BMAT vs UCAT | What’s The Difference And Which Is Harder?

In General, University by Think Student EditorLeave a Comment

If you are thinking about university applications, you may have heard of abbreviations like the BMAT and UCAT. These are both admissions tests used by universities in the UK for applicants who want to study medicine. Each year, thousands of students sit these exams, but it is likely you won’t know much about them before you really start looking into applying for medicine. Although both tests sound similar – medicine admissions tests – there are actually a number of differences between them. This includes when they are sat, what the format is, what content they test, how they are scored, and more. Because of how different they are, there is also a lot of debate about which test is harder, and everyone has a different opinion.

As someone who has sat both these entrance tests, this article will go over all the important differences between the BMAT and UCAT and what might make one of them harder than the other, hopefully answering all the key questions you have about them!

Who takes the BMAT and UCAT?

As mentioned, both the BMAT and UCAT are university admissions tests for medicine. Essentially, anyone applying to medical school in the UK will have to take one of these tests as part of the admissions process. However, different universities use each one.

This article from The Medic Portal lists the universities that used BMAT in 2023, such as Oxford and Cambridge. All other UK medical schools not listed there currently use the UCAT for their applicants.

There are a few other specific courses that ask for the BMAT, related to medicine. For example, for 2023, you need to take the BMAT for biomedical sciences at Oxford University.

As an applicant, you can take both these admissions tests, or just one – it depends which universities you apply to. For less work and revision, you might choose to just take the UCAT and apply only to UCAT universities, as most of them ask for this exam.

It’s worth noting that 2023 was the last year of the BMAT, as this test is being withdrawn by the company that runs it. Most BMAT universities have yet to announce what they will be using in future years, but it is likely they will run their own admissions test similar to the BMAT, or use the UCAT instead.

For instance, Imperial College London and UCL have said they will use the UCAT from 2025 entry. For more on changes to the BMAT, check out this article from The Medic Portal. However, the rest of this article will focus on the BMAT as it has been run so far – it hasn’t yet been decided how this test will look in future years!

When do you take the BMAT and UCAT?

There are different test periods for both these exams. There are a large number of sittings for the UCAT every summer, from mid-July to late September. You can see the exact dates for 2024 on this page of the official UCAT website.

There is a large question bank from which questions are taken throughout the summer. The tests aren’t all the same – otherwise people sitting the test later could simply get answers from friends who had taken the test earlier!

You book this exam for whichever date suits you. You might want more time to prepare, and pick a later date. Alternatively, you might want to get the test over with early, and enjoy the rest of your summer.

In comparison, there is one main date you have to take the BMAT on in mid-October each year. For example, in 2023, the date was the 18th of October. There is also a March sitting, but this is normally for international BMAT universities, so is less common.

Everyone takes the same test on this same day, in a similar way to A-Level exams.

One important thing to be aware of is that you take the BMAT after submitting your UCAS application. This is because medicine applications have an earlier deadline, around the 15th of October each year. You can read more about this on the UCAS website here.

This means, unlike the UCAT, you won’t know your score before you apply. Some people think this makes the UCAT easier, or at least a better choice of test. You will know your UCAT score and be able to apply strategically to universities that you meet the cut-off for.

What is the format of the BMAT and UCAT?

The formats of the BMAT and UCAT exams are quite different to each other! For a full guide to the individual exams, have a look at these dedicated Think Student articles for the BMAT, linked here, and UCAT, linked here. For an overview and comparison of the formats, keep reading!

What is the format of the BMAT?

The BMAT has three sections. The first of these is focussed on critical thinking and logical problem solving skills, and is multiple choice.

Some people find this section easier, as there isn’t any actual content to revise. However, this also means the skills are harder to learn, as there aren’t facts or quotes you can memorise.

Section 2 tests GCSE-level science and maths knowledge, and is also multiple choice. Many people think this section makes the BMAT the hardest test. You apply familiar knowledge to really abstract, complicated scenarios, and it’s also very time pressured.

Section 3 is an essay question. Again, lots of students struggle with this section as they are generally taking scientific subjects in school, and are not as used to writing extended answers.

What is the format of the UCAT?

The UCAT has five sections, all multiple choice. The first four are similar to section 1 of the BMAT in that they don’t require set knowledge, but test your critical thinking and reasoning skills.

There’s verbal reasoning, which tests comprehension as you answer questions about a passage of text. Then decision making, which involves logic problems and data-related questions.

Quantitative reasoning tests mathematical skills, although you won’t need any A-Level knowledge. It’s more about applying basic maths skills to hard questions. Finally, abstract reasoning tests spatial awareness, and your ability to recognise patterns.

The fifth section of the UCAT is situational judgement, answering questions about responding to scenarios. Some are clinical settings, however, you won’t need any medical knowledge here – it’s testing qualities like empathy and honesty.

Nevertheless, some people think this section makes the UCAT harder, as answers are subjective and once again, it’s difficult to revise the skills tested here.

How should you prepare for the BMAT and UCAT?

From both experience and research, the number one way to prepare for both these admissions tests is by doing practice questions and papers.

These exams don’t really test your knowledge of certain content in the same way as mainstream school exams. Although we’ve mentioned some scientific and mathematical knowledge you’ll need, the main skills tested are critical thinking and reasoning.

It’s therefore more helpful to practice lots of real questions and get used to the style of them, than try to cram in lots of content and theory.

The official UCAT and BMAT websites both have free practice papers available, and I would highly recommend making the most of these. They are the most accurate representation of the real test. They can be found here for the UCAT and here for the BMAT.

Several external companies like The Medic Portal and Medify offer preparation materials with a subscription. Some students don’t use these at all and get good scores, while others will use them and highly recommend them.

If you find you are running out of official material, you might find these courses helpful. However, you shouldn’t feel like you have to pay a lot of money to give you the best chance. You might just need a few more practice questions, so don’t need to buy the full guide with explanations and advice for each section, for instance.

Timing wise, the general consensus is to start preparing about 6 weeks before your test date for each test. You want to have enough time to get used to the exams styles and improve your scores, but not get burned out by the time you sit the exam.

In terms of preparation, it’s hard to say which test is harder – you will be using similar techniques for both.

How are the BMAT and UCAT marked?

For both the BMAT and UCAT, you get a separate score for each section of the exam. They are all scaled scores, so even if the test is multiple choice, you don’t just get a mark out of the total number of questions.

For the first four sections of the UCAT, you get a score between 300 and 900, with 900 being the best. For the final situational judgement section, you get a band between 1 and 4, with 1 being the best. You can find out more about UCAT scoring on the official UCAT website here.

For sections 1 and 2 of the BMAT, you get a score between 1 and 9, with 9 being the best. Your score will be to one decimal place, for example, you might get 4.5, and a friend get 4.9.

For section 3 of the BMAT, you get a number between 1 and 5, with 5 being the best, for the content of your essay. You also get a letter A to E, with A being the best, for the quality of your English. You can find out more about scoring from the official BMAT website here.

For both tests, extreme scores are very rare. For instance, you won’t be asked for more than a 6 in sections 1 and 2 of the BMAT to get into any BMAT university, including Oxford and Cambridge.

What are good scores for the BMAT and UCAT?

When you get your results, it can be hard to know how they fit in with the rest of the applicants. It’s helpful to know what the average scores normally look like. Keep reading for a quick guide, or for an in-depth analysis of BMAT and UCAT scores, check out these Think Student articles: click here for the BMAT, and here for the UCAT.

For the BMAT, most applicants score between 4 and 5 for the first two sections. 6 is a really good score, while 7 and higher is incredibly rare. The most common score for the final section is a 3A.

The company running the BMAT also publishes statistics about the results each year so you can see where yours fit in. For example, the 2023 explanation of results can be found here.

For the UCAT, the average score for each of the first four sections is between 600 and 650, with most people scoring Band 2 for situational judgement. Again, scores near 900 are very rare. Check out this page of the UCAT website for more statistics.

When do you get results for the BMAT and UCAT?

Waiting for results can be really stressful, and many students overthink their test.

For the UCAT, there’s good news in this area. Because the whole test is multiple choice, it can be automatically marked by a computer, and you get the results instantly. Once you leave the exam room, you can collect a sheet with all your results on it from the front desk.

On the other hand, you have to wait a bit longer for BMAT results. This is because the essay section needs to be marked by an actual examiner, which takes more time and processing. The results day for BMAT is about a month after you take the exam, and you get your results online.

As mentioned, this can make the BMAT a little trickier, as you apply to universities without knowing if you have done well enough in the admissions test to get through to the interview stage.

UCAT results are shared with universities when you send in your application, and BMAT results are sent once they have been released. Every university has a slightly different way of using admissions tests in their application process, so the best thing to do is to look at official university websites for universities you want to apply to.

Some will use a cut-off score, while others rank their applicants that year. Others use it more holistically, while also looking at things like your personal statement. It’s therefore hard to say which is more difficult – it depends on the university!

Overall, while these are two fairly different exams, this article has hopefully given you a good comparison of both. It may be that you have really good essay-writing skills and prefer the BMAT, or have a talent for situational judgement questions and prefer the UCAT.

Whichever admissions test you end up doing, I wish you all the best with your application!

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