The third section of the BMAT exam is the “essay” writing section. I say “essay” (in quotations) as it is really nothing to be afraid of. This section of the BMAT assesses your essay writing skills by asking you to write a short piece of text that answers a question selected from several options provided to you. These skills include your ability to form clear and concise arguments, provide examples to support these and tie these together to form a logical conclusion in which your opinion is outlined. Read on to find out more…
In this section you will be given the choice of three essay titles and you will have 30 minutes to answer the associated question. You are only given 1 A4 piece of paper, with some of the top being used to input candidate details (so it’s not even a whole page!).Therefore, it is not your typical essay – you will only have room to write around 3 paragraphs in total and therefore it will end up being a relatively short piece of writing.
The nature of each question varies. It will take the form of an opinionated statement that gives one point of view or sometimes as a quote, with three accompanying prompts. These prompts will be quite similar for each question: they often ask you to expand on the statement, provide arguments against it, and end with a conclusion. Whilst there is no specific content you need to learn for the essay, the questions are typically divided into the following themes (there is sometimes some variation): one healthcare related, one covering science more generally, and one that is unrelated to science or medicine – sometimes about politics, sociology, philosophy etc.
You may not be studying essay-based subjects, but please do not worry about this. With practice and adequate preparation, you will score well in this section! When choosing an essay question, it is always good to choose a topic you fully understand and have sufficient related knowledge of. Having an opinion on the matter might also be useful when forming a conclusion (although this is not required). In terms of the conclusion though, the examiner is less interested in what your opinion is (ie. whether it is considered right or wrong) but is more concerned with your ability to form logical ideas/arguments and provide evidence and examples to support these.
Two examiners mark your essay. Their scores are then averaged and an overall score is given. If the scores given are very different, a third examiner might mark your essay. There are two parts to the score you are given. The first is a number between 1 and 5. Scores increase in increments of 0.5 and relate to the quality of the content of your essay. This considers how well you have explained your ideas, answered the questions and used the prompts, the structure of your answer and the quality of examples used to support your case. The other score goes from A-E and assesses the quality of English used. This includes grammar and spelling, fluency, and sentence structure.
As with the other sections of BMAT, hands-down, the best way to prepare for this section is practice. Use past questions and specimen questions to perfect your essay-writing skills. As you only have access to that one page for this section, you have to try and make your case in that space. It may be worth writing essay plans instead if you are running out of time, in order to try as many questions as possible. It is often recommended to spend 1/3 of your time during the exam (so 10 minutes) writing a plan so this will definitely be valuable revision (see below for reasoning why). However, saying this, it is still important to try to get as many proper timed practices in as possible when preparing.
Make sure to answer all parts of a question, addressing all the prompts given. If you do not do this, you cannot get a high score – the criteria for a 3 is to address all the prompts so please make sure you take care to do this and make it clear you are doing so.
Regarding the questions, always plan your answers before starting. By generating a framework, you are much more able to form a strong structure for your response to the question you select. This will help you remain on the correct path and to ensure you don’t forget any points you make. Planning should take around 5-10 minutes and should include your points for each of your 3 or 4 paragraphs. You should also try to list your selected examples in your plan.
It is a good idea to go over medical ethics as this is often relevant to the questions in Section 3. Make sure you know the four pillars of medical ethics and can explain them well enough to illustrate a point.
Also, ensuring you can explore politics and philosophy to answer questions is a great way to tackle Section 3 questions. To do this, it might be useful to read journals and blogs, particularly BBC health articles for examples and points to use. Staying on top of medical news can play to your advantage. Consider debating issues with friends to practise formulating opinions and arguments to answer a question/prompt.
You should organise your essay into 3 main parts: an introduction, main body (which can be subdivided further) and a conclusion.
Your introduction should always state what your essay is about and should briefly outline the points you are going to make ie. those for and against the statement. This is a reason why you need to plan - so you have these points ready from the get-go.
After this, you have the main body of the essay. Most will write a paragraph to address each prompt given. What is crucial here is presenting a balanced argument. The marking criteria states you cannot get higher than a 3 if you don’t do this. Use examples to support your points and make sure to start a new paragraph for every major point you make. I would personally recommend a PEEL structure – make your point, then explain it. Back up your explanation with examples, and finally link back to your point and the question to explain why your explanation is relevant.
Your conclusion should summarise the rest of the essay. You shouldn’t make any new points or give any new examples here, instead you should try to form a judgement on the question (if appropriate) and round off the essay.
Make sure to leave a few minutes to check your work after finishing your essay. Remember, you are marked on the quality of English used so ensure this is at a high standard. Being concise, clear and avoiding repetition are all crucial to scoring well in section 3.
How long you should spend preparing for this section will depend on the individual (as it does for the other sections). Consider your current ability to write clear and (importantly) concise essays. I would recommend spending 1-2 weeks writing essay plans and scattering a few times practices in the mix too – this will help you work on time management and structuring your essays well. It will also help you get used to the nature of the titles that tend to appear, helping you feel more prepared for the final exam. Try to go through every past paper and practice question you can find and write at least a plan for it. For the ones you struggle with most, challenge yourself to write a full essay - this will help you get used to answering difficult questions.
This section is nothing to be afraid of. Using your current knowledge and reasoning skills to draw valid conclusions will serve you well in the exam. Make sure to practice, and if you have access to anyone who can mark your essays please make the most of this. Feedback is a goldmine in this instance. Focus on having a clear structure and please, please, please get into the habit of planning everything – you will thank me later! Best of luck to you all - you can do it!
Author: Chandan Sekhon
Editor: Allegra Wisking