the full thing.
On the day
So you’ve prepared for the last two months or so and the day has come – BMAT day! It’s very easy to get overwhelmed and start worrying by thinking about the negative outcomes. But honestly, you have just got to ask yourself whether there is any use stressing over it? You’ve done so much preparation, have gained so much knowledge and you should see the BMAT as your chance to shine and give it your all!
Get a good night’s sleep beforehand and on the day make sure that you have a good breakfast such that you have the energy to tackle the day. On top of this, we would recommend that you don’t cram too heavily anything you haven’t revised yet as it is highly unlikely that any new knowledge will go in at this point and instead this will probably stress you out even more! Instead, we would recommend that you maybe make a list of key information/formulae throughout your revision that you limit to a side of A4 and have a brief scan over that such that you remember these before the exam but don’t get too stressed out.
To give yourself the best chance to succeed, you should make sure you pack your bag with everything you will need the night before and double-check whether you have pencils, pens, rubbers etc. Finally, go in with a smile and with confidence, try your best, and we’re sure if you’ve prepared appropriately and go in with a positive mind-set, you will do as well as you hope to do!
How is the BMAT used at interview?
Although previously, the BMAT essay was used in interviews, to our knowledge, this is not the case anymore, and now the BMAT is not used at all. This means you can rest and relax following your BMAT and don’t need to spend too much time stressing over it. We would recommend that it may be helpful to make a quick note of what essay question you were asked though as this can be helpful to look back on if in case it is asked at interview briefly. Just note down the points you made for your argument, and that should be more than enough!
Now that we’ve talked about tips on how to tackle each question and how to go about practising in general, we have compiled a list of useful resources that we used and would recommend as they were of great use! They are as follows:
- BMAT Ninja: https://bmat.ninja/
- One of the most important BMAT resources, as it had all the information, summarised there and was a good guide. A thing to note though, as mentioned above is that the BMAT is a written exam and hence it is important to practise as much as possible on paper. That being said, you can still print out the questions and do them, and in general, the tips and advice are really helpful on the website.
- BMAT Crash Course Online:https://courses.aliabdaal.com/bmat-crash-course-online
- This is not actually needed to be honest if you have BMAT Ninja as that should be more than enough, but if you feel like you learn better through videos, this may be helpful. We would recommend that you sample Ali Abdaal’s youtube videos online and try the demo versions before making your decision as to whether you want to buy this online course or not.
- Assumed Knowledge Guide on official BMAT website: https://www.admissionstesting.org/for-test-takers/bmat/preparing-for-bmat/section-2-preparation/
- This is a life-saver for section 2 and is a comprehensive CGP guide that explains what you need to know for the section. It can be very helpful to structure your revision around this and use it as a checklist, so you know what topics you have covered and what topics you still need to.
- GCSE Bitesize: https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/levels/z98jmp3
- Although it might be quite a while since you last used this now that you are studying for your A-Levels, this can be very helpful in explaining methods in an easy to understand manner. Hence, if you are ever stuck on a topic, check out GCSE Bitesize or even youtube tutorials.
- Past papers: https://www.admissionstesting.org/for-test-takers/bmat/preparing-for-bmat/practice-papers/
- These are incredibly invaluable resources, and we’d recommend you do as many of them as possible as they are the most effective way of learning from your own mistakes. Make sure you reflect upon your past paper performances such that the real thing will be a lot easier and more straight forward and you have clear strategies on how you want to go about tackling each section.
- Especially if you are a visual learner, there are many YouTubers out there who talk about BMAT tips for free, so we would recommend checking them out. We have put links to a couple of channels that we found very useful!
- Ali Abdaal: https://www.youtube.com/c/aliabdaal
- Senthooran Kath: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC_5rL_WhCNhOuXst0g9Jrvg
- Chidera Ota: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCeq4iBads31CT551gDJND5A
- Kharma Medic: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCeoU2maQX8JiQ9DTuhOVz5g
- BMAT books
- Preparing for the BMAT: The Official Guide to the BioMedical Admissions Test by William James, John Butterworth, Richard Shewry, Geoff Thwaites. A link to this book in Amazon is as follows: Chttps://www.amazon.co.uk/Preparing-BMAT-official-Biomedical-Admissions/dp/043504687X/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=a+guide+to+the+bmat&qid=1597069285&sr=8-1
- ISC Medical 700 BMAT questions – A link to this book in Amazon is as follows:https://www.amazon.co.uk/Get-into-Medical-School-Questions/dp/1905812191/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1508925618&sr=8-4&keywords=isc+medical
- Additionally, Lucy and Ciara kindly invited both of us on their podcast to talk about the BMAT. The episode is yet to be published yet but make sure to keep your eye out for that episode and also have a look at their amazing podcast series in general as it has so much useful information! The link to their podcast series is as follows: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/becoming-a-doctor/id1510360579
- Also, the webpage with which you can practise your mental maths we mentioned earlier is as follows: https://www.mathtrainer.org/
In this blog, we have covered a range of advice on the BMAT, giving you an insight into this admissions test so that you can prepare to the best of your ability and do the best you can on the day. The BMAT can be one of the most challenging parts of the admissions process, as it is designed to differentiate very able candidates, is different from most exams you would have ever come across at school and involves answering complex questions under time pressure. However, we hope that, with the tips that we have shared with you in this blog, you will be on the right track to making the most out of your time both while preparing and on the day.
As always, please, feel free to comment down below and we will make sure to get back to you as soon as possible!
Finally, make sure to look out for our next blog post on the Oxbridge interviews which we will hopefully publish sometime soon! We hope this blog has helped! 🙂
Koby Kalavannan and Laura Stirling