This student applied in the 2019/20 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 comprehensive school.
Course: Standard undergraduate
Interview: In person interview
Admissions Tests: UCAT; BMAT
Before I made my application…
Choosing to study medicine
When did you decide to apply to medicine?
Sometime in Year 10 when I was considering different careers and looking at where to go for compulsory work experience set by my secondary school. I secured work experience in an architecture practice (I was also considering architecture at the time, and was too young to get work experience in a hospital). I didn’t love the placement as much as I thought I would, and the architect I was shadowing said his sister worked as a doctor. I asked what he thought about who felt more ‘fulfilled’ in their job between him and is sister, and he said that whilst he might have a more relaxed career, his sister certainly felt more fulfilled in her work. At that point, I settled on medicine.
How did you choose which universities to apply to?
I didn’t choose a non-medical option and only applied to 4 universities, as I decided to reapply if I received no offers. I settled on the 4 that I applied to by looking at their rankings for student satisfaction, the campus ‘feel’/’vibe’ (having attended open days), the distance from home (I didn’t want to have to drive more than 4 hours or fly), and the league table rankings. I also considered the type of teaching offered and reviews of the accommodation.
Completing work experience
What types of work experience did you do?
Hospital shadowing, Care work (e.g. in residential care), Customer service role (voluntary)
How much work experience did you do?
I have no connections to medicine, so I was worried about getting medical placements, but with persistence and lots of time looking at hospital websites, I managed to sort some!
– One week in a local hospital shadowing nurses on a small ward (which I applied for by contacting the hospital volunteering officer, who then forwarded my email on to someone more qualified to help with WEX) (Feb half term of Year 12)
– One week in a regional hospital shadowing junior doctors on the ward and surgeons in the operating theatre (which I applied for via an online form from the hospital directly!) (In July of the summer between Year 12 and 13)
– 12 months volunteering at a local Dementia Care Home, for 1 hour every other week
– 9 months volunteering at a disability play centre, for 6 hours every month
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, Free admissions test prep course, Practice papers from test website, Books (1250 UKCAT questions, 600 BMAT questions)
The Imperial College London medical society ran some free UCAT and BMAT info days (in-person), during which we worked through the different sections of each paper and discussed example questions. I mostly made use of free online question banks and mock papers for my revision. For the UCAT exam, these included the UCAT consitorium’s online papers, the 1250 UKCAT questions book, and the maximum available number of free practice questions on the Medic Portal website. For the BMAT, I relied on the 600 BMAT questions book, and the BMAT past papers from the Cambridge Admissions Website (2003-2018 papers). I also watched free YouTube videos for advice and tips about each exam.
How did you prepare for your admissions test?
Practice questions!! I timetabled 4 weeks of prep ahead of taking each exam. For the UCAT, I would tackle one section per day, Mon-Fri, working through question banks and watching YouTube videos relating to that specific section. I would take Saturdays off from UCAT revision and attempt full papers on Sunday. By the last week of my revision, I had identified which sections were the hardest for me personally and focused more heavily on these areas. For the BMAT, I worked my way through as many past papers as I could, initially untimed and then timed from the end of the 2nd week of my prep. I tracked my scores and made sure that they were getting higher as time went on. Again, I identified my ‘problem areas’ and spent more time on those as I approached exam day.
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 revised as much GSCE and AS level Biology content as I could in the weeks prior to my interview (also Chemistry and Maths but to a lesser extent). One main free resource I used to do this efficiently and quickly was a website called “Seneca” (which I highly recommend!) I also tried to explore potential scenarios that could pop up in the interview and talked through these with my parents at home. One of the most insightful things I did was watch YouTube mock interview videos.
What happened during your interview?
I was asked very broad and vague questions about biological concepts at the start of each interview (I had two interviews, each 20-25 minutes long). These introductory questions allowed me to direct the conversation where I wished, and follow up questions were asked based on what my own initial thoughts had been. I was asked at one point to draw an explanatory diagram on a whiteboard to help with articulating my thoughts. Several medical artefacts were also discussed/shown to me during the interview, and I was asked how I thought these could be used or what biological concepts they helped demonstrate. No questions were asked about medical ethics or current affairs, and the only ‘personal’ question asked was regarding the topic of my EPQ The main focus was on biological concepts, with one or two maths/chemistry focused questions thrown in. The interview set-up was relatively informal; we were sat on sofas in the first interview, and at chairs around a table in the second. There were two interviewers (chosen from medical fellows/teaching staff at the college to which I applied) in each interview room, and they each would remain silent whilst the other asked questions for 10-15 minutes before swapping round roles.
Do you have any further advice?
Some other advice: Don’t wait for other people/staff members at your school or college to tell you what to do. You’re absolutely capable of getting started on your application ahead of time, and the best thing you can do is start! Not every school/college will have a designated member of staff to help you, and even if they do, they might not be any good!! Believe in yourself and enjoy the process, it could lead you to an amazing future! 🙂
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#/.
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.
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 second-hand 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.
Medic Portal: The Medic Portal is a popular website that provides resources to help you prepare your medicine application. The Medic Portal has some free resources online but some are paid-for. There are good, free alternatives for preparation available online, so check out our guides and the university websites for details.
YouTube Videos: There are many current and recent medical students who create videos on YouTube about their experience and advice about applying. Remember that their experience is personal and individual, and may not reflect yours. They might provide some useful advice but remember that they might be advertising paid for services. Take their advice as part of a more holistic approach alongside moderated advice such as ours, and official advice from universities and test providers.
EPQ: Extended Project Qualification. 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.