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10 Tips for Writing a Teacher's Reference

Note down everything you couldn’t fit into your personal statement

When writing your personal statement, there is going to be a lot of things that you might not have any space to mention. Make a note of these somewhere to show to your teacher, so they can integrate these achievements into the reference. If you are applying to Cambridge, there is something called the SAQ (supplementary answer questionnaire), where you can slot this extra information into too.

🧑‍🏫 Sounding ‘teachable’

This is where your teacher needs to demonstrate how suited you are to medicine. This can be through your academic performance in class, through your ranking or particular topics they feel that you excel at. This can also be through transferable skills that you also demonstrate in class, such as helping or teaching others or persevering through difficult content. They can also mention work experience or volunteering to support the fact you are well suited towards medicine.

As in your personal statement, it may be a good idea to link your achievements and skills in class to the NHS values to directly show you are suited towards medicine.

The most important thing is to sound ‘teachable’. No admissions tutor is expecting a perfect candidate, they are just expecting someone with potential and a willingness to learn. Your teacher reference needs to emphasise your potential and ability beyond your grades.

🫂 Extenuating Circumstances

Sometimes students might have other responsibilities or difficulties in their personal lives that has made it hard for them to achieve in the past or is making achieving more difficult at sixth form or college. This can be health problems, having to work an extra job or being a young carer. It is important that this is noted in the teacher reference so the medical school can contextualise your grades and achievements or make adjustments to your grade offer if needed.

📈 School Performance

This is where more technical information about the school needs to be briefly mentioned. This can include how big your sixth form/college is, the type of institution it is (state, grammar, private), the type of qualifications that are usually taken by students and about the typical academic performance of the school in general.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the quality of online/in-person teaching and any discrepancies in this will need to be noted down here. This will help to again contextualise your achievements and help the medical school to understand why your knowledge, for example, might not be as complete as they would’ve expected.

⚗️ Subject specific references

In addition to sounding ‘teachable’, it is also beneficial to obtain subject specific references from each of your subject teachers. This will be able to give the admissions officers an insight into your aptitude and talent for a particular topics, such as human biology, which may also demonstrate your suitability for the medical course. Also, your subject teachers may be able to outline how you actually engage with the material in class and will be able to share your thoughts or perceptions on particular topics.

Mentioning extra or supra-curricular skills

For applications to universities such as Oxford or Cambridge, they prioritise academic achievements above all else. This means that it may be hard to mention extra skills such as your performance on the sports team and your personal interests. Your teacher can outline these transferable skills and highlight what you have learnt through these extracurricular pursuits, such as your ability to work in a team and balance a demanding academic schedule, which are all important skills for becoming a doctor.

☀️ Widening participation and summer schools

Your teacher also may be able to reference any widening participation events or summer schools you have attended. This can demonstrate your proactive nature to learning more about university and also allude to potential socioeconomic factors which you are balancing in your pursuit to medical school.

Also, some summer schools may require you to complete a project, and this is also a perfect opportunity to outline what you may have learnt on the summer school as well as where you have excelled.

🤔 Thinking beyond the curriculum

A part of studying at university and studying medicine is being prepared to think outside your assigned materials and to draw your own conclusions. Sometimes your school may offer an EPQ (extended project qualification) to allow you to do this, although this is not the only way to explore your interests beyond the course. Independent research and critical analysis of the ideas you learn in class is also a good way to do this.

By your teacher mentioning these efforts of yours to think beyond the curriculum, this shows that you have the skills that are required for success at university.

🏆 Academic awards and achievements

Sometimes it can be hard to write a personal statement without sounding like your are bragging about yourself - and although the whole point of the personal statement is to showcase your ability, some people might not feel comfortable with that! This means your teacher reference is a good place for your teacher to mention some of your impressive achievements, such as academic awards or sports achievements.

👊 Mention your weaknesses

Lastly, though both your teacher reference and personal statement are a place to showcase your strengths, you must aim to be realistic too. It is likely that you have faced challenges and overcome personal problems in your application to medical school. Learning about these challenges and how you have overcome in the teacher’s reference makes it sound authentic, and also alludes to how you are suited to medical school.

Medical school can sometimes be hard, but with perseverance and a growth mindset, these challenges can be often overcome, which is why it is positive to see the foundations of problem solving techniques whilst you are still in sixth form.

1 Comment

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