Applying for Medicine in the UK

Medicine and UCAS: The toughest thing you’ll go through as an A-level student

I remember hearing from my family members and seniors about how tough it is to be a medical applicant to UK universities. In fact, getting a place at any university seemed close to impossible. And this is the point of this article: to debunk that myth. Do not be mistaken – medicine is by far one of the toughest courses to get a place for. However, if you know how to prepare, what to expect and assuming you give twice the maximum effort you could give, you can get a place.

Firstly, I will explain the medical application process (as everyone else does), type of medicine courses, tips (my experience going through interviews) and finally how I handled receiving bad news! (i.e. getting rejected)

Medicine Application Process

UCAS allows students to apply to 5 UK universities. However, for reasons I cannot comprehend nor know of, we can only apply to 4 universities for medicine. Bummer. Fret not, you only need ONE offer – still possible.

Prior to the application process, you will need to undertake an attachment programme, for whatever length of time, wherever, and in any field you want. I shadowed a medical officer in a private hospital. Not the most exciting of options but it got the job done. The point of this is to grant you a glimpse into the medical profession and everything that it involves. The length and the activities you choose do not determine anything – it is what you learn from it and how you reflect on experiences that determines whether it will be fruitful.

During the application process, you will be required to write a small essay about anything in the world, and this is called a personal statement. This is, some would say, the most important piece of writing where you must give them reasons why you should be allowed to study in their university: basically selling yourself. Most people find this essay to be the hardest thing they had ever done before, while some people write theirs in a week. I, myself, took more than 20 drafts to get it right and that took me just over 5 months. Long indeed. Now, you do not need to start that early – I only intensely worked on it for 1-2 months. I will include my own guide to writing a good medicine personal statement below – hopefully it will help.

Admissions Tests

Now, medical universities use entrance exams. They are really tough exams which absolutely test you and yes, you have to prepare for them. The entrance exams are called BMAT (BioMedical Admissions Test) and the UKCAT (UK Clinical Aptitude Test). The UKCAT can be taken before or during your application (or even after, though I would not recommend that). The BMAT can only be taken after submitting your application, usually in the first week of November.

UKCAT: 5 sections – one of which is the situational judgement test (SJT). Some universities do not take into account the SJT, but some do. Each section comes up to 900 marks. Total score is 2800 for the four sections and you are graded in bands (Band 1 to 4, I think) for the SJT. The total score (out of 2800) is averaged over the four subjects and that is your UKCAT result. Try to aim for 700 and above – some universities are very competitive, and 5 marks can make a huge difference. In addition, this test is taken on a computer at the test site: your results will be given to you immediately.

BMAT: 3 sections – Section A: Aptitude; Section B: Theory based on maths and science; Section C: English essay. A tough exam. Sections A and B are graded out of 9. Average is around 4. Section C is graded based on the quality of the essay (1 to 5) and your English (A to E). Work hard and start early – aim to get above 5 or 6 in Section 1 and above 7 or 8 in Section 2. A score of 4A and above in Section 3 will get you anywhere (even Oxbridge!).

After submitting your application, you will be put onto UCAS Track where you will begin the seemingly-endless days of checking Track in the middle of the night awaiting any updates. Tip: they always email you if there is an update so do not do what I did, please!

Once that is all done, and you have done your entrance exams, you begin the wait (AGAIN!) to see if you get shortlisted for the interview process. All universities have interviews (except Edinburgh – they have a criterion whereby they rank their candidates). Interviews will take a long time to master and prepare for – they are hard work indeed. Some universities have their interviews in Singapore/Malaysia, whereas others require you to fly over to the UK. Blimey. I would advise you not to get too worried about the prospect of having to go through the interviews. It is really a good experience, once you’re there it’s not at all daunting and really enjoyable. Interviews are an opportunity to have a friendly chat with top professors in the field! Generally here’s when you’d be notified:

Cambridge & Oxford: 2nd week of January

UCL: 3 days after final date of interview for international applicants – can take 2-4 weeks depending when you get the interview. [some people have said they have received it 3 days after the 1st interview date – so it can vary]

Queen Mary: 2 weeks after interview

Edinburgh: Late February/Early March

By March, you should have gotten your decisions. Do not fret over what the outcome could be (unless if its motivating you to work harder!). It is alright to get rejections. I myself got rejected by Cambridge, even after working mightily long and hard for it. Think of it as a learning curve – you are meant to grow and improve every step of the way.

Personal Statement (PS)

This is a 4000-character essay where you are given the seemingly impossible task of selling yourself to convince them to take you on as a student. Hard. But doable. Though, you are not going to sell yourself through describing what you have achieved and done: what they prize most above everything else is a good thought process. Explain how you think and reflect in each sentence. Ask yourself why, why and why all the time and then you will find yourself inferring and thinking critically.

In your PS, you should ideally explain your motivations behind this career choice, show a deep understanding of what the profession is all about (including the negative bits of it all), show what you have learnt from extra-curricular activities (no more than one paragraph) and finally, show what you have learnt from your attachment and how that has cemented your career choice. Good personal statements will be more academic and reflective than descriptive (and about your achievements). Talk to them about something sciencey. If you are planning on applying to BMAT universities, and especially Oxbridge universities, you should include at least one paragraph talking about one scientific topic which interests you, which also contains your reflections. For example, talk about cancer/infectious diseases etc.

I would recommend you to only put in 1 paragraph for your extra-curriculars – they can go into your reference (which is done by your teacher/someone in Sixth Form). Try to get them to write something good for you and if possible, let them know what you’d like to see in your reference (as in, what extracurriculars you think are necessary to include in the personal statement)!

Avoid jargon, waffling (unnecessary sentences) and overly emotive descriptions – they do not really care. They care more about what you learnt from your experiences and your thoughts on everything. Reflect, reflect and reflect should be your mantra for personal statements.

Here’s how I wrote my PS: one paragraph of introduction explaining why you chose medicine (only briefly! ‘Why medicine’ has to be evident throughout the PS and they must be able to see that, so you should be capable of expressing that passion very well). Paragraphs 2, 3 and 4 should contain one theme each [related if possible but varying at the same time]. This will show that you are a wholesome person – always thinking of varying perspectives. Your PS should, in overall, carry one overarching theme/point. Paragraphs 2, 3 and 4 should reflect that if possible. Paragraph 5 should be about extra-curricular stuff and more importantly, what you have learnt from it or how you have grown because of it.


Every medical school requires an interview bar one – University of Edinburgh. A friend once told me: medical interviews are basically a platform where you try to teach them something whilst learning something from them. You are teaching them about your mindset – your perspective of things and maybe they’ll actually learn something! In addition, listening to whatever they say, you are inadvertently learning. It is also an intellectual conversation – simple. Talk to them like how you’d speak to your headmaster/head of sixth form or even any teacher. They want to pick your brains, nothing else: not your physical prowess or other, but to assess whether you can be a good student, doctor and ultimately contribute to society (or the university) down the road.

Some interviews are long, some are short – it matters, but arguably it should simply be an incentive to give it your best shot if you’ve been shortlisted for it. Just 15 minutes with the professor/doctors of your dreams. You can handle it 😊

Interviews come in mostly these forms:

  1. Panel (2/3/4 on one) – most universities
  2. One-on-one – Cambridge (if you opt for an interview in Malaysia)
  3. MMI – multiple stations where you move around, completing a task/answering a few questions at each station, each of which is manned by different interviewers.

Every interview will be different and there is not one method which will help you go through each brilliantly. The following is what I know about interviews. My knowledge regarding MMI is not very good – I did not apply to MMI interviews nor did I get any interviews that were MMI-based.

Types of interviews/format:

  1. Science – mostly Oxbridge
  2. General/about anything – UCL [they think interesting people make good doctors]
  3. Traditional – the usual type of interview where you get ‘why medicine’ etcetera.

Challenge of interviews:

  1. They go through thousands of candidates – the pressure of trying to stand out.
  2. Nerves! Some of you may not have gone through any interviews before or even anything as important as this. Trust me: it is completely fine to be nervous. I would be worried if you weren’t!
  3. Body language – trust me when I say 25-40% of the decision process goes into demonstrating yourself as someone sociable, open, trustworthy, passionate and simply good company. Basically, whatever a good doctor should be.
  4. Insightful opinions – it may be hard to think of the best answer when you are put on the spot. Sometimes, you finish the interview thinking you could’ve done better, or said something smarter. I have had those thoughts after every interview I’ve gone through. What I now realise is that if you went through that, everyone else probably has too.
  5. How do I remember everything? If I forget, and what if I stutter (etc.)? → It is completely fine. It is expected of you!
  6. 15 MINUTES? HOW?? What if I mess up?

If you notice, most of these challenges take place within your own mind. How can you then solve them? → Do what trains the mind, which is practice! Build confidence, train your mind to generate better and more wholesome ideas and Bob’s your uncle!

My experience in interviews:

  1. Cambridge:

I sat for my interview during my AS exam in KL, before my BMAT because I opted to do it here. Crickey.

This interview is not really an interview but more of a private tuition class (i.e. supervisions). They are not interviewing you to see your capability of being the best doctor out there, but the ability to cope/thrive under the supervision system, which is small-group tutoring.

The pro of doing it here – cheap, no jet lag!

The cons of doing it here:

  1. During AS/A2. [which may be good because it forces you to remember your academics, but in my case, it was a con – Maths was long and gone and I had lost my understanding about some topics which hence resulted in my being unable to answer one question]
  2. 30 minutes to convince them where you’d have twice/thrice as long in Cambridge itself. If you mess up one question – chances are, you may not get in.
  3. Conducted by someone who may not necessarily be your college admissions tutor/academic professor. Thus, your college is acting on the recommendations of someone, so although they have been doing it for a long time, it is not the same!
  4. Unlucky – some people get similar, easier questions whereas others get more complex problems. It really depends on your luck!

Now, what do I mean by answer questions correctly/mess it up?

Answering it correctly means to explain them your thinking process, refer to the basics to solve the complex problem and then get to your answer. You may stumble and be inaccurate/wrong but that does not matter. You just need to think out loud, express your rational opinions (think of every question as a KBAT/HOTS question or Moral essay question – just ‘goreng’ your answer).

For more advice/thoughts, email me! Preferably if it aids in deciding your uni choices/if you have gotten the interview!

  1. UCL

This is more of an interview than the above but it felt more like a conversation. We chatted about some weird things which were sometimes unrelated, but at the same time it was really engaging. They were trying to dig into your brain/thinking process like Oxbridge does but instead of using science/maths to do it, they wanted your general thinking process.

The format of this interview is unique – they somehow manage to obtain a copy of your BMAT essay, which is used as a topic of discussion in the interview. The interview is thus split into two ‘parts’, each conducted by another interviewer within a panel of three. The third interviewer is more of an observer – not to ask questions at all. The first part is usually regarding your personal statement, and any general questions. The second part is about the BMAT essay that you have written.

During the first part, they did not ask me about anything even remotely related to medicine, yet still stemming from my PS. Point is, they don’t care if you’re the most academically gifted. They think interesting people make good doctors, so try to be as interesting as you can be, i.e. in your opinions/thoughts.

  1. Queen Mary London/Barts

Queen Mary is another special one – they base half their interview on an article that they would have sent to you two weeks prior to the interview. Besides the interview, the questions that they asked me were very generic. In addition, they used the same questions for everyone – to give everyone an equal opportunity to succeed!

Receiving bad news – how?

I received my Cambridge result in the toilet of UCL’s Rockefeller Building – where they interview you at UCL. Not the best of times to have gotten it but again, my word of advice is to always just get it over and done with. Bad news means it just is not meant for you. I had many uneasy nights/sleeps thinking about all the ‘what ifs’, but the end result will not change. I would suggest you to learn from the experience and work on it – you may end up getting a better learning experience in some other university.


  1. Start early – starting earlier means you have a longer time to develop your PS, the way you think and to develop your character.
  2. Read books – non-fiction books – for this is the best way to learn new concepts/ideas and to develop your character.
  3. Do not ask for too many people’s opinions for your PS. Stick to two persons – but you must ensure they give you good feedback!
  4. Work as hard as you can to improve and get to where you want to get to. It takes smarts and hard work to get into any medical university. Work hard.

Hareneshkaran Kirubakaran, a Bank Negara Malaysia Kijang Emas Scholar, is currently a first year at University College London pursuing a degree in Medicine. He is of a calm and composed nature and one can often find him in the kitchen, attempting futilely to cook curry. Sadly, that is just the tip of the iceberg for Harenesh’s sorrow as he will be single on Valentines for the 20th time this year. If you intend to contact the author, feel free to contact the CollegeLAH Team at

Choosing the right uni as a sponsored student (UK v. USA)


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I received the JPA Biasiswa Nasional scholarship right after SPM results were released. Since JPA wanted the scholarship recipients to inform them of our choice of course and country, I wrote that I wanted to pursue Actuarial Science in the US. That was before I started A-Level at Taylor’s College. However, I was actually undecided about my future career and hence degree course. But at that time I’d heard that the actuarial field was lucrative and US universities were “better” in that field, so that was why I chose them. Plus, I wasn’t too serious while making that decision because JPA told us that we could change the course and country choices afterwards.

Up until it was time to apply to universities, I still did not have a country or even course in mind. One thing was for sure, I had always known that I would at least apply to the UK, but whether or not I would attend a British university was another matter. So to apply to the UK, I needed to know exactly which degree I wanted to pursue. At first I “decided” to apply for Electrical Engineering. After some really long nights trying to come up with a personal statement to show my “passion” towards Electrical Engineering, the end product wound up sounding like a Physics or Materials Science application. That was really frustrating, so I backed up and thought long and hard about what I wanted to do with my life after school and what interests me the most. Long story short, I arrived at Mathematics and finally settled on it.

Now that I’d decided to study Mathematics, choosing which five UK universities to apply to was an easy task because there were only five UK universities on the Times Higher Education Top 50 Universities Ranking for Physical Sciences that year.

After submitting my UK application, I started to work on my application to University of California and Commonapp. The primary reason that got me interested in US universities was that they took about 70% of the entire Top 50 list. But later, as I learned more about US education and college life, I began to seriously consider them. Choosing a subject was not so much of a problem when applying to the US, because it is perfectly acceptable to apply as an Undeclared major. This was the main reason I eventually chose to go to a US university over a UK university.

The real headache when it comes to applying to US universities was choosing which schools to apply to. Since application fees are quite hefty, I limited the number of universities to five. The most important factor that narrowed my choices was how well-rounded the school was. I was looking for a school that has a solid reputation in not only math and sciences but also humanities and social sciences because I wanted to explore my interests in these areas and get a balanced education. I also looked at academic opportunities e.g. undergraduate research, the physical environment of the campus and the town surrounding it.

When it comes to game plan, I took nothing more than a realistic view. Generally, applicants are advised to apply to a few dream schools that are hard to get into, a few good schools that are less hard to get into, and a few safety schools that the applicant is very confident of getting into. But then hard and easy take on varying definitions to different people, and not everybody adheres to this general rule. As for me, I had already gotten a few offers from UK universities when I was choosing US schools to apply to, so I did not have to think of back-up schools and just chose five that I would definitely be happy to attend. I chose UC Berkeley, UC Los Angeles, Chicago, Cornell and Michigan. As for major, I applied as an Undeclared Physical Science major to the UCs, Statistics major to Chicago and Cornell, and Financial and Actuarial Mathematics major to Michigan.

On the first day of Chinese New Year, I was so happy to find out through email that I was admitted to Michigan. Then in late March through early April, I was admitted to UCLA and Cornell, but waitlisted by UCB and Chicago. I was eventually rejected by both these schools.

I chose UCLA by early May. As I said, I would love to attend any of the schools I applied to so finally coming to a decision was really hard. It came down to a battle between UCLA and Cornell, and the reasons that prompted my final decision were pretty trivial. One, I wanted to be in a big city yet have access to nature e.g. national parks so Los Angeles, California is perfect. While Ithaca has a lot of nature, it is not at all a big city. Two, it can get very cold in upstate New York where Cornell is during winter while the weather at LA is always warm and inviting. My scholarship also encouraged me to enter a Top 10 school because I would get to maintain my current benefits that included higher allowance rates. UCLA was in the Top 10 while Cornell was just outside. But the difference in allowance rates could easily be cancelled by the difference in living expenses between a big city and a smaller college town, so that didn’t play a huge part in my making the decision.

I’ve been in LA for a week now and I’ll say that I’ve definitely made a good call! The campus is gorgeous, the energy among students is inspiring and I can just see myself learn and grow here over these next few years. Although classes have not even started yet, I am excited for the adventures ahead.

Some final thoughts:

Although it is possible to apply with major undecided to US universities, it is good to know what you want to study and/or explore or at least have an idea of it. If you feel like you are passionate about everything but nothing in particular, take concrete actions to find out where your passions lie a little more specifically. It helps not only your application but also self-development to have more specificity and depth to your interests, instead of merely having breadth.

At first, you might feel that it is impossible for you to get into a good university, due to perhaps unreal expectations of university admissions, low confidence or just pessimism. You might give up applying to some universities just because you think you don’t stand a chance or because you need to write a lot of application essays. Don’t let these be reasons for you not chasing your dream.

Yeong Wern Yeen

Yeong Wern Yeen is a JPA scholar who will be going to University of California, Los Angeles this fall. She likes to indulge unapologetically in good food, all sorts of films (especially sci-fi and fantasy) and music, the company of friends and adventures! She is also co-founder and one of the site managers of CollegeLAH.

BNM Kijang Scholarship (January Intake)

Sasana Kijang

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Ever thought of acquiring a scholarship from the Central Bank of Malaysia, Bank Negara Malaysia (henceforth referred to as BNM), that not only covers pre-university education but extends to degree level as well?

Traditionally, BNM’s application only opens after the announcement of SPM results in the beginning of March. So it was as unexpected to me as to everyone else when we were informed that Bank Negara was offering the scholarship before SPM had even commenced. The selection process involved going through an interview process in December after our SPM ended in November with only our trial results.

As far as I know, this application could only be done through the school, and students who applied were mostly nominated by their teachers. Together with my other three peers, I applied for the scholarship using trial results and a compilation of certificates.

If you are aiming for the scholarships after SPM or other relevant qualifications, a piece of advice is to be actively involved in co-curricular activities that you enjoy and would potentially benefit you, alongside a good academic performance throughout your secondary education. Taking part in competitions, events, and sport tournaments, especially in your final years of secondary school, can set you apart from other applicants with your own unique talents and ‘flavour’.                                      

The notice that I was shortlisted for the interview came in early December, not long after SPM ended. Before the interview, we were required to do an online IQ assessment which consisted of these few sections:

1) Dimensions (Personality)

This assessment measures your behavioural preferences at work. It explores how you prefer to manage your relationships with others, your approach to tasks, and your sources of energy and motivation.

2) Elements (Verbal)

This assessment measures your analytical reasoning skills in relation to interpreting written information and reports.

3) Elements (Numerical)

This assessment measures your analytical reasoning skills in relation to using figures, data and statistics.

4) Elements (Logical)

This assessment measures your reasoning skills in relation to understanding and manipulating abstract or logical symbols.

In mid-December, I attended the interview along with two peers who were shortlisted. The interview process was largely similar to the usual interview process that commences every year in April-June after SPM results are released. We were provided accommodation in Lanai Kijang, BNM’s effectively private 5-star hotel, for three days and two nights (the duration of the interviews).

1st Day:

My first task was a half-hour essay which asked me about my thoughts and passion towards the course I chose, Law, and essentially, how I would contribute to the bank through my expertise in it. From my inference, this stage evaluates your thought process in structuring your essay and giving reasons that support your claim about your passion towards the course. Your aims in contributing to the bank should illustrate how you plan to apply and practise what you have gained from your degree in fulfilling the bank’s policies and aims when you serve your bond in the bank. My suggestion is to be realistic but optimistic when stating your views/ideas; don’t worry about using bombastic language that might sound overly flowery which you might use incorrectly in the end.

2nd Day:

The second stage was carried out in Sasana Kijang, BNM’s learning/research centre. We were divided into groups of 7 in which we worked throughout the day. The first few rounds were judged by three ‘facilitators’ who were also the assessors. The first round was an ice-breaking session that allowed me to know my teammates better, including their origin, course of choice etc. Speaking from experience, do grab the chance of this session to establish good rapport among yourselves and leave the assessors with a good first impression of yourself, especially when you work your way through dismantling the barriers among peers.

The following few rounds involved working as a team. One of them was a role play session when each of us was assigned a role in a company, whereby we were supposed to perform our respective expertise by drafting policies that were aimed to gain high profits for the company, and at the same time, increase welfare of the citizens. After completing the task within the stipulated time, I was bombarded with questions from the assessors who role-played as the board of directors about the drawbacks of the policies we had just drafted as a team. In the midst of convincing the BOD of your policies and defending your ideas, it is imperative that you are able to think critically while remaining calm and composed. Do bear in mind to show humility and respect to your teammates and assessors when expressing your views as the attitude you adopt in problem-solving and teamwork could be a deciding factor. Also make sure that you give adequate speaking opportunities to your teammates and always understand that your efforts should be collective and invariably for the greater good of the team as a whole. Remember that dominance does not equate to leadership.

The subsequent rounds comprised of competitions with other groups, judged by a larger number of assessors. Our first project was to design a theme park that could generate the highest revenue possible. If memory serves, one of the other winning criteria was best design. Like all the other rounds, it is important to choose a leader among yourselves who can lead the team to ensure efficiency and unity. As a leader, it is important that you embrace the opinions of your teammates before coming to a decision quickly. Go ahead and assume this responsibility if you are elected by your teammates who think that you possess these qualities. And if you are not the leader, fret not because it would not affect your chances of showcasing your abilities by contributing to the group as part of the team.

The next challenge was to build a boat that could support the most number of marbles without sinking into the water. The challenge in this project was not just deciding on the design of the body of the boat but also carefully planning our expenditure on the materials that could be optimally utilised to keep the boat afloat as we had to build the boat with minimal cost. We then made a presentation of our model by explaining the features of our boat and analysing on how well it worked.

3rd Day:

We had to do an individual presentation of a topic assigned to us. My topic was regarding how we can encourage children in Malaysia to think about personal finance and managing their money wisely. Firstly, we were given some time to illustrate and write the content of our presentation on a few pieces of mahjong paper. We then had to present it to a new set of assessors individually. Likewise, the assessors questioned us thoroughly about the content we were presenting about and expected to see a positive and spontaneous response. STAY CALM because candidates usually panic when they face the assessors alone. Ideally, by the third day you should be rather “experienced” in performing under pressure without being hindered by anxiety. Give it your best shot!

Through this stage, the interviewers generally want to know about what you have gained from previous stages, the reason of you choosing the course, and how suited are you for the scholarship and working in the bank. They expect honest and well-explained answers from you, so just be yourself when doing that.

The entire interview experience was enriching and definitely something worth a try. This exposure to an intensive interview process enabled me to pick up essential interview skills and know what qualities are expected of me in interviews. Making preparations before the interview is advisable, in the sense that you read up on the philosophy of their function as the Central Bank and also think of the reasons why you have chosen the course. This does not mean that you memorise scripts before the interview because this tactic would not work most of the time. It may cause you to be too rigid in making spontaneous response when you are being interviewed.   

After being awarded the scholarship, I joined the January intake at Kolej Tuanku Jaafar, doing an 18-month A-levels course. It is a great college to be in and I am extremely grateful to the bank for granting me this opportunity. Although being a January intake student for A-levels is a challenging task, it is a fun experience and I am enjoying the time I am having now. As there are expectations to be met as a Bank scholar, my advice is to appreciate your time when doing your A-levels and this effort will definitely pay off and bear fruits of success. As a matter of fact, Bank scholars are required to gain entry into the top-notch universities Bank Negara lists out. Hence, be wise when selecting your priorities and do not waver in your determination of achieving what you have set out for. Make the journey worth it at the end of the day as you have attained what could be a dream every student would have – a free education in a prestigious university abroad.

I hope this article is useful in giving you inspirations and insights into attending a scholarship interview be it in Bank Negara or other scholarship avenues. “STUDY SMART and PLAY HARD”- a meaningful catch phrase from high school.




Si Qi Chung is currently doing A-Levels in Kolej Tuanku Ja’afar as a January intake and will hopefully read Law in the United Kingdom. She is a curious and eager learner and will pursue what she finds interesting. This aspiring lawyer is also a great watercolour painter who has won numerous awards.


Pre-U Subject Choices for UK-Bound Students

Earlier this year, the Russell Group published their 2015/16 “Informed Choice” pamphlet, accompanied by a video, explaining the value and importance of taking facilitating subjects as a dominant part of a student’s Pre-U subject choices. These facilitating subjects, e.g. the sciences, history, maths, further maths, languages, English Literature and geography, as the lobbying group for the 24 research-intensive universities characterised, open up a wide range of options for university entries and career choices. Indeed, across the Russell Group universities and more specifically the top echelon of this group e.g. Oxford, Cambridge, LSE, facilitating subjects go far more than mere “opening up wide options”. Their “preferred subjects” reflect their umbrella group’s facilitating subjects, albeit with more restrictions and are seen as subjects to rigorously formulate the skills necessary for different courses at their universities. LSE and certain colleges of Oxford and Cambridge openly publish a list of preferred and non-preferred subjects. Generally, non-traditional ones such as accounting, business studies, sociology fall into the latter group. Indeed, reading the Russell Group’s “Informed Choice” pamphlet and watching their videos will immediately kick this question into your mind – “Why does this seem so aloof of the Malaysian context?” Very clearly, “Informed Choice” is meant for the British audience. Malaysian schools/colleges are shaped very differently, likewise the subjects they offer and the normative biases that parents, peers and teachers tend to have.


Where should I start?

Generally, you will have to consider three things – the prerequisite subjects that your preferred courses have, the preferences your universities/courses have and whether or not you will be able immerse yourself into the joyous journey of learning the subject. While the first two are technically important criteria that you should never forsake, the last one tend to be underrated. I cannot stress how important that is, given that you will be spending more than a year studying that subject, dedicating your soul to the devil just to go to university. You might as well just murder yourself over a subject that you will enjoy.

Let’s deal with the bits where you’re faced with a Hobson’s choice i.e. the first two criteria are relatively simple to fulfil. Go on to the websites of the courses that you are applying to and take note of the required and suggested subjects. For instance, Physics at Oxford requires applicants to have studied Maths and Physics at Pre-University level and likewise, Medicine at Edinburgh will require Chemistry and Biology. In the “Informed Choice” pamphlet, though insufficient and inadequate, there is a generalised list of prerequisites for commonly applied courses. These are essential subjects that you must take to be considered by your prospective universities.

Figuring out which subjects are not preferred by your course also follows a similar approach. Though most universities will not make it explicitly clear that they don’t prefer certain subjects, Cambridge and LSE definitely publishes their own non-exhaustive list. Nonetheless, their list generally applies to the other Russell Group universities, having all collectively expressed that they prefer at least 2 facilitative subjects before releasing their first series of “Informed Choice” guidelines. There are, however, caveats regarding this. The most competitive courses and universities tend to prefer applicants not to have any “soft” subjects e.g. media studies, accounting (even for accounting applicants), law (yes, for law applicants as well) at all. Keep in mind that while not all non-facilitative subjects are soft subjects, all soft subjects are non-facilitative. Indeed, there is hardly any strict definitions of what soft and hard subjects are but the generic implication is that hard subjects formulate the core skills that are useful in undergraduate study rather than specific skills that soft subjects tend to train. Another generalisation that you can take note of is that traditional subjects such as economics, the hard sciences, maths and the ones in the list of facilitative subjects are also considered to be hard subjects. Moreover, there are some statistical backing to this preference. In 2008, Durham University ran a study on the relative difficulty of different A-level subjects and there was an obvious trend that across all 5 statistical models used, “traditional” and facilitative subjects tend to be harder than otherwise. Though more than half a decade ago, deviations hardly were significant across years.

The last bit is fairly straightforward at face value, choose the subjects that you will actually enjoy. Of course, if you’re eyeing on the more competitive universities e.g. Oxbridge, LSE, Imperial, look only at the traditional/hard subjects. However, considering the different circumstances UK-bound Malaysians can be in – being enrolled in a college/school with limited, bundled subject choices, restricted by IBDP requirements or simply limited by the choices available via STPM/Matrikulasi, this is a tricky question to answer.


In the foreseeable future, accessible Malaysian schools/colleges are probably not going to teach subjects like Latin, politics, geography, history and classical studies. And you have just told me that I shouldn’t take accounting, business studies, law and a whole lot of subjects that are bundled together. Just what subjects should I take?

Indeed, unless you have the luck and privilege of being admitted to the more resourceful schools such as KTJ, KYUEM or ISKL, your choices of subjects will be restricted. For one, elite schools like these offer almost every traditional subjects there is, including A-level Geography, Music, History and IB French, German etc. If you are in schools of this sort, you don’t have any problems. Just choose the traditional subjects that you will enjoy and are related to the course that you want to further your studies in. Elsewhere across the board, the hard sciences and maths are often bundled together in for A-level, Matrikulasi colleges and STPM schools. The problem begins for students who wish to take on the social sciences/humanities in competitive universities. Often, traditional humanities/social sciences are bundled together with non-traditional ones e.g. “English Literature, Sociology, Law”, “Economics, Maths, Accounting, Business Studies” for A level, “General Studies, Accounting, Economics and Maths” for STPM.

Under these restrictions, it is important to recall that the social sciences and humanities often don’t require a stringent traditional social sciences/humanities subject combination at pre-university. History degrees don’t even need history as a prerequisite and would see English Literature as an indication of having the sufficient skills to cope with such a reading and writing-heavy subject. Likewise, economics only required maths. Given that, it is perfectly fine filling up the rest of your subject spots with the sciences or any other available traditional subject. Keep in mind that if you are not eyeing at the most difficult universities, it is alright to take the bare minimum of 2 traditional and/or facilitative subjects that the Russell Group universities collectively prefer. Given that, a subject combination such as “Economics, Maths, Further Math, Physics” will work for economics, accounting and similar subjects while “Maths, Chemistry, Biology, English Literature” seems adequate for law, history and accounting.  It is unlikely for IB students to face this problem, making it almost uniquely one for A-level, Matrikulasi and STPM students.

For the latter, where schools tend to be inflexible and under-resourced in terms of subject choices, it is perfectly fine writing to the universities themselves when applying, explaining the restrictive circumstances you are in. Of course, it is unreasonable to make someone who wants to apply for a history course to take a full “Sejarah, English Literature, Ekonomi” combination where that combination is unlikely to exist except in the more resourced urban schools. Likewise, expecting a Matrikulasi student to take that subject combination is also unreasonable given that it doesn’t exist. On top of explaining about the circumstances you are in to the universities, your UCAS personal statement should then be able to immensely display your academic potential in the course that you are applying. In that case, just take whatever that’s available to you e.g. “Science Stream” or “Accounting Stream”; it’s another Hobson’s choice.


Wait, just to be clear, you’re saying that even if I want to be a lawyer, accountant or business manager, I shouldn’t be taking law, accounting and/or business studies if possible? What about taking economics and business studies together?

The short and perhaps, grim, answers are yes and no respectively.

As explained earlier, the three subjects listed in the first question i.e. law, accounting and business studies are soft subjects. They should only be taken, at best, an additional subject. For applicants to the most competitive universities, just avoid them. Lawyers don’t need to do law at A-level (I doubt this subject is an option for other examinations). In fact, building the core analytical and writing skills via a mixture of essay subjects e.g. Literature, History, the social sciences and/or the hard sciences tend to be more preferable at university. Likewise, building up the quantitative, analytical and thinking skills via a mixture of traditional social sciences, mathematics and hard sciences would be more preferable and helpful.

For the second question, economics and business studies are considered to be overlapping subjects. However, economics is a traditional subject while business studies isn’t. Given that, you should either take economics and ditch business studies or take business studies as an additional subject and ditch economics. Generally, however, where economics is available as an option at your school/college, taking business studies isn’t a wise option. For instance, LSE explicitly has this preference.


Just what if I have no idea what do I want to study at university?

That then depends on the extent of uncertainty that you have. We will use a scale with 3 spectrums here – “I can’t decide between studying course A and B”, “I know that I want to study something in, per se, the humanities but I have yet to settle on a particular course” and “I have absolutely no idea”. Notice that this is a more in depth dilemma for A-level students given the immense options that they have. For IBDP, STPM and Matrikulasi students, choosing your subjects along these principles will do.

For the first one on the scale – “I can’t decide between studying course A and B”, it shouldn’t be highly difficult to take up subjects that fulfil the needs of both courses. Of course, this is under the assumption that there are some significant differences between them e.g. PPE and Medicine. Notice that these two are rather extreme but it is not impossible to take up, for instance, Biology, Chemistry, Maths and also History; of course, taking physics as well would be good and it is unlikely that your uncertainty will persist for more than 3 months, whereby thereafter you can drop the more unrelated subject. For more similar choices such as PPE and Economics or Chemical Engineering and Physics, incorporating the needs of both subjects won’t be difficult e.g. English Lit/History, Economics, Maths and Further Maths fulfil the former while a standard Physics, Chemistry, Maths, Further Maths combination works for the latter.

Moving up the scale and we find ourselves in a situation where a student only managed to narrow down to one particular field. The key idea then is to take up traditional and facilitating subjects within that particular field. It is perfectly fine going cross-disciplinary e.g. a mixture of social science, humanities and sciences as long as the field that you wish to be in is reflected in your subject choices. Applicants who might be set on the social sciences but unsure of which particular course to further their studies in might be interested in taking a quantitatively analytical subject e.g. maths and economics, coupled with another more qualitative one e.g. geography to cater for the less quantitative-centric social science courses. On the contrary, while it is generally normal alright to apply for the more maths intensive science subjects e.g. Physics, Engineering with a full natural science with maths combination, that is hardly optimal. The best solution is to decide as soon as possible, preferably within a 3-month period.

Lastly, for the “I have absolute no idea what I want to further my studies in” students who will have a seriously difficult time figuring out which subject combination will be best. The issue with most standardised qualifications is that your options are generally restricted. As per mentioned earlier, you should be deciding as soon as possible before finalising your subject choices, optimally within a 3-month period of starting your course, so that you will be able to catch up with the work done by your possibly new classmates. Generally, in terms of subjects, the idea is to have a mixture of subjects from different fields. Although conventional wisdom is that taking a pure natural science plus maths combination opens up all doors, that isn’t necessarily the case. Most of the humanities and some social science courses will want to see indication of academic writing and reading capability, from which subjects like English Literature, History and the Languages can indicate. Given that, start off with a mixture and then narrow down your course choices and Pre-U subject choices as soon as possible.


So is this the holy book that I must follow?

No, this article is entirely advisory and based on the team’s research, experience and access to various sources of information.

Written by: The CollegeLAH Team

A Coffee Enthusiast’s Application to Oxford for Physics

Oxford JX

Applying to Oxford for Physics (Not my Dad’s)

If you’re reading this, you just might possibly be considering the thought of maybe perhaps APPLYING FOR PHYSICS at Oxford.

Do it.

My dad (whose physics application advice is also on this website) and I are the only Malaysian physicists here and we’d love for you all to join the *cough* fun.

Brian’s Journey to Oxford (Part 1)

Brian’s Journey to Oxford (Part 2)

No. He’s not my real dad.

I’ll have more information concerning my interview than anything else, because that’s the most memorable part, and dad’s article sums up all the good tips for everything else already.

Here we go!



I honestly cannot remember much from my sitting of the PAT.  Nevertheless, my checklist for preparing for it was along the lines of:

[] Read through the PAT Syllabus ( ) and note down any topics which your Sixth Form course has not covered

[] Read through AS-level and IGCSE physics

[] Brief research of eclipses and astronomy (which my A-level studies did not cover)

[] ALL the past year PAT papers from . This here website is your new best friend. Don’t forget to check with its model answers

[] A few servings BPho (British Physics Olympiad, not the Vietnamese noodle soup) from . Again, these have marking schemes and, as dad said, they do in fact resemble the PAT questions

When it gets to the PAT, keep calm and just show them what you know! Very few people can complete every single question with confidence. I remember blanking out for a few math concepts I had not used for months but give everything a good shot and cross your fingers for…



Hehe. I remember getting my interview email in the middle of Lumut’s jungles covered in soil and sweat on my teacher’s iPad. I was in the middle of KTJ’s Outward Bound School trip for Sixth-Form students and frustrated that books were forbidden during the course. Good times…

I had two interviews over Skype: the first with Oriel and the second with Pembroke (obviously, the Pembrokian tutors who interviewed me and are now tutoring me are nicer 🙂 )

The link to the interview questions and solutions are at the end of this paragraph. I urge you to not look at the answers and instead give the questions a worthy go before checking your attempt with my answers.

JX Physics Interview and Solutions

Preparing for the interview

  1. Do lots of Fermi Problems
  2. Do lots of Puzzles
  3. Chill
  4. Drink coffee
  5. Read and practice from the following list

Book recommendations: These are just some books that I read or read excerpts from that were very interesting or helpful to the interview.

Jearl Walker – The Flying Circus of Physics

This book, although incredibly elusive, is a treasure trove of physics brainteasers with awesome explanations.

Conservation of Momentum blog

Lots of physics interview questions and puzzles.

Richard Feynman – QED ; 6 easy pieces ; Tips on Physics ; Surely You’re Joking Mr Feynman

Great look at an unconventional perspective of physics. The last book isn’t really about physics but it’s the only biography I have ever enjoyed reading.

George Gamow – Mr Tompkins in Paperback

A pretty fun exploration of physics you should be interested in. You can find these (legally) free online.

Quantum: Einstein, Bohr, and the Great Debate About the Nature of Reality – Manjit Kumar

A nice historical overview of modern physics.


All in all, I hope you have a great time applying for and studying Physics (if you’re here not for the physics, good luck with whatever you’re doing anyway!). I hope the advice here helps. I know it’s short, but it’s so that you have more time to practice which is what will really matter.

All the best! Hi Mum and dad (Oxford and in real life)!


Jiaxen Lau, full time physicist, coffee connoisseur, photographer, videographer, fashionista, poet, cryptoanalyst, is currently reading Physics in Pembroke College, Oxford University. Indeed, he may have forgotten lunch but he will never forget about coffee. Make no mistake, this man is not a Victorian dandy but, with certainty, a Victorian gentleman who, as rumour has it, seems to have a girlfriend. Shame on him if that’s true, he’s supposed to love physics and coffee and only physics and coffee.

Economics Personal Statement 4

Suah Jing Lian is currently reading BSc in Economics at The London School of Economics and Political Science (2015-2018). This personal statement was part of his successful application to The LSE, University College London, University of Warwick and Bristol University.

My interest in economics stems from growing up in Malaysia. Living in Kuala Lumpur, the financial capital, it surprised me that the most expensive real estate is mostly inhabited by the Chinese while the Indians and Malays dominate the less developed suburbs. I wondered how such racially polarised, economic disparity exists in my country, even with affirmative action such as low-interest business loans and race-specific quotas for shareholding in place to correct it. I believe that economics holds the key to unraveling developmental questions for countries like mine. With a scholarship from the Central Bank of Malaysia, I hope that studying economics at a UK university will give me a broader, better-informed, understanding.

I was interested by Partha Dasgupta’s “Economics: A Very Short Introduction”, which offered a more detailed perspective on situations like that of Malaysia. Dasgupta illustrates multifaceted economic problems such as differing market opportunities for individuals due to their socio-economic status. For instance, underdeveloped healthcare, low literacy and high fertility rate make it difficult for individuals from poorer countries to progress out of communal or subsistence economies, trapping them in a vicious cycle of poverty. This made me think that it might be more effective if humanitarian or developmental aid were targeted at improving healthcare and education infrastructure in less developed countries, instead of targeting individuals alone.

This interest in the differing developmental levels and market opportunities of communities within nations led me to read Acemoglu and Robinson’s “Why Nations Fail”, which places the dichotomy of extractive and inclusive economic institutions at the heart of phenomena such as growth and developmental disparity in populations. This seems very similar to slow developing, impoverished present day nations such as Togo and Laos, whose economic institutions are extractive. This raised a key question for me regarding Malaysia: can economic institutions be extractive or inclusive exclusively to different social groups within the same country?

While studying for my A levels, I took up competitive British Parliamentary Debating, which offered a platform both to learn and apply economic issues and concepts. Competing frequently against university debaters, I was a 5-time national open quarterfinalist as well as the president of my school’s debating union. Topics ranging from the relevance of trade unions in developing nations, to more contemporary ones such as the 2008 Eurozone Sovereign Debt Crisis, further emphasised the depth and breadth of economics as a subject. For one, I proposed that while trade unions may hinder crucial growth for developing nations, they protect the welfare and security of wage earners, leading to a more inclusive and sustainable growth rather than one that reflects vast wealth disparity.

Studying in the sixth form showed me that mathematics is used frequently when learning economics, such as in modelling consumer behaviour and the effects of monetary policies. I am convinced that my strong mathematical background will be useful at university. Studying the Game Theory in Further Maths showed me the applicability of mathematics to the social sciences, highlighting its versatility in economics. In addition to completing A-level Maths in my first year of study, I was also a silver medalist in the UKMT Senior Maths Challenge.

I am a member of Mensa and also a school prefect, responsible for encouraging good behaviour amongst students, organising school campaigns and contributing to school policies such as pre-examination regulations, which I succeeded in amending. I was also, at my previous school, part of the Board of Directors, where I learned how to run and manage societies.

I am very much looking forward to studying Economics at a UK university, where I hope to find diverse culture and broader, more global perspectives.

DISCLAIMER: The personal statements on this site are strictly meant as a starting point to give an idea of how successful personal statements look like. There is no surefire formula to writing good personal statements. COLLEGELAH IS STRICTLY AGAINST PLAGIARISM OF ANY KINDUCAS employs a plagiarism check system that checks applicants’ work against other published writing so please DO NOT PLAGIARISE.

Cambridge Mathematics Interview

Aerial View of Centre for Mathematical Sciences

Aerial View of Centre for Mathematical Sciences

Image Source

My interview session was held in Taylor’s College (where I did A-level), and was one- on-one. I forgot who my interviewer was, but I remember he was a math professor at Cambridge and had Erdos number 4 (whoa). The interview was scheduled for half an hour, and he pretty much cut me off at the mark. He started out asking me some questions about my family background, e.g. siblings, parents’ occupation, probably as ice-breaker.

Then we moved on to the fun part. He scanned my personal statement and realized I’ve done a lot of Olympiad math and chose a problem he thought was appropriately challenging for me. I don’t remember exactly what the problem was, but I remember it was something like proving that for any real polynomial, there is a root that has a certain property. The problem statement called for familiarity with polynomials and complex numbers, and the proof required some ‘well-known’ fact about real polynomials. Don’t fret if you are not too comfortable with those yet, as the interviewer should ask if you are familiar with them.

Solving the problem wasn’t straightforward, as it very well shouldn’t have been. The interviewer first asked if I preferred for him to give hints and guidance along the way or keep silent. I opted for silence. I started out working with a few test polynomials, e.g. X^2 + 1, just to poke around and see what I might find. The interviewer offered to give hints (perhaps I was slow), but I declined again. I looked at what was to be proved: some condition on some root… I tried to visualize the locus of complex numbers satisfying that condition, and of course drew it out so the interviewer can see my thought process.

After about ten minutes, clearly behind time, I asked for one of the two hints. The first hint was a fact I had no trouble proving, but didn’t really see where it fit into my progress so far. Then after a little while longer, I asked for the second hint. It was the ‘well-known’ fact that every real polynomial can be written as the product of real polynomials of degree at most two. I knew this fact, but didn’t think to use it until then. But once he said it I basically saw the rest of the proof and just blurted it out.

I asked the interviewer what was the shortest time someone took to solve it. He said five minutes.

My initial approaches were pretty much useless in solving the problem, way off mark from the intended solution, but maybe the interviewer saw something in my method that was intriguing. So write down and draw out and say everything you are thinking. And don’t be embarrassed to ask for hints. If the interviewer thinks the problem is challenging for you, then you should expect to need help.

Towards the end, the interviewer rushed through some questions not related to math and then basically shooed me out the door (because we were running a little late, me being quite slow on the problem).


Erdos number:


Ying Hong Tham is pursuing a Computer Science degree at Stanford University under Astro scholarship. You can find him sneaking into lecture halls at night to use the chalkboards for math scratch work and random doodling.

Economics Personal Statement 3

Ronald Yiap is currently reading BSc in Economics at The London School of Economics and Political Science (2015-2018). This personal statement was part of his successful application to The LSE, University College London, University of Warwick for Economics and King’s College London for Politics.

Despite living in a suburban boarding school, I closely followed the recent financial crises originating in the West, including the US and Eurozone debt crises and the Global Financial Crisis. This latter crisis created such a strong economic force that it was felt in Malaysia and other eastern nations, confirming the adage, ‘when America sneezes the whole world catches a cold’. Realizing how globalised our world is, I have been regularly reading both The Financial Times and The Economist magazine to keep myself informed with global economic affairs whilst also expanding my knowledge of economic concepts and ideas. Aside from my readings, I regularly engage in debates with my peers outside class, one particularly fascinating example being, “Are impulsive decisions rational?” I would argue that, so long as some cost benefit analysis takes place, an impulsive decision can be considered rational.

Reading “Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea” by Mark Blyth, I was fascinated with a different idea of austerity to the anti-Keynesian idea that it is necessary to reduce debt for future growth prospects. On the one hand, Blyth’s argument on the negative effects of austerity is very true with the widening of income inequality and increased unemployment (Ireland hitting levels of 14.8% unemployment in 2012), especially in the short run. On the other hand, the recent economic recovery of Ireland, which just exited the Troika Bailout (allowing itself to save up to $500 million dollars a year) and is experiencing strong positive GDP growth, seems to support the anti-Keynesian idea that austerity does work in the long run. Overall, my view is that although austerity may have severe initial repercussions, namely lower public spending and higher taxation squeezing the poor, once debt levels have stabilised an economy can expect strong GDP growth.

Blyth’s idea of a widening inequality as a result of austerity intrigued me and I read more about the idea of inequality and its roots in “Capital in the Twenty-First Century”, by Thomas Picketty. He argues that wealth grows faster than economic output and formulates his claim in the expression r is greater than g (where the rate of return of wealth is greater than economic growth). Both authors ultimately agree that to bridge the inequality gap, higher tax on the rich is essential. Blyth states that raising the average income tax for the top income percentiles should work. Picketty argues, however, that a progressive tax on capital, in other words a tax on wealth instead of income, is more effective and should be implemented. As the expression r is greater than g suggests, due to the rapid growth of capital (in which only the rich can afford to invest) and economic growth (the sum of the economy), a progressive tax on capital would be more effective to reduce wealth inequality. Personally, I believe that to be able to get politicians to agree to any such reforms would be highly improbable due to the nature of our current political system. It is essential that we introduce the right incentives for policy makers to act given their relationship with financial institutions.

Having self-studied Decision Mathematics, I was introduced to Game Theory which studies strategic interactions between economic agents. Specifically, I was intrigued by the Ultimatum game and the Prisoner’s Dilemma. The Ultimatum game conventionally induces a Nash Equilibrium whereby the splitter will offer the smallest possible sum to achieve co-operation from the other player. This contrasts with actual experimental outcomes due to the element of fairness that triumphs over the rational idea of economic gain. In Economics, my study of oligopolies links closely with Game Theory, in particular how firms choose prices, quantities and make their market entry decisions.

My fascination with the ever expanding breadth of Economics makes the prospect of reading for a degree in it very exciting.

UK Dentistry Application

Image Source

Hello to all the teeth lovers! I’m here to help you through the dental application. Here’s some of my advice.

Work Attachment / Job Shadowing

Work attachment is of utmost importance, not only because it can be one of the university’s requirements, but also because the valuable experience that you gain from it can help you to decide if you really like dentistry. Unfortunately, it could be pretty hard to find work attachment opportunities, especially in government hospitals. Instead, you can try to contact private clinics or even volunteer in the dental department. It would be best to do a two-week work attachment as some universities make it a must. During the work attachment, make use of this opportunity to the fullest to observe and LEARN!

  • Bring a small notebook and jot down the interesting things that you have observed.
  • Try asking the dentists some questions if you want, for instance, about dental stuff, their work experience, etc. But of course, this must be done when there is no patient.
  • Try talking to the dental nurses during break as they are the ones who work closely with the dentists. From there, you will realise the importance of good teamwork.

Personal Statement

Writing personal statement could be tedious because if you want to stand out from thousands of applicants; it’s no easy task.

  • Some might tend to use all those very bombastic words to make it impressive. I would advise you to keep it simple and show yourself clearly in your personal statement. Let the admission tutors feel your passion and picture you.
  • Avoid redundancy as the admission tutors might get bored as they read your personal statement.
  • Avoid letting too many people to check your personal statement. Too many opinions will definitely distort the originality of your personal statement.
  • Avoid faking experience or achievement. You can’t really fake it when it comes to the real interview.
  • Be yourself.


This admission test is all about timing, I would say. Practise your speed! You can buy books, get some practice online for free or buy the online practice.

  • Verbal reasoning – Practise speed-reading as it would be of great help because the time provided is very limited. Get the gist of the questions and then answer them.
  • Quantitative reasoning – Practise your speed again! Get used to the PC calculator as provided during the test. Always make use of the UKCAT mock exams as the format is entirely the same. Let me remind you that you can actually use keyboards to key in numbers and for me, it is way faster. Do mental calculations if possible to save time. To be honest, the real exam questions are rather straightforward compared to what you find in some UKCAT books such as the 600 UKCAT Questions book. So don’t worry if you score very low for this section during practice.
  • Abstract reasoning – Do as much practice as you can. You will figure out the common patterns (number of edges, vertices, etc.) after a lot of practice. During the real test, if you get stuck at one question, skip the question and flag it. The clock is ticking. Get back to the question after you’ve completed all the other questions. You can just randomly choose one answer first, in case you don’t have time to get back to this question later.
  • Decision Analysis – Read the code carefully and there shouldn’t be any problem as the time provided for this section is quite ample. Nonetheless, don’t take it lightly. Link the codes and think carefully.
  • Situational Judgement Test – There’s not much practice for this new section. Just do your best!

Overall, focus and don’t panic.

Choosing universities

There are UKCAT and non-UKCAT universities. You can make your decision based on your UKCAT score. Try to check out on how each university uses UKCAT score in the selection process. The weightage might vary between universities. All in all, you must choose the universities that you like as you’re going to spend five years there.


Once you’ve gotten an interview offer, congratulations, you’re almost there to step into your dream university. Please note that some universities hold their interviews in UK so you have to fly over to UK for your interview. If you have more than one interview in UK, you can contact the universities and try to reschedule your interviews. Make all the interviews in one trip as travelling to UK would be quite exhausting and expensive. Normally, the interviews start from November up to April. Some interview preparation tips are as below:

  • Have a look at normal interview questions (“Why dentistry?”, “Tell me about your work attachment”, etc.) as you can expect these questions in most interviews.
  • Read up on dental ethics. You will be given a scenario and asked what you should do in this case and why. Remember to discuss it from different perspectives.
  • BASIC dental knowledge. I couldn’t stress more that it is BASIC dental stuff that you should know unless you’ve stated some other dental stuff in your personal statement.
  • Have a glance at the dental care system in UK and your home country. Sometimes, you might be asked to compare them.
  • Revise your personal statement and know them inside-out. Some interviewers will ask you questions solely based on your personal statement. So again, don’t try to fake any experience or achievement. It would be very obvious during the interview.
  • Do some research on the university before interview. You might get asked “Why this university?”. Before interview, try to walk around the campus to have a look at the environment and maybe talk to the current dental students there. It is your only chance to get to know the university better.
  • During the interview, be confident and just be yourself!
  • Keep in mind that your interview performance is very important. For some universities, it is the sole determinant to decide if you can actually get the offer. So rest well on the day before your interview.


Waiting for the universities’ reply can be very torturing. Nevertheless, honestly there’s nothing much that you can do at this moment. Focus on your studies now and go all-out for your A-levels! If you got an offer, congratulations! What you need to do now is to meet the conditions offered by the university. Study hard! If you got rejected, don’t give up! You can always take a gap year and reapply next year if you’re really into dentistry. Utilise the gap year to the fullest by volunteering, doing more work attachment and so on.

Useful links





To sum up, the whole dental application is not easy but it is not “mission impossible” either. Don’t feel intimidated by the limited international places. If dentistry is really what you want, go for it and you will have no regret! All the best in your application!

Chong Xue Mei is currently a second year Dentistry student at the King’s College London School of Dentistry and Medicine.

Oxford Chemical Engineering Application


Hi, this is Christopher Lim Zi Kai from the land of agriculture, Kedah! I’m born in 1994 and am currently 20 years old now. After graduating from SMJK Sin Min with 9 A+,

2A in 2011, I was awarded a bursary offer to pursue Cambridge A-Levels in Taylor’s College Subang Jaya. My subject combination was Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry and Further Mathematics.

However, my life was not as smooth as the life of other scholars you may come across before. In 2012, I was selected to attend the second batch of National Service. During that period, I was involved in an accident which resulted a brachial plexus injury. For your information, it is a nerve injury which causes the loss of feeling and control of my right hand, which happens to be my dominant hand. Back then, I was told by doctors that they had never seen this case before and none of the doctors dared to guarantee that I would make a full recovery

After countless sessions of physiological exercises and treatments from traditional doctors all over Malaysia, my hand managed to recover fully after 1 year. Then, the time for university applications came. Initially, I was reluctant to include the famous Oxbridge universities in my application. However, thanks to a classmate persuading me that I should never give up before trying, I decided to include University of Oxford as part of my UCAS application for Chemical Engineering.

Hence, if you are still feeling doubtful whether to apply to University of Oxford, please do not hesitate any longer. If someone with long-term physical injury like me can go through all the challenges, there is no reason why you don’t stand a chance of being offered a place to study in the university of your choice. Take ACTION now to enter your DREAM university!

What was included in the application process?

As a summary for those of you who are interested to apply to any engineering subjects in University of Oxford, here’s what’s included in the application process:

  1. a) UCAS application
  2. b) Physics Aptitude Test (PAT)
  3. c) Interview Session (may be one or two session depending on your subject and college you apply to)

What did I include in my personal statement?

Here’s a list of the points I included in my personal statement:

  1. a) How I develop my passion for chemical engineering;
  2. b) Why I choose chemical engineering;
  3. c) Awards in various Mathematics Competitions;
  4. d) My experience of brachial plexus injury;
  5. e) My future vision of being a chemical engineer and how can I contribute back to society
  6. f) Strength of my character;
  7. g) Activities which I participated in and what I learnt from them, such as what had I learnt from being the Treasurer of Taylor’s College Toastmaster Club, President of Computer Club in SMJK Sin Min, etc; and
  8. h) Why I want to study in the UK.

PAT and Me

This test consists of 2 sections, which is Maths followed by Physics. Unlike A-Levels, there are no mark schemes available online for the past year questions. At the same time, although the questions can still be solved using A-Level knowledge, the solutions can be quite lengthy.

So, I started off by practicing the specimen paper. Initially, I got a false impression that PAT was quite easy as the level of difficulty of the specimen paper was almost similar to what we learned in A-Levels. However, when I started doing the actual past year papers, I was in a shock to find how tricky the questions could be! The solutions will require you to use the knowledge you learn from Cambridge A-Levels (refer to the syllabus section in the link below for more info) and manipulate some equations or linking theories between a few chapters in order to solve them.

I found out that I was quite comfortable with the standard of Maths question as I had practiced solving questions from Australian Mathematics Competition and Euclid Mathematic Competition before (Yup, I had no experience solving Mathematics Olympiad questions at all) and the questions were more or less on a similar level. The only difference was that NO CALCULATOR is allowed during the test (which made life more difficult)!

However, the Physics part was relatively tougher as I did not have much experience in attempting problem-solving questions. In addition, the Physics section can be further split into 2 parts, the objective questions and the long structured questions. At the same time, my lecturer had not finished certain topics from the A2 syllabus. Hence, a lot of self-study was needed in this aspect in order to achieve the level to solve the questions.

Hence, every time after I completed a past year paper, I would find my classmate who was also practicing the paper, and we cross-checked our answers. If either one of our answers did not tally with the other, we engaged ourselves in an intellectual discussion on how to solve the problem. If we failed to come to a consensus, we engaged our lecturer to discuss and find the solution.

Refer to this link for more information about PAT:

The Moment I Had Been Dreading: The Interview

Surprisingly, a month after PAT, I was invited to an individual Skype interview with two professors from the University of Oxford, one who was responsible for asking me Maths questions and another who was responsible for asking me Physics questions. Personally, I wasn’t expecting to get that far, that’s why I was quite worried about the interview as I did not even have the experience of a mock interview. Nevertheless, I just surfed online and read through how previous candidates performed in the interview. Also, I applied some tips which I got from a senior, which was “Think Out Aloud” – saying out what you are thinking consistently so the professors can understand how you process information and how to help you out when you are stuck.

The interview started off with a maths question. The professor asked me to sketch the function, y= sin (ex). Initially, my reaction was “Oh no, I’m so gonna fail this”; however I just smiled and sketched the shape of a sine function and exponential function next to each other and continue to stare at the paper (Oh ya, you have to prepare your own papers and stationery beforehand). After 2 minutes of silence, the professor asked me if I would like any advice. I accepted his advice and he asked me to analyse the graph from 3 aspects, when x<0, x=0, and x>0. Hence, I followed his advice by substituting x=0 into the equation and managed to get the y- intercept, which was sine 1 radian. Similar to the PAT test, no calculator is allowed during the interview, so I had to convert 1 rad to degrees, using the value of pi divided by 180. The professor then asked me to round off the value to 60 and hence that’s how I obtained the approximate value of the y-intercept, which was 0.866.

After that, I went on to analyse the case where x<0. So, all the values of ex is now smaller than 1 radian. Hence, I know that all the solutions would be positive as they all lie on the first quadrant. The smaller the value of x, the closer the line will be approaching zero from the positive side (Further Maths student should be able to understand what I am saying). On the other hand, for x>0, since the value of ex increases exponentially, the period of the sine function will decreases as x increases. Put together all 3 parts of the graph and you will get:Sin

My next question was all about the interpretation of data from a “Stress versus Strain” graph. Attached is an almost-the-same graph which they showed me:


I was asked about the gradient of the graphs, Young Modulus, and identifying which object belongs to which category. The most interesting thing that I will like to point out is the professor related an item which I wrote in my personal statement, “Thera Band” to the graph. Hence, make sure that you know what you are writing in your personal statement before you go for your interview. Because this definitely proves that the professors have read your personal statement before interviewing you!

Moreover, after I finished answering this question. I was asked 2 personal questions.

1) Why do you want to study Chemical Engineering, apart from what you have written in your personal statement?
2) Why do you want to study in UK?

In conclusion, rather than calling it an interview, it is more of a stimulation of the actual tutorial system in the University of Oxford. The only reason why I can remember the questions is because I really have learnt from the interview. Personally, I felt that the purpose of the interview was not for them to eliminate students’ applications, but to find potential students who they like to teach for the next 4 years. If they find you teachable, you definitely have a high chance of succeeding the interview!

The interview is definitely something worth experiencing in your lifetime and you will certainly learn something from it!

Here’s a link that tells you further on how the admission tutors select potential students:

Christopher Lim is a dynamic young adult who is pursuing Engineering Science- Chemical Engineering in University of Oxford under JPA scholarship. Being a fan of self- development courses and books, you will find him attending seminars after seminars especially during weekends. He is also the co-author of the book “Gen Y : Code of Success”.