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Preparations and Opportunities for your Medical School Application in Year 12

We bust the misconception that medical school application preparation only begins in Year 13 and discuss some opportunities.

October 2020
Husein Essaji
QMUL - 5th Year

It's easy to think that most of the work to get into medical school occurs in Year 13. After all, Year 13 is when the UCAT, BMAT, UCAS application and interview takes place. However, this could not be further than the truth and this type of thinking could even be fatal.

Those pro-active students who and begin preparing early (during Year 12) are often best positioned to secure a place at medical school and it's absolutely essential to take advantage of opportunities early on.

In this blog, we'll teach you exactly how to do that.

Key points: Preparing for medical school in Year 12


Before Year 12


You probably already know this, but if you are applying for medicine, the unfortunate reality is that you need to start thinking about it from an early stage.


That’s because you need to have certain things in place in preparation for your application in Year 13. Starting at the beginning of your final year of sixth form is simply too late!


Here are some of the main points you should be thinking about before Year 12:


  1. GCSEs – Most schools ensure you take at least 8 GCSEs which typically include the core subjects Maths, English and Science. You must ensure you have the minimum grades for the majority of Universities. A safe bet would be majority 8s and above. It’s also worth remembering that due to the changes to AS-levels, GCSE grades are technically the only nationally-accredited exam grades you will have when applying to medical school (unlike for previous applicants).
  2. Get Involved – Try to get involved in medical school-related activities that will boost your chances of getting an offer. Things like setting up clubs/societies for people applying to medicine at your school (even if you’re a small group .. or even a pair) can go a long way! Not only can this strengthen an application but the support you provide to each other will be invaluable.
  3. Duke of Edinburgh – Although a lot of applicants do things like the Duke of Edinburgh Award, it is still something you should do as it provides a great way of showing off skills like teamwork and leadership that medical schools always love to talk about.


However, there’s no need to worry if you haven’t done much so far. You can still do most of these things during Year 12.


Now, let’s discuss the things you need to be doing in Year 12 itself.



During Year 12


It may seem like all the ‘action’ takes place in Year 13 and that you don’t really need to be doing anything other than scoring good grades in your exams. This approach however can (and will) be fatal. It’s probably one of the top reasons that students are forced into taking an unwanted gap year.


Of course, Year 13 is when you sit your UCAT, (possibly the) BMAT, send off your UCAS application with a carefully crafted personal statement and conduct the all-important interviews. And we haven’t even mentioned your A-Levels. It’s definitely an important and packed year. However, Year 12 is the year that provides you with all the ‘evidence’ and ‘material’ needed for your application that will allow you to write a great personal statement and answer questions at the interviews.


So, don’t slack, the preparation begins in early Year 12!


One of the most important and notoriously challenging things to organise is your work experience. Therefore, we'll start off talking about exactly that.



Work Experience


Work experience is something that you need to think about early on. The organisation process is complex and requires a lot of your time. Starting preparation later than November (of Year 12) will significantly reduce your chances of obtaining any experience before the beginning of Year 13 (when it’s needed for your personal statement).


That being said, it’s better late than never. Don’t be discouraged by starting belatedly as you can always mention the experience of obtaining work experience in your interviews (later on in Year 13) or your gap year application.


There are many ways to go about getting work experience, some of which I have listed below.  However, you must remember that no matter what work experience you get, it is what you gain from it that universities care about.


Just because you have shadowed a world-renowned neurosurgeon doesn’t mean you will impress people. You can impress universities much more by going to a care home and taking time to reflect deeply about what you've seen and talking about that.


Here are the top 4 ways of gaining work experience:


  1. Ask friends and family (try this first if possible) – If you are in the fortunate position of knowing doctors that are close friends or relatives, you should use them to your advantage. If they aren’t able to provide you with work experience directly, then they may be able to point you in the right direction. Additionally, it’s worth exploring and asking friends whose parents work in healthcare for opportunities even if they aren’t doctors themselves (e.g. nurses or allied healthcare professionals). They can often get you access to doctors they work with at their trust which could be your route in. Even then, experience with other medical staff is also extremely valuable!
  2. Apply through online forms – Hospitals and trusts often have work experience forms that you can apply through. They will almost certainly take you on, although there tends to be a 1+ year waiting time. Therefore, you should apply at the beginning of Year 12 to stand any chance at getting one of these places, if not earlier. Do check out the SuperHub for a Work Experience map giving you the relevant emails for hospitals and medical centres across the UK.
  3. Email consultants – Another way which is a bit more hit and miss (in terms of getting responses) is to find as many doctor’s emails that you can and mass email them. To do this you simply search up “consultants that work at ……. trust” in Google and email them asking to shadow them for a day or two. This may take 10s to 100s of emails to get even one reply, but it is certainly an avenue you should be looking at if nothing has worked so far for, and don't wait too long before moving to attempting this as it can also take time to get responses. The benefit of this approach is that fact that you don’t need to go through a lengthy application process as the work experience can be organised very quickly once a consultant replies!
  4. Volunteer – Try and find a care home or even a charity shop that you can volunteer at. This should be relatively easy as most places are always looking for volunteers and would love to have more people who can help out. It might not be the hospital or GP work experience that you want, but you can still discuss how these experiences have helped you gain skills that are relevant to medicine (and there are plenty of transferrable skills to talk about!).


How to get medical work experience?

Research the Universities


You need to figure out which universities you would like to go to so you can guide your application towards it and make it as strong as possible for that particular university.


Most people think that all universities are the same and as long as you have a good UCAT score and decent exam grades you can get into whichever university you want.

This is not true.


Each university weigh different aspects of your application in a different way. While some emphasise a good UCAT score, some might just need an average score in it. If you want to go to King’s College London for example, you should probably spend a good amount of time studying for the UCAT as they put a lot more importance on it than most universities.


If you aren’t too fussed about which university you want to go to, then I understand. I was the same. The main thing is to apply to your strengths. This means selecting universities that put importance in things you are good at. For example, if you have ten 9s at GCSE, you might want to consider applying for Birmingham and Oxford as they put a lot of weight into GCSEs.


Unfortunately, you won’t know what all your strengths are yet right now as you haven’t got any predicted grades or even done your UCAT. But, you can still predict what you might be good in and do your research based on that.


No matter what situation you are in, whether you know which university you want to go to or not, you must end up applying for universities that you’re willing to go to. Of course, your strengths and weaknesses should guide you towards and away from medical schools depending on their criteria, but you need to make sure that when you do apply, you aren’t weighing options just based on your strengths. It should always be a balance between applying to medical schools you think you’ll get into and the ones you want to get into. This is why it’s worth thinking about this early on!




Book Open Days


At some point, once you have decided your top 5 universities, you should book some open days. This advice may differ during COVID-19.


This will give you a true idea of what life will be like at that medical school.


You shouldn’t be leaving this till the beginning of Year 13 as you will have a lot of things on your plate and going to open days won’t be a priority (at that time). The best time is to go at the start of summer, just before Year 13 begins.


Here are some of the benefits of going to open days:



Learn About Medicine


This goes hand-in-hand with work experience.


Theoretically, the reason universities want you to get work experience is to expose you to the realities of medicine. Although this sounds great in principle, it is hard to get a true understanding of such a broad career path in such a short space of time (work experience placements tend to be a week at most and so can’t give you an idea of what working in a hospital for the rest of your life will be like).


Therefore, you need to figure out if medicine is for you in other ways.


One way you can do this is by looking at YouTube vlogs and 'day in the life' videos from the perspective of both medical students and doctors. You could also watch documentaries like 24 Hours in A&E and Confessions of a Junior Doctor.


The SuperHub has some great links which you can check out under the “Explore life as a medical student and doctor” tab.


Knowing if medicine is for you will prevent you from regretting your decision down the line and is therefore an important factor to think about carefully in Year 12. If you're really unsure, perhaps consider a gap year to explore your options further.



Go the Extra Mile (Opportunities!)


To set yourself apart you can try to do things that other people aren’t willing to do.


Try and be the head boy/girl in your school or participate in interesting extracurricular activities like rock climbing and abseiling (this can certainly help  catch the interviewer’s eye and be something that sets you apart from others).


There are so many opportunities out there for people who look. So just get involved!  


The key isn’t knowing what to do, it’s just doing things that are interesting (to you and the interviewer)!



Focus on Your A-Levels


I have put this last to remind you that although all of the things that I have mentioned above are important, by far and away the most important thing is to not mess up your A-Levels.


Most universities do not allow resits. Although you are in Year 12 and theoretically have one more year before taking your exams, you still need to create a good and solid foundation for yourself.


It’s one of those things which is often overlooked by those who get caught up with other aspects of applying to medicine.

Don’t be one of those people that ends up with poor predicted grades meaning the entirety of Year 13 is more stressful than it needs to be. Not only will this affect you mentally when it comes to your A-Level exams, but it could also mean you don’t perform as well as you should because of your below-average Year 12 grades.


Remember that if you have good A-Level grades you can always take a gap year and reapply the following year. However, if you have poor grades in the first place you will be forced to do another degree and do medicine via the post-graduate route.





There are a lot of things you need to ‘get right’ in Year 12 to set yourself up for a good UCAS application.


It is a lot of work but don’t give up as it will all be worth it in the end.


If you want to read some more articles by me then visit Revising Rubies. I discuss all the questions that a medical school applicant and medical student might have.


Good luck in your application.



Pinterest: @revisingrubies


Author: Husein Essaji

Editor: Abdul-Rahman Abbas


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