Make no bones about it; the University of Oxford is the best place in the UK to study medicine, with individually-tailored teaching, world-class library provisions, and state-of-the-art facilities. For many students, whether they are the first in their family to attend university or come from a long line of medical school graduates, studying at one of Oxford’s prestigious colleges would be a dream come true.
Though Oxford’s Medical School offers almost limitless opportunities, it has a strict and rigorous admissions process. Just 9% of students who apply to study medicine in the “city of dreaming spires” are actually accepted, and thus it should come as no surprise that the lengthy application process can be stressful for prospective students.
But don’t worry if you aren’t 100% prepared. By following these tips, you can improve your chances of receiving an offer at the UK’s most esteemed university.
Perfect your personal statement
Your academic record, school reference, BMAT score, and interview technique will each play pivotal roles in the evaluation of your application. However, before all that comes your personal statement. So much more than just a “killer opening,” the anatomy of a stellar personal statement will include your sincere interest in medicine, an in-depth grasp of the subject, and clear goals for the future.
Before you begin drafting, consider your abilities and accomplishments, as well as the characteristics that distinguish you. Then, when you’re ready to put pen to paper, remember that the golden rule is to show, not tell. Try to back up your claims with evidence and expand on your relevant experience, such as a school placement, volunteer work, or whatever it was that piqued your interest in medicine.
Of course, play up your strengths, but do not hyperbolise them. Oxford warns that “admissions tutors may be sceptical of exaggerated descriptions of a revelatory moment or lifelong desire to become a doctor.” Just keep in mind that the limit is 4,000 characters, nearly two pages of A4, so you’ll have to be economical with your words to meet the university’s extensive selection criteria.
Prepare in advance for the BMAT
What is the BMAT?
The vast majority of students who apply to Oxford University do so with outstanding personal statements, excellent references, and top expected grades. As a result, in order to stand out from the thousands of yearly applicants, it is necessary to take the BioMedical Admissions Test (BMAT), which is administered by Cambridge Assessment Admissions Testing.
The BMAT is a two-hour, paper-and-pencil exam divided into three sections: thinking skills (60 minutes), science knowledge and applications (30 minutes), and a writing task (30 minutes). It’s a tough assessment, but high marks here can stand you in good stead for the medical school shortlisting process.
How should I prepare?
To prepare for the BMAT, you should take advantage of the numerous past papers available. These will help you to acquire an understanding of the format, types of questions, and the skills required. It may be helpful to work through these papers without a timer, and then, once you feel comfortable, to do so under more realistic test conditions.
If you’re feeling the pressure, you could try taking one of the specialist courses meant to broaden your subject-matter expertise, boost your confidence, and acclimatise you to the exam format. Look for workshops run by experienced teachers who have passed the test themselves — this way, you’ll receive genuine expertise, guidance, and insider knowledge.
6Med, for example, offers a variety of BMAT courses throughout the academic year. These are run by Oxbridge graduates whose “engaging and interactive world-class support has helped thousands of students get into medicine.”
Practise your interview skills
Academic knowledge is important for the interview, but understanding the material is just half the battle. The panel of Oxford scholars famously asks questions to test how you think — they don’t expect you to always have the correct answer or to have memorised obscure scientific facts. What they are looking for is to see if you have the confidence, intuition, and reasoning skills to respond methodically to unfamiliar questions.
On the day, you may be asked to describe qualities you believe are necessary for a good doctor or to discuss an ethical dilemma. The first rule of thumb in this situation is to try to answer every question. Never respond to a question with “I don’t know,” as it immediately puts an end to the conversation and creates the impression that you are unable to think on your feet.
If you’re feeling unprepared — don’t panic. Oxford University only shortlists about 25% of the cohort applying to study medicine, and you wouldn’t have made it to this stage if you didn’t have what it takes. However, time is of the essence, so start honing your public speaking skills as soon as possible. Mock interviews aren’t the only way to practise your interview skills; you can also do this by having informal debates and quizzes with your peers, family, or teachers.
Many people, understandably, find Oxford’s medical application process to be difficult — but if you go in prepared, you will do well. Whatever the outcome, realise that you have already accomplished a tremendous deal simply by getting to this stage. Good luck!