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Score Highly in Section 3 of the BMAT

When you mention the word “essay” to the prospective medical student, shivers are sent down the spine!

Many think you are expected to conduct a long thesis and are worried about how they pull this off in a time-pressured environment. But the essay component in Section 3 of the BMAT is not really an essay and is much more of a writing task. In fact, with a word count of 550, it’s only a few paragraphs.

If you want to find out how to score highly on Section 1 of the BMAT, take a look at this article.

So what is Section 3, and how will I be marked?

Section 3 is the writing task in the BMAT where you are given three choices of a question, in which you have to answer one. The questions tend to present themselves as statements which can vary from being entirely ethical, medical, scientific or political and, at times, a combination of the four. You are given 30 minutes to plan and write a response and will be confined to 550 words (if completed online) or one side of A4 if written on paper.

This section wants you to show that you can think about the implications of a given statement and organise a coherent and balanced argument.

Marking is determined by the ‘Quality of Content’ (0-5) and ‘Quality of English’ (A-E). Therefore, 5A is the highest mark you can receive on the BMAT. Here are some points taken from the mark scheme for the components required to secure a 5A:

Quality of Content (Score 5):

  • An excellent answer with no significant weaknesses
  • All aspects of the question are addressed, making excellent use of the material and generating an excellent counter-proposition or argument
  • The argument is cogent
  • Ideas are expressed in a clear and logical way, considering a breadth of relevant points and leading to a compelling synthesis or conclusion

When looking to give a score for the quality of content, examiners consider the following things:

  • Has the candidate addressed the question in the way demanded, i.e. have they:
  • Re-phrased the statement or explained its implications
  • Set out reasonable arguments and counter-arguments
  • Proposed reasonable ways of assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the arguments or counter-arguments
  • Have they organised their thoughts clearly?
  • Have they used their general knowledge and opinions appropriately?

More quality of content marking descriptors can be found on the BMAT Website

Quality of English (Band A):

  • Fluent
  • Good sentence structure
  • Good use of vocabulary
  • Sound use of grammar
  • Good spelling and punctuation
  • Few slips or errors

When looking to give a score for the quality of English, examiners consider the following things:

  • Have they expressed themselves clearly using concise, compelling and correct English?

How should I structure my Section 3 Essay?

The essay in section 3 is comprised of three components: Explanation, Arguments and Conclusion


The explanation aspect of the essay is closely related to the statement you are given in the question. These statements, as mentioned previously, can be ethical, medical, scientific or political and, at times, a combination of the four. You are often given a prompt by the question on how they wish they’d like you to explain the statement, i.e. Explain what this statement means.

An approach to ensure you fully explain the statement would be to:

  • Identify the keywords
  • Define the keywords
  • Place definitions into the overall context of the statement

The explanation component of the extended response should be roughly 2 to 3 sentences (around 40-50 words).


Your argument will form a large part of your essay. It will be where you present your ideas and perspectives in relation to the statement. Your answer should also be guided by the question given and aim to answer that directly, i.e. Argue to the contrary.

You should aim to create an objective and a subjective argument. The objective argument is where you present your view objectively in response to the question.

The technique for providing a clear objective argument:

  • Begin the argument with an opening ‘signposting’ sentence
  • Create two to three arguments that support/contradict the statement
  • Justify why the arguments support or contradict

The situation should be portrayed as black and white. Hence, you can use specific phrases to illustrate this, such as therefore, furthermore, and consequently.

The next aspect will be to provide a subjective argument in the opposite direction to your objective argument. In this part, you ​​must now address the ‘hidden components’ of the question before simply stating your opinion. Here, you will introduce a ‘grey’ area and consider the alternative perspective.

The technique to providing a clear subjective argument begins with an understanding that there is no right or wrong – the key is balance:

  • Opening’ signposting’ sentence
  • Two to three justified arguments in the opposite direction to the counter proposition

The argument aspect should form the bulk of your essay and, as such, should be around 150-200 words.


The resolution is the final part of the essay and will include the conclusion. The conclusion must show that there are different perspectives of looking at the statement and will consist of all points discussed in the essay and is where you should directly answer the question as it was phrased. It is also your opportunity to provide your opinion and state the extent to which you agree or disagree – which is crucial for securing those top marks.

This should roughly be about 80-100 words, making your essay 250-300 words in total. You can seek to add more detail to your arguments but the aim is to keep your work concise so don’t feel the need to meet the exact word limit of 550.

12 Top Tips to Score Highly in Section 3 of the BMAT:

These sets of tips are complied from official BMAT examiner reports and from students who have scored 4-5As in their essays!

  1. Paying close attention to the meanings of the different words in the statement and the question will help generate ideas and improve the essay’s focus. This will ensure your explanation is clear and direct.
  2. It is essential to ensure that the final part of the question task is fully covered: students often do not explain their own view in-depth or do not make it clear that this is what they are doing, which can limit the mark you receive. To qualify for the top marks, you must address all aspects of the question.
  3. The best responses make points as precisely as possible and avoid repetition. This ensures that you are using concise, compelling and correct English.
  4. The most effective essays take a broad view of the terms used in the question and fully engage with the different nuances of meaning. To score highly, you need to be considering a breadth of points.
  5. The most successful essays set out the strongest possible version of each side of the argument. It always strengthens the counter-argument to provide more than one supporting reason or cover different aspects of the same argument from different angles.
  6. Engaging as closely as possible with the material provided by the question is vital. Discussing the topic in too general or unfocused a way risks a low mark. To score top marks, apply your general knowledge appropriately to the question
  7. You need to make your position clear and justify this. If it is not clear to the examiner what your position is, the essay will be judged not to have addressed all three parts of the question, and the maximum mark it can get will be a 2.
  8. It’s unnecessary to repeat something you’ve stated before. Instead, pull out the main idea and summarise it in your concluding paragraph.
  9. Your concluding sentence should round up your essay and address the critical question. Even if you write a quirky or interesting conclusion, your final sentence should more directly answer the question exactly as it was phrased.
  10. A key point to note is that the difference between a score of 4 and 5 is the breadth of the points and how compelling the conclusion is. In order to make your conclusion compelling, use your opinion to make your position clear and wrap up the discussion tightly.
  11. An organised essay plan is important – ensuring you do not miss any parts of the question. Use the 30 minutes wisely and spend around 10-15 minutes planning to ensure your essay is clear and watertight.
  12. Make sure you give an equal number of points for each side of the argument to ensure you’ve kept it balanced. This is one of the marking points and one of the things you need to make sure you do to secure yourself a minimum of a 3.

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Written by Adewale Kukoyi