Don’t Let a Low UCAT Score Hold You Back: Consider These Options

Don't Let a Low UCAT Score Hold You Back: Consider These Options

Wondering where to apply with a low UCAT score in 2023? In this guide we’ll work through how different UK universities use the UCAT, and what your options are if you’ve performed poorly in the test. We’ll cover universities that make little use of the UCAT, and a second option – taking the BMAT.

Which UK Universities Are Suitable for Those with a Low UCAT Score?

The following is a list of UK medical schools that make either little use of the UCAT in the ranking and assessment process, or that have a relatively low threshold:

Aston University accepts Situational Judgment Test (SJT) bands and uses UCAT scores to make up one third of the shortlisting process, while academic qualifications make up the remaining two thirds.

Birmingham University gives UCAT scores a 40% weighting in the application score without a minimum cut-off score.

Cardiff University only considers UCAT scores if they receive an oversubscription of applicants with excellent academic scores.

Exeter University uses UCAT scores to account for 25% of shortlisting and academic performance for 75%.

Keele University sets a cut-off score of 2,280 for UCAT scores.

Queen Mary University of London (Barts) uses a 50:50 weighting for UCAT scores and UCAS tariff, and only invites applicants with a UCAT score of 2,360 or higher for an interview.

Queen’s University Belfast ranks candidates for interview selection based on their UCAT scores (out of 6) and GCSE scores.

To be considered at Sunderland University, applicants must rank within the top 8 deciles and have an SJT Band 3 or above.

You may note that this is a rather short list; the vast majority of UK universities will not accept those with low UCAT scores, or at the least would be a rather risky choice due to the way that their admissions process is designed. 

What Is the Minimum Acceptable UCAT Score?

What Is the Minimum Acceptable UCAT Score?

This shouldn’t be a question that you are having to ask yourself; we would encourage you to prepare thoroughly and thus have the luxury of choosing between the various universities that use the UCAT. However, if you are in the position of having a low UCAT score, then you should be aware that there is no set minimum UCAT score that would be acceptable at UK universities – rather, minimum thresholds will vary from year to year and from institution to institution, and some universities will not have a set minimum threshold (like Exeter, for example).

Low UCAT Score: Taking the BMAT – Pros

One option for those with a low UCAT is to take the BMAT. However, this could be unrealistic or difficult for many. Here we will focus on the pros of taking the BMAT, and which universities you will be able to apply to.

The first major positive to bear in mind is that the BMAT exam is usually held in late October, which is later than the University Clinical Aptitude Test (UCAT), which is usually taken in the summer months. This means that students have more time to prepare and to ensure they are well-versed in the relevant topics before taking the test. It also means that students have more time to focus on their academic studies during the summer months without the additional pressure of preparing for the BMAT. This is a significant advantage for students who may have other commitments during the summer months, such as work or internships. Crucially, it means that you can assess your UCAT performance, and then choose to take the BMAT if your UCAT wasn’t sufficient.

Low UCAT Score: Taking the BMAT – Further Benefits

Another core advantage of taking the BMAT exam is that it is designed to test not only aptitude but also scientific knowledge. The test is divided into three sections: Section 1 tests problem-solving skills and critical thinking; Section 2 tests scientific knowledge, including Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and Mathematics; and Section 3 tests essay writing skills.

This emphasis on scientific knowledge differentiates the test from the UCAT. By testing both aptitude and scientific knowledge, one could argue that the BMAT provides a more complete picture of a candidate’s abilities and potential for success in these courses. Crucially, it means that if you know that you are strong across the core Sciences, then you will be in a good position for at least part of the test – whereas the UCAT may have felt unfamiliar, at least part of the BMAT will feel more like a traditional exam.

Another advantage of the BMAT exam is that its broader scope means that it could be prepared for in a more traditional manner than the UCAT – in other words, one can ‘revise’ for its Section 2, whereas one can only ‘prepare’ for the entire UCAT, or the BMAT Section 1. One could equally ‘revise’ for the third section of the BMAT, through reading up on current events and opinion pieces that may be of use.

UCAT BMAT Universities for a Low Score

So, which universities use the BMAT in the UK? They are: Oxford, Cambridge, UCL, Imperial, Leeds, Lancaster, and BSMS (Brighton and Sussex Medical School). You will note that the first four universities in this list are exceptionally competitive; the latter three are therefore more likely choices for those who have not secured a good UCAT score and are now having to consider their secondary options.

Lancaster University employs the Biomedical Admissions Test, also known as BMAT, as a tool to assess the academic and quantitative abilities of applicants in its four-stage admissions process. Similar to other universities, Lancaster University only considers candidates who take the November sitting of the exam. As a result, applicants will be required to apply “blind,” as they will not have knowledge of their BMAT score at the time of application.

Leeds University evaluates the suitability of candidates for an interview invitation based on their BMAT score in combination with other aspects of their application, rather than setting a minimum cut-off score. A mark is allocated to each applicant based on their BMAT performance, which depends on where they rank amongst their cohort of applicants. The top 20% of scorers receive the highest mark, while the bottom 20% receive the lowest. A combined score of at least 14.3 is typically required for the top mark. Additionally, applicants are scored on their previous academic performance and predicted grades.

BSMS has established a minimum cut-off score for the BMAT exam, as indicated on their website. To be considered for admission, applicants must achieve a minimum score of 3 or higher in Sections 1 and 2, as well as at least 2.5C in Section 3. Applicants who surpass this minimum score are then assigned points, with a total of 28 points available across all sections. After ranking applicants in ascending order based on their total points, interview invitations are issued. For the 2022 admission cycle, local applicants were required to achieve a minimum of 17.3 points to receive an interview invitation, while international applicants needed at least 18 points. In 2021, the minimum BMAT scores required for admission were approximately 17.8 points. 

Low UCAT Score: Taking the BMAT – Cons

One of the main cons of taking both the BMAT and UCAT is the additional stress and pressure of preparing for two different exams – you will need to dedicate a substantial amount of time to study for both exams while also balancing schoolwork, extracurricular activities, and other responsibilities. This can lead to burnout, anxiety, and other negative effects on mental health. Having dedicated much of your summer to UCAT prep, then adding in BMAT work – on top of your additional preparation for medical school applications and your A Levels – can be truly difficult. Remember that the BMAT is typically administered during term time.

You must also remember that the BMAT is arguably a more difficult test than the UCAT. While both exams require a significant amount of preparation and aptitude, the BMAT includes sections on scientific knowledge that may not be covered in standard high school curriculums. This can put students who do not have a strong science background at a disadvantage, and require more time and resources to prepare adequately. If, for example, you are not taking A Level Physics, then revising GCSE physics – and perhaps learning some additional material – will be a significant amount of additional work. Also, the BMAT’s essay writing section can be a challenge for many students who are taking Sciences at A Level, and have thus become less used to writing essays.

Therefore, taking the BMAT due to scoring poorly on the UCAT is, for the majority of students, not advisable, as it will lead to a very demanding workload – and there are a number of universities that you can apply to, and be competitive at, despite a low UCAT score. However, for some who are very strong academically but have an ‘off day’ with the UCAT, it can be a sensible choice, unlocking access to some of the UK’s best medical schools.

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