Last month, the authors of the Biomedical Admissions Test (BMAT) announced that Section 1 of the exam will be changed from this year onwards.
What does this mean for you? This article will help you make sense of how the exam will differ this year, and how this might impact your preparation.
What is the BMAT?
The BMAT is an entrance test used by a small number of UK medical schools, they include Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial, UCL, Brighton & Sussex, Leeds and Lancaster. If you are an international applicant, Keele and Manchester also require the BMAT.
The exam is made up of 3 sections. Section 1 assesses candidates’ problem solving and critical thinking skills; Section 2 focuses on Science and Maths and Section 3 involves writing an essay. You can read more on the structure of the exam, including how it is marked, here.
What has changed?
Only Section 1 has changed this year. No changes have been announced for the other sections.
The first difference is the number of questions. Section 1 now has 32 multiple-choice questions. There had previously been 35 questions, so this is a welcome change. The timing for the section will stay the same, at one hour. This means students will have slightly longer per question.
The second difference involves the format of the questions. All Section 1 questions will now have five answer options, with one correct answer and four distractors.
Previously, there had been questions like this in Section 1, but there were also ‘combination’ questions. For these, candidates were given a series of three statements and asked to decide the correct combination of statements. The ‘combination’ format of questioning will no longer feature in Section 1.
The final difference is the skills being assessed. The updated guidance explains that Section 1 “tests your ability to solve problems and think critically.”
Problem-solving is described as “reasoning using numerical skills”, and critical thinking “reasoning using everyday written language”. These skills have always been assessed, so this is like in previous years. However, the BMAT authors have added:
“Section 1 no longer contains data analysis and inference questions, in which a longer text was followed by a set of related questions.”
Most questions in previous BMAT papers were separate from one another. For example, question 1 has no relation to question 2. However, in previous years candidates would occasionally be presented with a long passage and four associated questions, testing data analysis and inference. These will no longer be tested.
What will Section 1 look like now?
As described, Section 1 will still be one hour long but with 32 questions. All questions will have 5 answer options, with one correct answer. Out of these questions, there will be:
16 problem solving questions, with three subtypes:
16 critical thinking questions, with seven subtypes:
Identifying the Main Conclusion
Assessing the Impact of Additional Evidence
Detecting Reasoning Errors
Questions will be ordered roughly by difficulty level, with the two types of questions interspersed.
How will this impact me?
Overall, we believe these changes are positive for most students. The longer text questions used in the past proved difficult for many, with the changes also providing candidates a small amount of extra time per question.
All past papers for the test are available on the BMAT website, serving as excellent preparation for the exam.
However, remember to avoid the longer text questions when attempting these, as they will no longer feature in Section 1. You can easily spot these as there will be four questions associated with a long passage.
Also remember that past papers will include ‘combination’ style questions, where students must choose the right selection of statements. Although questions will no longer appear in this format, the skills assessed are the same, meaning they are still useful to attempt when preparing.
Perhaps the main difficulty the changes present is practising past papers under timed conditions. As the timings have changed this year, doing a past paper may not properly reflect the timing of the real thing. Students may therefore want to practise past papers with timings adjusted for the questions that they do not attempt.