by Pippa Morris December 18, 2020 11 min read

The BioMedical Admissions Test (BMAT) is one of the two most widely required exam prerequisites for medical school entry in the UK, together with the UCAT. Though very different in content from each other, both the BMAT and the UCAT can be quite stressful for students without proper support and preparation.

One important distinctive factor for the BMAT, however, is how theory-heavy its content is in comparison to other examination tools known in the medical school application process. It is, therefore, really important that as part of your BMAT revision you ensure you follow your progress using practice questions. Whether you are a first or final year medical student, practice essay questions on past papers or even mock MCQs are one of the most useful tools you can implement in your study schedule and one of the most realistic methods of tracking your knowledge.

The reason for this is because learning a concept and applying a concept are two very different skills and even if you feel very confident regurgitating facts and figures you have learnt from lectures, you still might have trouble applying those to a clinical scenario on exam day. Training yourself from early on to apply your knowledge to practice questions will ensure that you truly understand the content covered and even if encountered in an unfamiliar situation, you are able to draw from memory and answer the questions correctly.

Considering that the BMAT content tests a lot of your scientific knowledge up to this point, it is understandable that the same practice method can be applied when studying for it, too. Once you are confident that you have the knowledge required to sit the BMAT, the best way to ensure you are on track and monitor your progress is to attempt past papers and mark your performance using the answer key. Thankfully, all of the BMAT past papers since 2003 are available on the Cambridge Assessment and Admissions Testing website for you to attempt and use as a scoring guide. We thoroughly recommend working through as many of these as possible in the lead-up to the exam day. This will not only allow you to refresh your knowledge but will also help you get very familiar with the exam format, eliminating any element of surprise on the day.

Cambridge Assessment and Admissions Testing (or CAAT for short) is the regulatory body for the BMAT amongst other entrance exams. They provide the most up to date information on all logistical details surrounding taking the exam. They are also the only institution that is able to provide accurate information on the nature of the exam and the content tested. By including the past BMAT papers on their website for applicants to access, they have ensured that you get a good understanding of the format the BMAT implements, the skills you are required to do well and the question types you are likely to encounter.

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How should I use BMAT past papers?

You should find that the past paper questions available on the CAAT website are more than sufficient for your preparation. With every single paper since 2003 uploaded on the website, a large number of practice questions has been amassed and made available for your revision. It is highly unlikely that you will be able to get through all of them, especially with other commitments such as interview preparation and the UCAT Admissions Exam, if you’re sitting both. However, if you do find yourself running out there are a variety of different books and online courses with large question banks. These may not be fully reflective of the questions provided by CAAT, so be mindful of this.

When going over past papers, if you have the resources possible, it may be worth printing the practice papers out. This means you can write on the questions, jot down any notes or thoughts and you may find this makes it easier to come to your answer.

Whilst going through the practice questions, it may be worth keeping track of your score and monitoring your progress in order to objectively evaluate your improvement. By doing so, you will notice if there is a specific section that you are consistently not scoring as well on as others, and you can adapt your BMAT preparation accordingly. Tracking your scores will give you the confidence you need that your preparation has been worth it.

Useful learning tips for the BMAT

Even though all the BMAT past papers have been made available at the CAAT website, how effectively you use these in your preparation depends a lot on the style of revision you adopt in the process.

One of the most important contributing factors to seeing consistent improvement in your score is learning how to self-evaluate. The answer key for each past paper is provided to you in a separate document than the past paper, so resist all temptation to having a sneak peek at it until you’ve sat the exemplar paper. Once you have, go in detail through the answer key and compare the provided answers to the answers you put down. Score yourself fairly and only award yourself the points you definitely got. Remember that the past papers are there simply as a progress tool and you will benefit more from them by setting yourself a realistic expectation of where you would score if you took the real test that day.

Once you have marked the full paper, the most important part of your learning begins. Reflect on your mistakes and consider why you got them wrong. Was the topic unfamiliar and more revision is required to really nail down that concept? Then spend the next few days reviewing the information and consulting different resources until you feel confident in your knowledge. Attempt said question again. Or was it because you panicked or ran out of time? Do you need to reconsider the conditions under which you sat the paper, find a more quiet environment or make a point of following the clock a bit more closely next time? You can see that by reflecting on the reasons why you didn’t score as well as you wished can really identify in what ways you can best improve. It can be hard at first but spend the necessary time on reflection and then implement the changes you wish to see in your performance to really see a jump in progress!

Other things that we have alluded to but are important to be mindful of are being able to keep track of the time and making sure you allow yourself sufficient time to get through the whole paper. Keeping a watch nearby is important to make sure you don’t run out of time. Also, ensuring that you sit each practice paper under as realistic conditions as possible is incredibly important not only in getting a realistic score, but also reducing stress and anxiety surrounding being in an unfamiliar situation as much as possible. That way when you sit the real exam you will feel confident in your understanding and knowledge - not only of the layout of the exam and the expected content, but also of all surrounding nitty-gritty practical details that have the potential to throw you off otherwise.

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Specific Section Advice

Section 1, the Aptitude and Skills section, is the one that resembles certain aspects of the UCAT. The skills tested in this section are more analytical, so you can expect a lot of problem-solving and critical thinking questions here. The former relies on numerical skills and as such is akin to DM and QR, whereas the latter is a measure of language skills and so can be compared to VR. For this section try to identify key problem areas that you find you are struggling on. As with UCAT, you might realise that you are very good with numerical and data analysis questions, but your verbal reasoning skills could use some polish. Therefore identifying where your strengths and weaknesses lie is a crucial aspect of your preparation. You will also find that the same type and category of questions come up again and again and sometimes you may find that questions are virtually repeating themselves. This is why it is really important to go over as many questions as possible.

Section 2, the Scientific Knowledge and Applications portion of the exam, is more theoretically oriented and tests your understanding of Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Mathematics. Before you attempt section 2 past paper questions, it may be worth going over the assumed subject knowledge guide beforehand. From this, you should pick out any topics which you are unfamiliar with. Revisit your GCSE notes on the topic, or look it up in a revision guide before you start attempting past papers. Once you feel like you have a comfortable grasp of the assumed subject knowledge, try the past papers. When you mark your answers, make a note of the topic area the question was based on, and revise these areas again.

For section 3 essays, also known as the Writing Task, there are a wealth of questions available. There is not much point answering every single one. We suggest planning most of them unless there is no possibility you would ever answer it. Write 4 or 5 in full to get used to the timing of the section, which is 30 minutes and ensure that you are able to produce a good essay in that timeframe. Use the BMAT section 3 marking criteria to assess your answers and score yourself objectively. You should see improvement over time, but remember to be harsh on yourself as the most accurate reflection on your progress.

Frequently Asked Questions

How many BMAT past papers are available?

As already pointed out, CAAT has included all past papers starting from 2003 up to the most recent one from 2019. This means that you have a total of 17 full past papers at your disposal to get through in your preparation.

How long should I do untimed practice?

Untimed practice is only helpful at the beginning when you first get to grip with the content tested for this exam. It quickly can start working against you however if you don’t start timing yourself early. The BMAT is a big exam that covers a lot of different skills and knowledge under a timed constraint. One of the most important aspects to you scoring well is, therefore, to make sure you can get through the entire paper in the allocated time. To answer shortly, do not spend too long doing untimed practice and once you have familiarised with the content, which should take you no more than one or two past papers, you should then move on to implementing the timing aspect in your practice too.

When should I use BMAT test solutions?

As previously mentioned, it is important to use the BMAT answer key wisely in your preparation. You might be tempted to take a look at it as you begin, to use as a guide to the types of answers you are expected to give... but resist and save them for the end once you have attempted the paper and have put an answer to all the questions you could. This would benefit you a lot more as you will challenge yourself to really use your knowledge. This will realistically highlight the gaps in your knowledge instead of providing you with a false sense of security. So only refer to the test solutions at the scoring stage of your preparation.

How is the BMAT essay marked?

Section 3 of the BMAT is scored slightly differently than the rest of the exam. The essay is scored in two separate categories, quality of content and quality of English. The former category is awarded a grade between 1 and 5, where 1 is given to unfocused or incoherent answers or those that do not address the question. A 5, on the other hand, is awarded to excellent answers without significant weaknesses, which address all aspects of the question and express ideas in a clear and logical way. An applicant may also receive a 0 if their answer is irrelevant, unintelligible or missing. The second aspect of the essay, quality of English, is awarded a grade between A and E, where A signifies a good use of English with few errors and good grammar, vocabulary and punctuation and E is given to those with regular spelling and grammar errors and poor sentence structure. A grade of X may be given if it is felt that the quality of English of the essay is below the marking criteria for an E.

Which parts of the BMAT past papers should I focus on the most?

There is no single best answer to this question. The most important part of the BMAT you should focus on is the one that you feel your performance is weakest at - one that you will draw the most benefit from practising. This is why it is particularly helpful to identify your strengths and weaknesses at the start by attempting a couple of untimed papers. You might find that you are an excellent essay writer but could use the numeracy practice. Or perhaps your problem-solving skills are spotless but verbal reasoning is still confusing to you. Instead of enquiring about the test from friends who have sat it or looking information up online, approach the test from a personal perspective and draw individual conclusions about it based on your own feelings and your own performance, as what someone found hard may not ring true for you.

Our recommendations

The first thing you want to do when you start your BMAT preparation is to take it in a structured and logical approach. The BMAT is a big exam consisting of many different components. Instead of tackling it all at once from the beginning, it may be worth just to focus on a specific section of the exam at a time. For example, you can start with the problem-solving part of Section 1, in which you can go over the questions in-depth, do some practice questions and review your answers. Give yourself an objective score based on the answer key you will find online and assess your performance. Do you feel that you have gaps in your knowledge and is it worth exploring those further? Once you have done this, you can move on to the next part of Section 1, then Section 2 and finally Section 3.

Additionally, you should take at least one BMAT practice test as part of your preparation. Ideally you will commence your preparation soon enough to allow yourself enough time to sit several full practice test, but doing at least one is absolutely essential. Doing a whole BMAT past paper will allow you to get familiar with the timings and the intensity of the exam, which will take a total of two hours. If you only allocate enough time to sit a single practice paper, it is best to use a more recent paper, as this will be most similar to the exam that you will take. Some of the older papers have questions which are not multiple choice, or more options for essays to write. Even if you are able to do multiple tests, sitting the most recent ones last will still be beneficial.

As we have previously advised, once you have completed the BMAT practice test, take a break. After a couple of hours, mark it and see how you did. It should become apparent to you that one mark can make all the difference between a ‘good’ and a ‘bad’ score. By practising papers, you should be able to identify your areas of strengths and weaknesses and also to track your progress over time.

If you’re unsure regarding any logistic details surrounding the BMAT, the CAAT website is an up-to-date reliable resource that can help answer most of your questions and concerns. For further information, you can even watch free BMAT preparation videos they have uploaded on their channel that go in even further depth.

We’ve got a lot of resources that we’re currently creating to aid you with your BMAT preparation. This includes the BMAT live online course, BMAT tutoring and our series of blogs that we are publishing at the moment. These are excellent BMAT preparation resources that have received a lot of feedback from past applicants and current medical students, as they review all the information and knowledge you will require to sit the exam in a structured and systematic manner. They also provide you not only with tons of practice to ensure that you feel confident tackling the exam, but offer professional feedback on your performance with personalised tips on how to improve your score. Our blogs are also frequently updated to include the latest information surrounding entrance exam preparation, so be sure to frequently check there for any news that might be of interest!

We hope that you have enjoyed this post. If you have any questions feel free to contact us at hello@themsag.com.

Find out more about BMAT preparation

Pippa Morris
Pippa Morris

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.


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