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BMAT Section 1 Tips

BMAT section 1 is focused on critical thinking (passage analysis) and problem solving (mathematical analysis), under a rather generous time pressure of 60 mins for 32 questions in total.

Its question types are very comparable to those in the verbal reasoning & quantitative reasoning sections of UCAT, so your bag of tricks would largely still apply, but with less rush!

Here we have prepared some tips for you to better prepare for BMAT section 1, from an Oxford medical studentwho scored 7.6 in his section 1!

Guess, mark and go!

Always keep this in the back of your mind: if you are stuck for to long, guess it, mark it and go! Don’t linger on a question because you have already invested so much time in it; instead, pave your way through other questions, and you may have enough time to come back for it!

Annotate with abbreviations and arrow marks

This is an incredibly helpful technique to help you remember key information as you go through the question! Especially in BMAT where you need to skim through paragraphs, short annotations help you visualise the logic chain so that you can quickly come back to it!

Our recommendation is that you produce your own abbreviations during practice, but we’ve also provided a table of abbreviations to start with:

Pace yourself in the exam

BMAT questions are presented in increasing difficulty, so our advice is to work fast through the first few questions, and slow your pace at a later stage. Not only does it help put you into a test mindset quickly, but also saves time for the more difficult questions ahead!

If you’re using a past paper to practice, try setting a seperate 15-minute timer for the first 15 questions. Gradually you will get into the habit to save time for your more difficult questions, which can be a massive advantage!

Don’t read the entire passage first!

You would not have enough time if you read a BMAT passage in painstaking detail, like a story!

Instead, we recommend you deal with BMAT passages in 3 steps: find the topic sentence, read the question, locate key information.

This strategy works for all types of critical thinking questions!

The topic sentence is a sentence that the entire passage is centred around.It can be presented as a statement or a question.

Locating the topic helps you identify key words in the passage. This will allow you to navigate the passage a lot faster!

After that, reading the question lets you navigate the passage with a purpose in mind. You should be able to find your answer quickly and accurately this way!

Be careful with wording

BMAT can trick you on question wordings – always be extra careful when reading the question!

Tricky wordings are usually in question stem to provide a premise like ‘if the following statements were true’, or a reversal of meaning such as ‘will not’. Here’s a typical example:

Don’t be intimidated by complex data

There is a question type in the Problem Solving section called ‘relevant selection’, and has been reported to be a major headache of students. The question format is essentially an excess of data, and a question about some of it.

The big data table can look scary, but remember that this is to reflect scenario where usually there is more data than you need to solve a problem. And once you keep that in mind, you should find these questions relatively simple, as long as you focus on the problem instead of the data set. Read the question first, register some key words and locate important data accordingly!

Train your mental maths!

Mental maths is such an important skill in BMAT since calculators are not allowed! And it is also very easy to start practicing your mental maths. You can start training this during your section 1 practices and try not to write down your calculation steps, but do them in your head!

Use estimates

If you can do four-figure calculations in your head, then you are fabulous and you don’t need this section! But the truth is, most of us can be slow when the calculation is messy. This is where estimation comes in!

A general rule of thumb that I always use is to round to 2 significant figures. This way the most important magnitude is reserved, while the calculation is much simpler. Let’s see an example here!

By simply rounding to 2 significant figures, your calculation is significantly easier, and leaves far less room for mistakes and time waste!

Translate words into algebra

This technique can help you pick out key information and analyse them a lot easier. Try using acronyms for the subjects, and establish relationships using equations. Let’s see an example:

From this analysis, the entire paragraph has basically been cut down to:

Solve a, and you’ll quickly get C as the answer!

Be wary of the past paper you are using

BMAT past papers is a great resource to use during your preparation! They are freely available on the official BMAT website, all the way from 2003 to 2021.

However, BMAT has changed a lot in specification since it began. You might want to cross out certain questions and take some time out accordingly when doing practice. We’ve summarised for you the major specification changes below:


Cambridge Assessment Admissions Testing is the official BMAT website with lots of official BMAT materials. Most importantly, this involves several official BMAT mocks for each section. Depending on how long you set aside for BMAT prep, this could mean that you can do more than one official BMAT mock for each section per week. Doing this allows you to get a real feel for the exam and track your progress over time. It might be worth saving a few official mocks for close to the exam date, but don’t worry about hoarding too many! There are also official guides to each section and further reading.

Section 1 of the BMAT involves problem solving questions (use of numeracy) and critical thinking questions (written language). In order to target your practice towards your weaknesses, it is important to identify which of these you find harder and the types of questions you find harder. The BMAT is time-pressured, so it is also worth knowing which types of question you can do faster and more accurately if time is running short at the end of the exam. The resources on the Cambridge Assessment Admissions Testing website are very useful for this.

Critical thinking in section 1 is probably one of the only parts of the BMAT that is not covered by most school curricula. It requires an understanding of important technical terms, such as “premise”, “conclusion” and “assumption”. These may seem pretty self-explanatory, but in the BMAT these each have a precise definition that is crucial if you want to get the right answer. It is often the details that catch students out in section 1. For example, do you know how to identify which is the main conclusion in a paragraph of text?

Another way to beat the clock in section 1 is to utilise shortcuts and maths tricks that save time. These help you quickly carry out calculations and ensure that your time spent doing maths is not a bottleneck during the exam. For example, when working with percentages of numbers, the percentage and number can be flipped for ease of calculation (e.g. 14% of 50 is equal to 50% of 14). Some of these tips may be simple and obvious, but it is worth having some ready because they may be forgotten in the heat of the exam.

There are many platforms that offer practice materials for the BMAT. Some of these are paid, but there are many free resources too. An example of free resources are various A-Level critical thinking past papers that are brilliant for getting you in that critical thinking mindset. These can be found via Google and official websites. Newspapers and magazines are also good sources of text that you can use to practise drawing the conclusions out of.

Students sitting the BMAT love to discuss how much preparation they’re doing for the exam and how long it’s taking them, but getting caught up in this is not very productive and is probably just going to stress you out. Remember that it is more important to do good quality prep than spending hundreds of hours preparing. Of course, this is an important exam so putting the effort in is required, but be mindful of how you are feeling in the weeks leading up to the exam and respond accordingly to avoid burnout.

One of the (admittedly few) joys of the BMAT is the fact that it is in MCQ format. This comes with many advantages. Most importantly, it enables the process of elimination to be done, which is especially useful when you are running out of time.

Prior to the exam, it is worth visualising your plan for section 1. Which types of questions will you focus on? Are there any sorts of questions you will immediately skip to save time? If you are running low on time, what’s your strategy? Having these questions answered prior to the exam will not only keep you calmer in the exam, but will also ensure that you work with maximum efficiency.

On the day of the exam, remember that section 1 is the first section of the day and is therefore likely to be where you are most jittery (until you settle into the exam). Try to not let this affect your timings or accuracy, but instead focus on remembering the top tips for this section. Everyone in the exam is in the same boat!


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