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BMAT Basics

Our introduction to the BMAT covering the basics of what it involves and how to prepare.
Published 20th Oct 2019

What is the BMAT and do I need to take it? 

The BMAT (or Biomedical Admissions Test) is a written entrance exam used by some Medical Schools as part of the process of selecting applicants. As of 2019, the UK Medical Schools which require the BMAT are: 

  • Brighton & Sussex Medical School
  • University of Cambridge
  • Imperial College London
  • Keele University
  • Lancaster University
  • Leeds’ School of Medicine
  • University of Oxford Medical School
  • University College London.

You only need to take the BMAT if you want to apply to Medicine at any of the Universities above. Other Medical Schools use the UCAT or GAMSAT instead. You can read more about the UCAT here

There are two BMAT sittings each year – one in August and one in October. You only have to take the exam on one of the dates. The exam is taken the year before you intend to go to University. For example, if you want to go to Medical School in September 2020, you would take the BMAT in September or October 2019. This is around the time that you also need to submit your UCAS application with your Personal Statement. 

If you do not get into Medicine first time and decide to re-apply to any of the Medical Schools in the list above, you would need to take the BMAT again because it is only valid for one year. 

What does the BMAT cover?

The BMAT has three sections as shown in the table below. In short, these cover critical and data analysis, science and maths, and a short essay. 

It has been designed to assess a variety of skills which are important in Medicine – including critical thinking, problem-solving, basic scientific knowledge, time management, efficiency, ability to work under pressure, comprehension skills, maths applied to real-life situations, data analysis and written communication. 

How is the BMAT scored? 

Each section of the BMAT is scored separately. The table below shows the breakdown of these scores. 

SectionTopicsQuestion formatNumber of questionsTime limit for sectionAverage time per questionScore
Section 1: Aptitude and SkillsCritical thinking, problem solving and data analysisMultiple choice35 questions (10 critical thinking, 13 problem solving, 12 data analysis)60 minutes1 minute 40 seconds 1-9
Section 2: Scientific Knowledge and ApplicationsBiology, Chemistry, Physics and Maths at GCSE levelMultiple choice, fill-in-the-blank or matching27 questions30 minutes1 minute1-9
Section 3: Writing TaskA4 page of writingChoose one topic of the three optionsChoose one question (sometimes with a couple of sub-questions)30 minutes30 minutesContent scored 0-5; quality of written English scored A-E

Generally, most students score between 3-5 in Section 1 and Section 2. A score of 6+ is competitive and 7+ is outstanding. It is unusual (but not impossible) to see scores higher than 8. 

In Section 3, most students score 3-4 for content and A or B for quality of written English. If you answer each part of the question, you should achieve a score of at least 3. The marking of Section 3 is a little more subjective and therefore it is marked by two independent examiners and an average is taken. If there is a discrepancy between the examiners by >1 mark, a third examiner is involved and the final mark is checked by the Senior Assessment Manager. You can download a copy of the Section 3 marking criteria from the Cambridge Admissions Testing website. 

The Medical Schools that you apply to will be able to see your BMAT score for each individual Section and they will also be given a copy of your Writing Task from Section 3. 

What is the time limit in the BMAT? 

The BMAT lasts 2 hours. Each section has a different number of questions and a different time limit. These are shown in the table above. 

The average time per question is also given in the table above as a guide. Some questions within a section will take you more or less time depending on how complex the question is. For example, it is okay to spend longer than 1 minute on a question in Section 2 if you spend less than 1 minute on other questions in that section. The important thing is that on average the timings work out close to those in the table above, otherwise you will still have unanswered questions left over at the end of the time limit for that section.

Section 2 is typically the one that students find is the most time pressured. This is because there are a lot of questions to do in a short space of time, and many of them require some sort of calculation which can take a bit longer to do – particularly as no calculators are allowed in the exam. 

How do I register to take the BMAT? 

In the UK, the BMAT runs on two test dates per year – one at the end of August and one at the end of October. Registration opens 8 weeks before each test date. Results are released around 3 weeks after each test date. The exact dates vary a little each year, so please check the official dates on the Cambridge Admissions Testing website. 

BMAT exams are usually run at registered schools. You can find your nearest test centre on the Cambridge Admissions Testing website – it may or may not be your own school. Once you have found your nearest test centre, contact the Exams Officer and ask them to register you for the BMAT exam. You will need to give them your details, UCAS number and the name of the universities and course codes that you’re applying to (these can be found on UCAS or on the university’s course webpage). Once you are registered, the Exams Officer will give you a candidate entry number. 

Should I sit the BMAT in August or October? 

There are a few things to consider here. The first is whether you are applying to Oxford – if you are, you must sit the BMAT in October as they do not accept the August test date. 

If you are not applying to Oxford, the choice is 100% up to you. However, we would advise taking the BMAT in the August sitting because:

  • Your preparation/revision period for the August exam would fall inside the school holidays. This means that you can spend as much time as you need on BMAT prep without compromising your school studies
  • The August exam is well in advance of the UCAS deadline. This means that you will not be trying to juggle both BMAT prep and writing your Personal Statement
  • The results of the August exam are released before the UCAS deadline; the October results are released afterwards (because the October exam is done after the UCAS deadline). If you do the August sitting and you know your BMAT results, you can apply tactically to universities that are likely to accept you. If you have done very well in the BMAT, you can apply to your favourite BMAT universities regardless of how they use the BMAT to assess applications. If you haven’t done so well at the BMAT, you may consider changing some of your university choices to others which are more likely to accept you. However, if you wait to do the BMAT in October (after you’ve applied to university) and then don’t do as well as you hoped in the BMAT, you may have wasted some of your four applications on universities who will not accept your score.

Reasons for doing the BMAT in October include: 

  • If you want longer to practice for the BMAT and don’t feel that you would be ready for the August date – although bear in mind that in the run-up to the October sitting you will also be working on your Personal Statement and trying to keep up with school work at the same time so you may not have much spare time for BMAT work
  • You were unavailable to take the test on the August date
  • You missed the application window for the August sitting
  • You are applying to Oxford (remember they only accept October sittings).

Some students are tempted to take the October sitting because it is cheaper than the August one. However, bear in mind that candidates in financial difficulty are often able to claim the cost of the test back – so please check this first before allowing the cost difference affect which exam date you do. 

What next? 

Here are 10 steps for BMAT success. 

  1. Check whether the Medical Schools that you want to apply to definitely require the BMAT (or the UCAT or GAMSAT). Also make sure you find out how those Medical Schools use the BMAT – some will use it as a key component in deciding which applicants to invite to interview, whereas others put much less emphasis on the BMAT. You can usually find this information out on the Medical School’s website – look for a section called “Selection Process” or similar.
  2. Decide whether you want to do the August or October sitting.
  3. Find your nearest test centre and register for the BMAT. Contact the Exams Officer early to ensure that the registration is completed in time.
  4. Plan your preparation time. Now you’ve booked your test date, decide when you will start your BMAT preparation. Different people need different lengths of time to prepare, but most people start preparing around 1 month in advance of their BMAT. If you know you are going to be busy with school work, writing your Personal Statement and other things around the time of your BMAT, you might like to start preparing for it a little earlier to ensure that you have time to balance everything without compromise. Make a timetable or plan out your preparation time in advance so that you can be sure you will be able to fit enough practice in. You can read more advice and tips about preparing for the BMAT here.
  5. Read through the BMAT test Assumed Subject Knowledge/Specification so you know what to expect from the test. Be aware that this may change slightly from one year to the next so make sure you are reading the latest version. As you read through it, mark off any topics that you are not sure about.
  6. Revise the topics that you are not sure about using the BMAT Section 2 Guide, GCSE revision guides or other resources like BBC Bitesize.
  7. Start practicing questions. You can download practice papers on the Cambridge Admissions Testing website. Then go through the answers and the explanations to identify where you can improve. If you find that there are topics where you are often getting the answer wrong, make sure that you revise that topic again.
  8. Do the past papers under timed conditions. This is really important because keeping to the timing is often what students find the most challenging in this exam, particularly in Section 2. Past papers are available from 2003 onwards so there is plenty of material to work through.
  9. Get a good night’s sleep before the BMAT and eat a nutritious breakfast. Being well-rested and energised will help you to concentrate during the real exam.
  10. Remember all the techniques you have practiced and try to keep to time during the exam. Don’t spend too long worrying about one particular question – if you can’t answer it relatively quickly it’s better to move on and spend the time getting the marks from easier questions.

After the BMAT is over, make sure you take some time to relax and celebrate!


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