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Summer Before A-Levels

The medical admission cycle is ruthless and takes no prisoners. It’s packed with exams, applications and interviews, all set against preparation for A-Level exams and all of which have major implications on your university application. As such, the summer before the A-levels is simultaneously the most important and useful time period for prospective medics. In this article, we go over the ways in which you can use this time to optimize your application and put yourself in the best possible position to succeed in the forthcoming application cycle.

The first thing that should be on any prospective applicant’s mind going into the summer before their A-Levels should be the UCAT. Applicants should spend a good chunk of their time over summer preparing as best they can for this aptitude test. In particular, students should look to be spending a large amount of time covering question banks as this is by far the most optimal way of preparing. The earlier an applicant takes this exam in the summer the more time they will have to organize the various other aspects of their application. However, it should be noted that candidates should think carefully about taking the exam too early, as getting a high score in this exam is often a crucial factor in securing many interviews. The best candidates will look up roughly what score they will need to stand a good chance of gaining entry to their desired university from various online sources such as official university websites and freedom of information requests. Having a realistic target can focus you, enabling one to allocate their time effectively and judge when they may think it’s best to take this exam.

Choosing the right university is crucial to a successful medical application. Choosing where is best for you likely involves asking yourself a few key questions like where in the UK they would like to study and what sort of campus they would like to work on. Medical schools broadly come in 2 classes: traditional schools that initially have minimal clinical experience and more focus on the basic sciences and integrated courses that throw students into the deep end of clinical practice from the offset. It is important to apply to a university with the style of teaching you think you would be better suited to.

If you’d like to find out how to choose the right university, make sure to take a look at our article on How To Apply Tactically To UK Medical School.

When September rolls around teachers will be keen to review pupils’ personal statements. The UCAS application is often overlooked by candidates – forgotten in the midst of their A-level workload and medical entry exams. The most significant part of the UCAS that needs to be prepared is the personal statement. A good candidate should aim to have a rough draft of their personal statement completed as early as possible. Most applicants tend to offer several drafts before they are finished crafting their personal statement so it’s best to start early. The summer is a great time to get this done. When left to the last minute it can be stressful to have to write a concise, interesting and effective personal statement whilst also revising for the BMAT and the various A-Levels that a student is undertaking.

Whilst writing their personal statement many students start to have the crushing realization that they haven’t quite got all the components of a great statement. This is not the end of the world. The summer is a great time to get some volunteering done, read beyond the syllabus or attend some lectures. The best personal statements are ones that demonstrate a capacity to undertake an intense medical degree with a passion. This can be simple things like reading some books of suggested university reading lists, attending talks on interesting and new scientific topics or even volunteering in a care setting. More importantly, students should look to reflect on these experiences in their personal statement in a manner that demonstrates personal development. Try to explain how these co-curricular activities have endowed you with a new skill or trait that would make you a suitable medic.

We know it’s not always easy to find a volunteering placement. Often your best bet is asking your school to guide you. Usually, there will be a teacher in charge of organizing such placements. Alternatively, the following websites may help.

  1. Visit Do IT – Do It
  2. Locate and contact your nearest local volunteering center
  3. Visit Reach Volunteering

This year, the BMAT exam is taking place on the 18th of October. For many students this takes place before half term which means, unlike in past years – there will not be lots of time to prepare for this exam. In essence, no longer will candidates have the luxury of cramming for the BMAT in their half term holidays. Even for students for which this is not true, the summer is an excellent time to start BMAT revision. Students should aim to balance their revision of the UCAT and BMAT effectively and with respect to the proximity to each exam, and the importance of each exam in accordance with their desired university destinations. Regardless, it will only be beneficial to crack into some practice books over summer – especially after the UCAT has been taken.

The best way to balance your time is to create a good schedule. A good guide would be 3 to 4 hours of UCAT practice in the day split with perhaps an hour of BMAT revision and leaving the evening for personal development work which includes tasks such as personal statement crafting and wider reading. The below schedule may be of use.

9:00 – 11:00UCAT REVISION
11:00 – 11:30 BREAK
11:30 – 12:30 BMAT REVISION
12:30 – 14:00LUNCH + REST
14:00 – 16:00 UCAT REVISION
16:00 – 17:00 A-LEVEL REVISION
17:00 – 18:00 BREAK
18:00 – 20:00 PERSONAL WORK 
20:00 – RELAX

With each passing year the medical admissions cycle gets tougher. The threshold for exam scores is pushed ever higher along with the number of candidates fiercely competing for the fixed number of places. Universities are aware of this. In recent times not only have we seen A-Level requirements increase but we have also seen more candidates get offers only to miss their required grades and lose their place at their ‘firm’ choice medical school. This is understandable. The last hurdle is often the hardest one to clear. However, students will be in a better position to avoid this outcome if they revise their A-level content over summer. It should be a key focus of students to have a solid grasp of the syllabus covered in the year before their A-Levels if they wish to not only stay on top of their work but succeed at academically demanding interviews. Spending a couple hours a day revising content is strongly advised. Whilst this is no doubt a difficult task when pitted against all the aforementioned tasks at hand, it is essential to success.

Finally, as with all school vacations – you need to take time off from work. Burn-out is a real thing and with all the work prospective applicants are expected to undertake it is an all too likely consequence of not taking enough time off. If you find yourself glued to your laptops working hard on the UCAT, or just working a bit too hard – take some time off to relax, reset and recharge. The worst thing you can do for yourself is enter the year of your A-Level examinations already tired and lethargic. Whilst this seems impossible you can succeed without spending every waking minute studying. In fact, the best students are the ones who can manage their time such that they accomplish the work they need to in a day and give themselves some time off as well. If you can do this, as well as the things mentioned above you will be more than prepared for year 13 and the medical application cycle.

Good luck!

If you want help getting into your dream university then also be sure to check out our Elite Coaching Programme. As part of this programme, you will get in-depth help with the entire application process from whatever stage you join at till you get into the medical school of your choice. This is done through 1-on-1 mentoring and the founder of the course, Dr Ashley Hilton is always available for any questions. You can find out more about the Elite Programme here.

Written by Inesh Sood