Medicine in the United Kingdom

07/07/20218 minute read
Medicine in the United Kingdom

Firstly, you need to be congratulated for investigating what it takes to secure admission onto some of the world’s best medical degrees.

The UK is home to the second and the third ranked medical schools in the world in Oxford and Cambridge (with the US-based Harvard coming in at number one). Therefore, if you gain admission to one of these universities you will be exposed to the best medical training available.

The UK is one of the world’s top destinations for medical schools -- the allure of its prestigious and long-established institutions is undeniable. Of course, with the quality of the education and the world class reputation that accompanies it, comes the inevitable high standards of the many thousands of candidates vying for those highly sought after medical school spots.

(The acceptance rate to Oxford’s medical program is only 12%). In short the students who present the best and most importantly score highly on the main medical school entrance exams have the first advantage in setting themselves above the competition.

Pathways to Medical School in the UK:

Undergraduate Medicine (5-6 years):
This pathway is open to school-leavers and involves direct entry into a medical degree straight out of school, at the end of which they graduate with a Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS/MBChB). This pathway is offered by select universities, to students who perform exceptionally well in school and in the UCAT / BMAT.

Postgraduate Medicine (4 years):
This pathway is open to those who have completed any undergraduate degree, and who meet subject prerequisites for some universities. This pathway requires applicants to have high results in both their GPA and the GAMSAT exam. These scores are combined to determine an applicant's eligibility for a medical interview.

So what exactly are the exams you need to take if you are aiming at gaining admission to Oxford, Cambridge or one of the many other world-class medical schools available in the UK, and why exactly do these exams matter?

The answer to the first part of this question is that there are two key tests that UK students can take: either the United Kingdom Clinical Aptitude Test (UCAT/UKCAT) or the Biomedical Admissions Test (BMAT) with different universities accepting different tests. (Eg: Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial College London, Leeds University and University College London require the BMAT while universities such as Birmingham, Bristol, Edinburgh, Exeter, Glasgow, King’s College London,Manchester, St. Andrew’s and Warwick accept the UCAT.

The answer to the second is that a good score on either or both exams often leads to a student being invited to attend that all important admissions interview - therefore, making the admission tests an integral and crucial part of the process of securing a place to study medicine.

What are the Key Differences Between the UCAT and the BMAT?

Although both the UCAT and BMAT test the way that you think, they consist of different sections, which test different aptitudes to each other. The UCAT test splits questions into 5 sections, while the BMAT test three separate sections. The key difference between the BMAT and the UCAT is that there is no equivalent of the BMAT’s Section 2 and Section 3 for the UCAT, with Section 2 of the BMAT testing a student’s scientific knowledge (to GCSE standard) and Section 3 requiring the applicant to write an essay (testing a student’s ability to structure and write an argument). These extra skills tested in the BMAT as compared to the UCAT are an important consideration when choosing which exams to take.


The UCAT is a two-hour standardised, computer-based exam, with five separately timed sections each containing a number of questions in a multiple choice format. This test is for admission to Australia, New Zealand and UK medical schools, however, students who are not considered domestic to Australia or New Zealand must sit the ISAT exam instead for admission to Australia.

What Does The Breakdown Of The UCAT Exams Look Like?

Section One - Verbal Reasoning
This section requires students to critically analyse and evaluate written information. Students are presented with passages on varying topics and are tested on their comprehension of the passage.

Section Two - Decision Making
This section assesses the ability to make sound decisions and judgements based on the complex information provided. Students are required to interpret text, tables, charts, graphs or other diagrams.

Section Three - Quantitative Reasoning
This section assesses the ability to critically analyse and evaluate numeric information. The questions asked are similar to those found in high school Mathematics - graphs, charts, tables, percentages, proportionality, rates, averages.

Section Four - Abstract Reasoning
This section assesses the ability to use creative thinking to infer relationships from the information provided. This tests the ability to recognise patterns and the relationship between shapes through logical thinking.

Section Five - Situational Judgement
This section assesses the ability to understand real world scenarios and appropriately respond to them. The situations include clinical scenarios as well and examines your understanding of ethics, team work and conflict resolution.


The BMAT is a two-hour paper based aptitude test. Unlike the UCAT the BMAT only has three sections. This test is for admission to Oxbridge, UCL, Imperial College plus a few other assorted medical programs for all students wishing to apply.

What Does The Breakdown Of The UCAT Exams Look Like?

Section One - Thinking Skills
Candidates are required to solve problems, using simple numerical operations and present a series of logical arguments. There are a total of 32 questions. The questions are in multiple-choice format.

Section Two - Scientific Knowledge and Application
This section has 27 questions on Math, Biology, Physics and Chemistry concepts. The content tested is similar to what you would have learned at high school level.

Section Three - Written Task
Students are required to choose from 3 prompts to write an essay on a given topic. The topics can be scientific or medicine-related but sometimes aren’t. Students are assessed both for content, and their use of English.

Overwhelmed with all the acronyms?

Don’t be! If you’d like to speak with one of MedView's medical admissions experts on study resources and how to begin preparing for your standardised tests, you can arrange a free consultation

When Can I Sit the Exams?

While the UCAT offers a series of testing dates between July and October, the BMAT limits applicants to one sitting only - either the August or October exam. It is worth noting that Oxford University ONLY accepts scores taken at the October exam so if you are thinking of applying to Oxford you must take the test in October only.

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