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Studying Medicine Abroad – the changing landscape of medical school application (March 2021)

Each year, hundreds of Hong Kong students enroll in overseas medical schools. With the recent government proposal to change Hong Kong’s requirements for its medical licensing exam, making it more straightforward for overseas trained Hong Kong doctors to return to practice, this trend of studying medicine abroad will continue to rise.

UK and the Brexit Impact

Studying in UK medical schools has always been a popular choice among Hong Kong students. The United Kingdom (UK) formally left the European Union (EU) on 31 January 2020. This has numerous economic and social implications – including medical school application for international students. Each UK medical school has an annual quota for international students; post Brexit (starting with 2021 entry), EU applicants (previously classified as "home" or "EU status") are now competing for international spaces. What this means is that competition for medical school places for international applicants will become more fierce going forward.

How to increase your chance of admission into medical schools in the UK

1) Early planning and preparation – start preparing your application 18-24 months in advance.

  • Choose suitable sixth form subjects
  • Undertake medicine related work experiences, voluntary work
  • Prepare for medical school entrance exams (UCAT and BMAT)
  • Draft Personal statement
  • Choose the right medical schools to maximise your chance of interviews

2) Interview preparation

Once the applicants pass the first stage of the admissions process (commonly, it is academic screening based on predicted grades, entrance exam scores and personal statement) –they will receive an invite to a Medicine interview.

Most medical Schools either use MMIs or Traditional (panel) interviews during their selection process. Interview is the final and last hurdle of securing a medical school offer. Therefore, it is essential that students obtain interview training and go through mock interviews prior to their interview to ensure they perform to their best.

3) Apply for UK private medical schools in addition to traditional UK medical schools

Generally speaking, each applicant could apply to a maximum of four UK medical schools via the UCAS system (the UK University application portal). In addition, international applicants could also apply to a few UK private medical schools through direct application; in doing so, they increase their chance of acceptance.

For international students, the course fee is similar. While traditional medical schools have a “fixed” quota for international students, private UK medical schools do not.

The application process and requirement for UK private medical schools are very straightforward and worth exploring.

Other overseas locations for studying medicine

Apart from UK medical schools, students may also consider Hong Kong, US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, especially if they are permanent residents/ hold passports of those countries. For US and Canada, there is no undergraduate entry route to medicine; applicants are required to complete a 3-4 year undergraduate degree before they apply via the graduate route. While for Australia and New Zealand, there are both undergraduate and postgraduate entry routes to medicine.

Understand the importance of Medical School Entrance Exams (UCAT and BMAT)

In addition to academic grades, personal statements and interviews, many Medical Schools will use entrance exams such as BMAT and UCAT (previously known as UKCAT) or UCAT ANZ as part of their selection process.

With increasing numbers of Medicine/Dentistry applicants with competitive academic grades and amazing personal statements, your UCAT and BMAT scores are more important than before.

Most Universities will either set a cut-off score that you need to beat, rank candidates by score, or use it alongside the Personal Statement when shortlisting candidates for interview.

Therefore, attaining a good UCAT / BMAT score is key for the success of your medical application. We have prepared a series of short blogs on preparation tips and FAQ on BMAT and UCAT.

Commonly asked questions for UCAT

5 Top tips for UCAT (previously known as UKCAT) success

Which universities require BMAT/UCAT?

What is BMAT?

The BioMedical Admissions Test (BMAT) is an aptitude test used as part of the admissions process for Medicine, Biomedical Sciences and Dentistry in some universities in the United Kingdom, Singapore, Spain, Malaysia, Thailand, Hungary, Croatia and the Netherlands.

The test takes 120 minutes and consists of three major parts:

  • Aptitude test with critical thinking and problem-solving questions.
  • Knowledge test in biology, chemistry and physics
  • Essay writing

How long is BMAT and what is the test format? How is the BMAT scored?

BMAT is a two-hour admissions test that assesses a combination of aptitude and knowledge, and no calculator nor dictionary is allowed. The BMAT tests a broad range of skills across three sections:

Section Questions (Timing) Scoring
Section 1 tests your skills in problem-solving, understanding arguments, and data analysis and inference 32 Questions (1 hour) 1-9
Section 2 tests your ability to apply scientific knowledge typically covered in school science and mathematics by the age of 16 27 Questions (30 min) 1-9
Section 3 tests your ability to select, develop and organise ideas, and to communicate them in writing concisely and effectively. You’ll write an essay on one of three questions that you choose 1 essay (30 min) 1-5
  • Sections 1 and 2 are scored on a scale of 1 (low) to 9 (high).
  • Questions in Sections 1 and 2 are worth 1 mark each. Total raw marks for each section are converted to BMAT's scale. The raw marks to score conversion varies each year.
  • Section 3 is scored on two scales: one for quality of content (on a scale of 0–5), and one for quality of written English (on the scale A, C, E).

The BMAT results help admissions officers identify candidates who possess reasoning and communication skills required to succeed in the rigorous courses applied. While each medical school uses the BMAT score differently, in general a high score on the BMAT will determine if you have interview at the medical schools and significantly increase your chance of an offer. It is therefore worth spending time familiarizing yourself with the test format, practising with past papers, as well as learning test-taking strategies.

Our BMAT course is designed to provide a concise but thorough guide and training for students who will be taking the BMAT in 2021.

How do universities use BMAT scores?

Different universities use the BMAT score in different ways to decide who proceed to the interview stage.

Some universities may set a BMAT cut-off score as a result of ranked candidate BMAT scores versus number of expected interview sessions. As a result, the absolute BMAT cut-off changes each year. However, the BMAT cut-off scores from previous admissions cycles may be used as a guide.

You should take the time to research how the medical or dental schools that you want to apply to make use of your good BMAT score and apply by playing it to what you believe your strengths are.

For example, if you think that you are good at writing essays, you could apply to a university that places a lot of emphasis on the Section 3 score. This is something that’s important to remember. A strong BMAT score only increases your chance of securing an offer if you use it in the right way.

What is a “good” BMAT score?

Different universities use the BMAT score in different ways to decide who proceed to the interview stage.

There is no pass/fail threshold for BMAT.

For sections 1 and 2, average BMAT candidates will score around 5.0, roughly half marks. The best candidates will score around 6.0, and a few exceptional candidates will score higher than 7.0.

Historical BMAT statistics:

How long should I spend on preparing for the BMAT?

Unlike UCAT, BMAT is knowledge based (section 2 is mostly knowledge based) and requires candidates to problem-solve, analyse and organise ideas (sections 1 and 3). It requires more preparation time.

1½ to 2 months is the ideal period before the exam over which you should revise; more time is needed if you feel you are unsure about Physics (or other sciences topic). It must be emphasised that ‘cramming’ for the BMAT is not recommended.

5 Top tips for BMAT success

Choosing the right Medical Schools (UK)

When applying to the UK, you can only apply for a maximum of four Medicine courses and one non-medicine course through UCAS. Currently, there are over 40 medical schools in the UK - choosing the right Med Schools tailored to your strength could boost your chances of getting shortlisted for an interview, and consequently increase your chance of securing a medical school offer.

This article will highlight some important considerations when choosing a Medical School.

Compare Academic Entry Requirements + English Requirements

A key factor in choosing a Medical School is understanding its entry requirements. While academic requirements are consistently high across all medical schools, there are slight differences in how universities view these entry requirements.

For example, some will place more importance on your GCSE grades; others will look at A-level or IB grades (or equivalent) more closely. Some won’t consider your grade for a subject like General Studies, and others won’t accept you if you’ve had to resit your A-levels.

Therefore, it is important you do thorough research before applying: if you do not meet their minimum requirements, your application will not be considered further.

BMAT vs UCAT medical schools

It is also vital to understand admissions tests, as this is often more important than the rest of your application. For most UK med schools, you will either have to sit the UCAT or BMAT – and you should also be aware of how these scores will be used by each university when it comes to shortlisting applicants (e.g. cut-off scores for UCAT or BMAT).

Note: UK private medical schools do not require BMAT or UCAT and you could apply to them directly outside the UCAS system. Please see below for more information.

Research the interview shortlisting formula of each medical school

You should research how Med Schools will shortlist applications and their selection policy, so you will know what they’re looking for and increase your chance of being shortlisted for interviews.

Once you have met their minimum entry requirements, they will shortlist applicants for interviews in a number of ways. For instance, they may rank solely by UCAT or BMAT scores, or give applicants points based on a few areas -- UCAT / BMAT, academic grades, personal statement, and other factors -- and then invite the ones with the highest points to interview.

Based on the research, match it to the strengths and weaknesses in your own application. The good news is that both entry requirements and shortlisting information are publicly available. You can get this information from each Medical School’s website and review them in detail.

The style of the medical school interviews (MMI vs. Panel- style interviews)

Depending on the medical school, either traditional panel-style and MMI-style interviews for candidate selection will be used. MMI’s and traditional interviews both have their pros and cons; some will prefer one style and others will prefer the other. When choosing which medical schools to apply for, you may want to take into consideration their interview format, so you could play to your strengths and prepare accordingly.

Consider your personal preferences and other factors

Last but not least, consider your personal preference to ensure a good experience studying at the medical school. Some factors include:

  • Location
  • Course structure
  • Competition ratio - applicants to offers ratio
  • Number of international places - most UK medical schools have an annual quota for international students; this ranges from 2 to 28 depending on the medical schools.
  • Course duration - Most UK medical schools offer either a 5-year or 6-year undergraduate medical programme. Generally speaking, the 5-year medical course consists of 2 pre-clinical years and 3 clinical years, and you will graduate with a MBBS or MBChB Medicine degree. The 6-year courses (also known as the Intercalated Courses) will let you take a year out to gain a BSc in a related subject, so you will graduate with two degrees - a MBBS or MBChB Medicine degree and a BSci degree.

Work experience for applying to Medicine

Why is work experience needed?

All medical schools require applicants to have an understanding of what a career in medicine involves. It is therefore essential that you gained medicine/healthcare related and people-focused experiences of providing care or service before you apply. You will be expected to discuss these experiences in your personal statement and at your interviews.

Did you know

  • Most medical schools do not set a minimum number of hours of work experience, but they do want you to reflect on what you have learnt.
  • The most important things about work experience are what you have learnt about yourself, what you have demonstrated about your commitment to caring for other people, and what understanding you have gained of how effective care is delivered to patients.
  • For overseas applicants - While UK Medical schools appreciate that it is difficult for you to undertake clinical work experiences in the UK, they do expect you to have an understanding of the UK health service and the NHS.

What do medical schools want to see?

They want to see how your work experience has given you

  • Experience of giving care, support or help to other people so you understand the realities of working in a caring profession
  • Some of the attitudes and behaviours essential to being a doctor, such as conscientiousness, good communication skills, and the ability to interact with a wide variety of people
  • A realistic understanding of medicine and in particular, the physical, organisational and emotional demands of a medical career

What type of work experiences do I need?

You should begin your work experience 1-2 years prior to applying to medical schools. There are two basic types of experience that you can have:

  1. Working with other people in a caring or service role, and in particular, with people who are ill, disabled or disadvantaged. (Strongly recommended)
  2. Direct observation of healthcare, i.e. work shadowing.

While shadowing a doctor or healthcare professionals can be useful, medical schools recognise that this is not attainable for everyone (especially during the COVID-19 pandemic). Your work experience can be working with other people in a caring or service role, and in particular, with people who are ill, disabled or disadvantaged. You can gain care experience in care homes for the elderly, hospitals, hospices, nurseries, special schools, community-based settings, or by volunteering to provide first aid or other support services.

Paid employment or voluntary work in areas outside of healthcare can also help you demonstrate the attributes and behaviours required for medicine, such as working with people, teamwork and communication skills.

Making the most out of your work experiences...

Reflect on your experiences and make sure you can express what you have learnt about yourself and medicine. Complete a diary during your work experience where you can reflect on your experiences and observations.

How to gain relevant work experience during the COVID-19 pandemic?

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many medicine outreach programmes have been put on hold or cancelled, making it difficult for students to gain relevant in-person experience in healthcare.

Don’t worry, you’re not alone - most applicants to medicine are in a similar situation, and medical schools are aware of this and will adapt their expectations to the situation applicants find themselves in.

Remember – while in-person medicine work experience is not an absolute requirement during the COVID-19 pandemic, it does not mean that you could relax and skip this part.

Students are expected to be resourceful and use online media or other means to explore medicine.

Practical ways to gain experience and understand medicine as a career:

  • Keep a reflective diary on what is happening in the news and online on healthcare related issues: Many healthcare professionals are posting online about their experience of working during the pandemic. Listen to what they have to say and reflect on this.
  • Make use of online resources: There are some free online courses that have been recognised by medical schools as a suitable element of relevant experience to help prepare an application to medicine.
  • Volunteer in your spare time: All forms of voluntary work can provide helpful work experience. While volunteering in a healthcare setting or working in a caring or service role (in particular with people who are ill, disabled or disadvantaged) is preferable, such roles are limited during the pandemic. At the same time, other volunteering schemes may still be in operation and worth exploring. Voluntary commitments to your local community and online community support groups may also provide valuable experience of taking on responsibility, developing your people skill and communication skill effectively. It is likely that these sorts of volunteering opportunities will start to run again before healthcare related opportunities are available.

Maximizing your chances of acceptance: UK private medical schools

UK medical degrees are internationally-recognised qualifications and UK medical graduates are desirable and employable, both in the UK and internationally. Unsurprisingly, over the past decade, there has been an increasing demand to study medicine amongst both local UK and international students, and they are willing to pay higher fees at private institutions.

With the HK government’s recent proposal to change Hong Kong’s requirements for its medical licensing exam, making it more straightforward for overseas trained Hong Kong doctors to return to practice, this trend of studying medicine in the UK will continue to rise.

There are pros and cons of UK private medical schools for overseas students:

  • Similar costs to publicly funded medical schools for overseas students
  • No caps on overseas student places
  • Non-requirement of UCAT and BMAT at some schools
  • Direct acceptance of application outside the UCAS route at some schools (i.e. you could apply to these private medical schools in addition to your four medical school applications via UCAS)
  • Newer facilities, small class sizes and lower staff-to-student ratios
  • Some of the newer private medical schools are not yet entitled to award UK medical degrees
  • Not all UK private medical schools could guarantee its graduates can work in the UK after graduation

Remember - all applicants should do thorough research on the medical schools and courses before applying.

For overseas students, private medical school fees are similar to that of publicly-funded medical schools. While publicly-funded medical schools have a “fixed” quota for international students, UK private medical schools (as independent medical schools) have no caps on overseas student places. Therefore, in addition to applying to up to a maximum of four UK medical schools via the UCAS system, international applicants could also apply to a few UK private medical schools through direct application; in doing so, they increase their chances of acceptance.

Furthermore, private UK medical schools can offer unique advantages for students, e.g. no requirement for additional entrance exams (UCAT and BMAT), with prospectuses typically promising small class sizes and lower staff-to-student ratios in comparison with publicly-funded medical schools.

However, some of the new private UK medical schools are not yet entitled to award UK medical degrees, as their medical courses have not yet earned accreditation from the General Medical Council (GMC). GMC has a tight protocol when considering applications to create new Medical Schools. Generally, all new medical schools will be monitored by a review team from the GMC for the first few years after they open. If all goes to plan, approval will be gained before the first cohorts graduate.

As of April 2021, here are two private medical schools in the UK that have obtained GMC accreditation to award UK medical degrees and their graduates will be eligible to compete for places on the UK’s Foundation Programme post graduation:

  • University of Buckingham
  • University of Central Lancashire

Reference: List of UK medical schools approved by GMC that could award UK medical degrees

In conclusion, the demand to study medicine continues to increase, and UK private medical schools deliver a model that offers a supply helping to meet this demand. For overseas students with the financial means, UK private medical schools can provide a unique and viable alternative to the UK’s publicly funded medical schools.

While it is tempting for international applicants to study medicine in the UK, they should research medical courses from both UK publicly funded and private medical schools carefully before applying.

How to ace the medicine interview?

The majority of other Medical School interviews now use the MMI format, a handful still use traditional panel interviews (e.g. Oxbridge). Regardless of the format, the interviews are designed to explore the student’s personal qualities and attributes which are vital to becoming a good doctor in the future.

You can expect to be asked about your interest in Medicine (or your chosen field), your knowledge of healthcare as well as questions on Ethics, Current issues, Teamwork and Communication. Manual dexterity (dentistry), ethical scenarios and patient communication (medicine) are common MMI stations.

Medicine Interview Workshop

Your interview performance will directly impact your chance of securing an offer. Most students may find the idea of an interview daunting. If you are nervous, interview coaching and mock interviews go a long way to prepare you for the type of questions you will be asked; and ultimately increase your chance of securing an offer.

Each mock session will last 45 minutes to 1 hour which include feedback. At the end of the mock interview, the interviewer will discuss the student’s performance, highlighting areas for improvement.


Here at CANA Elite, we truly believe that every student is unique, and yet all have the potentials to reach their goals with the right guidance. Academic excellence is derived from both passionate teachers and eager students. That is why we provide a uniquely designed learning experience that is tailored to each individual student. Named after the location of first miracle, we hope that CANA Elite can be the place of miracles for each of our students, helping them to reach their goals.