If you are planning to or are about to be in the situation of applying to medical school, whilst undertaking your A-level studies, congratulations on reaching this position! You will soon find yourself directing multiple elements of your life towards (hopefully) receiving an offer from a university. This is a very unique and exciting time in life, but it can prove to be challenging. Applying to study Medicine is a daunting prospect, especially with additional pressure held by an intense curriculum such as A levels. The medical school application process not only involves the selection of medical schools coupled with writing a personal statement but is essentially an application to a lifelong career as a doctor. Time must be taken to map out the decisions involved (as well as focusing on supporting pursuits) to avoid becoming overwhelmed. Such supporting pursuits will include aptitude test preparation, undertaking work experience and extracurricular activities. Many of these will overlap with each other, so to do well in each area it’s important to utilise this time frame well.
1. Investing in an academic diary (physical or digital!)
This might seem like an obvious first step when starting in a busy period of the year, but it is an underrated method of completing tasks on time. Investing in an academic diary that dedicates a day or two to a page will create enough space to include both academic tasks and non-academic goals for the day. At the start of each week, writing a basic outline of important tasks of the week, whether that be completing another draft of a personal statement or revising for an end-of-topic test, is an effective way to gauge how demanding the week will be. Filling this in with scheduled extracurricular activities, completed tasks, deadlines and goals will allow a clearer vision of the amount of work that is required. Conceptualising this in a tangible manner helps to minimise the workload and can help avoid becoming overwhelmed or missing deadlines. If you choose to opt for a digital academic diary, Microsoft Onenote or Notion are great applications for this. If you prefer a paper one, you can find reasonable planners from amazon or in a stationary shop such as WHSmith.
It is almost inevitable that there will not be enough time to complete every activity that you set out for the week. This is a good opportunity to learn the skill of prioritisation, as this is a necessary part of life both as a medical student and as a doctor. A good first step is to colour code activities into ‘essential’, ‘non-essential’ and ‘can be completed at a later date.’ Prioritisation can be variable- prioritising an extra-curricular activity with the knowledge of its benefits over extra revision might be a good idea during a less busy school week. However, certain deadlines: UCAT/BMAT tests, university application deadlines or an end-of-topic test hold the most importance and require proper preparation so that you can perform to your best ability! Prioritisation can become difficult when having more than one important activity to be finalised- but this is where the skill evolves. Experiencing the consequences of missing a deadline is necessary to reflect upon the decisions made and to move forward in the future. It can be disheartening to sacrifice something you wanted to in the face of an upcoming deadline, but consider the long-term benefits of the decision you are making.
3. Take time for yourself!
Managing time is also a case of maximising productivity. Being able to use time efficiently requires a mindset not filled with agonising thoughts about a huge ‘to-do’ list. Spending time during the week doing activities you enjoy that allow you to unwind, is vital to avoid burnout and large amounts of stress. They enable you to be more focused when you do actually sit down to do work. Finding a hobby (joining a local sports team, a club at school even going for a regular walk) helps to improve your work-life balance: a necessary part of the busy life of a medical student, and later doctor.
4. Considering the order of each part of the medical school application
There is a preferable order to the key elements of a medical school application. If undertaking the UCAT (university clinical aptitude test), there are options for choosing any date from approximately the end of June to the end of September. The BMAT (Biomedical Admissions Test) is less flexible in comparison- usually with a single test date post-application to universities. If accessible to do so, completing the UCAT preparation, and subsequently the actual test, during the summer holidays before applying to university creates a less busy schedule when you return for your final school year. Although it can potentially be tricky to find work experience at a preferred date, completing this before term starts is also an effective way to allow time for reflection and adequate preparation in the different parts of the medical school selection process. Preparing a personal statement always presents as a deceivingly ‘easier’ part of the application process, but, in reality, can involve multiple drafts before perfecting a final submission. Finding the time to prepare an initial draft near the end of summer before applying to medical school will allow you to get a foot in the door that is university admissions.
Although it may seem like you are being stretched in every direction- each task is manageable and achievable when broken down into smaller steps. Using this time frame effectively may result in an offer for a place at medical school, an outcome worth the temporary stress that may be caused by applying to medical school and studying A levels (and the rest) at the same time. Learning to prioritise and plan during this period results in invaluable transferable skills regardless of the outcome of an application. It is a uniquely engaging phase of life and may include the sacrifice of activities you would have otherwise taken part in. However, it is important to remember the value of what are doing and why you are doing it- always with the end goal in mind. You will reflect on this as an exciting part of life, so enjoy the novelty of it all, good luck!
Author: William Coni
Editor: Allegra Wisking