Miss Pippa Morris • October 03, 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 University Clinical Aptitude Test (UCAT) and BMAT (BioMedical Admissions Test) form a very important part of your medical school application. Many prospective medical students find themselves struggling with the third and final section of the BMAT, feeling that as scientists they ‘can’t write a good essay’. In this blog post, we hope to be able to dispel some of the myths surrounding the BMAT essay and help you feel more confident in your essay writing abilities.
The BMAT Essay proves to be quite difficult, as it combines a number of different skills:
If you know the skills required to write your essay, you can apply these when you get writing. Make sure you familiarise yourself with the marking criteria.
There are now 3 options on every BMAT paper. This could be a statement, a quote by a famous thinker, such as Charles Darwin or Voltaire, or a topic of frequent discussion. You have 30 minutes to write an essay in which you address all the points listed with the question. You only have a side of A4 to get your points across, but this should be ample time to score well.
It is really important that you plan your essay before going into the write-up so that it has sufficient flow. Make sure you have a good grasp of the English vocabulary. If you think your language might be too basic, think about learning some argument-related words which sound a bit ‘fancier’, so to speak. If they sound right in your essay, it may lead the examiner into thinking you are well versed in English. Make sure you don’t write until the very last second, as it is crucial that you check over your work. You might find that there are some silly spelling or grammatical errors, and these seriously can cost you a mark. Overall, you should be aiming for a minimum of a B on this section, but if your English is to a high enough standard an A will certainly be possible.
It is harder to identify how to score well on the quality of content score. By planning, you should have a good structure to your argument. Remember to build upon the points you raise and back them up with appropriate examples. Ensure your argument is fluent and thorough, and that you answer all aspects of the question. It is impossible to score above a score of 2.5 if you fail to address just one part of the question, regardless of how amazing your other points are.
The BMAT essay may seem quite daunting as you are not used to writing essays anymore. You’re probably studying science-based subjects for your A-levels, where there are few options to write long arguments. It might, therefore, be useful to look at some example answers to gauge what kind of level you should be working at.
When writing your own essays you should think about the scoring system discussed in the document. I want you to take 5 minutes to plan and consider what you might write for the first component of the following question.
Good surgeons should be encouraged to take on tough cases, not just safe, routine ones. Publishing an individual surgeon’s mortality rates may have the opposite effect.
Explain what this statement means. Argue to the contrary. To what extent do you think league tables should change a surgeon’s behaviour?
"A surgeon has to save lifes so they should never say no because then someone might dye. It is not fair cause they have been trained to be a nice doctor so letting someone dye is not doing there job."
As you can see, there are a number of spelling mistakes in this answer (‘dye’, 'lifes’, incorrect use of ‘their’). The language is quite colloquial and simple. This would score quite low on the scale. For a single paragraph, the level of detail is just not there, There are no examples used, and the overall answer is just very poor, and if the remainder of the essay went like this would not score more than a 1.5.
"A doctor has a duty of care to their patients and in all cases must aim to follow the core principles of medical ethics in their work. This includes non-maleficence, the act of ‘doing no harm’. By refusing to perform a risky surgical procedure due to concerns of their mortality rate, the surgeon is placing the patient’s life at jeopardy. It is inevitable that a heart surgeon will have a higher mortality rate than a cosmetic surgeon, due to the nature and severity of the operation. People must bear this in mind when forming opinions on how ‘good’ a surgeon is based upon the published mortality statistics. Publishing the mortality rate of surgeon’s may result in them avoiding risky operations. They may be concerned that having a high mortality rate will affect their reputation, but ultimately no judgement should be made until all the information is explored."
This answer is much more developed than the previous response. The student has thought about their choice of language and responded appropriately to the first part of the question well. Assuming the remainder of the argument flows well, they are likely to obtain a score of at least a 4, but probably a 5. The argument flows well and the points are all relevant, and the use of the example (cardiologist vs cosmetic surgeon) backs up the argument well. The use of vocabulary is impressive, using technical terms and sophisticated language where appropriate. I like how the student relates to the core principles of medical ethics.
The best way to improve your score is to improve your confidence in writing essays. Get together with some friends and discuss some of the past paper questions together. Write lots of plans, and tailor your answers to correspond to the requirements of the mark scheme. Don’t be afraid to argue your point and remember that your university will see a copy of your exam script so be prepared to discuss the topic further at yourmedical school interview!
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