This student applied in the 2018/9 application cycle and therefore the selection process at Cambridge may have changed since then. You should read all the information a University sends you about the selection process to get the most up to date details!
Remember to check out the glossary at the bottom of the page for our explanations of all the jargon we medical students like to use!
More about this student
Sometimes students share information with us about their demographics, which may help put their application experience into a bit more perspective.
This student identifies as a white British woman who went to a selective state school.
Course: Standard undergraduate
Interview: In-person panel interview
Admissions Tests: UCAT; BMAT
Before I made my application…
Choosing to study medicine
When did you decide to apply to medicine?
Probably when I was about 13.
How did you choose which universities to apply to?
Going to open days when I could to see what the city was like mostly. The Student Room some good discussions about what they were like.
I knew the city mattered a lot to me for my other options.
I didn’t like the idea of PBL so I took into account the course structures – everyone is different!
Looking at the entry requirements and being strategic about the scores required e.g. UCAT. I rethought my options after my UCAT score and tried to be strategic about where I should apply and how competitive each was. I wanted a range. I also personally applied to half BMAT half UCAT as I was sitting both anyway.
Completing work experience
What types of work experience did you do?
Hospital shadowing, Customer service role (voluntary)
How much work experience did you do?
I went on one work experience placement for 3 days. I found it was useful to see a day in the life of an actual doctor, see how you feel seeing patients. I mostly tried to get the experience from it to help make sure it was really what I wanted to do when seeing it in reality as we don’t get exposure to the hospital environment.
I volunteered at my local children’s hospital for a year before applying which I loved and felt was arguably better for my interview talking and what I gained from it and it was much easier to organise than finding work experience!
How did you find your work experience opportunities?
Through asking someone I knew to take me on
During the application process…
What admissions test did you sit?
University Clinical Aptitude Test (UCAT): https://www.ucat.ac.uk/; BioMedical Admissions Test (BMAT). Note: BMAT will no longer be used for medicine applications after 2023. If you are applying in 2023 and sitting the BMAT, you can find out about it here: https://www.admissionstesting.org/for-test-takers/bmat/
What resources did you use?
Free online resources, Paid online resources, Practice papers from test website
I found Medic Portal good for UKCAT especially as you could do timed mocks that are marked.
For BMAT the only thing I did was do the past papers and I felt that helped the most.
How did you prepare for your admissions test?
For the BMAT do all the past papers you can. Don’t skip out Section 1 even though it can seem long because I wished I’d have practiced that more as I focused too hard on the science.
I used a UKCAT book to get used to the style first and then when I got some confidence I then starting using online resources for mock tests.
What type of interview did you do?
Panel: This type of interview is a ‘traditional’ sit down interview where you’ll be interviewed by a group of people, usually academic tutors and doctors. This differs from an MMI interview, which is based around ‘stations’ which have themes or scenarios attached to them.
How did you prepare for your interview?
I made sure to have revised my A level science and maths courses – and being on top of these was the most beneficial to my Cambridge interview as although the questions sound hard at first they want you to use your GCSE and AS level principles and apply them to unknown situations.
I made some key notes on the books I had on my statement in case I was asked to reflect on those. I also made key notes about my work experience so I knew what I would say about each placement if they asked. I made a table about good characteristics displayed by doctors, where I had seen them on work experience/similar and where I had shown them myself through extracurricular/volunteering/in school.
I made sure to keep up with medical news in the couple of months before my interview or any big things that year. I kept a document for all my interviews with general medicine information such as the pillars of ethics, NHS values, challenges the NHS faces, general topics such as some ideas for AI use in medicine, big medical controversies so that I had at least had a think about them beforehand. I found the ISC medical interview book to be useful for thinking about these ideas.
I also tried to reflect somewhat on what I wrote in the BMAT / think about the other question options.
What happened during your interview?
I interviewed at Jesus College and I had 3 interviews, each 20/30 minutes. 1 was general and 2 were science however in my general interview I got asked 2 personal questions and 2 surrounding general NHS/medicine topics and then moved fairly quickly into science. So the whole thing was very science related.
The biggest thing I want to convey is that the interviews aren’t about how much extra knowledge you have – I actually met a girl waiting who told me about her EPQ topic, I was asked about this topic and she wasn’t. They don’t want you to reel off knowledge, the point is they will ask you something and you have no idea what the answer is and feel a bit silly. But they give you prompts and more information and you apply your principles from GCSE and A-Level while they guide you to reach an answer. It’s more about how you apply principles and take on new information! This style of interview really mimics the supervision teaching style at Cambridge. You are talking back and forth most of the time rather than them listening to you talk for ages.
I didn’t use much of my preparation other than the couple of personal bits and NHS general preparation but then 90% GCSE and A level stuff and attempting to use my own logic. But I know that other people have been asked questions more similar to MMI at some colleges, and asked about their reading / EPQ so would definitely recommend preparing.
I felt really silly after my first interview but I tried to shrug it off and not let it affect my others. I sat in a big room with other applicants and chatted between interviews which I recommend to calm nerves. I went into the next interviews in a better headspace, showed my personality more and found that not overthinking helped my logic. My biggest advice is say what you are thinking out loud! Even if you are wrong it’s about the learning process and so much of the time people have told me they didn’t say things out of fear of looking silly and it was what they were looking for. Don’t overthink it!
The science interviews were talking through medical questions that you wouldn’t know about but working your way to the answer with help. Sometimes graphs and diagrams were used as materials. I had two interviewers for each interview and we sat at a table together. It was relatively relaxed, I felt like I was in a conversation, not like I was performing on my own – and as someone who panics with speeches/talking to multiple people for long periods I of course was very nervous to be interviewed but I didn’t feel the anxiety I would if I was being watched on the spot. The interviewers were very friendly in my last 2 interviews. It is very very normal to feel like you’ve not got in after interview – everyone I know felt that way. But be proud of yourself!
Online forums: Online forums can be great spaces to find advice and first-hand knowledge, but remember that it may not always be the most trustworthy source of information. Take what you read with a pinch of salt.
Problem Based Learning (PBL): PBL is a teaching style that many universities use to teach their medical students. Usually, you will work to solve a problem, and this is how you learn about the solution, rather than being taught the solution first and then applying it.
Clinical work experience: Not every student will complete clinical work experience before they apply to medical school. Don’t worry, this is not required to be able to apply. You can use non-clinical work experience (e.g. a caring role, like in a care home) or even reflect on paid work you’ve done (e.g. in customer service) in a productive way.
Insiders: Don’t worry if you don’t know people like this. Most students don’t have friends who have already been through the process or healthcare professionals that they know who might be able to support them. You can meet current medical students to speak to at open days, or via free mentoring schemes, but it’s not a requirement for you to be successful.
Volunteering: Lots of students do volunteering to help them prepare for their medicine application. This doesn’t need to be volunteering in a medical setting, but might be a caring volunteer position. Lots of students might do this during their Duke of Edinburgh Award, but there are plenty of other opportunities to become a volunteer – ask your school if they know anywhere that might be asking for volunteers, or the NCVO might be able to direct you to somewhere via their Volunteer Centres: https://www.ncvo.org.uk/get-involved/volunteering/want-to-volunteer/?gclid=Cj0KCQjwyLGjBhDKARIsAFRNgW-o9NsatwGEYMfXowTD–D6S3CYjcUbP2LqkMiCU0dCL31NURMPKkkaAqiiEALw_wcB#/.
Books: Don’t worry if you’ve not been able to find this particular book or afford to pay for it. You might be able to find secondhand copies online which are usually much cheaper, or at your local library (sometimes, libraries will order in books that you’ve requested, so check out this as a possibility too!). Bear in mind that some books may become out of date, so make sure you check when they were published, and if any changes to the relevant admissions tests/interviews have been made since then.
Multiple Mini Interview (MMI): This type of interview usually includes several short interviews or ‘stations’ which may involve different types of questions and scenarios. This is different compared to a panel interview, which may cover the same scenarios/types of questions but be a more ‘traditional’ sit-down interview.
Four Pillars of Medical Ethics: These four pillars guide ideas about medical ethics. Knowing and understanding them can help you prepare for your interview and how you answer questions. Four Pillars link.
NHS Values: The NHS Values guide healthcare education and careers. It’s important to know and understand these values to help you be as successful as possible in your application. They can help you answer questions in your interview, or guide what you write about in your personal statement. Find out more here: NHS Values.
Extended Project Qualification (EPQ): This is another qualification that some students sit while completing their A-levels. It usually consists of an extended written up research project about a special interest. Don’t worry if you have not completed an EPQ, it is not a requirement to apply to study medicine.