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How Do You Do Well in BMAT Section 1? [BMAT Series]

What is BMAT Section 1? How to prepare for it? And common mistakes to avoid!

October 2021
Chandan Sekhon
Cambridge University - 1st Year Medical Student

Thinking about sitting the BMAT? Well, you wouldn’t be alone. Many medical schools, including Oxbridge and other prestigious institutions, require applicants to sit the BMAT, providing them with an additional method of assessment. This guide hopes to provide you with some useful advice for preparation for Section 1: Thinking Skills.

What is BMAT Section 1 composed of?

Section 1 is an assessment of two types of thinking: critical thinking and problem-solving. You are given 60 minutes to complete this section and it comprises 32 multiple-choice questions.

Critical thinking is where you are given a text to read as a stimulus, and you will be given five options of which one is correct.

Problem-solving requires you to use your numerical skills to answer questions based on a stimulus, which may include tables, diagrams or graphs.

How to prepare for BMAT Section 1?

There are many services and subscriptions available which often require you to pay for resources, however, this is absolutely not required to do well. The best way to prepare is to do practice questions and use past papers - all of which can be found online on the BMAT website. By practising under timed conditions, you can familiarise yourself with the style of questions you are likely to come across in the exam and the speed at which they should be completed. There has been a recent specification change which means you can ignore the data analysis and inference questions, however, the other questions are still representative of the current exam.

For critical thinking questions try skim-reading the paragraph. If you have taken the UCAT, techniques that you used to read the passage quickly in the verbal reasoning section will be useful for this. For these questions, you should learn how to identify parts of texts such as conclusions, flaws, assumptions, and strengths/weaknesses. You need to be able to identify premises and evidence to support opinions or hypotheses. The table below explains these terms:

For problem-solving, practice mental maths – this will save you time in the exam, especially as calculators are not allowed. Using past GCSE maths questions, you can improve the speed at which you can complete problems. The table below explains the different types of questions that fall under this category:

More generally though, it is important you focus on areas you are weaker. If you know maths is your strength, focus more heavily on being able to answer critical thinking questions quickly, and being able to practice using a process of elimination to narrow down your options.

What are the common BMAT Section 1 mistakes to avoid?

One common trap is that students often answer questions using prior knowledge to inform their choices – you should only use the information stated in the passage to answer the questions. You should aim to read the question first and then the paragraph, so you can locate key parts of the passage that are relevant to the question you are answering.

Another common mistake is poor time management. Whilst it may seem like you have plenty of time to complete section 1, the questions often require a lot of thought and can take a while to do. Hence it is very easy to spend far too much time on some questions without realising. Most students tend to find the problem-solving questions more time-consuming than the due to the various steps and/or calculations that must be completed to reach an answer. Saying this, critical thinking questions with long pieces of text can also pose problems. As each question is worth 1 mark (regardless of whether it is considered to be harder or not), prioritising questions that do not take as long are key to doing well. You may not have time to answer everything however it is important you try to answer as many questions as accurately as you can! If you are finding a question is taking you a lot of time, it is sensible to leave it to do at the end in case you don’t have sufficient time to complete the section.

What free resources are there for BMAT Section 1 other than past papers?

Whilst BMAT past papers are a great way to practice this section, they are not in infinite supply (although there are a lot available!), and there are so many other resources available to you - many of which do not cost a penny!

These include:

All these resources, in addition to the BMAT past papers, provide plenty of practice for this section! However, should you want more practice, there are books for the BMAT available with further questions that may be useful. Many of these can be bought brand new or second hand online should you be interested.

How long should you spend preparing for BMAT Section 1?

This will depend on where your strengths lie, so varies between individuals. I would suggest giving yourself 1 ½ to 2 months of preparation for the whole BMAT. After familiarising yourself with the material and attempting some practice questions, consider which section(s) you find most challenging and allocate your time based on this. Within each section determine which types of questions you are scoring most poorly on and/or are the most time consuming, and again, focus more of your time on these areas.

When I sat the BMAT at the end of October 2019, I was juggling my A-levels, drafting my personal statement and organising other aspects of my medical school application, whilst also having to prepare for the BMAT. This left me little time to prepare - around 5 weeks in total. I knew my strengths were going to be Section 1, so I focused most of my efforts around practising Section 2 under timed conditions. When I was practising Section 1 questions, however, I noticed I struggled more with the problem-solving questions, as mental maths is one of my weaker areas. Therefore, I chose to allocate more of my time to these questions. By taking time to work through and understand the questions I got wrong and learning various techniques on how to do these questions, mainly using YouTube videos, I was able to improve my timing and accuracy for this section.

To Summarise…

BMAT Section 1 can be difficult, but it is definitely doable! As long as you practice questions and key techniques you can do really well. Make sure to focus on your weaknesses and create a revision schedule that works for you, especially if you have school and other commitments to balance. Take your time and good luck with preparation. You can do it!

Author: Chandan Sekhon

Editor: Allegra Wisking

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