Updated: Sep 27, 2020
By Fatima Noor
Upon first glance, the BioMedical Admissions Test (BMAT) can seem like a very daunting exam, but with proper preparation the BMAT can be tackled so that there are no surprises when exam day rolls around. This article provides you with information on how to approach the exam as well as tips to help you achieve a higher score.
Tip 1: Understand what the exam consists of...
The BMAT is split into 3 sections, each testing different skills which will be useful when you study medicine at University. Section 1 tests problem solving and critical thinking skills. Section 2 tests scientific knowledge and application and section 3 is a writing task. Its best to familiarise yourself with the format of the exam including timings for each section before you start practicing. To do this visit the Cambridge Assessment Admissions Testing (CAAT) website (https://www.admissionstesting.org/for-test-takers/bmat/) which provides you with a test specification outlining the breakdown of marks. This specification also includes the assumed scientific knowledge that will be tested in section 2. You should plan to have a look over this and note down topics that you are not confident with. Make sure to go over these topics using your GCSE notes as well as help from your teachers. The science tested comes from all specifications so there may be topics that you never covered in high school. Look out for these topics. This should be the first step of your BMAT preparation so do spend time having a look over the resources available on the CAAT website.
Tip 2: Past Papers
The best way to fully prepare yourself for the BMAT is to practise, practise and then practise some more. Fortunately, the CAAT website provides all the previous BMAT papers from 2003 onwards, so there is no shortage of questions to complete. One tip is to start with the specimen paper and the 2014 paper as the worked solutions for these are available on the CAAT website. Perhaps go over them untimed at the beginning of your preparation to help you get used to the types of questions asked. Then start timing yourself when you are 2-3 papers in. Don’t worry if you are not able to answer all the questions in the time limit. This will hopefully improve once you get more comfortable with the exam. Try to mimic exam conditions when you sit these papers. This is especially important once you start getting closer to exam day.
Tip 3: Analyse each paper
To help improve your BMAT score, you should always go over the questions you got wrong. Have another go at them again and if you don’t understand why a certain answer is incorrect, do not hesitate to ask others for help to make sure that you don’t make similar mistakes in later papers. Therefore, it is recommended that you space out each paper. Maybe leave a day between each past paper to make sure that you have spent enough time analysing. By doing this you will be able to identify types of questions you are struggling with and spot gaps in scientific knowledge for section 2. Once you have done this, work on improving your weaknesses and form strategies to help you, which brings us onto the next tip…
Tip 4: Form time saving strategies
Whilst the BMAT is not as time pressured as the UCAT, you still need to work efficiently to be able to get through all the questions and help maximise your marks. This can be done through using strategies to help you work faster. For example, in problem solving questions that contain long difficult numbers it is best to round the numbers to a smaller number of significant figures to make sums easier and quicker to deal with. Also, using fractions is a lot simpler than using decimals and can help save precious seconds. When running out of time at the end of the test, quickly scan questions and eliminate answers that are obviously wrong and guess from the remaining choices as this will increase your chance of getting the answer correct and being able to complete the remaining questions in the short amount of time you have left. There is a plethora of strategies similar to these available on the internet and on YouTube. All you have to do is look! As there are calculation questions in both section 1 and 2, work on your mental arithmetic because the BMAT is a non-calculator exam. It is paramount that you use these strategies during your practice to determine what works best for you.
Tip 5: Further reading for section 1
The critical thinking skills tested in section 1 may be relatively new to you. To help ease you into this, the CAAT have a further reading list available on their website. You definitely do not need to read all of them nor do you need to spend a lot of money buying them, but I recommend having a look in your local library to see if you can borrow one of the books from there. The list includes books like ‘Thinking skills’ by John Butterworth and Geoff Thwaites and ‘Critical Thinking: An Introduction’ by Alec Fisher. These books provides you with tips on how to approach the problem solving and critical thinking questions in section 1 and can be very useful if you are having difficulty with these types of questions and don’t know how to improve.
Tip 6: Choose your essay question wisely
Section 3 is different to section 1 and 2 as it provides you with 3 essay titles and you choose one to complete. When starting preparation for this section, go over how the essay is graded and what you need to do to achieve the highest band. All 3 titles will allow you to access top marks therefore do not feel as if you have to choose the most difficult question in order to impress the examiner. Instead, choose the question that you feel most comfortable with. Each title has a set of 3 statements instructing you as to what you need to include in your essay, so focus on choosing a title where you can write equal amounts for each bullet point. This is very important because if you do not cover all 3 statements you cannot achieve higher than a 2A.
Tip 7: Plan your essay
Examiners are testing your ability to organise your ideas and present them in a concise coherent manner meaning it is essential that you plan your essay before you begin writing. You have 30 minutes to write just under a side of A4 so knowing what you want to write and in what order, will save you time and space as you are not allowed to receive more paper. It is recommended that you spend 10 minutes coming up with a detailed plan and then spend 15-20 minutes writing, making sure to check over your essay at the end for mistakes. Try using these timings when you practise papers and determine what times work best for you.
Tip 8: Wider reading for section 3
It is likely that the titles for the essay will be related to studying/practising medicine, ethics or science. It is useful to read up on various topics such as medical ethics (including the four pillars), scientific developments and current medical issues as you could bring these into the essay to make it stand out. However, only add examples that you feel confident about as you do not want to risk decreasing the quality of your writing by adding a weak example with no link to the title or an example that is incorrect. Being able to argue for both sides of a debate and then come up with a strong concise conclusion, is a skill tested in section 3. To improve this skill you may find it helpful to analyse newspaper reports. Get comfortable with being able to express your views on news articles and defending your opinions. When looking at newspapers, also try to find conclusions or assumptions as this will develop the skills needed for section 1.
Tip 9: Practise essay writing with a partner
You may find it difficult to critique and score your own essays. Finding a friend (who is also preparing for the BMAT) is very helpful as they will be able to find areas for improvement with your essays and help you progress. Once you write an essay, ask them to mark it for you using the mark schemes available on the CAAT website. They may be able to provide you with points that you could include next time as well as some constructive criticism. Marking their essays as well will help you improve your own because it puts you in the shoes of an examiner so you really know what they are looking for in an essay. If you are not able to find a willing friend, you could always ask a teacher or a family member.
Tip 10: TSA Oxford papers
If you are looking for more section 1 practise, the TSA Oxford papers are very useful to complete. The questions asked are almost identical to the ones in the BMAT and also test your critical thinking and problem solving skills. So, tackle these papers with the same strategies you would tackle BMAT section 1. Again, practising these skills repeatedly will help you improve.
Finally, it is very important to relax. Do not overwork yourself preparing for the BMAT and make sure you are well rested when the exam day arrives. During the exam, do not panic if you do not understand a question. Mark an answer, move on and come back to it if you have time. Remaining calm both during preparation and during the exam will help you achieve high marks. Good luck!