The Biomedical Admissions Test or BMAT is an exam used in the admissions process of a number of UK medical schools, specific medical schools across Europe and Asia, and additionally for some other courses such as dentistry and biomedical sciences in the UK and internationally.
While COVID-19 has affected the delivery of the test this year- in the UK candidates will again sit the test at test centres, but will take it on a computer, rather than with the usual pen and paper-, the test format remains the same.
It aims to assess skills in problem-solving, critical thinking, the application of previously learned science and mathematics, and written communication over two hours via three sections: Thinking Skills, Scientific Knowledge and Applications, and the Writing Task. The costs have also changed and it is helpful to highlight to students that there is a reimbursement scheme to support those who cannot afford the test fee.
Different institutions use BMAT in different ways in their admissions processes. Some use it as one component of an algorithm to shortlist candidates, others, such as Imperial College, use it as an initial gate to the subsequent stages of the admissions process. But in all cases, doing well in the BMAT is likely to improve your chances of getting a place at the medical schools that use it.
For many years, BMAT was offered only in a single sitting, but more recently had been offered in two sittings. The timing of the sittings meant that if you sat the early sitting you would have your BMAT score before you submitted your UCAS form; if you sat the late, you wouldn’t know how well you had done until after application.
Students often preferred the later sitting, which gave them more time to prepare, but I would recommend the early sitting when possible. Having their results before they apply will give students an idea of their competitiveness for particular medical schools, and may prevent them from wasting one of their four medical school choices.
This year, unfortunately, the pandemic has shrunk the options in the UK to a single, post-application sitting. I would therefore recommend that students do not select BMAT-requiring medical schools for all four of their options.
Anyone can be unlucky and perform badly on the day, and it is helpful to have other options, though the usefulness of this approach may, of course, depend on the mark they have received for the University Clinical Aptitude Test, or UCAT, that many other medical schools use.
The BMAT is different from any other exam that the majority of candidates will have sat, and that unfamiliarity can make it seem daunting. But there is a lot that students can do to increase their confidence and their performance in the exam.
Cambridge Assessment runs the BMAT, and provide a lot of material to support candidates on their website. It is very important that students are encouraged to look at this stuff. Even aptitude tests that don’t require specific knowledge will benefit from practice, so that students gain familiarity with the format of questions and the speed at which they need to answer them, and this also holds true for the BMAT.
But the BMAT does require specific knowledge of the three sciences and maths at the level at which they are usually taught up to the age 16 (GCSE in the UK). The curriculum of particular qualifications and exam boards can differ, which is why Cambridge assessments also make a ‘BMAT Section 2 guide’ available on their website.
The guide provides an overview of the scientific and mathematical knowledge that candidates should have before sitting the test; students should read it to identify which areas they haven’t covered or need more knowledge of, and then use it as a starting point for further study. Students should be advised to start as early as they can with this so that they have time to cover the necessary material.
The ‘Preparing for BMAT’ page on the Cambridge Assessment website also includes links to preparation guides, informative videos with tips for the exam, and all of the past BMAT papers, complete with answers, so that candidates can practice and assess their own performance. While it can seem tedious to students to go through past papers, this is the best practice that they can do.
Evidence suggests that candidates who practice the past papers under timed conditions do better in the test- the timed conditions really help with understanding the pace required and to refine their tactics; how long to persevere before skipping a question and leaving it until the end, and how much time to reserve for checking answers.
Finally, don’t underestimate the importance of encouragement from their school. Spend a few minutes looking at the BMAT website yourself. Having teachers who understand the basics of the test can reassure students that sitting it is not only for some special, unknowable elite.
The BMAT is challenging and requires study and preparation, but students capable of achieving the necessary A level or equivalent grades for medical school already know something about hard work. Doing what you can to support them, encouraging them to access the resources available to them and to study and practice can make a real difference to their performance and their chances of getting a place to study medicine.
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