The essential guide to the BMAT and UCAT
If you’re considering studying medicine at university, you’ve probably seen or heard the terms ‘BMAT’ (BioMedical Admissions Test) or ‘UCAT’ (University Clinical Aptitude Test) mentioned. Both the BMAT and UCAT are tests that form part of your application to certain universities – though unis will only ask you to sit one of the two exams. As well as medicine, these tests are also used for some dentistry degrees, and for the University of Oxford's biomedical sciences degree.
The BMAT and UCAT are both intended to provide the universities with insight into your potential as a medical student. Because of that, the tests are mostly aptitude-based, rather than knowledge-based. However, there are instances when a basic knowledge of science will be needed.
Until 2019 UCAT was called UKCAT, which stood for UK Clinical Aptitude Test, so you may see references to it written this way too.
What is the BMAT?
The BMAT is a three-part test.
- The first section focuses on aptitude and skills, and consists of 32 multiple choice questions to be answered within an hour. The skills include problem solving and understanding argument. Problem solving involves using simple numerical, mathematical and spatial skills to answer questions. Understanding argument (also known as critical thinking) asks you to read a paragraph of informative text and identify certain elements of it, evaluate the argument and draw conclusions.
- The second section focuses on scientific knowledge and application, and consists of 27 multiple choice questions to be answered in half an hour. The questions are intended to test you at GCSE level, so no need to swot up too much. However, it is highly recommended you look over the Assumed Subject Knowledge Guide on the Cambridge Assessment Admissions Testing site, as it will help you to identify gaps in your knowledge and provides you with a revision guide for each subject.
- The third section is a writing task, with a choice of three essay topics. Rather than your knowledge, this is an assessment of your ability to come up with ideas and communicate them in writing. You will have 30 minutes to complete the task and you’re limited to writing no more than one side of A4. Each essay question is based on a quote or statement (which could be on a medical, scientific or general topic) and you’re required to explain the topic, argue for and/or against it and reach a conclusion.
What is the UCAT?
The UCAT is a five-part test. NB the precise timings of sections and number of questions per section may vary a little from year to year. The information below is based on the 2020 test.
- The first section is a 21-minute verbal reasoning test where you are presented with 11 texts, with four questions to answer per text. This subtest assesses your ability to understand and interpret information, as well as draw conclusions from it.
- The second section is a 31-minute decision making test, with 29 questions to answer, each referring to a test, chart, table, graph or diagram. This section is designed to test your ability to apply logic and analyse statistical information. An on-screen calculator will also be made available.
- The third section is a 24-minute quantitative reasoning test with 36 questions, also associated with graphs, charts, tables and so on. This section tests your maths and problem-solving skills. Once again, an on-screen calculator is made available.
- The fourth section is a 13-minute abstract reasoning test with 55 questions associated with sets of shapes. This subtest assesses your ability to identify patterns amongst the various abstract shapes presented.
- Finally, the fifth section is a 26-minute situational judgement test (SJT), with 69 questions associated with 22 scenarios. This final section tests your capacity to behave appropriately in real world situations by asking you to respond to certain scenarios.
Which universities require medical admissions tests?
The BMAT is required to study medicine at the University of Oxford, the University of Cambridge, Imperial College London, University College London, Keele University, the University of Leeds, Brighton and Sussex Medical School and Lancaster University, plus the University of Manchester for some groups of international applicants. If you’re considering studying dentistry at the University of Leeds or biomedical sciences at the University of Oxford you will also need to sit the BMAT.
The UCAT is required by 30 universities, including University of Warwick, University of Sheffield, University of Manchester and University of Edinburgh. The full list of universities asking for this admissions test can be found on the UCAT website.
How much do the tests cost?
The fee for sitting the BMAT depends on when you decide to sit it and whether you are an international applicant or not. For that reason, fees can range between £49 and £122. There have been some changes to costs as a result of the financial difficulties experienced by many due to Covid-19, and a reimbursement scheme is in place. The best way to find out about this and how much it would cost for you to sit the BMAT is by visiting the Cambridge Assessment Admissions Testing website.
In 2020, the UCAT test costs £75 for those taking it in the UK or the EU and £120 for those sitting it in the EU. However, there is a bursary enabling UK and EU students who are eligible to take the test for free. This bursary can be applied for after having paid, too.
How can I prepare for the tests?
You can find a wide range of free resources to help you prepare for the BMAT. Cambridge Assessment Admissions Testing has a web page dedicated to BMAT preparation, which includes past papers, specimen papers, guides and further resources. The University of Oxford also has some useful information online.
The UCAT website provides a comprehensive list of practice tests, question banks and question tutorials to help you prepare for sitting the test. The page also includes the 2020 presentation offering advice on the UCAT test, a link to the UCAT mobile app and a link to the UCAT YouTube channel – all valuable resources that can be used to supplement your test preparation. You might also find it useful to take a look at the tips from previous successful candidates on the UCAT website.
How important are my test results?
For some universities your BMAT or UCAT results are an important factor in the candidate selection process – there may be a certain score you’re expected to meet to be considered for a place on the course. Other universities consider the tests alongside factors such as academic achievement, your personal statement and interview performance. Your test results might instead be used to distinguish between candidates who have done equally well in other parts of the application process.
Most universities consider your total score (ie the score after each of the subtest scores have been added together); however, some do look at individual subtest scores and may even have a cut-off score for a particular section.