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Tips for a Successful Oxbridge Medicine Application

​Having successfully been through the Oxbridge Medicine Application process myself, and assisted a number of applicants in recent years, it is apparent that many students decide between Oxford and Cambridge rather arbitrarily. It is important to understand the differences in entry requirements as well as course structure in order to maximise your chances of a successful Oxbridge Medicine application.

1. Understand the strengths and weaknesses of your application, and select your Oxbridge choice based on that

  • If you have very good GCSEs (predominantly A* grades), then consider Oxford, as they traditionally select students for interview based on GCSE grades and BMAT score.
  • Cambridge colleges’ interview many more students than Oxford do, so if you feel that your interview technique is good, that can certainly compensate for minor weaknesses in other areas.
  • Cambridge asks for UMS scores from your AS Levels. If you have achieved 90%+ UMS in your modules then you can leverage these by applying to Cambridge.

2. Strategically select your university and college

  • Don’t just pick the college that is the most famous, you may have better chances of getting in at another college. Although there is a pooling system, you may have slightly better odds of getting into Oxbridge by avoiding ultra-competitive colleges. Consider colleges that are slightly out of the centre of town, or newer. However, if your application is excellent, and you know you’d be deeply unhappy at any other college except your first choice, then apply there.
  • If your school has a good track record at a certain college for medicine, I would recommend applying there.

3. Read ahead in your subject

  • In your interviews, you will be asked predominantly scientific and biological questions. You would definitely be at an advantage if you learn your biology ahead of time. Try and know the whole of the A-Level Biology syllabus by the time of your interview, or at least know the key concepts, so that you can apply them if asked to solve biological problems.
  • Many of my peers at Cambridge were extremely successful in the British Biology Olympiad during their sixth form years. If your school offers the Olympiad (or equivalent), then I’d highly recommend preparing for it thoroughly so that your knowledge may be applied during the interview or later during your undergraduate studies.

4. Focus on the scientific part of your application

  • Medical admissions tutors at Oxbridge focus mainly on the sciences. They want students who are brilliant academically, and are eloquent enough to survive in the supervision/tutorial system in place.
  • You will have extracurricular activities on your application anyway, I am sure, but for Oxbridge, the focus is very much on your academics.
5. Understand the kind of doctors that Oxbridge are trying to produce, and frame your answers with this in mind

  • These universities have a tendency to produce academic doctors, doctors with a passion for research in order to advance medicine. They do not produce as many GPs as other medical schools[1]. This is because the focus of the medical school is fundamentally different, with medical science forming a major focus of the course.
  • Keep this in mind when you are asked ‘why this university?’

6. Start preparing for the BMAT early, and apply based on your BMAT strengths and weaknesses.

  • It supposedly cannot be prepared for, but I am certain it wouldn’t disadvantage you to have practised the past questions. Start months in advance and make sure you do every past paper available online.
  • Oxford and Cambridge use the BMAT slightly differently. Cambridge interview over 90% of their applicants, so if you do not feel so confident with your BMAT but feel that you could compensate for it at interview, then opt for Cambridge. If you don’t get the top score you were hoping for, do not worry and try your best at interview, as BMAT is just one part of the whole application.

7.  Attend open days

  • If you are able to, make an effort to visit the open day for medicine at your Oxbridge university of choice. This will provide important insight into the course, and at interview you will have more to say about why you want to go to that university.
8. Oxbridge interviews are different – so practise them

  • The focus is on medical sciences, interpreting science/data, medical ethics, and (to an extent) logical reasoning. An ideal interviewer would have a degree in Biology, Medicine, or similar, and preferably have done some full-time research. These people would be the most similar to the person actually interviewing you on the day. If at all possible, practice with a former Oxbridge interview panel member.

9. Keep up-to-date with topical medical and scientific issues

  • You need to know the major issues relating to healthcare in the news, and be able to argue clearly the arguments for and against any issue. You may improve your ability to argue through talking with teachers, or your parents about such issues. Alternatively, join a debating society and learn how to debate any topic. The ability to express yourself confidently is highly important at Oxbridge interviews.

10. Obtain work experience in medical research prior to applying

  • Now this one is a little more optional, but with hindsight, I do think that more exposure to science would provide an advantage at interview. The interview tests scientific ability and reasoning, skills which would be developed through doing medical research. Write to your local university and ask if you can spend a couple of weeks with a researcher in a biological department. That being said, please ensure that you first and foremost have sufficient work experience in a healthcare setting first (preferably both GP and hospital), which may be asked at an Oxbridge interview, but are key for all your other medical school applications also.

As I hope you appreciate, a successful Oxbridge application requires a significant investment of time into scientific preparation. However, remember that Oxbridge can only make up a maximum of 1 out of 4 of your university choices! Do not neglect the others.
 
[1] United Kingdom Foundation Programme Office. National F2 career destination survey. UKFPO, 2012.

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