Applying to Medicine in the UK

Edinburgh Medical School receives 10 applications for every place available

Edinburgh receives 10 applications for every place available

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Hello! I’m Jane Fang, a National Scholar who did my A-levels in KYUEM. I applied to University of Edinburgh, King’s College London, University of Cardiff and University of Cambridge for Medicine, and to University College London for Biological Sciences. I am very grateful to say that I got offers from all of the universities except Cambridge.

I am going to share a bit of my experience and advice about UCAS medical application. However, do keep in mind that my advice is more towards NON-Oxbridge universities application.

My dream university and first choice has always been the University of Edinburgh. Even my personal statement is specially tailored to suit Edinburgh’s selection criteria. (This is not advisable though)

There are a few ‘checkpoints’ in the medicine application process. Here they are.

  1. Be 100% sure that you want to study medicine. Don’t be influenced by others. Once you have made up your mind, brace yourself for the future challenges!
  2. Medical attachments
  3. Personal Statement
  4. UKCAT
  5. Choosing your universities. You have very important decisions to make.
  6. UCAS Application
  7. BMAT (only applies to Oxbridge, UCL or Imperial applicants)
  8. Interviews
  9. The most torturing part – waiting for application results. You get heart palpitations every time your email notification rings. (I set my alarm at 1am every night for almost 2 weeks just to refresh the university application portal.)

I will elaborate on these points below. This is my first time writing an article. I’m not very good at writing, so I’m just gonna keep it simple and straight to the point!


MEDICAL ATTACHMENTS, ECA & VOLUNTARY WORK

Medical attachment

I managed to secure a one-week placement at Pantai Hospital Melaka (private) and another week at the Melaka General Hospital (government).

I’ve heard stories where students can’t get attachment opportunities in big hospitals and ended up in small GP clinics. Don’t worry about this. It is perfectly fine and acceptable. What is more important is the experience you gain from these visits and remember to express them in the right context in your personal statement.

ECA

It is very true that you need to have an impressive list of ECA if you hope to be admitted into super competitive medical universities like Manchester, Edinburgh, King’s, Imperial and others. Less competitive medical schools look at ECA too. I am very active in music activities and a bit of sports. Some juniors have expressed their worries to me before about not having music as their ECA. Music is just an example of good ECA. You can always be actively involved in other activities like sports, debate, public speaking, Duke of Edinburgh Awards, dance, art, etc. As I have mentioned above, what is more important is the skills that you gain from them and how you express them in your personal statement.

Voluntary work

It is better to have a regular commitment. During interviews, you might be asked about your visits and experiences. Doing just one project like a pathetic visit to the Soup Kitchen is insufficient. You can always start now, it’s not too late. For example, you can do weekly visits to old folks home for a duration of three months or join a charity club.

PERSONAL STATEMENT (PS)

This will probably be the most important document you will have to produce. It’s a piece of writing to ‘sell’ yourself. For Edinburgh applicants, there will be no interview stage. So, your personal statement is really the only way to communicate with the university about yourself. Avoid using bombastic words, especially words that are never used in daily conversations. It makes your PS sound very unnatural and awkward. Make sure that your sentences are not too complicated or flowery. You are not applying to be a poet. And trust me, the admission officers will not be impressed by your ‘amazing’ English.

The most basic and effective structure of a PS is

  • Introduction – include reason(s) why you chose medicine
  • Academic – show your initiative to gain more knowledge about the medical world, e.g. getting medical attachments, reading related books, journals and magazines, etc.
  • ECA and voluntary activities – explain what skills you’ve developed from these activities that will be useful in your career as a doctor
  • Very short conclusion

This is just a rough guide, to help you start off with your PS. Be careful not to use up too much word quota in your conclusion or intro. They are not really necessary, just a short opening and closure to make your PS attractive and different.

Absolutely no plagiarism will be tolerated. Do not produce ‘copy-paste’ writings because universities have high-tech programmes to detect any form of plagiarism. It is not wrong though to get advice from lecturers or friends. However, try not to share your PS with too many people. Everyone has different opinions and you might end up in a huge mess.

In my opinion, the most important key to writing a good personal statement is to make it as personal as possible.

Have fun writing!

ADMISSIONS TEST

UKCAT

It is a medical applicant’s nightmare. You only get one chance, do it right and you get interviews, if not, be realistic and say goodbye to top universities.

This is what I know from my year’s application (2013-2014). The cut-off score for Manchester is 730 and the average score for those who got interviews from King’s is about 730-740. There is a new section in the UKCAT test – the Situational Judgement Test (SJT). Edinburgh assesses your scores in each section, not just the average, and SJT is very important for Edinburgh applicants. You should aim for Band 1 or 2. Luckily for me, I managed to get an average of 745, and Band 1 in SJT. If you are not aiming for top-notch universities, try to aim for at least 700 in your average UKCAT scores.

So how do your score in UKCAT? Practice, and more practice, of course! It’s not something that you can learn and memorise by heart. Go and get UKCAT books or dig out websites which provide free mock practices.

It is not necessary to sign up for overpriced online courses. Free resources are more than enough. When your exam date approaches, log in to the official UKCAT website for their timed mock test. Fret not if you can’t complete some sections within the time limit. These sections are usually Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning. There is sufficient time for Abstract Reasoning and more than enough for Decision Analysis and SJT. For Verbal Reasoning, try not to read the passages word by word. If you do it that way, you can only complete at most 3 out of 8 or 9 passages within the time limit! Try to focus and answer as many questions as possible. Familiarise yourself with the on-screen calculator for Quantitative Reasoning. Btw, I find the calculator very annoying and time-consuming to use, it is faster to calculate using paper and pen or just mental arithmetic.

For Abstract Reasoning, it will look totally alien to you at first glance. However after lots of practice, it will eventually make sense.

Goodluck for your UKCAT!

BMAT

This test is relevant to Oxbridge, UCL and Imperial applicants. I did my BMAT for Cambridge. Honestly, it was the most difficult test ever for me. However I am truly surprised when I got my results. 6.5, 6.9, 4A.  Totally unexpected but it’s a waste anyway. My other university choices didn’t consider BMAT.

There are three sections:

  1. Aptitude Skills
  2. Scientific Knowledge
  3. Writing Task

Section 2 is something that you can study and prepare for. The questions asked are mainly from the syllabus covered in SPM/O-levels and AS levels.

For Sections 1 and 3, again, do more practice. Choose a topic that you are comfortable with for section 3 and do some related reading and research. Collect and write down certain examples, cases or points that may be useful in your writing.

INTERVIEWS

If you have made it to the interview stage, congratulations! I attended Cambridge and Cardiff interviews in Malaysia and King’s interview in London.

University of Cambridge

100% academic. You most probably won’t get questions like ‘why do you want to be a doctor’ or ‘tell me about your work attachment’. The questions are all an extension of your current A-level syllabus, and contain a mixture of Chemistry, Biology and general knowledge. Don’t worry if you can’t get the answers directly. The interviewers will guide you through and they are more interested in your approach to the questions given rather than your final answers.

King’s College London and Cardiff University 

Slightly more personal. Questions are based on your personal statement and some on current health science issues. If you have mentioned a book or a journal in your PS, you might get questions about it. So, don’t invite trouble; make sure that you are familiar with the reading materials before putting them into your personal statement.

***

To ace your interviews, I recommend you to check out the university websites about their interview criteria. For example, Kings listed out how they assess you during the interview. Read up about their course structure and also try to make some notes about why you chose that university. It is also a good idea to read up about NHS and UK’s medical system.

Also, mock practices help a lot! Find your lecturers who are willing to have mock sessions with you. Bug them until they agree to have a 10-minute session with you! I had a few sessions with different lecturers and I could see myself improving over time. If you can’t get lecturers to help you, mock session with your friends will be good enough!

***

Finally, its time to wait for offers (or rejections). Remember this, the biggest challenge to be a doctor is to get a place in a good medical school. So, do not be too disappointed if you do not get any offers at all. You might still have a chance if you get excellent A2 results.

Overall, the medical application is a very challenging process. It takes time and you should not rush through it. Record and make notes on any non-academic activities that you’ve done or will be doing over the course of your A-levels. Write them in a notebook, diary or any personal gadgets, you will find this very helpful when writing your personal statement.

I hope that you will find this useful. All the best in your application!


Links which you may find useful:

  1. Medicine @ King’s: http://www.kcl.ac.uk/prospectus/undergraduate/medicine/applying
  2. Medicine @ Edinburgh: http://www.ed.ac.uk/schools-departments/medicine-vet-medicine/undergraduate/medicine
  3. Medicine @ Cardiff: http://www.cardiff.ac.uk/for/prospective/undergraduate/applying/admissions-criteria/medicine/entry-requirements.html
  4. Medicine @ UCL: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/medicalschool/undergraduate/mbbs-admissions/application-process
  5. Medicine @ Cambridge: http://www.study.cam.ac.uk/undergraduate/courses/medicine/
  6. NHS website: http://www.nhs.uk/Pages/HomePage.aspx
  7. Free UKCAT resources thread on The Student Room UK: http://www.thestudentroom.co.uk/showthread.php?t=621992

Jane FangFoo Jane Fang will be pursuing her medicine degree at the University of Edinburgh under the JPA National Scholarship. She is a big fan of Harry Potter and you might spot her playing Quidditch in Edinburgh.

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