Should you do an EPQ for medicine?

The benefits and disadvantages of doing an EPQ if you want to apply to medicine.

January 2021
Sakina Lakda (Blogger)
UCL - 2nd Year Medical Student

What exactly is an EPQ?

An Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) is an optional independent research project which usually resembles a 5000-word dissertation.

This written dissertation is then followed by a presentation given summarising your project and evaluating it, which is also assessed.

It is essentially equivalent to achieving an AS-Level as it carries the same number of UCAS points.

If you’re in sixth form, or about to start, you may have heard of this term being used to highlight an opportunity offered by your school or college.

But ...

Is an EPQ worth doing for medicine?

What can it add to your application? In this article, I will address these questions whilst also sharing my own personal experience of undertaking an EPQ.

What are the benefits of an EPQ for medicine?

What are the negatives of EPQ for medicine?

Does EPQ lower entry requirements for medicine?

Many students may be under the misconception that an EPQ can lower entry requirements and substitute for lower A-level grades. While this is incredibly specific to each university application system, it is usually (unfortunately) not the case.

As mentioned previously, EPQs carry UCAS points however the medical admission boards do not look directly at UCAS points and AS-Level qualifications such as an EPQ when looking at applications. An EPQ will therefore be weighted differently by each medical school as it is not an essential part of the medical application and is not offered by every school!

What should you write your EPQ on?

Tips for choosing a topic/ title

Don’t make it overly scientific – this will make it incredibly difficult to research as there will be complicated theories and topics which you will have to decipher. With an EPQ, you do have to show insight and explore your topic in depth- so make sure it is understandable to you!

While it can be tempting to select a highly innovative topic, you will find there is less objective research out there. This will make it comparatively more difficult to find appropriate sources and guidance. It is therefore more advisable to undertake a topic which has a substantial volume and quality of research behind it.

As a medical applicant, it may be a suggestion to choose an ethical question or opinion based title relating to healthcare.

My EPQ Experience

I undertook an EPQ with the assumption that it would increase my chances of being a successful applicant (which many students initially believe) given the competitive nature of applying to medicine. While I understood that the extra UCAS points weren’t directly advantageous to my application, I felt that conducting an independent research project would teach me transferrable skills to discuss in both my personal statement and interviews. There was a lot of conflicting advice about whether or not to do and EPQ as a medical applicant, therefore I decided that it would probably be best to do it just in case! However, I wish I had read a blogpost such as this when I was in sixth form.

What I realised too late was that the EPQ requires significantly more time than stated and expected. The true extent of the EPQ is unclear, and this can feel rather overwhelming if your school doesn’t offer as much support - especially with the additional parts of your medical application that also need to be completed throughout sixth form (such as your interviews and entrance exams). Before undertaking the project, make sure you understand that the idea is to let you explore your topic independently and conduct research in your own time. Although I did find this aspect of the EPQ challenging, I decided to keep going as I was deeply interested in my topic which discussed modern epidemics such as obesity, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. While the prospect of conducting my own research was initially exciting and intellectually stimulating, it was probably not worth all the hours I spent. I feel this time would have been better spent revising for my entrance exams and interviews, focusing on my mental health and trying to survive the challenges of growing up! What I also found frustrating was the fact that every single stage of the project had to be documented and evaluated upon, which made it even more time consuming.

How did it affect my medical application?

My EPQ was mentioned in both my personal statement and UCAS form, however it didn’t come up in a single one of my three interviews (which consisted of both panel and MMI formats). It merely served as something to add to my personal statement rather than a topic of conversation and advantage at the interview stage. Therefore, in hindsight I feel that it did not add much towards my application as I had enough to write and talk about already. As medical applicant, we often undertake a lot of extra-curricular activities which we can use to enhance our personal statements and interview skills, that we often forget that it is less about the quantity of experiences, and more about the quality. If you did an EPQ, but are unable to reflect and draw the skills you learned, it will be less useful.

Due to the misleading nature of this project and the existing workload and extra-curricular demands of a medical applicant, I strongly advise that you make an informed decision before committing to doing an EPQ, as sixth form can already be challenging enough. It is perhaps more important to focus on achieving your A-level grades than undertaking another optional ‘extra-curricular’ achievement to add to your list at the expense of meeting the required grades. If you have the opportunity to undertake an experience with similar transferrable skills and less demand, I would highly recommend choosing that over an EPQ.

Saying that, everyone is different, and if you are truly believe you will enjoy doing an EPQ and will be able to dedicate the time for it – go for it!

I hope you have found these tips and my experience useful, and some of your questions regarding the EPQ were answered!

Author: Sakina Lakda

Editor: Allegra Wisking

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