Which A-level subjects should I choose if I want to become a doctor?

Which A-level subjects should I choose for a medical career?

In order to get a place at medical school, it is essential that you pick the right A-levels (or equivalent). You should be thinking about a combination that allows you the maximum choice of medical schools. This is important as unfortunately not every student gets a place in his or her preferred choice of medical school.

In addition, in recent years there are an increasing number of medical school places available through UCAS clearing. If you do not have any offers from medical school, yet get the required grades, you may still be able to have a second chance at application through clearing and you do not wish to be restricted if it comes to this.

Chemistry should be considered an essential subject and you should all choose this. There is evidence it is one of the better predictors for academic performance once at medical school. If you then choose biology, and then as a third subject either maths or physics, all medical schools should be open to you.

If you taken chemistry and biology, and do not take either physics or maths, then most medical schools should still be open to you. You might be asked in your interview why you picked the third subject, especially if it is not from a scientific discipline. I have taught medical students who have chosen art, history or a foreign language as a third subject. Note some medical schools appear to encourage a humanties or arts based third subject, but these are fewer.

Some universities insist if you don’t have a certain subject at A-level that you offer it at GCSE. Human biology and biology may not be considered separate subjects, as may be the case with Maths and Further Maths.

If you do not take biology, but take chemistry and one from maths or physics then there are less doors open to you.

Avoid subjects like critical thinking and citizenship studies. You may have read that these can help with the UKCAT exam. I don’t feel this is justified, as the UKCAT exam can be prepared for in other ways. We will post in future how to go about choosing a medical school.

UCAS PERSONAL STATEMENT - Example Exercise

UCAS PERSONAL STATEMENT - Example Exercise
  • Do you think this is a well-written or poor personal statement? Why?

  • What is the motivation for this student’s reason for applying for medicine? Do you think it is reasonable?

  • Do you think this student has demonstrated adequate work experience?

  • Do you think this student has demonstrated that he or she has some of the qualities and skills that would be useful as a medical student?

  • Can this personal statement be improved and how?

Which medical school should I choose with a low UKCAT result?

The answer to this question is not straightforward. Reading through the entry requirements through the various medical school websites, you might want to consider the following: -

  • Some medical schools will rank students heavily on UKCAT score and use this to decide which candidates to call for interview. Avoid these, as a low score puts you at the bottom of the pile.

  • If there is a minimum UKCAT score – don’t apply if have not reached this in your exam!

  • Some elements of the UKCAT may be ignored – such as situational judgement. If this is only part of the exam that you did not do well in, then it may be worth considering this medical school.

  • If there is a low weighting for the UKCAT score then have a look. If there is a higher weighting for other areas of the application (such as personal statement) in your favour this may be one to go for.

  • The school can be vague in how it uses the UKCAT score. It way be worth ringing them up but you still may get a vague answer. An application to such an school is risky.

  • The school states there is no cut off but has put historical details, for example 'in the past no places were offered to candidates that had a score of…' Take these historic scores as guidance to how the same medical school is likely to behave this time.

  • The UKCAT score is used only in a tiebreaker situation. For example if two students perform equally well at interview. This may be worth consideration.

  • You could consider medical schools that do not require the UKCAT exam, or look at BMAT medical schools.

We did this exercise for a student last year (2018 Entry). Looking at all these factors, there was one medical school that stood out which was the University of Bristol. This places a 20% weighting on UKCAT score and a high 50% weighting on the personal statement (down from 10% UKCAT weighting last year). Even better, the university tell you on the website what they are looking for in your personal statement.  You could use our personal statement services to help you write your statement to fit this criterion – click here for details. Make sure you meet the other academic requirements of this medical school before you apply to any medical school!

There have been others that have placed lest emphasis on low UKCAT scores but the options for 2018 entry were even more limited. 

For 2019 entry, Cardiff used the UKCAT score in ‘borderline’ cases, meaning it could be an option if other elements of you application were strong. Both Keele and Plymouth had a UKCAT cut off but it was considered to be lower than other medical schools. Queen’s Belfast used the UKCAT but it had a relatively smaller weight in the process.

Have a look at our medical school interview course - Over 98% of our students successfully obtained an offer last year. Click Here for details.

What do medical schools look for in your UCAS personal statement?

Each medical school has its own criterion for evaluating a candidate’s personal statement. It can be used purely as a tool to decide who to call for interview, and therefore which applications to reject. The medical school may use the personal statement as a proportion of the overall assessment process (for example it forms a certain percentage of your overall assessment, combined with a score for interview, examination scores etc.)

Each university has its own scoring system for the contents of the statement. Your first point of call should be to look at the medical school website and if it gives you any details on what assessors are looking for on a personal statement, to make sure you include this. 

We have created a list of what medical schools will commonly look for:-

  • Motivation for a career in medicine

  • Your research into the demanding nature and requirements for a career in medicine

  • Demonstration of the caring as well as scientific side of medicine, perhaps through suitable work experience.

  • Evidence of participation in activities which demonstrate teamwork, leadership and other communication skills essential for being a doctor

  • Your participation in a suitable range of extracurricular activities and interests

  • The presence of awards or achievements outside normal academia

If you wish help writing your personal statement, we offer services to help you do this, from scratch if needed. Click here for our UCAS statement services.

Veterinary medicine – more complex questions - financial and ethical considerations

Veterinary medicine – more complex questions - financial and ethical considerations

We taught several students last year who were applying for veterinary medicine. The interviews tended to focus on broadly the same domains as medical school interviews. However, there are some important considerations. One of these is the financial impact of care. Whilst this is increasing becoming a consideration in deciding which treatments the NHS can fund, you are more likely to be exposed to such a consideration in a veterinary school MMI interview.

Medical School Interview - Communication Skills Stations

Medical School Interview - Communication Skills Stations

Medical schools are increasingly using live actors in MMI stations. A common scenario is where you have to use your initiative to resolve a conflict or a dilemma. From our knowledge of such assessments, the actor usually is briefed before the station and will have been told how to respond to what candidates say. They will usually not give away any information unless they are specifically asked.