A Complete University Application Guide: More Offers, Less Stress

University Entrance Exams: Preparation Advice

Certain courses require students take an admission test as a compulsory part of their application to University. We're here to give you the low-down on what to expect.

Already know exactly what you're looking for? Jump to Popular Entrance Exams, UKAT and BMAT Structure, Timing and Scoring, Testing Timeline, Approaching Preparation

Getting to know Entrance Exams

Certain programmes require students take an admission test as a compulsory part of their application to university.

Students in the US will be more familiar with this process as they are often required to take either the SAT® or ACT® before applying to college, regardless of their course of study. In the UK there isn’t an overarching entry test for all subjects.

However, degrees like medicine or dentistry require standardised tests as a crucial part of the application process. 

One of the most popular admissions tests (with an average of over 24,000 test-takers a year) is the UKCAT (UK Clinical Aptitude Test). This test is required for application to study medicine and dentistry in the UK, and is required by 26 UK medical schools.

Another entrance exam which is similar to the UKCAT in terms of purpose is the BMAT (Biomedical Admissions test). This test is required for entry into a medicine, or dentistry degree programme by 8 UK universities*.

Both the UKCAT and BMAT are very different to the knowledge-based exams that students take for GCSEs and A- levels.

They are multiple-choice aptitude tests that assess critical reasoning, problem solving and 
quick calculation skills within tightly timed conditions. 

The UKCAT is a bit unusual as it’s a computer-based test. 

The BMAT, however, is a paper-based test with an essay-writing section, and it requires GCSE level understanding of Physics, Maths and Biology.

Structure, Timing and Scoring

Even though the UKCAT and BMAT are each 2 hours long, they are structured very differently. The UKCAT includes 5 sections, whilst the BMAT has 3 sections. See below for the structure, timing and scoring of each test. You must work very quickly in each section, as there is little time per question.



Testing Timeline*

Registration for these tests can be made via the test-makers websites: UKCAT Consortium and Cambridge Assessment - BMAT. 

It’s important to be aware of the registration and testing timelines for these tests, in addition to their required registration fees (£46 - £85*).  People usually take the UKCAT and BMAT in the summer of year 12 and the beginning of year 13, and it’s common for students to take both tests when applying to medical school, so knowing the timeline is invaluable:

Please note, these may vary slightly year on year. 

2nd of May: UKCAT registration opens.

3rd of July: First date to sit UKCAT.

18th of August: New BMAT September registration deadline.

9th of September: New BMAT test date.

19th of September: UKCAT registration deadline.

1st of October: Standard entry closing date for BMAT.

3rd of October: Last date to sit UKCAT.

15th of October: Late entry closing date for BMAT.

15th of October: UCAS deadline: medicine, dentistry, veterinary.

2nd of November: BMAT test date.

Entrance exam preparation 

There is no negative scoring on these tests, so one key tip is to feel free to make intelligent guesses on difficult questions. If you get a question wrong you will not have marks deducted from your overall score. 

Also, each question is worth one mark, and you don't get extra marks for more challenging questions, so avoid spending too much time on questions that you struggle with. You can flag them for review, and move on to more approachable questions! 

To learn more about these tests you can visit the Kaplan UKCAT & Kaplan BMAT pages to access free resources including practice tests, quizzes, fact sheets and visual timelines. You can also visit the test-maker websites to access free practice questions.

An expert from The Mix, the UK digital support charity for under 25s, offers his advice for exam preparation...

The last thing you want to do is sit an exam just to get into school but with the right approach you'll be able to get through this. First, make a study plan and revise a broad range of subjects.

Practice timed papers from previous years to prepare you for exam conditions. If you're feeling nervous it's important to take care of yourself. Don't work late into the night and give yourself enough time to relax and have fun. Eat well and get a good night's sleep the day before. During the exam remember to take deep, steady breaths to soothe your anxiety.

US undergraduate admissions tests - SAT and ACT

If you’re looking to apply to university (college) in the US, then you’ll need to sit the SAT or ACT. Just like the UKCAT and BMAT, these are standardised aptitude tests.  Most colleges in the US accept either exam, but it is advisable to check whether a college has a preference for one over the other. 

Structure, Timing, and Scoring

The SAT is a 3 hour exam, though if you select to take the optional essay section of the test it will take 3 hours 50 minutes. The test measures knowledge of reading, writing and math, and is scored between 200- 800 points per section area.

Testing timeline

The test is administered throughout the year all around the world, though it is advised that students take the tests in the spring of year 12. One reassuring thing to note is that the test can be taken more than once, so if you fail the first time, you can take the test again!

Registration can be done online at College Board, and you will need to pay a fee between $46 - $60 upon registration, with an additional $40 fee for Non-US registrations.  

Take small, regular breaks: Studying for stretched hours without taking any breaks may lower your retention power and make you more stressed. So take short but regular breaks for fun after every two hours to remain fresh for longer and remain in a good mood. 

Author Bio

Mia Olorunfemi is a GCSE English tutor who enjoys visiting museums like the Tate Modern. She is also an entrance exam expert at Kaplanequipping students with techniques and strategies to approach their tests with confidence.

* The dates, exam timing and sections stated reflect the 2019 UKCAT & BMAT tests. Please note that the number of questions and minutes per section may vary slightly year on year.

UKCAT®, BMAT® & SAT® are registered trademarks of their respective test-makers, which are not involved in the production of, and do not endorse these products.

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