The BMAT- is it fair?

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BMAT By: Tutor no longer registered
Subject: BMAT
Last updated: 13/07/2013
Tags: bmat, london universities, medicine, oxbridge, university admissions

On hearing the word 'BMAT' or 'UKCAT', both medical and veterinary school applicants and current students will let out a small squeak and a shudder. They are both difficult on a gargantuan level. However, most medical schools now choose to use the UKCAT, with only Oxford, Cambridge, The Royal Veterinary College, UCL and Imperial choosing to use the BMAT. There has been a lot of highly debatable research into how well the UKCAT tests an applicant's aptitude to study medicine- most of it has been inconclusive. However, the BMAT, being the less abstract of the two tests, is probably less widely researched. It is undeniably far more traditional. The UKCAT is based on abstract reasoning, some might say it is similar to doing a modern, advanced version of an IQ test. However the BMAT, whilst covering similar skills, is based on scientific application and knowledge, mathematical reasoning and the ability to debate and form a reasonable argument. On the surface, it is easier to see how the BMAT relates to the aptitude required for a medical or veterinary student in comparison to the UKCAT. However, why is it that so many choose the UKCAT instead? Is the BMAT a fair test of aptitude?


As a current medical student, I prepare tutees for the BMAT. I also remember sitting the BMAT myself in 2008. At the time, it seemed impossibly hard. Section 1, the aptitude and skills section, is the university admissions equivalent of the paving stones leading to hell. In fact, I'm pretty sure they line the walls of doom with this section of the paper. Section 2 and Section 3 are shorter, but in no way do the questions come as a welcome second half to the exam. Having completed preclinical medicine since sitting the BMAT, I do find myself in a better position than I was when I sat it originally. That is definitely partially due to maturity (as well increased knowledge, of course). A 22 year old is almost always going to be in a better position to sit an exam than a 16 year old with the same educational background. Everything is always easier in hindsight. However, I do feel that the medical course so far has also further equipped me with the non-knowledge based skills that the BMAT claims it demonstrates in applicants. Whilst I will never be able to do every single question on the BMAT perfectly (everyone has weaknesses!) I can now do most. On the one hand, that could prove that the BMAT is accurately demonstrating that the candidate has the aptitude and at least some of the skills required to handle the demands of a degree in medicine. On the other hand, it's possible that this is too much to ask of a 16 or 17 year old, or even a graduate student with no medical background. Considering I now have a much higher ability in the tests than I used to, is it not possible that these skills are learnt as you mature and acquire more specialist knowledge?

During my time tutoring, I have also discovered that some of the questions asked in the BMAT relate to things you will either learn whilst doing the degree, or will learn more about. Therefore is it necessary to ask students, who do not all necessarily have the same educational background, questions about subject matter that will be re-covered in your first or second year of medical school? Particularly when this is not usually core knowledge for a 16 or 17 year old.

Nevertheless, despite its faults, I still believe that the BMAT can probably measure the abilities and aptitudes of applicants more accurately than the UKCAT, though that is something that will be debated until they find an alternative to the admissions tests. Indeed, there needs to be some way for universities to distinguish between applicants, as medical (and veterinary) schools are incredibly over-subscribed. A-levels and personal statements are simply not enough to filter the applications. However, the BMAT and UKCAT should not, and in most cases are not, the be-all and end-all of medical applications. Universities, whilst some have cut-off scores, will also consider other parts of your application. Many people with very average or below average admissions test scores are given interviews, allowing them their own time to shine and prove they are a capable, passionate and effervescent candidate. Medicine is not all about academic rigor and admissions tests scores, it is about personality. Whilst it is important to try hard and prepare for your admissions tests, do not forget that the tests are not the end of the world, and remember that there is so much more to a medical student, and a future clinician, than scores on a piece of paper. And trust me, the universities know this too.

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