Any student planning to pursue medicine or dentistry in the UK at the undergraduate level requires to take either the UKCAT (UK Clinical Aptitude Test) or the BMAT (BioMedical Admissions Test) – two standardized tests that all medical schools require as an admissions test. Although more schools use the UKCAT for admissions than the BMAT, many candidates take both the tests in order to maximize their choice from a larger university pool (no one test can substitute the other). To sum up, all UK universities and colleges:
- Require the UKCAT OR BMAT to be taken by students applying into medicine or dentistry courses.
- Have a specific preference – some colleges use the UKCAT for applications, others use the BMAT
- Do not substitute the BMAT for the UKCAT or vice versa.
- Allow you to take both the exams only once in an admissions cycle, with the results from each exam being valid for only the admissions cycle in which the exam was taken, or for one or more than one year (for students applying as deferred entries).
Students applying to the UK for a course in medicine or dentistry would have studied different syllabi, be it the Singapore-Cambridge GCE A-Levels, IB Diploma, Indian CBSE Exams, UK GCE A-Levels, or US high-school system. It becomes hard for universities to be able to compare scores of students from various curricula as the material and the depth of the content tested varies across the programmes. As a result, universities require a more level platform to be able to differentiate students from diverse academic backgrounds.
Standardized tests like the UKCAT or the BMAT are what provide colleges with a more justifiable and fair selection procedure for applications of prospective students. The tests allow selection between similar students from a large number of highly talented applicants, as well as make the application process more transparent. Not only that, but the test material of both the tests are based heavily on abilities, attitudes, and professional behaviours expected and required for a successful clinical career, making the test a measure of standard competency for comparison purposes along with your school grades.
Different universities give a different percentage weightage to the tests. However, it is important to note that good UKCAT or BMAT scores cannot replace your high school or JC grades (IB, CBSE, A-Levels, AP), but they can (to some extent) make up for any slight shortcomings in your school grades, as well as give you an edge over other applicants if your school grades are mediocre or higher. You can find a useful list of GPAs and UKCAT/BMAT scores of all major universities in our What is a “good” score section.
The UKCAT is a computer based examination that tests different aspects of cognitive thinking, with a large volume of difficult questions in a short period of time. It is composed of five subtests, namely Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, Abstract Reasoning, Situational Judgement Test, and Decision Making. Note that candidates appearing for the exam from 2017 will take the Decision Making section as a scored subtest contributing to the candidates’ overall scores. Questions from all the subtests are in multiple-choice format. The examination runs for about 2 hours, or 2 hours 30 mins if you are writing the UKCATSEN in place of the standard UKCAT due to a documented medical condition or disability (see below for more details on the UKCATSEN). Once the test has started, it cannot be paused, even if you need to take a break to access medication or use the centre toilets. Therefore, avoid moving out of the test room once the test starts, as valuable time is lost in doing so. For a more detailed breakdown of test, its contents, and the duration of each subtest, see our section on UKCAT Test Format.
The BMAT, however, is a written exam testing mathematical, scientific and logical thinking, and argumentative skills. Although it runs for two hours like the UKCAT, it is only composed of three subtests – Aptitude and Skills, Scientific Knowledge and Applications, and Writing Task. The first two subtests are in multiple-choice format, while the last subtest is an essay. For a more comprehensive and detailed review of the similarities and differences between the two tests, see our UKCAT-BMAT comparison section.
The only factor to take into consideration is not which test you are better at, but also whether the test you take is the test the universities you are applying to asks for. This often becomes the reason why students take both tests – so that they are able to mix the colleges they are applying to by fulfilling different test prerequisites required by different colleges. To find out more about which colleges ask for which tests, see the Med.School Requirements section on this website.