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Your complete guide to admissions tests for UK medical schools

Olivier Guiberteau
Last Updated: 17 July 2021 • 6 min read

If medicine is the road that you have chosen, then congratulations. You have chosen one of the most honourable career paths out there - and also one of the most difficult. Studying medicine is a long path, but before you can even get to the start line of this marathon, you have to be entered into the race. An admissions test can be a stressful experience, but with the right kind of preparation, there should be nothing to fear. 

Step 1 - Choose your medical school 

This might be stating the extremely obvious, but before we can even begin talking about admission tests, you need to know which medical school you are applying for. There are currently 33 medical schools scattered across the United Kingdom and importantly, admission requirements vary between them. 

Step 2 - Know what’s ahead

While medical schools vary across the country, the kind of admission tests you will be asked to take falls into just a few categories. The majority of UK medical schools require the UCAT examination, but there are numerous that ask for the BMAT examination and a few with the GAMSAT. Needless to say, it’s vital you know which exam you need, well before you take it. 

UCAT Exam

Short for University Clinical Aptitude Test, the UCAT is essentially trying to gauge whether you have the required mental ability and professionalism to work in medicine. Sounds a little scary, but would you want a doctor who failed a mental ability test? Around 25,000 people sit the UCAT each year and it is by far the most popular admission test.

The UCAT can be broken down into five different sections:

  • Verbal reasoning – this assesses how well you can critically evaluate the information in written form. 

  • Quantitative reasoning – exactly the same but with numbers. 

  • Abstract reasoning – this one requires your imaginations. Here you’re asked to problem solve and work out the connection between pieces of information.

  • Decision analysis – This part of the test asks you to make informed decisions and judgements using complex information. 

  • Situational judgement – This section focuses on your ability to understand real-life situations and choose the appropriate way to deal with them. 

Helpful hints  

  • Practice speed reading before the exam, either with newspapers or articles. This will also help with your critical reasoning skills needed in the verbal reasoning section

  • If your math skills are a little vague, this is certainly one area to brush-up on. This will be of great benefit with your decision making and quantitative reasoning. 

  • Read over the General Medical Council’s Good Medical Practice book before the exam, when you get to the Situational Judgement Test, you’ll be glad of it! 

The entire UCAT test takes 2 hours and costs between £65 or £85, depending on the time of year you take it, for UK and EU residents and £115 for those outside the EU. You typically have between May and late September to register for the exam and results are sent directly to the medical schools you have applied for. 

There are many books available to help you study for the UCAT. We recommend the Kaplan study guide, but really any book will be greatly beneficial.  

For more information on the UCAT test, go to the UCAT site

As a result of Covid-19, UCAT testing has been affected. For the latest information check online.  

BMAT

The Biomedical Admission Test has been developed by Cambridge Assessment and is divided into three sections. 

  • Aptitude and skills – This is a multiple-choice section testing problem-solving, understanding arguments, data analysis and inference. 

  • Scientific knowledge and applications – Another set of multiple-choice questions, this time testing how well you can apply scientific and mathematical knowledge.

  • Writing task – This section requires you to answer one of the three questions on offer, testing your ability to select, develop, organise and communicate ideas

Helpful hints

  • It’s definitely worth going over your maths before the exam and most BMAT preparation websites encourage you to focus on fractions in particular. 

  • But why stop at maths - you’ll need to revise biology, chemistry and physics also - we never said medicine was easy!

This test is also two hours long and costs £85 for those from the UK or EU and £122 for those outside the EU. 

There are countless books available on Amazon but try to find a book that combines both exercises to improve your overall test ability, but also plenty of past papers.  

For more information on the BMAT test, go to their website

As a result of Covid-19, BMAT testing has been affected. For the latest information check online.  

GAMSAT

The Graduate Medical School Admissions Test is generally used for graduate-entry medicine programmes but is also required for a small number of entry-level programs. It is designed to assess your ability to undertake high-level intellectual studies in the medical and health professional programs.

The test is broken into three sections:

  • Reasoning in humanities and social sciences – this section looks at how well you interpret and understand ideas in social and cultural contexts.

  • Written communication – this section contains two written tasks which share a common theme and is designed to assess your ability to produce and develop ideas in your writing. 

  • Reasoning in biological and physical sciences – this section assesses your reasoning in chemistry (40%), biology (40%) and physics (20%)

Helpful hints

  • Be clear on your strengths and your weaknesses and study accordingly - don’t just hope something doesn’t come up in the test. 

  • Once again, maths, biology, chemistry and physics are going to be vital - don’t scrimp on any of them.  

  • In terms of time, this is a beast of an exam. Practice sitting the whole exam at home to get a good idea of how it feels. 

If we’re talking about the best books out there for the GAMSAT, it’s hard to look past The Gold Standard complete set. This is by far the best option out there but doesn’t come cheap. If you’re looking for something more affordable, think about buying the individual books you might need, or else the GAMSAT preparation books are much cheaper.    

This is a big test - 4 hours 45 minutes to be exact, which includes 19 minutes of reading time and a 30 mins break. 

The test can be taken at two points of the year, in March and September, and should be taken during the academic year in which you’re applying to university. It costs £268 for UK students or €341 for students from Ireland. Registration for the test runs between early November and early February.  

For more information on the GAMSAT test, go to their website.

As a result of Covid-19, GAMSAT testing has been affected. For the latest information check online. 

Step 3 - Prepare, prepare, prepare

Whichever exam you need to take, once get your hands on a study guide and some past exam papers, the real hard work begins. The number of people who arrive badly prepared each year is enough for both tests to mention it on their websites - don’t be one of those people. 

Like many things in life, hard work pays off. Both the study guide and past papers are vital, and though some might get more out of one than the other, it’s generally best to try and mix up your studying time and do plenty of both. 

Good luck! 

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