Miss Pippa Morris • October 07, 2019
Pippa is a third year medical student at the University of Cambridge. She is a member of the Oncology Society and the vice president of Caius Medical Society She is also a tutor for science, maths, and medical school entrance exams. She writes blogs and is a BMAT Tutor for theMSAG.
The BioMedical Admissions Test (BMAT) is by no means an easy exam, and a good score is achieved by getting roughly half of the questions right. With an exam that’s only two hours long, there is little margin for error, and due to the score conversions, losing just one or two marks due to silly mistakes may result in your point score reducing by 0.5. There are many common mistakes that people make along the way, be that by preparing incorrectly, or their actual exam technique. Through this blog post, our aim is to guide you through the common mistakes so that you can avoid them and thus maximise your potential.
If your University Clinical Aptitude Test (UCAT) preparation didn’t go as planned, you may find that a significant portion of your medical school application rests on your BMAT. Frankly, this isn’t the case. A lot of medical schools do have a BMAT cut-off, but with a focused mindset, you should be able to achieve this. Remember there are other parts of your application, such as your work experience, personal statement and of course the interview. My first tip, therefore, is to not get stressed.
Hopefully, you'll get to the point where you find the BMAT exam quite fun. If this is the case, you’ll find it really easy to work your way through past papers. If you don’t enjoy it, you won’t perform as well as you expect, and you might find this makes you get quite stressed. The most important thing is to not overwork yourself, or you won’t be able to reach your full potential.
The BMAT is probably easier to prepare for than the UKCAT - not to say it is an easier exam, but rather that there are many different paths you can go down in your preparation. The Cambridge Assessment and Admissions Testing Website (CAAT) has a wealth of resources to guide you, including all of the past papers. The BMAT test specification informs you of exactly what you need to know, so it is certainly worth going over this.
The exam is not negatively marked, so it is of paramount importance that you put an answer down for every single question. You don’t need to have worked it out, it’s highly unlikely you’ll have enough time to put your all into every single question. This is where triage comes in.
Every question is worth the same number of marks (one), and thus it is essential that you answer every question. If you’re applying to study medicine, you’re probably a high achiever. You push yourself to your limits, you’re very intelligent and you won’t settle for anything short of 100%. In this exam, getting 100%, although possible, is extremely rare. You could probably answer most of the questions if you had unlimited time, but this is quite a time-pressured exam. You need to use your time effectively, and ensure you gather all of the easy marks. We recommend setting yourself a time limit, of say 45 seconds for section 1 and 30 seconds for section 2.
If after this time has elapsed you are nowhere near to getting an answer - either you don’t know the content, or you can’t figure out how to solve the question - then asterisk it and move on. If you have time at the end, come back to it. Importantly, triage is used by doctors a lot and is a very good skill to have. If a patient has many different problems, you must assess which ones you should deal with immediately, and which ones you should come back to later.
In section 3, you must ensure you address all three points that come alongside the question in your answer. This is a requirement for you to score above a 3.
Additionally, in both section 1 and 2, make sure you read the question in full. Skipping over parts may mean you fail to include important information in your calculations, and thus lead to an incorrect answer.
This is obviously important for section 3 of the exam. But, in section 1 and 2 there are certain aspects of the question that you can plan. Figure out the steps you need to take in order to get to your answer and jot them down. If it’s a probability question, consider drawing a tree diagram.
For the essay, planning is absolutely crucial. Realistically, it is likely that you can write substantially more than a side of A4 in 30 minutes. Therefore, it has to be the best side of A4 of your life. Everything you write needs to be relevant to the question, and delivered in an appropriate way. Fortunately, the exam tells you the aspects of the question you need to discuss, and there are almost always three. Start with these, and jot down points for each of them. Then, think of some examples to back up your points.
From our experience as admissions tutors, we have seen a number of students excel on the BMAT. We’ve also managed to identify a number of common questions that people tend to fall on. I have attached some links toBBC Bitesize as a source, but if you’ve still got your GCSE notes/ textbooks/ revision guides, it may be worth using them.
It is easy when faced with a large chunk of text followed by four questions to want to skim through and go straight into answering the questions. However, one of the most common mistakes that we see students making is not reading the full text and missing a crucial piece of information required for the answer. The individual calculations are not that hard, so spend the time reading and understanding the text, and then answer the questions once you feel like you have a good grasp.
In the BMAT estimation is crucial. No calculators are allowed, and some of the mathematics can be quite difficult. Sometimes the answers are several powers of ten apart from each other, so you can round numbers to make life a bit easier for you. There may be cases where the answer options are quite close to each other, so you will need to be a bit more precise.
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