Applying for Medicine in the UK 2020/2021 (Jean Ling Tan)

Ultimate Guide to the UK Medicine Application for Malaysians 

Applying to study Medicine abroad is a feat in itself. The process is lengthy and there are multiple hoops to jump through before making it to the doorstep of medical school. 

Anyone who is now doing Medicine will tell you that the hardest part of it is getting in, and I absolutely agree! As an international student, the process is even more rigorous as there are additional requirements to fulfill. 

With so many aspects of the application to juggle along with your studies, it gets very overwhelming! I went through this when applying myself and thought: “If only there was a resource summarising everything a Malaysian would need to apply for Medicine in the UK…” 

And that’s why I decided to create the timeline of the Medicine application for Malaysians! This is based on the application process for someone who is applying to Standard Entry Medicine directly from school, which is the pathway through which most international students enter Medicine. (More info about other pathways into Medicine can be found in my blog post here)

Feel free to print the timeline out and write down specific dates for your own applications!

Note that there will be slight variation by applicant depending on which pathway you’re going into and which medical schools you apply to. For example, if you’re only applying to medical schools that require the UCAT then there is no need to take the BMAT. 

Now sit back and relax as I give you an overview of the process and each aspect of the application. This article will be structured as such:

  1. English Proficiency Test
  2. Work Experience 
  3. UCAS Application and Personal Statement
  4. Grade Requirements
  5. Admissions Test(s)
  6. Additional Paperwork 
  7. Interviews
  8. After Interviews
  9. Tuberculosis Check
  10. Criminal Record Check 
  11. Visa Application 

1. English Proficiency Test (IELTS)

As international students, we are required to prove our level of English proficiency. For Medicine, you will have to fulfil a slightly higher standard of English requirements than for some other courses. 

Universities will publish their requirements for English proficiency test results on their websites. P.S. on my blog we’ll be releasing a one-stop resource for all medical school requirements, make sure to follow us to find out when it’ll be out! 

The most commonly done English proficiency test will be IELTS, you’ll have to take the Academic module which is divided into Speaking, Reading, Writing and Listening.

Most universities will require an average score of band 7.0 or 7.5, with a minimum band of 6.5 or 7.0 for the Writing component for Medicine. This varies by medical school so make sure to confirm what you’ll need! 

It is best to do the IELTS early. The results will be valid for two years, so if you do it the year you start your pre-university course whether it is A Levels, IB or STPM it will still be valid by the time you apply for Medicine and start the medical course. 

This will also give you more time to redo it if you missed your target band. Doing it early gets it out of the way so you can focus on other requirements for the Medicine application. (yes, there’s more to come!)

The best tip for the IELTS is to practice lots! Most people find either the Speaking or Writing component to be the most difficult, doing mock tests and asking for feedback helps a lot with improving your performance. Your English teachers will be a good source of feedback for this! 

2. Work Experience

Medical schools look at work experience as a way for applicants to gain insight into what Medicine will be like  and demonstrate commitment to a caring role

Typically most international students will get work experience by shadowing a doctor but what you can do as part of that role is limited. Due to your age and experience level, you’re likely to not be allowed to take an active role in the medical team or talk to patients. 

This can make shadowing quite a monotonous experience since you’d basically be a passive onlooker. Although this will give you some idea of what a medical career could be like, you won’t have much to talk about in interviews. Medicine interviews love asking about work experience and specifically, what skills you have picked up/improved on. 

Shadowing can also be difficult to get if you don’t have connections with anyone in the medical profession. You may have to cold email professionals, stating your interest in applying for Medicine in the UK and attaching a CV. These professionals are busy people and may end up not replying to you at all. 

That’s completely normal so don’t beat yourself up too much for that! Just make sure to start enquiring about work experience opportunities early on so you can approach as many institutions/professionals as possible. It may also be worth getting a reference/letter from your school making the request on your behalf. 

Medical schools understand that some applicants will not be able to get work experience in a medical setting. Therefore, they usually ask for long term commitment, usually for a caring role. A lot of applicants obtain work experience by volunteering; not only does this give you more to talk about in interviews (since you can bring in your own experiences in that role), it will also be a good way to demonstrate how you managed your studies alongside volunteering and how you developed your interpersonal skills.  

3. UCAS Application and Personal Statement 

The UCAS application deadline for Medicine is earlier than for most other courses. Usually this deadline is the 15th of October. When applying to Medicine, applicants can only put down 4 choices of medical course. You can have a 5th choice of a course that is not Medicine which can be used as a backup plan if you don’t get accepted into Medicine. 

To decide which medical school to choose, there are multiple factors to consider including your preference of course style, the medical school’s selection process and more. More info on how to choose a UK medical school is available on this blog post that I did recently (https://international-medics.com/how-to-choose-uk-medical-school/)

The personal statement is a 4000 character long essay, in which you convey why you’re interested in Medicine and how you’d make a good medical student/doctor. (4000 characters is around 500 words.)

Medical schools use the PS in different ways, some end up not looking at it when deciding which applicants to interview/give an offer to. 

My best tip for the personal statement is to get lots of feedback and keep redrafting! With some time the statement will definitely improve, and why not make use of CollegeLAH’s free PS Checking service

4. Grade Requirements

Most medical schools will require a minimum of AAA for the A Levels to be giving an offer. Some medical schools such as Oxbridge have a higher requirement. It is usually compulsory that applicants take Chemistry, some medical schools do not require Biology while some require both Chemistry and Biology. 

If you have not taken your exams by the time you apply, you will be using predicted grades from your school. I applied using my predicted A Level grades but if you’re doing a different qualification it may be accepted too, make sure to check on the medical school website!

5. Admissions tests

Medical schools require applicants to take an admissions test that assess qualities that are thought to be important among doctors. There are two tests: the UCAT and BMAT. 

Whichever admission test(s) you take, you can only take it once in the application cycle. You don’t have to do both, it depends which medical schools you apply to and which test they require. Each medical school will only require one admissions test. Results from your tests will also be submitted to the medical schools you put down in your UCAS application so you don’t need to send it to them yourself. 

The UCAT: 

A computer test with 4 sections: Abstract reasoning (AR) , Verbal Reasoning (VR), Quantitative Reasoning (QR) and Decision Making (DM). There is another subtest, which is the Situational Judgement Test (SJT).  

This is a computer-based test which is usually taken at a test centre.

The score ranges from 300-900 for AR, VR, QR and DM. The SJT is graded differently, you’ll be given a band from Band 1-4, with Band 1 being the best score. 

The test usually takes place from July to the end of September and you’ll take it the year where you submit your UCAS application. You get to choose what date and time you do your test, this is subject to availability of test slots. For more information on the UCAT, click here

Majority of the UK medical schools require the UCAT, so taking it gives you more choice when putting down your UCAS choices. Results are available immediately after the test, so you can use your score to apply strategically to maximise your chances of getting accepted. 

The BMAT

A test consisting of 3 sections: Section 1 for Thinking Skills, Section 2 for Scientific Knowledge and Section 3 which is a writing task. A select few medical schools use this test which is notoriously difficult!  

Sections 1 and 2 will be scored from 1-9 with 9.0 being the best score; Section 3 will be scored from 1-5 for quality of content and from A-E for quality of English. 

The test is usually paper-based (for 2020 it will be computer-based) and will be taken in an exam centre. Your school may be a centre so make sure to check whether you can take it there! There are two sessions of the BMAT: the September and November BMAT. Some medical schools will only accept BMAT results from a certain session so make sure to check which you’ll have to take! For more information on the BMAT, click here

6. Other Paperwork: 

Some medical schools will have some additional paperwork for you to submit, usually sometime after your UCAS application has been submitted. These are not to be taken lightly as they may be used to decide whether you get an interview/offer! 

Due to the character restriction of the PS, these documents may present an opportunity for you to expand on what you may have already mentioned in it. Make sure not to copy and paste what you wrote in your PS! 

For example, for Manchester I had to submit what is known as the Non-Academic Information form (NAI) which is often thought of as a “second PS”, which focused on areas of my application that the medical school wanted to get more detail about. It can be a great opportunity for you to include what you’ve not managed to include in your PS and expand on what you’ve already mentioned in your PS. 

Other medical schools may have their own paperwork too. Based on what I know, Cambridge and Bristol also ask applicants to fill out additional paperwork. 

7. Interviews: 

Interviews usually will be done in the UK and there are 2 possible formats to the interview. The Multiple Mini Interview (MMI) consists of multiple stations where each station assesses something different; the panel interview is what you typically imagine with 1-4 interviewers speaking to you. The MMI will include a greater variety of questions including roleplay scenarios and calculations. 

Most universities now do MMI because it can assess multiple things in 1 interview and each station is a new start. That way an applicant’s nerves would not affect their entire interview performance.  

As international students it might be worth considering med schools that offer overseas interviews, just imagine the cost and time required to fly to the UK for every interview you have! 

Some medical schools such as Manchester, Sheffield, and Cambridge offer interviews in Malaysia. Usually if you have an overseas interview a medical school doing MMI in the UK might do a panel interview when overseas as it is easier to organise.  

NB for Cambridge the Malaysia interview is much earlier than other interviews (September VS between December-March for other med schools). 

The best tip for interviews is to practice practice practice! Go through questions that you may be asked, some roleplay scenarios and calculations that may be featured in an MMI. Mock interviews can help you manage the nerves during your actual interview, but make sure not to overpractice to the point where your responses sound rehearsed! 

After Interviews: Offers, Exams, Results

You’ll probably find out about the outcome of your interview by April, and you’ll be given a conditional offer (if applying with predicted grades) or an unconditional offer if you already have your achieved results. 

Once you hear back from all the universities you applied to, on UCAS you select your firm and insurance choice. (The firm choice = 1st choice, insurance choice  = 2nd choice, usually with a lower grade requirement in case you don’t get the required grades for your firm choice). You’d go on to take your final exams if you haven’t already.  

8. Tuberculosis Check: 

This is an important document required for your UK visa application. On the document you will have to fill in the university’s address so if you are unsure where you will end up going then you might have to wait for your offer to be made unconditional. When I did this I was told there would be an additional charge if I had to change the university details.  

If you’re sure that you’ll be going to a certain university then go ahead and get it done as soon as you can as there are only a certain number of hospitals where you can get this done. Appointments slots can get filled up quickly! 

9. Criminal Record Check: 

Medical students in the UK cannot have a criminal record. UK home students will have to get a DBS check to confirm that. 

For Malaysians, we have to apply for the Letter of Good Conduct from the KLN website. It takes quite a while to receive that letter and the medical school may expect you to bring it to the UK; I nearly didn’t get mine on time so make sure to apply as soon as you can! You don’t have to wait for your results to apply. 

10. Visa Application: 

I won’t mention too much about the visa application since I’m not an expert in it, but make sure to complete your visa application as soon as you can! Once you’re done with that, you’re all set to start Medicine in the UK 🙂 

11. Conclusion 

In short, to apply to study Medicine in the UK you will need to meet the requirements for: 

  • English proficiency 
  • Academic requirements (GCSE and A Level/SPM and STPM)
  • Work experience
  • Personal statement
  • Admission test(s) 
  • Interview 
  • Criminal record check 

If you’ve made it through all of that, thank you for staying with me! Here are some of my tips for success in your application as a thank you for staying so long.  

Some Tips: 

  • Social media! It doesn’t sound like a common way to find a mentor or information but there are a lot of UK medics on social media, be it on Instagram or Twitter. International students are more difficult to find, but there’s International Medics which I run with another medic (cheeky promo here hehe) 
  • Feedback! With your PS, get multiple people to read it. Make good use of the CollegeLAH PS Checkers which are here to help! With interview prep, do mock interviews!
  • Persevere! The process is tough, it’s stressful, I know! But once you get in, you’re there. Make sure to give yourself time to relax and release your stress. If you need anyone to talk to, feel free to contact me, I’m here to help! 

If you found this post helpful, please do share so more people can benefit from it! On my blog there is a post on factors to consider when choosing a UK medical school,  also keep an eye out for our guide to the UK medical schools that will be released soon! 


Jean Ling Tan is a second year medical student at the University of Manchester. She now co-runs a blog and Instagram page (@international.medics) that aims to support international students who want to do Medicine in the UK. She is also one of the PS checkers for CollegeLAH for Medicine. Feel free to reach out to her for advice!

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