UCAT or BMAT - Which one do I take?

August 2, 2019 - Keerthi Muthukumar

If you’ve had even a little peek at the application process for medical school, the likelihood is you’ve come across a couple of pesky acronyms, including the UCAT (University Clinical Aptitude Test, formally UKCAT - in case you see that flying around too) and the BMAT (BioMedical Admissions Test). But, much like medical school itself, the process is often littered with jargon and it can be easy to get lost in what it all means, and what you need to do and when.

The UCAT and BMAT are two aptitude tests used by medical schools in the UK and beyond as part of the admissions process. How exactly they’re used varies from school to school, and is sometimes outlined on their websites and prospectuses.

Preparing for just one exam, especially over the summer holiday, is tedious. Sitting two? Now that’s double the trouble.

The vast majority of applicants will sit the UCAT, since it is used by most medical schools, but very few sit just the BMAT. Though there is an added effort in preparing for the UCAT and the BMAT (as well as an added financial cost), despite this, a considerable number do sit them both!

So you’re deliberating which one to take - or maybe both? These are the factors you should be considering...


What does each exam consist of?

Now I don’t think this should influence your decision making too much, if at all, but I figured this would be useful background information:

Format Location Duration Sections Other notes
UCAT:
Computer-based
UCAT:
Sit at a Pearson Vue testing centre (where you may have sat your Driving Theory test)
UCAT:
2 hours
UCAT:
  • Verbal reasoning
  • Decision making
  • Quantitative reasoning
  • Abstract Reasoning
  • Situational Judgement
UCAT:
The exam also allows you to use an on-screen calculator.
The content is largely made up of questions in an unusual format, probably different to those you’ve encountered at school.   The content is more similar to material you may have covered at school, particularly in Section 2. Plus section 3 requires essay writing skills you should have developed whilst studying GCSE English, such as forming compelling arguments and debates.


Format Location Duration Sections Other notes
BMAT:
Paper-based
BMAT:
Usually sit at your school or college, or test centres globally
BMAT:
2 hours
BMAT:
  • Situational Judgement
  • Scientific Knowledge & Applications
  • Writing Task
BMAT:
No calculator allowed for the duration of the exam.
The content is more similar to material you may have covered at school, particularly in Section 2. Plus section 3 requires essay writing skills you should have developed whilst studying GCSE English, such as forming compelling arguments and debates.

Which medical schools are you thinking about applying to?

Ultimately this should be the main deciding factor. There are many more UCAT than BMAT universities. If you KNOW for sure you won’t want to apply to any of the BMAT unis (below) then don’t sit it! However, if there’s a possibility that the medical school of your dreams is on the list below, that would be a good reason to look into taking it, and don’t let it put you off! It’s a good idea to collate a list of which medical schools you’d be considering applying to (make sure to use Kaplan’s Medical School Matcher tool), and then have a look at which test they require you to take.


Find out more about the universities that require each test on our UCAT information page or BMAT information page.


When are you free to prepare for, and sit the exam?

UCAT can be sat on a date and time of your choice over summer from early July, which is ideal if you have free time over this period that you can utilise for preparation. However, you can also take it as late as 2nd October in case you have a busy summer planned, so you really can choose what suits you - the time of day, the centre, and can reschedule if you’ve had an unforeseen illness. Take a look at the UCAT timeline.

The BMAT, on the other hand, can be sat at the end of summer on one date (August 31st 2019 this year), as well as one date in Autumn (31st October 2019). It is important to note that sitting the BMAT on the later date will mean you have already submitted your UCAS application (and hence confirmed where you are applying) without any indication of how well you performed on the exam. Opting to sit it in August will mean you get your result on 20th September, before the UCAS deadline, so you can confirm that you have done as well as you wanted, to have a fighting chance of getting into the universities you’ve applied to. Though it’s important to note that, within the same year of application, retakes are not permitted.

Download our starter pack to get a UCAT & BMAT timeline infographic for further clarification.


What next?

Think you’ve made up your mind? Fab - the next step is starting to prepare. Make sure you check out our free UCAT resources and BMAT resources, plus read about how other medical school students prepared for the tests here.

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