The Ultimate BMAT Guide — All You Need To Know (2020)
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What is BMAT? — BMAT or BioMedical Admissions Test is an aptitude test that is required for entry into UK medical schools. As there is the limitation of applying to a maximum of four medical programmes, and different schools require different tests, there is some amount of strategy involved when you’re choosing which tests to take, which results to use, and ultimately, which schools to apply to through UCAS.
In this guide we’ll cover the following:
- Which test you should sit for
- Complete tutorials for BMAT
- Sections, test duration, format, types of questions
- Breakdown of example questions and answers
- How to answer BMAT written questions
- How to manage your time during the tests
- BMAT Medical School League Table
- UCAS application strategies: which schools to apply to and why
Table of Contents
Which medical admission test should I sit for?
Some things that are important to note is that exam results for both UCAT and BMAT are only valid for one year after taking the exam. Both exams may only be taken once a year – while BMAT allows more than one sitting, it is strongly discouraged and both results will be sent to your school. This means that if you have bad results in your admissions test, you may have to take a gap year before you can retake the exam.
While we discuss both admission tests here, this article is dedicated to BMAT while our UCAT guide discusses the test in more detail.
How much does BMAT cost?
BMAT costs £37 (approximately RM200) for a February sitting or £122 (approximately RM660) for an October sitting.
How much does UCAT cost?
The UCAT costs £115 (approximately RM620) to take outside of the EU.
Choice of medical schools
It’s important to do research into UK medical schools and find out which ones you like best, then sit for the appropriate test. We outlined some factors to consider when choosing medical schools in our guide.
For those aiming to attend the top two medical schools which are Oxford and Cambridge, you would have to take BMAT – specifically for Oxford, you can only take BMAT during the October sitting. Additionally, as we explore further in a section below (UCAT and BMAT Admission into Medical Schools outside the UK), in the event that you are not accepted into any UK medical schools, BMAT is accepted in a number of medical schools outside the country.
Otherwise, taking the UCAT allows you to apply to 30 other medical schools in the UK.
BMAT/UCAT sitting dates and early applicants
As we mentioned in our Complete Guide To Studying Medicine In The UK (2020), submitting your UCAS application early may put you at an advantage.
Malaysians have the option to sit for BMAT in February at the University of Malaya. Although registrations are done through the university instead of BMAT, this is a standard BMAT test and the results should be accepted by most medical schools. However, taking the BMAT in February will narrow your choices to just seven UK medical schools as Oxford only accepts results from an October/November sitting. Malaysian applicants may also take the BMAT exam in October/November in a British Council centre.
You can sit for UCAT from as early as July until around October. As UCAT is a computer-based test, results will be available on the day of the test and you can submit an application right away, then sit for BMAT later in the year. You can sit for UCAT at any approved official centre.
Test format and preparation
Depending on your aptitude, you may find one test format easier than the other. While excellent admission test results are not all that matters to the admissions team, you still need to do fairly well in the admission tests so you should consider what type of tests you excel in.
BMAT consists of both multiple-choice questions and a written test. The first section is aimed at testing your aptitude and skills, and consists of 35 questions. The second section consists of 27 questions and is aimed at testing your scientific knowledge and applications. This section is concentrated on testing your application of knowledge gained from mathematics and science subjects, equivalent to GCSE level. The questions may be more difficult than GCSEs, but students who aced maths and science may find many of the concepts familiar. The third section of the test is a written task where you have a choice of three questions to answer and it tests you on your ability to create good arguments and your written communication skills.
UCAT is a multiple-choice test which has five sections: verbal reasoning, decision making, quantitative reasoning, abstract reasoning, and situational judgement. Each section or subtest is individually timed and you will have to complete the section before moving on to the next. We discuss the test in detail in our UCAT guide here.
Preparation and required results
BMAT provides free practice tests for students to prepare with. You can find BMAT’s practice tests here. It’s best for applicants to take practice tests as it is the best way to prepare for the exam.
Each school will vary in how they use aptitude test scores. Oxford uses their own scoring system on applicants based on their BMAT results, with a 20% weightage assigned to the written task while UCL’s scoring system places a stronger weightage on the same section.
Recommended admission test
We strongly recommend applicants to sit for UCAT in addition to BMAT. For applicants who want to apply to Oxford and sit for BMAT in October/November, the sitting happens after the UCAS application is due which means that there is no way of knowing how you did before you hedge your bets on your application. It is a safer option to take the UCAT as well, so you could be eligible for more medical schools. We cover application strategies in more detail in the section below in UCAS Application Strategies.
What is BMAT Time And Format Like?
BMAT is a pen and paper test and you are given two hours (120 minutes) to complete it. You are advised to spend the first hour in the first section, and 30 minutes each for section two and the written task.
BMAT Section Breakdown
Section 1 – Thinking Skills tests you on your problem-solving skills and how well you understand arguments. Do note that there has been an update for the 2020 paper and this section will no longer include data analysis and inference questions, where you are given a text to read followed by questions based on the text.
Section 2 – Scientific Knowledge and Applications tests you on your ability to apply knowledge from four subjects: Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and Mathematics. These questions may have you apply knowledge that you should already know, but in new and unfamiliar contexts.
Section 3 – Writing Task tests you on your ability to develop and communicate your ideas and arguments in the form of writing. This is more of a test about your ability to form an argument and to convey a message clearly and concisely, rather than one of your knowledge.
Types of Questions
Section 1: Thinking Skills
32 multiple-choice questions
Problem-solving – 16
Critical thinking – 16
Section 2: Scientific Knowledge and Applications
Biology – 7
Chemistry – 7
Physics – 7
Mathematics – 6
Section 3: Writing Task
Answer 1 of 3 choices
BMAT Required Knowledge - Scientific Knowledge and Applications
The questions in Section 2 assume that you are already familiar with knowledge for the subjects you are tested on – Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics. You are expected to have mastery over these subjects at the equivalent of a GCSE level. Although these may seem like basic knowledge at your level, you should be able to apply this knowledge readily during the exam. This section will show you a summary of what you need to know. You could read a more detailed list on BMAT test specifications.
BMAT Tutorial and Sample Questions
There are no penalties for wrong answers, so you should always answer all questions. The first section is a test of your problem-solving and argumentative skills. There are 32 total multiple-choice questions in this section and you are advised to spend about an hour in this section.
Do note that for the 2020 BMAT, there has been a revision in questions for this section and it will no longer include questions with text-based data and inference. These are questions that have you make inferences based on a short passage which contains an argument. Some of these questions are still in the practice tests, so be mindful that they won’t be in the exam.
Example Thinking Skills Question
John is planning to use a 10 acre field to supply winter silage for his cattle and hay for his sheep. He is expecting to get 100 bales of hay from each acre. Before harvesting the hay, he will first cut an acre around the edge of the field as silage – this allows him to manoeuvre his hay making machinery. After cutting the hay in June, he will cut the whole field as second cut silage in August and again as third cut silage in September. His farm manual provides the following information:
How many bales of silage will John have at the end of his harvest?
This is an example of how BMAT questions can have familiar concepts, but used in unfamiliar situations. It’s pretty simple mathematics in the question, even if you’re unfamiliar with terms such as silage.
The information about hay is not relevant to the question so they can be ignored entirely.
In the first cut, he only cuts one acre of silage, so this is 7 bales according to the table. In the second and third cuts, he cuts the entire field which is:
10 acres x 5 bales = 50 bales
10 acres x 4 bales = 40 bales
This explains the total which is 97 bales.
It is unclear what to expect for this section due to the change in the test – it is likely to include more questions that test your ability to extract data and process arguments.
In the second section – Scientific Knowledge and Application, you will be tested on your ability to apply knowledge gained from GCSE-level science and mathematics subjects in unfamiliar contexts. There are 27 multiple-choice questions in this section and you’re advised to spend around 30 minutes in this section.
Example Scientific Knowledge and Applications Questions
Which of the following could possibly take part in an addition polymerisation reaction?
A) 1, 2 and 3 only
B) 1, 2 and 4 only
C) 1, 3 and 5 only
D) 2, 3 and 4 only
E) 2, 4 and 5 only
F) 3, 4 and 5 only
Addition polymerisation takes place between unsaturated molecules (alkenes) and it cannot take place in fully saturated molecules (alkanes).
Alkenes have the general formula of CₙH₂ₙ while alkanes have the general formula CₙH₂ₙ₊₂. Both alkenes and alkanes can have halogen atoms replace one or more H atoms in the formula.
Therefore, compounds 1 and 3 are fully saturated. Only compounds 2, 4, and 5 can take part in an addition polymerisation reaction.
The following table shows the specifications for a transformer with 1500 turns in its primary coil. The output is connected to a resistor.
Based on this information, what is the number of turns in the secondary coil?
The output power in Watts is 500 W.
The formula to use here is:
P = I / V
The calculation for output voltage is as follows:
P / I = 500 / 10 = 50 V
Therefore, the number of turns on the secondary coil is calculated as:
(1500 x 50) / 250 = 1500 / 5 = 300 turns
Other types of questions you may expect to find in this section may test you on specific knowledge in biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics such as: genes, algebra, graph interpretation, and so on. These are the same as the topics we have mentioned above in the section BMAT Required Knowledge – Section 2.
Section three is the written task and you are expected to spend about 30 minutes in this section. You are given a statement and you have to first explain the proposition in the statement and its implications, make a compelling counterargument, then reconcile the two opposing positions.
Example Writing Task Questions
Explain what this statement means. Argue to the contrary to show that a little learning is not dangerous. To what extent do you think learning can be a dangerous thing?
Example BMAT Writing Task Essay
The quote, ‘a little learning is a dangerous thing,’ implies that knowing only a little about something can make a person assume that they know more than they really do.
Having some knowledge is always beneficial, even if it is not in-depth in the matter. For example, knowing first aid can be helpful in our everyday lives, such as knowing how to bandage a wound. While we may not know the correct procedure for slinging a broken arm, knowing enough first aid to recognise a broken bone is sufficient for us to call an ambulance and get the patient some help. In some cases, it is good to learn a little in case the need for that knowledge arises.
The real problem with ‘a little learning’ is when we assume we know more than we really do. However, it is still important that we learn something about the world around us rather than not. One example is when we assume we understand the full story of a news article by only reading its headline. There may be more to the story we have missed, but reading the headlines keeps us abreast of current issues. In this case, we should use the limited knowledge that we have responsibly. We should acknowledge that we only know the summary of the story and defer to someone else who has read the full article. When we are only doing ‘little learning’, we should understand that there is a lot more to it that we do not know, in case we misuse our incomplete knowledge.
Knowledge is powerful and in some instances, it can be dangerous. Having certain knowledge such as lockpicking can be used for good, but some may use it to break into a home illegally. Another example of knowledge being dangerous is when it causes us harm. Learning about something that is extremely sad, such as violent crimes, may be very upsetting and harm our mental wellbeing or threaten our sense of safety. Even with these risks, we should still learn about current events in our community so we can remain vigilant. The benefits of having knowledge far outweighs its dangers.
While having little knowledge of something can be harmful when it is misused and assumptions are made based on incomplete facts, it can be extremely helpful when the need arises. To some extent, learning can be dangerous as what we learn might harm us or the knowledge may be misused by others. However, it is imperative that we know about the world around us as it is more important than the possibility of it being harmful.
The essay addresses the statement concisely and delivers a strong counterargument for instances where ‘little learning’ can be beneficial. It also includes contrasting views in favour of the question statement and explores some opposing examples to the counterargument. The answer also addresses the second part of the question, which asks to what extent learning can be dangerous.
Each statement has elaborations that are backed with reasonable examples. Each paragraph is signposted well with a clear introduction and concluding sentence. It fully meets the criteria set by the question and there are no obvious grammatical or syntactic errors.
BMAT Essay Tutorial
To ace the third section, the only way to be good at writing is to practice. What the examiners expect to see is a good argument delivered in a structured essay using good English. Your essay should ideally be between 300-450 words – this is roughly one to one and a half pages long, depending on your handwriting.
It is important to note that you are being tested on your skills in generating arguments and communicating your ideas effectively on paper. This is not a test of your knowledge or your flair for poetic writing. Due to the constraints in word count, try your best to make a concise argument and be sure to spend a good amount of time developing a solid, nuanced argument.
When you’re taking the exam, if you changed your mind about a paragraph or you noticed you have made a grammatical error, you can cross out the section or insert a word or a sentence. When marking your essay, the examiner will ignore the crossed sections and include sentences you have added in.
Be sure to read the question thoroughly! BMAT often revises their format and questions. While the essay questions normally ask you to provide a counterargument to a statement, this could change at any time.
Consider taking the time to scribble a draft as well. This helps you evaluate your arguments before you spend time writing your essay. You don’t need to write your essay in full at this stage, simply jot down your ideas in a structure such as the following:
Counter 2 + synthesis
TWE (to what extent)
Next, you will start to develop these points into a full essay. The first part of writing your essay is addressing the proposition or premise of the statement. This is an argument or a stance that the statement in the question makes and you should elaborate about what you think it means in your introduction paragraph.
There is no such thing as dangerous speech; it is up to people to choose how they react.
The statement here says that people should be free to say whatever they want and that the meaning behind one’s speech is determined solely by how others perceive it. This argument implies that free speech is always acceptable, even if the sentiment poses some level of danger to others.
Then, form your counterargument around the statement. Elaborate and provide some examples to support your argument. The following paragraph structure is often used in academic writing and you may find it helpful:
In your essay, you have to reconcile the two sides of the argument – what did the author or statement mean, and how do you feel in contrary to their opinion? This is how you could bring two arguments together:
Bananas are better than apples because they are high in potassium and they are easy to eat.
Apples are better than bananas because they are crunchy and cleanse the palate.
Reconciling the two arguments:
There should be no limits to free speech because it is up to others how they interpret the meaning.
There are limits to free speech as hate speech can cause great harm to the community.
Reconciling the two arguments:
It takes some level of skill to be able to reconcile two opposing arguments. It demonstrates maturity in thinking as you are able to take in all sides of an argument and synthesize the different ideas to formulate a well-rounded conclusion. You need to be able to discuss opposing views in a logical, coherent manner. Take the best of both arguments and evaluate them objectively in your essay. This is where your judgement comes in – which argument is most compelling, or are they equally good arguments?
Finally, draw your essay to a close with a conclusion. Repeat all the points that you have made in your essay and summarise the key points in one short paragraph. If you wrote your essay with a good structure which ends each paragraph with a concluding sentence, you can simply summarise each of those concluding sentences in the final paragraph.
BMAT Exam Strategies
Before you take the exam, be sure that you first complete timed practice tests and have a teacher assess your written essay. You can find some practice tests here. If you have an aptitude for writing, you may find it less stressful to start with the essay first before you answer the multiple choice questions. The reason for this is because there will be a penalty for an incomplete essay, while the answers for multiple-choice questions can be guessed if you’re in a pinch for time.
If you have been diligent studying for the paper, you might find that section two is easy and it could benefit you to answer that section first to get it out of the way. Whatever your strategy may be, be sure to keep an eye on the time.
BMAT Scores Explained
BMAT scores for the objective tests are distributed normally, which means that the scores are adjusted in such a way that most students will score in the middle of the range, around 5.0. A good result is around 6.0, while a 7.0 and above is excellent and quite rare. The BMAT writing task is marked by two examiners who will each score it between 0-5 for content and A/C/E for the quality of written English. Thus, the written task will have both a number and letter score, such as 4A or 3C, where 5A is the best result possible.
So what is a good BMAT score? 7.0 is rare, so for good chances at admission, applicants should aim to score 6.0 and above. There is little data about how BMAT scores are used by medical schools aside from the fact that the written task score is taken into consideration as a percentage of your application.
Sections 1 & 2
9.0 (best) – 1.0 (lowest)
5A (best) – 1E (lowest)
The following table is the marking criteria for the essay. Your essay is marked by two examiners who will each give your essay a score which is then averaged. If you were scored 3A and 4C by your examiners, your final score will be 3.5B.
Irrelevant to the question, missing (unanswered), unintelligible
Some relevance to the question, but does not address the question as intended. Incoherent, unfocussed essay.
Addresses most parts of the question. Logical structure to the essay, but arguments are flawed. Some important parts of the question may be misunderstood or the arguments in the essay are unconvincing and weak.
Addresses all parts of the question. Proposes a reasonable and rational argument, but may be weak in the ideas. Some aspects of the argument may be overlooked.
Good answer with some weaknesses. Addresses all aspects of the question. Rational answer and the ideas are arranged well. A balanced consideration has been given to the argument and counterargument.
Excellent answer with no significant weaknesses. Addresses all aspects of the question. Uses excellent use of the material and presents an excellent counterargument. Ideas are expressed coherently, clearly, and logically. Considers a breadth of relevant points and leads to a compelling conclusion.
Good use of English – fluent, good sentence structure, uses a good depth of vocabulary, grammatically correct, accurate spelling and punctuation, few errors.
Reasonably clear use of English – not too difficult to read, simple sentence structure, appropriate use of vocabulary, acceptable grammar, reasonable spelling and punctuation, some errors.
Weak use of English – not fluent, difficult to follow, some flawed sentence structure, limited vocabulary, regular grammatical, spelling and punctuation errors.
UK Medical Schools League Table - BMAT Admission
The league table below displays medical schools that use BMAT as their admission test and its ranking in the UK as of 2020.
UK Medical Schools that use BMAT
Medical School Ranking in UK
Brighton & Sussex Medical School (Universities of Brighton and Sussex)
University of Cambridge
Imperial College London
University of Leeds
University of Oxford**
University College London
* Keele University: Overseas applicants (from outside of UK & EU) only
** University of Oxford: BMAT results from August sitting will not be accepted
UCAS Application Strategies
While other aspects of your UCAS application depend on subjective factors such as how a reviewer perceived your personal statement or your performance at the interview, we know that good admission test scores will give applicants a significant advantage in many UK medical schools. Some schools that accept BMAT have their own scoring system for applicants and this is largely based on BMAT scores, including the written task score. Medical schools accepting UCAT tend to rank applications based on their score. It is also a common practice for schools to reject applicants who score under a specific threshold, which is typically the bottom 30%.
Per our recommendations, sitting for both UCAT and BMAT maximises your options with your application as schools accepting BMAT are among the top medical schools in the UK, which can be highly competitive. Taking both tests allows you to include schools accepting UCAT in your application and it gives you two attempts at getting good test scores.
The BMAT sitting in October/November takes place after the UCAS application deadline around mid-October. You won’t know how you did at BMAT if you chose to take the October/November sitting, so we strongly recommend that you take UCAT and always include medical schools accepting UCAT in your application. If you include two UCAT schools in your application along with two BMAT schools, it gives you the opportunity to be admitted into a UK medical school in case you’ve been rejected from both schools accepting BMAT due to poor test scores and strong competition.
With less schools accepting BMAT, you would have to do much more research into the individual schools. Oxbridge is highly competitive, so we recommend that you only include one of either Cambridge or Oxford, and one other alternative school accepting BMAT. Your alternative BMAT choice in your application has to be one that you’re sure you have good admission chances for. As for the two other choices in your application, you could choose them based on the criteria we have outlined in our Complete Guide to Studying Medicine in the UK.
You could try to figure out your chances of admission at a school based on their requirements and international student acceptance rates. You would have the best chances with larger schools that admit most students. In general, schools with a lower or no minimum UCAT/BMAT score requirement may provide better chances as they may place more importance on other parts of your application.
Admission is more competitive for international students, with only a 7% chance of admission for overseas applicants from outside the EU and UK. However, some medical schools accept more international students than others – University of Central Lancashire (UCLAN) is the only medical school that admits mostly international students, while Buckingham does not have a cap on the number of international students they admit. Additionally, these two schools do not require admission tests so students with poor UCAT and BMAT results can still apply.
There isn’t really a wrong or right way to choose schools for your application, but being strategic about it can really help your chances at getting a good offer. It would be a waste to pick top schools with average UCAT/BMAT scores when you would have a fair shot at other schools with less competition and lower requirements.
BMAT Admission into Medical Schools outside the UK
In the event that you cannot secure a place in a UK medical school, there are a number of things you can do if you would still like to pursue medicine. We discuss various situations and what you could do in our Complete Guide To Studying Medicine In The UK in the section After You Apply. As we have recommended in that article, if you’re still interested in pursuing medicine, you can always apply to study elsewhere.
BMAT results are accepted in a number of medical schools around the world which could simplify the application process if you would still like to study medicine in a different country. You could simply take a different admissions test, but being able to use the BMAT results you already have will save you some time.
It’s important to note that BMAT results are only valid for one year following the test. It is subject to the school’s discretion if your results are accepted after a certain amount of time. This means that if you have not been accepted by any UK schools, you should apply to your next choice before the year is up or you may have to retake the exam.
Medical Schools outside the UK that use BMAT
University of Pécs
Nazarbayev University School of Medicine
University of Leiden
Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine
University of Navarra
Chiang Mai University
Khon Kaen University
King Mongkut’s Institute of Technology
Suranaree University of Technology
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