BMAT Section 3 asks you to complete an essay with a choice of 3 topics, usually as a statement regarding historical quote, philosophy, medical ethics, non-medical ethics or science. You are given 30 minutes to construct an essay on a single A4 sheet, making it quite an intense section as well.
This section tests your ability to select, develop and organise ideas, and to communicate them in writing, concisely and effectively. It will take lots of time-management, structure and critical thinking skills to achieve a good mark, but with time and practice your marks can improve a lot!
Here we have prepared some tips for you to better prepare for BMAT Section 3, from an Oxford medical student who is high achieving in his BMAT!
Learn question structure
Every BMAT essay question has a common structure, and that is the type of writing style that you will need to master. When practicing, always keep this structure in your mind:
Following this structure makes sure you answer all aspects of the question, which is essential for any marks over band 3, the band we should at least achieve to gain any advantage in medical school application.
If you are feeling under-prepared for medical school applications, don’t forget to book a free consultation with The Aspiring Medics! We can offer you tailored BMAT tutoring among other services, to give you wings and smash the application!
It is very, very important to know: Section 3 is NOT a brain dump. 30 minutes seems like a long time to write, but it’s definitely not enough time for you to pour out all your thoughts on a topic.
This is where time management comes in, which is an essential skill to finish a good essay in this timeframe. We think that you should only spend time planning and writing, since a 5-minute review of your essay wouldn’t change much.
You also don’t want to dwell on any single components. If you write too much explaining the statement then your essay might be too head-heavy, and the same applies to other components. Try to use ‘milestones’ to check when you need to speed up and move on from a component. We’ve provided suggested milestones for you:
Practice under timed conditions
Similar to Section 2, Section 3 is especially intense and requires great time management skills. Try to set up an exam condition where possible, but at the very least you should time yourself to help you adapt to the pressure, and improve your strategy.
After each session, try and identify which section needs more careful time management, and why you couldn’t do that when writing the essay. Write a note about your reflection, and focus on that during the next practice session!
Use questions with model essays
Model essays – these are extremely important in improving your writing skills. Especially with BMAT essays where the only things to learn is the thinking and structuring skills in others’ essays, there is so much you can gain by comparing your own essay with a sample essay.
These might not necessarily be 5A essays, but by comparing these essays and read the examiner responses (where available), you can learn from their strengths and weaknesses, while seeing your problems more clearly.
Try to internalise the good parts of the sample essays by writing a paragraph alongside the model essay, with its strategy and your own evidence! Let’s see an example of that:
For essay writing, nothing is more important than other people who understands this process to give you their opinion on it! Looking for constructive criticism is a really good way to improve your writing skills in a very short term.
Find a friend preparing for BMAT, or other admission tests involving an essay. If you find time to practice with them, and give each other good feedback, chances are you will both do way better at your exams! Asking a teacher’s opinion can also be very helpful, where you would be learning from someone who gained experience through marking tons of essays!
Make reflection notes for any criticisms. Have a look after your next essay practice, to see if you improved in any of those respects!
Write clearly and legibly!
If I have to look at a sentence repeatedly to guess what the words are, you can imagine I would be quite unhappy and picky about your essay. The good thing is that you don’t have to produce the most elegant handwriting ever, but legibly enough to allow easy reading! Usually big, straight characters means a lot less strain on one’s eyes, and if you are one who tend to be untidy when writing, try to take more time with each character. Ask different people to read your paragraph if you are not confident about it!
Debate medical topics and philosophical ideas with others
If you feel burnt out practicing essays over essays, try engaging in mindful debates with friends! Not only would it allow you to switch the mood of practicing, it can also be a very helpful way to improve your critical thinking, and producing strong arguments with clear logic chains!
It doesn’t have to be an essay topic: any relevant ideas would suit! The point of those debates is to train your critical thinking and idea organisation, which are important to Section 3 of BMAT, and generally as a medical student.
It can actually be even better if you land on a side of a topic that you don’t agree with. Being ‘the devil’s advocate’ allows you to see the logics of the other side, and can help a lot with producing counterarguments in BMAT!
Practice writing concisely
You do not have the time and space to do a brain dump! It is an incredibly important skill to choose your golden points, and present them with only the necessary language.
Writing concisely also strengthens your logic chain. Your points will look too scattered and loose if you investigate a lot of interesting ideas around a topic, but without a clear focus. Try to focus on the what, why and how, and provide one evidence for each point you make.
We’ve gathered together some tips to help you write concisely:
Come to a solution as conclusion
As part of the marking criteria, a good essay should end with ‘a compelling synthesis or conclusion’. Simply repeating the ideas that you already made previously is not a conclusion – analysing your ideas to further depth is.
And don’t feel afraid to seek depth – there are very tangible approaches to help you reach more depth in your conclusion. A major and easy way to do it is considering ‘how’ instead of ‘why’, meaning instead of giving new opinions, try to bridge the two sides of argument you already expanded with a solution. Think about how these two sides can find common ground? Explain why your solution can be viable and applicable in the real world? These simple questions will add a lot of depth to your essay.
Do not worry about spec changes
This section is an essay without any background knowledge requirements, so no matter how the spec changes, the format and principles of essay writing has always been the same and can always be good practice! By all means practice from 2003 past paper all the way to 2021, they are all good topics to consider, whether in a debate or practicing under exam conditions!
There is a possibility that one of the questions given in the BMAT paper may link to an event that has occurred recently, particularly if it contains room for a compelling ethical debate. Keeping up to date with current affairs and some recent medical advancements should allow you to be comfortable debating these topics if they appear on the BMAT paper. This is also a good habit to get into prior to any interviews, as it is always important to have some idea of what advancements are being made in the medical world.
One of the key marking criteria is the demand for creating a balanced argument, that covers both sides of the question presented. It is vital to practice coming up with arguments both for and against different questions that can be obtained from past papers – these are also often accompanied by examiner’s reports that will go over the key points for each argument. A good practice method is to come up with your own list of points both for and against for your chosen question and then compare what you have written with what the examiner has determined as ‘key’ – it should be noted however that these exam reports do not show everything that could be written in this essay, and if you believe that you have a more compelling point that you could argue well then it is nothing to worry about.
Writing bullet points can be a useful tool to get you thinking quickly, and it might be worth doing a quick bullet point plan before starting your essay in the BMAT exam, as this might help to keep your thoughts focussed and prevent you from favouring one side of the argument too heavily.
Many of the questions presented in the BMAT will contain some ethical or scientific debate, so it is important to consider different ways of thinking or different ethical viewpoints. This may help to expand the arguments that you have available, and also shows both breadth and depth in your thinking that the examiners are likely to appreciate.
A lot of people seem to worry about the essay paper, but it is possible to spend too much energy on it – ultimately there is no factual learning you can do beforehand, and it is more important to get used to debating different sides of a question. This could be done with friends or family, as they might suggest viewpoints you would not have thought of. In this way, practicing for the BMAT essay can become quite entertaining, and hopefully less daunting that the prospect of writing a full essay after a year in likely non-essay subjects.
Considering the time pressure, it is easy to panic and rush into one of the questions. Although the opposite is also true, and it is easy to spend too long deciding, it is well worth taking 5 minutes before writing your essay to both select the one that appeals best to you, and also to jot down some quick points that you could make in a balanced argument. It might be good practice to do this for 2 questions, as you could then decide which would provide the more balanced argument, and which you could use to form a more compelling conclusion.
Structure is a massive part of this essay paper, and examiners will always appreciate an essay that has been nicely signposted with a clear argument throughout. As examiners have to mark thousands of essays, it is far nicer for them when a student clearly presents their ideas and shows an indication of structure throughout – with practice during timed essays, or converting the bullet point lists into more comprehensive essay plans, it is more than possible to achieve this skill.
If the question presents some simple idea or concept, it is important to define and show your understanding early in the essay – for example, in an introduction. Immediately showing that you understand the question to then develop it further is a very attractive feature of an essay to an examiner. Where possible, avoid questions including topics that you do not fully understand, and do not assume any much knowledge about a current event, for example. It also sounds obvious, but do not neglect spelling and grammar throughout the essay!