This student applied in the 2016/17 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 Sri Lankan, Muslim man who went to a grammar or 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 since I was like 6 – my mom is a doctor and in Sri Lanka there is a strong culture of aspiring to be a doctor or an engineer.
How did you choose which universities to apply to?
Cambridge – because of reputation; Imperial and Kings College – because of reputation and location in London so close to home; Nottingham – I had visited Nottingham previously for an interview prep event (I can’t remember the name though) and loved the campus
Completing work experience
What types of work experience did you do?
Hospital shadowing, GP surgery, Care work (e.g. in residential care), Customer service role (voluntary)
How much work experience did you do?
About 10 weeks. A week in the National Hospital of Neurology and Neurosurgery in London with a neurologist. 2 weeks in St Mary’s in Paddington in vascular surgery. A week in orthopaedics in Mount Vernon hospital in west London. A week in a government hospital in Sri Lanka with a general surgeon. A week in the North London hospice with the palliative care doctors. Also volunteered at a care home for about 1.5 years. I can’t remember where the rest of the work experience I had was. Doing all this was fun, but in the end it was only useful in the sense I could pick the best out of the 10 weeks to talk about in my personal statement; I think I only ended up mentioning orthopaedics and one other, so really, you only need a week or two. Medical schools are even more understanding now because post-covid it’s insanely difficult to get work experience, with lots of restrictions on under-18s going into hospital and shadowing doctors, whereas when I was applying I literally got to just waltz in without any formal process (shocking in hindsight to be honest!). Also, apply early – I emailed and wrote letters to hundreds of consultants and GP practices 6 months before my year 11 summer holidays so I could get the work experience I did.
How did you find your work experience opportunities?
Through a formal scheme or work experience placement.
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, Free admissions test prep course, Paid admissions test prep course, Practice papers from test website, University guidance
PotMed was pretty good; for UCAT and BMAT, resources like Medify, BMATNinja, UCATNinja were good but the expensive paid courses by companies like Kaplan were a waste of money. But please note I applied 6 years ago so a lot of things will be different now, but I hear Medify is still an excellent resource.
How did you prepare for your admissions test?
UCAT – Prepared for 6 weeks in the Summer, around 4hrs a day for the first 2 weeks, decreasing to 3hrs for weeks 3&4, and just mock exams after this. I made sure to still take days off! The main thing is to just practise – especially for abstract reasoning; after a while you just start recognising the patterns – Medify was the best resource I used. I made sure to simulate the environment of the real UCAT exam – i.e. only an online calculator, and through the mock exams, which I used throughout, but especially towards the end, I could identify my weaknesses and target them.
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?
Whenever I went to open days for different universities, I made sure to network with medical students, as well as getting in touch with medical students who studied at my school. From this, I was able to get advice on how best to prepare for interviews, and some of these students also very kindly did mock interviews for me. I also went to a few interview prep events like Potential Medics run by Muslim Medics at Imperial College, which helped, as well as using online resources like MedicPortal, UniAdmissions, etc. Some of these were expensive and in hindsight, not value for money, but they also did help with my confidence; the more mock interviews, especially more science-based ones, with as many strangers as possible, the more your confidence will increase.
What happened during your interview?
The interview is like one of the supervisions they do at Cambridge – the interviewers want to know whether you are someone they would be happy to teach. So be polite, let them interrupt you but don’t interrupt them; ask intelligent questions that will help you get to an answer – sometimes they will ask a question but won’t give you all the information necessary to answer it and they expect you to spot that. And when they ask whether you have any questions for them at the end, I would advise you to ask an academic question rather than something about the course or college (Opinion: This is just one student’s opinion or experience. There is no guarantee that this will reflect your own experience). For example, if at the end of a chemistry discussion with your interviewer about some reaction mechanisms, instead of asking the interviewer something about Cambridge or the college or how the Medicine course is structured (things which you can either find online or at an Open Day), ask the interviewer something interesting about science that came up during the discussion. This lets them know you are enthusiastic about learning and that you will engage with them in an intelligent manner when they teach you. Of course, only ask a question if you have something sensible to ask; don’t ask a question for the sake of it otherwise you risk asking a stupid question.
First Interview – firstly focused on biology questions; I was asked to draw a graph relating to a biological process and we discussed some further questions about the specifics of the biological process. I then had some physics questions, which ended up being quite a detailed conversation!
Second interview – firstly focused on statistics questions; they asked me what particular data points you would investigate in a specific clinical trial and we discussed the different biological markers we might look for in the trial. I was then shown a Forest Plot (something I’d not seen before!) which helped to develop the conversation; the interviewer asked me to describe what the plot showed and some more specific questions relating to the statistics. We then discussed how data might inform clinical decisions such as approving drugs: I think the point wasn’t whether my answer was correct but how I justified the answer that was important. I was then asked some chemistry questions about a specific chemical structure from which we had quite a detailed conversation about how that all worked.
Do you have any further advice?
All the best! The key thing is to really figure out why you want to do medicine; if your motivation is in the right place, it’ll help you do your best – working hard on your grades, tirelessly trying to get work experience and other opportunities, volunteering on the weekends even though you’d rather be chilling, etc.
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.
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.
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#/.
Paid-for resources: Some students choose to pay for courses either online or in person to help them prepare for admissions tests and interviews. There is no evidence that they give you an advantage. There are good, free alternatives for preparation for admissions tests and interviews, and some offer bursaries and discounts to students who come from low income families. Check out our guides and uni websites for more details.
Free resources: There are plenty of free resources available to help you prepare for admissions tests and interviews online and in person! For example, you might be able to get a free place on a mentoring scheme or session, find free support books at your local library, or search online for free resources to help you. It’s very normal to rely on free resources – not everyone can afford to pay for support, and it’s not proven to give you an advantage.
Medify: Medify is a popular website which provides resources for helping you prepare your medicine application. Medify has some free resources online but some are paid-for. There are good, free alternatives for preparation available online, so check out our subject guides and the university websites for details.
Mock interview: Don’t worry if you didn’t have this opportunity. Interviews are designed to take into account that not everyone has the same level of preparation. See our guides and blogs on interviews to find out more about free online resources.
Support networks: While not every student will have a support network to help them prepare, there are plenty of other ways to prepare for your admissions tests and interviews, such as through free online resources, like on our website.
Supervision/tutorial: These form the basis of the teaching style at Oxford and Cambridge and usually take the form of a small, 1-hr long class. There will be one academic (e.g. a professor) and 1-4 students in the tutorial or supervision, in which students usually discuss work they have already prepared such as an essay or a set of questions, and the academic will provide guidance and encourage lively discussion.