Dr. Rowena Fletcher-Wood is an alumna of the University of Oxford, where she obtained a Masters degree in Chemistry. She then went on to achieve a PhD in Materials Chemistry from the University of Birmingham. She has extensive experience with the BMAT as her work includes organising adult science events for Science Oxford, freelance science writing, and tutoring.
The BMAT is an admissions test required by certain universities for medical, biomedical, dental and veterinary courses.
The BMAT tests your ability to apply your scientific knowledge to new problems, think critically, and follow instructions. Top BMAT candidates will also be able to determine patterns from data and communicate clearly in written English.
The knowledge tested normally falls within UK AS level standard, or GCSE in the case of maths. If you haven’t studied maths recently, it’s worth brushing up as a priority, as the test is designed to differentiate between candidates performing at the highest grades.
There are three sections for the BMAT, 1, 2, and 3, sat as separate tests. Sections 1 and 2 are multiple choice, and section 3 is a written task. Marks are awarded for correct answers, and no marks are deducted for incorrect answers – so it is always worth guessing. The number of available answers in the multiple choice sections varies, but is typically 4-8 options. Calculators, dictionaries, and electronic spellcheckers are prohibited.
Section 1: Thinking skills
For the first section of the BMAT, you’ll have 60 minutes. There are two types of questions: problem-solving and critical thinking: 16 of each, mixed together. The problem-solving questions typically incorporate data, whilst critical thinking questions contain text.
A good answer will demonstrate a range of skills, such as the ability to select relevant information and methods, to reason, to draw patterns, and to weigh evidence.
Question types to look out for include “truth versus explanation” and “all/some/none” (see example).
In the first, you’ll be asked to select the statement that explains a phenomenon: more than one will be true, and it’s your job to distinguish explanation from truth.
In the second, several statements (e.g. 1, 2, 3…) are made, and then the answers (A, B, C…) include “all the above apply”, “just 1 and 2”, “none of the above” and other variants. The challenge is to organise your translation of 1, 2, 3 to A, B, C.
Practice exercise: Analyse the data and evaluate statements below. Which statements does the evidence support as true?
|Planned home birth (59%)||Planned hospital birth (32%)|
|On time (38-41 weeks)||92.5%||91.7%|
- There were more deaths amongst planned home births than planned hospital births.
- Choosing a home birth will reduce the chances of needing a Caesarean.
- 9% of women planned neither to give birth at home nor in hospital.
- 0.8% more births were on time amongst planned home births than planned hospital births.
A. Just 1
B. Just 3
C. Just 4
D. 1 and 2
E. 1 and 3
F. 2 and 3
G. 3 and 4
H. 1, 3 and 4
Worked answer: E
- 0.15% of 59% = 0.089% > 0.18% of 32% = 0.058%
- imposes the suggestion than birth choices affect the probability of Caesarean; the evidence does not support this order of causality: chances of Caesarean could affect birth choices instead – the data does not tell us which.
- 100 – (59 + 32) = 9%
- 0.8% is derived from 92.5% – 91.7%; however, these are percentages from two different groups of different sizes, and cumulatively account for 184.2% of participants. In fact, 92.5% of 59% = 54.6%; 91.7% of 32% = 29.3%; difference = 25.3%.
Section 2: Scientific knowledge and applications
For the second section of the BMAT, you’ll have 30 minutes. This includes 7 questions each on biology, physics and chemistry, and 6 maths questions, mixed together. At a total of 27 questions, this is almost a mark a minute.
Section 2 places more focus on applying your knowledge rather than recalling specific information – you can see the most up to date specification here.
To perform well, you should decide how to split your time and order questions, considering which sciences you are strongest at. Whilst the multiple-choice format can lend itself to process of elimination, be aware that BMAT writers not only include common mistakes, but also tricks to test rational thinking under pressure.
Practice exercise: Balance the below equation.
Cr2O72- + xH+ + yFe2+ à 2Cr3+ + zH2O + yFe3+
A. x = 2; y = 1; z = 1
B. x = 2; y = 3; z = 1
C. x = 2; y = 6; z = 1
D. x = 14; y = 1; z = 7
E. x = 14; y = 3; z = 7
F. x = 14; y = 6; z = 7
The trick in this question is to remember to balance charge as well as species.
To balance the 7 oxygens in Cr2O72-, 7H2O and therefore 14H+ are required. The species are now balanced. To balance charge:
1(2-) + 14(1) + y(2+) = 2(3+) + y(3+)
12 + 2y = 6 + 3y
y = 6
Section 3: Written task
For section 3, you’ll have 30 minutes and be able to write up to 1 side of A4. This section tests freestyle communication skills, asking you to choose one of 3 questions and explain, counter-argue or resolve.
The aim is not to demonstrate knowledge, although questions are often scientifically or medically themed, which may feel misleading.
This assessment is qualitative and is marked both on content (5-1, with 5 highest), and written English (A-E, with A highest). Upon application, universities receive a copy of your 1-page response, and may assess it on other bases, including asking questions at interview.
High-scoring answers thoroughly address the question asked, are succinct, well-structured, and write using engaging, correct English. Whilst extreme scores are rare, to maximise marks:
- take time to understand and dissect the main point and its subtler implications;
- develop a rational, relevant argument;
- prioritise structure.
“It is a fact often overlooked by scientists that most (other) people are mostly interested in other people, and they are mostly not interested in anything else. The fact that scientists are more interested than average in things and ideas… marks them out as mentally very unusual.”
Stewart and Nield 2012
Explain what you think is meant by the quote. Present a counter-argument. To what extent do you agree with the statement?
- Identify and summarise the argument;
- What is a scientist? What are “things and ideas”? Are interests in people merely frivolous?
- Explain social, cultural and scientific implications, e.g. evolutionary advantages, social learning, knowledge inheritance;
- Using specific examples, argue that (i) scientists are sometimes more interested in people (e.g. science to serve society); (ii) non-scientists are sometimes more interested in things and ideas; (iii) there is no “mental” distinction between these peoples;
- Express, evidence and justify your opinion.
If you’d like some more practise ahead of taking the BMAT, take a look at the EtonX Preparing for BMAT course. You’ll cover critical thinking, problem-solving and scientific knowledge, as well as have the chance to take timed practice tests in each area.