Advice to students and Academic Entry Requirements
Welcome back to another blog post in our Oxbridge Resources series! Today, we will be giving advice to GCSE and Year 12 students, discussing academic entry requirements, and admissions statistics. It may seem like a lot but, trust us, you’re in for a treat!
Also, thank you for joining us at the live Q&A session on Friday – we hope you enjoyed it and found it useful. Our next Q&A session will be on the 5th of June at 7 pm, so make sure to have a read of all the blogs so that if you have any questions from them, you can ask them to us. If you missed the live Q&A session, don’t fret as it’s been embedded in the blog below!
Advice to Year 12 students
A question that we have frequently been asked is: “What should I be doing now as a Year 12 student?” We thought that we would give you some pointers as to what you can be getting up to during this time to strengthen your medical school application.
Now that we are in lockdown, it can be easy to become unmotivated and begin not working as hard. If this has been the case so far, don’t worry, you still have plenty of time to get into a routine and make the most of your time.
Your A-Level grades (or equivalent) are what will allow you to get into medical school, so the most important thing we would recommend for you to do is to keep topping up knowledge of your A-Level subjects. This is a perfect time to consolidate your knowledge on topics that you may have been struggling with. Also, you should bear in mind that predicted grades can be dependent on the work you may be doing now, and this will play an important role in the application process for all medical schools.
Another activity you could be doing now is studying your subjects beyond the specification. This will not only help you improve your understanding of your A-Levels but also develop your interest in an area within Medicine, which will help you demonstrate your enthusiasm for the sciences on your personal statement and at interview.
Additionally, this is a perfect time to be adding to your research portfolio. Ways you can do this include participating in essay competitions, writing an article for the Medic Mentor magazine, and reflecting upon your experiences. Reflection is a key skill that allows you to learn from your prior experiences and transfer skills you’ve learnt from other areas to your medical degree. You can use the Gibbs Reflective cycle to structure your reflections, helping you think about how the skills you currently have will help you as a doctor. This will enable you to show your insight into the qualities of a doctor both in your personal statement and at interview. A great way to improve your reflections would be to send them over to the Medic Mentor team, as part of your Awards Programme. We’re sure they would be more than happy to help you out and give you some advice!
Also, you want to make sure that you are making the most out of online opportunities available. To list a few of them: you could join the Virtual Medical Society, the Medical Leadership Programme, Brighton and Sussex virtual work experience, and maybe even do some MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses).
So, have we scared you yet with this massive list of things to do? If we have, please don’t worry too much! We decided to present you with a buffet of opportunities from which you can pick and choose what you would like to do. We just wanted to give you a realistic insight into what activities you can be doing to bolster your application to Oxbridge.
Advice to GCSE students
First of all, congratulations on starting early! A lot of the advice that we have given to the Year 12 students also applies to you, so we would recommend for you to get cracking straight away.
As we mentioned for the Year 12 students, the exams that you are working towards now are the most important, as GCSEs are key stepping stones for your A-Level work.
Apart from that, a common question that we have received is: “What A-Levels should I choose?”
As much as we would love to give you a definitive answer, this is an extremely personal question, as everybody is unique and has different strengths, so there is no “perfect” choice of A-Levels. It would be best if you chose A-Levels that you think you will both enjoy and be good at. Although it is compulsory to do Chemistry and would be very helpful to do biology, we would recommend that your other subject(s) are those that you also enjoy and are good at.
A common misconception is that you must take Maths A-Level to study Medicine, but that is not the case. Yes, Maths is a great subject to take because it can help support your other science A-Levels. However, you do not have to take it if you don’t think you will be able to both enjoy it and obtain the grades when you sit your exams.
As you may have noticed by now, we keep referring to the fact that you should enjoy and have the capabilities to achieve a top grade in the subjects you choose. We say this from personal experience as A-Levels are a big step up from GCSE, and considering these aspects will make your A-Level experience a lot smoother, and perhaps might save you some suffering.
How many A-Levels should you study?
Offers are usually based on three A-Levels or equivalent qualifications. Some candidates choose to take a fourth or fifth subject to show their academic abilities. This is not recommended if spreading yourself too thinly might cause you to drop a grade or two in your results. Additionally, tutors may prefer a candidate who chooses to take fewer A-Levels but has read around their subject beyond the school curriculum. This could help develop your ability to discuss your interest in Medicine with enthusiasm and depth.
Therefore, if you are able to do four A-Levels, then that’s perfectly fine but make sure that you can perform consistently throughout all four. You will not be discriminated against for only taking three A-Levels.
Finally, another thing you could be doing during this time is getting an insight into whether Medicine is the right career for you. You could do this through the opportunities we have mentioned above, as well as reading books, trying out learning styles to see what works best for you, and reflecting upon your experiences, linking your transferable skills to how they will help you when you become a doctor.
Academic entry requirements
|GCSE||No formal GCSE requirements for Medicine. If Biology, Physics or Maths were not taken at A-level, you need to have achieved at least a grade C/4 at GCSE.||There is no GCSE cut-off but it is used instead as a ‘performance indicator’. Most applicants have attained at least 4-5 GCSEs at grade 7 or above, but Cambridge accept that post-16 performance is a superior measure and hence will consider applicants with excellent predicted grades in spite of a less excellent GCSE performance.|
A-Levels (or equivalent qualifications)
A*AA to include at least grade A in Chemistry and at least one of Biology, Physics or Mathematics. The A* does not have to be in any specific subject. Critical Thinking and General Studies are not included.
Practical elements taken in the sciences should be passed.
|Typical Grade offer is A*A*A: Chemistry and one of Biology, Physics or Mathematics. (98% of applicants offer three or more sciences of which 30% get a place).
Practical elements taken in the sciences should be passed.
|39 total. Higher Level scores of 766 to include Chemistry and at least one from Biology, Physics and Maths.||Applicants require a score of 40-42, achieving 776 at Higher Level.|
|Advanced highers||AA in Advanced Highers in one academic year to include Chemistry and one from Biology, Physics or Maths. AAAAA in Highers in one academic year.||AAA at Advanced Higher Grade. Two Advanced Highers and an additional Higher may be accepted if the option to study more than two Advanced Highers was outside the students control. This would be assessed on a case by case basis.|
Expected to have studied three subjects at A level as part of the qualification. Offers will be based on the
A levels rather than the Baccalaureate award.
|Three ‘A’ level subjects offered as part of an advanced diploma.|
Award or prediction of a first class or high 2:1 degree in any discipline. Results in A levels should be as
|At least a 2:1 degree in any discipline. Passes at A level or equivalent in Chemistry normally at grade A and one of Biology, Physics or Mathematics at A/AS level. Most successful students have at least AAA.|
We have just given you the minimum requirements, and now we will put these requirements into context and give you a realistic insight into the grades you need for a competitive application.
As Oxford and Cambridge have different admissions processes, we will be going through their admissions statistics in two separate sections.
We took the following extract from the Oxford website where they clarify how they weigh up the GCSEs and BMAT when shortlisting which candidates they call for an interview. The website says:
“As part of the process to decide which applicants are called to interview, we established a numerical ranking on the basis of GCSE performance and BMAT results (both are quantitative and objective measures), equally weighted. If applicants had not taken GCSEs or iGCSEs ranking was based on BMAT score alone. This ranking formed the basis of an initial shortlist of 385. Note that the AQA Level 2 qualification in Further Maths is included in the GCSE calculation, whereas the OCR Level 3 qualification is not.
BMAT is the only element of an application that is common to all applicants for Medicine and giving as it does a snapshot of ability and aptitude, is an important selection tool when assessing a large number of extremely well qualified applicants.
We do not ascribe equal weighting to all sections of BMAT. In 2019, weightings were: section 1=40%, section 2=40%, and section 3=20%. In calculating the section 3 score, double weight was ascribed to the ‘Quality of content’ score and single weight given to the ‘Quality of English’ score (with A=5, B=4, C=3, D=2, E=1, and X=0).
The GCSE measure used was a combination of proportion of A* grades at GCSE and number of A* grades at GCSE (with equal weighting). For shortlisting purposes a grade 8 or 9 is considered equivalent to an A*. We also used GCSE performance data for schools in Great Britain and Northern Ireland to help tutors to assess whether an applicant’s grades at GCSE may reflect an under- or over-performance within the context of the school at which they were taken. Therefore, it is possible that the chance of being shortlisted was increased/reduced if an applicant had a higher/lower proportion of A* grades than would be predicted for the average student applying to Oxford from their GCSE school.
The applications of candidates who did not make the initial shortlist were then reviewed by tutors, taking into account any individual circumstances – both academic and non-academic – that might indicate that GCSE and/or BMAT performance is likely to have underestimated their potential. Any applicants deemed worthy of further consideration were then reviewed by a cross-college panel, alongside applicants immediately below the initial shortlist. As a result of this process 40 additional applicants were added to the shortlist.”
Below are graphs taken from Oxford’s official website regarding both the number and percentage of A*s achieved at GCSE for 2020 entry:
To find out more about about Oxford’s admissions statistics, please visit the following website:https://www.medsci.ox.ac.uk/study/medicine/pre-clinical/statistics
Also, the following table shows the average BMAT scores for applicants for 2017-2019:
As we’ve mentioned in the Q&A sessions, Cambridge uses a more holistic approach in assessing candidates with a much higher proportion of candidates (roughly 75%) being called for an interview. Following this though, various bits of the application process are looked at together when deciding as to whether a candidate should be given an offer. These include your interview performance, BMAT score, GCSEs, personal statement, teacher reference etc.
To have a competitive application and have a stronger chance of getting an offer from Cambridge a strong set of GCSEs results and a high BMAT score will help. Hence, we’ve included an average of the GCSE and BMAT results below for Cambridge using Freedom of Information Request Data.
To find out more admissions statistics with regards to Cambridge, check out the following link:
Key Notes about Admissions Statistics
- This is for the A100 Medicine course – it does not look at Graduate Entry (A101) nor does it analyse specific circumstances (i.e. deferred entry, extenuating/mitigating circumstances)
- Remember that an average is an average – there will be people who have done much better and much worse in certain sections.
- If you have performed poorly in one section, you may be able to make it up by performing very well in one section.
We appreciate that we have just bombarded you with a lot of information. Still, hopefully this will help you with your decision about applying to Oxbridge and has given you a realistic insight into academic entry requirements such as GCSEs, BMAT and predicted grades. To summarise, we wanted to answer the big question on your minds, is it easier to get into Oxford or Cambridge?
As we’ve mentioned earlier in this blog, Oxford and Cambridge have slightly different admissions processes. At the end of the day, your chance of getting into Oxford and Cambridge is roughly the same. While a higher proportion of applicants get an interview at Cambridge than at Oxford (75% of applicants at Cambridge as opposed to 25% of applicants at Oxford), the grade offer given by Cambridge is typically harder than at Oxford (A*A*A at Cambridge as opposed to A*AA at Oxford). Therefore, it is often harder for those who’ve got offers from Cambridge to meet their grades, and also you’ll need slightly higher predicted grades to apply to Cambridge because of this.
For these reasons, whether you are accepted into the college ends up balancing out. We hope that with this summary you can apply to the university which you think best plays to your strengths.
Hopefully, this blog post was helpful for you. Please, feel free to ask us any questions you may have in the comments section. In the next blog post, we will talk through non-academic entry requirements to do with your application to Oxbridge such as work experience, volunteering, wider reading, etc. and how you can strengthen this part of your application. Thank you for reading this blog post, and we hope you join us next time!