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What's the best way to approach the BMAT?
You may have heard some people say that the BMAT exam cannot be prepared for. This is totally untrue; while the BMAT paper is probably going to be unconventional for most of you, you can most definitely revise for it. The BEST way however, is a bit more elusive. This depends more on your personal revision style than the exam itself, and each person ought to prepare for the BMAT in the way that plays to their strengths. That being said, there are a number of things that every student MUST do in their preparation.
Start by revising some core material
Obviously, most of the “material” you will be revising is the science content that forms the basis of section 2. There are a number of topics and concepts in Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and Maths that you must have a working knowledge of to actually have a chance in this section. A useful resource is the Assumed Subject Knowledge Guide on the BMAT website. It basically contains every single concept that you could be tested on (literally every single one). You might think, “Yay! Let’s just memorize from the ASKG and we’re set!”. It's 400 pages long… A better strategy might be to use the BMAT test specification for a list of topic names (for all 4 subjects); use this to identify topics that could use some work, and then revise only these from the ASKG. That way, you’re using your time most efficiently to maximise your marks.
Now, a lot of students won’t be taking the “Big 4” as A level subjects (Bio, Chem, Phys, Maths). Don’t fret, you’re not alone, and you’ve still got a fighting chance. I’d recommend you stick to the aforementioned strategy, but focus more on the subject you’re unfamiliar with. It’s no use becoming a “100% god” in Biology and Chemistry if you completely fail at any Physics questions you come across. You want to have a good chance of getting every question right.
Surprisingly, another section that has material that you can revise for is section 3 (the writing task). Most people don’t know that you can actually prepare yourself by researching certain topics. Most of the questions you will be drawn to in section 3 will ask you to explore various ethical situations that you will experience as a doctor. Learn the 4 pillars of medical ethics. I don’t mean learn the words beneficence, non- maleficence, justice, and autonomy; learn what they mean, and practice applying them to ethical dilemmas, in preparation for the essay. I can guarantee that these concepts can be referred to in at least 1 of the essay choices you will have in every single practice paper.
Get going on the practice papers as soon as possible
Some people (including me) have a mentality where they want to get as prepared as possible before assessing their proficiency with some mocks. I cannot stress enough how dangerous this is. Approach past papers not as a way to check how good you are at the BMAT, but as part of your preparation for the BMAT. I learnt a great deal from attempting questions, getting them wrong, and then picking them apart to see where I went wrong.
Section 1 (the “logic” part) is particularly relevant here. This section of the exam tests your ability to logically approach questions under pressure, with a small dose of maths. It’s considered difficult to prepare for since there’s no subject material per se (you wouldn’t have had a subject at school named “logic and reasoning”). This is why past papers are so useful; you’ll also find that as you go through more and more Section 1 questions, they start to get repetitive after a while. The new papers have questions that are basically the same as the older ones, with some minor changes. Kaplan provide a short BMAT practice test to download from their site.
Timing is key
The next thing you must look to after beginning those past papers is your timing. The BMAT is actually a very straightforward exam if you had more time to complete it. The time constraint is what makes the BMAT challenging. As such, the sooner you start timing yourself while practicing your practice tests, the sooner you will have the proper exam timing down. You should be aiming to complete each section with a couple of minutes to spare. Use this time to return to questions you were unsure about or review your writing to look for errors.
When you’re doing timed past papers, don’t split it up and do each section under timed conditions but have a large break between sections. Take maybe 5 minutes between sections, and mark them after you’ve completed all 3. You want to replicate the time pressure and fatigue you will experience in the actual test in order to get prepared for it.
Keep up to date
It’s good to throw in some references to current issues relevant to the medical field in your essays. Get online and find some “hot topics” that you could include. Remember, the essay serves to test your ability to effectively form concise arguments, but it's always nice to show examiners that you have a keen attitude and are genuinely interested in the medical field. It might also be useful to recall some details from your work experience. Have a few scenarios you can expand on in your back pocket. But remember, don’t force these into essays; they have to be relevant in some way, and you must make that link in your writing. You won’t do well if you include an excellent, well discussed current issue and it's completely unrelated to the essay statement.
It’s REALLLLLY helpful if you have a “BMAT buddy”. There’s bound to be a couple of people at your school who are taking the BMAT too (if not, get on The Student Room - ASAP). The benefits of a second pair of eyes are incalculable. You need someone to provide a different method to approaching a question you got wrong, to critique your essays, and just provide support.