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Teachers’ Guide: How To Write A Teacher Reference

Acting as a referee for a student’s UCAS application is difficult. This is especially true when they are applying to a course as competitive as Medicine.

It is a lot of pressure and you will want to do the best by your students. The Medic Portal has used its insights into the process to produce this teacher guide for writing references.


What Is A Teacher Reference?

Teacher references, like personal statements, are up to 4,000 characters and 47 lines long. They should offer professional and considered appraisal of a student’s ability and suitability for Medicine.

In the words of the UCAS website: ‘as a referee, you’re aiming to give universities and colleges an informed and academic assessment of an applicant’s suitability for further study.’

Your teacher reference needs to dovetail with the student’s personal statement. Is should not simply repeat information already offered by them. In fact, UCAS warns teachers to:

‘Avoid repeating any of the information they [the student] has given in their application, unless you want to comment on it, and avoid mentioning any particular university or college.’

This is a very delicate balancing act to strike and one of the fundamental challenges of the teacher reference.

What Can My Teacher Reference Add?

Since you are not using the same information as the student, you should be asking yourself this: ‘what it is that I can say to strengthen their application that they might not be able to say themselves?’

Here are some ideas to get you started:

And here are some practical examples:

Remember, a rigorous, evidence-based approach may make for a more persuasive reference than a personal plea.

What Are The Key Components Of The Teacher Reference?

UCAS flags the following key components. For each one, we highlight a list of fundamental considerations that the teacher needs to weigh up.

Post-16 academic performance and their potential for success in higher education.

Why they’re suited to their chosen subject and career path, plus their attitude, motivation and commitment.

Achievements, work experience, and extracurricular activities that relate to their chosen course(s).

Skills and qualities like aptitude and enthusiasm, plus current or past achievements that will help with their chosen subject area.

Example 1: ‘James got excellent AS results despite being very stressed’

Example 2: ‘James doesn’t talk much but always gets the best grades’

Should I Involve The Student?

Yes! We highly recommend this. You will have numerous applicants to consider. The student has only one: themselves.

Explain to students that if they want a great reference, it is their responsibility to keep you up to date with academic and extracurricular activities that demonstrate the key qualities.

Ideally, these should be submitted to you in writing, along with a list of things the student thinks would benefit their application but which they could not fit on the personal statement.

Do You Have Any Tips For Writing A Teacher Reference?

Here are the top five tips for teachers writing references for Medicine:

  1. Be honest. If you are struggling to recommend a student, are they really suited for a career in Medicine?
  2. If you have doubts, speak to the student. Perhaps they will share your doubts; if not they might convince you and in doing so give inspiration for the reference.
  3. Talk to the student regularly so you get to know them. Understand their motivations for Medicine, what they have done and what they have learned.
  4. Keep notes on any times when you notice your medical applicants showing key qualities needed to make a good doctor. You can then use these in your reference.
  5. Get the tone right. Aim for a reference that is objective and analytical, but sprinkled with personal endorsement.

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