Advice for tackling the UKCAT.

Back again, and If you have only started looking into medicine just recently then you may be unaware as to what my title even means. The UK Clinical Aptitude Test (UKCAT) is an ‘entrance exam’ style test which is required by the majority of the UKs medical schools. It is taken between July and October of the year you are applying to medicine via UCAS, and much like the driving theory test, gives you your result as soon as you leave the test centre.

Universities requiring the UKCAT  for A100 include: Aberdeen, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Dundee, Durham, East Anglia, Edinburgh, Exeter, Glasgow, Hull-York, Keele, Kings, Leicester, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham, Plymouth, Queen Mary, Queens Belfast, Sheffield, Southampton, St.Andrews and St Georges. This information including the other courses which require the UKCAT at these institutions can be found here: – university requirements 2017.

Each of the above medical schools use the UKCAT very differently. For a run down of how the UKCAT is used by each university the 2016 document created by Kaptest is still mostly up to date, but make sure you check with the medical school (via the website, phone call or email) that these details are still correct before applying.

As seen above because most medical schools (and dental schools) require the UKCAT test to be sat prior to admission, the majority (if not all) of applicants will be taking the test, so make sure you book early online via the Pearson UKCAT booking system. I personally would take the UKCAT after results day and before you return to college, but everyone is different so book a time and venue which suits you. Also ensure you check whether you are eligible for extra-time via UKCATSEN, or whether you are eligible for a UKCAT bursary to cover the costs of the test.

What does the UKCAT actually entail?

This information can be found on the official UKCAT website, But as a basic run-down, the test is composed of 5 subsections:

  1. Verbal Reasoning
  2. Decision Making – this is only being piloted for 2017 entry meaning the score for this subsection is for the use of UKCAT only and will not be sent to universities.
  3. Quantitative Reasoning
  4. Abstract Reasoning
  5. Situational Judgement test

The test lasts 120 minutes (or 150 minutes for UKCATSEN) and each subsection will include 1 minute (or 2 minutes for UKCATSEN) of instruction time before the subsection begins.

Because decision making is excluded from the score universities will receive, your UKCAT total score will be range from the minimum score of 900 to the maximum score of 2700 (this is due to each of the 3 eligible subsections VR, QR and AR being scored between 300 and 900). Often universities work on average UKCAT scores, this can be worked out by dividing your total score out of 2700 by 3 to find your average between the 3 sections.

The SJT is banded separately from the other score, the bands range from top band 1 to bottom band 4. Again this is used differently by every university so ensure you check whether your SJT band meets requirements before applying.

How best to prepare for the UKCAT.

Everyone who has ever taken the test will have used different methods of preparation, but after talking to countless applicants who have taken the UKCAT, it is apparent it is not a test which can be ‘Revised’ for, instead its about ‘practice’. The questions and timings require practice to perfect the skill and pace required in the real exam, hence rather than revising its better to use resources which test and improve your UKCAT skills.

The time you spend preparing for the UKCAT is totally up to you, I personally did 4 weeks preparation spending 1 hour per day before the test practicing. My preferred method began by using the 600 questions book (this has now been updated to the 1000 question book for 2017 entry and is much more up to date) and went through each subsection untimed trying to understand what the question was asking of me, and trying to work out what method I was going to use to tackle the questions. The key is to really be consistent with this method throughout the exam as swapping between methods could waste time an cause confusion.

Once comfortable with the question style and skill required to answer them I went onto using an online resource which had a similar format to the exam (I used Medify but there are many other online resources out there to), this allowed me to begin practising under exam conditions (which is very hard to enforce with the book alone) to ensure I was pacing myself correctly throughout each section, it also allowed me to get to grips with the question flagging system and the calculator online which can be tricky to use without practice.

A few days before the exam after I felt completely comfortable I began to do the Official UKCAT practice tests, this allowed me to get the full testing experience before I entered the test centre, and also gave me a gauge as to where I was at.

My best advice for practicing the UKCAT is not to get caught up on the scores you receive in each practice test, the real exam may have totally different questions, my advice is to ignore the score and work on the things you personally struggled with more, this will make you more comfortable (but do not neglect the other sections, this is practice not revision remember!).

What to expect on the day?

If you have ever taken a driving theory test, then you will know the setting quite well. You take the UKCAT in a pearson exam centre near your home. You will be required to present with your booking receipt as well as ID to sit the test. You will then be sat in a pod or room in front of a computer screen and provided with headphones (optional but it is nice to use them to block out background noise) and a few sheets of whiteboard paper as well as a marker (some erase, some dont, it depends on your test centre) to use for note taking during the exam.

During the exam you have access to a computerised calculator on screen (which i highly recommend you learn the keyboard shortcuts for as using the mouse wastes time).

Once the exam is sat you will exit the room and collect your belongings (you cannot take anything into the exam room with you) and be handed a sheet of paper with your result on, showing your score in each section.

What to do with my score?

Many people panic when they receive their score, and begin comparing it to previous years, although this isnt always a bad thing, the UKCAT scores change very year, meaning the average and competitive scores will differ (possibly even significantly) each year. generally (but in no way religiously) over 700 is a very competitive score, below 600 is a below average score, but because most people fall between this is where the confusion lies. Remember each medical school has different requirements so no matter what your UKCAT score you will likely have some options.

If you are after advice on your score the student room have a UKCAT forum each year, and also talk to your tutors or university admissions officers to discuss with them the competitiveness of your score.


This is my best advice on the UKCAT admissions test, and I really do hope it can help some people who may be unsure where to start, or others who are confused about the exam some help.

Natalie x



Medical School Interviews: What to expect

Hello again everyone. I would like to apologise for my lack of posts since starting second year, it has been very hectic with lots of interesting things going on. I am going to try to post on a regular basis as much as possible, but as hopefully you can appreciate it is much easier said than done. Saying that if anyone has any specific questions or posts they want to see feel free to contact me (my email is in the contact section).

I am going to be doing a 3 part series on medical school interviews. I am obviously no expert on this, but I feel like having gone through the process I can share my advice to help people who are going through this for the first time (for many of you this may even be your first ever interview). I understand right now a lot of people have interview invitations and are anxiously preparing for those, or a lot of you are waiting for interview invites to come in. All I can say here is try not to panic whatever the outcome, medical school applications are a long process and stressing now is not going to help you.

Why do medical schools interview?

To some people this may seem like a no brainer, but I get asked this question quite a lot. I feel by knowing why medical schools interview candidates it prepares you much better for the type of things to expect on the day.

Medical schools interview applicants for many different reasons as outlined below:

  • To be able to meet the applicant in person and assess their communication skills.
  • To allow the applicant to elaborate on certain aspects of their UCAS application.
  • To see if the applicant has the skills and personality suited to a career in medicine and has an understanding and interest in the medical field.
  • To give each applicant a fair chance of an offer (believe it or not some applicants have their personal statement written for them).
  • To ensure that the applicant meets/exceeds the standards expected of a medical student.

I think it is very important to stress that interviews are not there to catch you out, every interviewer wants you to succeed and hence questions will most likely not be harsh or mean in any way. Yes there will be some hard and thought provoking questions asked to you, but all of these are just assess the 5 criteria explained above. Unfortunately not every applicant interviewed will be offerred a place, this is due to the large amounts of competition for places in medicine. I want to highlight to applicants who may be disheartened with a post interview rejection that it is nothing personal and in no way means that you are not good enough for medicine, it just means that on the day someone else performed slightly better. Take home message here is dont be disheartened or scared by medical school interviews or post interview rejections, its just one step on the path to becoming a doctor which everyone goes through.

What to expect from a medical school interview?

Every medical school interviews at different times and in different ways. It is now widely accepted that there are 3 major types of medicine interview:

  • Oxbridge interviews
  • MMI
  • Panel based interviews

Multiple mini interviews

Most medical schools are now using MMI, this is a fairly new format and is very different to a traditional interview setting. MMI’s consist of a number of short stations each with different interviewers which you will rotate around during your interview. Each station will have a different theme and stations can consist of:

  • interviewer asking traditional interview questions.
  • exploration of the personal statement or work experience.
  • ethical scenarios or dilemmas which aim to get you to discuss and solve problems.
  • Numerical and data analysis skills stations.
  • Role play scenarios which aim to simulate certain aspects of being a doctor (common ones include breaking bad news or how to deal with an angry patient).
  • discussion or tasks involving all of the other applicants.

Not every MMI will contain all of those, but some will crop up and its important to be prepared for every possibility especially is you are easily panicked when caught off guard. The hardest part about these interviews is trying to get all your thoughts out in the timeframe, Considering you have made it to interview the medical school definetly have seen potential in you, but its now practising and learning how to verbalise your though processes and feelings in a short space of time (and this is what most people struggle with). MMIs traditionally last a couple of hours, and can be very physically and emotionally draining. Ensure beforehand you have eaten well and have water with you.

Universities which offer MMI interviews include: Aberdeen, Birmingham, BSMS, Bristol, Cardiff, Dundee, Exeter, HYMS, Keele, KCL, Lancaster, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, UEA, Nottingham, QUB, Sheffield, St Andrews, SGUL and Warwick. 

Panel interviews

Panel interviews involve you (the applicant) and a panel of 1 or more interviewers, and they can be very intimidating. Each panel lasts a different amount of time depending upon the medical school and they aim to ask candidates specific questions relating to many different topics such as:

  • Motivation to study medicine.
  • Motivation to study at that particular medical school/university.
  • Knowledge of the NHS, the medical profession and the medical school curriculum.
  • Understanding of medical ethics and current topics of medical interest.
  • The applicants interests and achievements outside and inside of academia.
  • The applicants work experience and voluntary work.

The interviewers are looking for an applicants who have teamwork, leadership, responsibility, critical thinking, problem solving, communication and empathy skills and traits. Look at panel interviews as if you are having a chat with somebody rather than somebody assessing you, that way you are more likely to relax helping you to think and express your thoughts clearly.

Universities which offer panel interviews include: Barts, Glasgow, Imperial, Plymouth, Southampton, Swansea, UCL.


Many people have heard crazy stories about oxbridge interviews, but in reality they are just a slightly different panel interview style. Oxbridge interviews are effectively a simulation of a tutorial which is a method used in teaching at the colleges. These interviews hence are geared towards science and ethical questions (as well as some personal questions) which get you brain working to solve problems. At these interviews its important to speak your thought processes aloud, and take each problem step by step. If you try to jump into the answer often you will become flustered and mix yourself up, oxbridge are looking at how you think and how you reason with your ideas here, not about whether you get the answer right or wrong.

For oxbridge interviews it is important to be prepared for tricky questions, and be confident in your answers even if they turn out to be wrong (or really you just have no idea).

Preparing for medical school interviews

Now hopefully the type of interviews and the purpose of them is much clearer to you, and you may be feeling a little more at ease with what to expect from each type of interview. I have to say this guide is not comprehensive, but gives you a basic idea of the different interview styles and what they entail.

It is very important to be prepared for a medical school interview. Although many will tell you that you cannot say what you will be asked (this is true) and hence cannot prepare (not true), I always reccomend spending some time before your interview preparing for every possibility. I will be exploring this is more detail in my next edition of this 3 part series.

Right now I want to urge every single medical applicant out there that its is very early days. We are in mid-november and medical schools will be interviewed until march (as they do every year), right now its important to stay calm, and keep going with your school work, after all an offer is great but you still need the grades.

Best of luck with your applications,

Nat x





Back to reality: starting second year of medical school.

As many of you may know, I am a Cardiff medical student, and 2 weeks ago I sat down in my very first 9am class of 2nd year. I am sat today in the comfort of my room after just completing my first case of year 2 and wanted to spend a little bit of time reflecting on the past year at medical school and looking on into the future.

I also at the end of this post am going to share a few hints and tips (or dos and donts) for the freshers who may naively make the same mistakes I did, well fear not freshers because I am going to set things straight!

Reflecting upon first year…

My first year of medical school went by in the blink of an eye, it honestly feels like it was just yesterday when naive young me sat in this huge lecture theatre to be told I was “the 1%” who made it through the interview stages and got my place on this very seat to study medicine. Its actually quite crazy that it was a whole year ago.

I remember starting first term last year and suddenly feeling the immense weight of all the work being thrown onto my shoulders, I was not expecting anything they threw at me and quite frankly trying to stay afloat was very difficult. I would spend endless hours each night trying and horrifically failing to memorise all the processes and molecules involved in the krebs cycle, and I remember sitting in my room at gone midnight thinking to myself that I made a huge mistake choosing medicine. I honestly was so wrong, but in the moment everything just got to much.

Christmas rolled around and I welcomed the 3 weeks off to study for my first ever exams. I remember returning in January and sitting 2 HUGE exam papers, and somehow managing to scrape a pass in one of them (we wont talk about the other one…), That was a very proud moment for me.

I then began second term very positively, CBL kicked in and everything was going super well, I did some research projects as part of my course on some very current issues, joined a choir and even had some evenings off every now and then. But soon summer exams crept up on me and I felt like I was drowning again. I remember quite clearly sitting at my desk some evenings and staring at pages of notes I had written with no clue as to when I had even learnt any of this material, let alone having to understand it all. Lets just say I must have got my act together (not sure how) and I did manage to pass second year with a very respectable 67% average in my exams (and I was ranked in the top 25% of my year!), so it wasn’t all that bad!

Year 1 was the best and worst year of my life, I cried (A lot), laughed (even more than a lot) and shared some of the happiest memories with some amazing friends that I had made. Looking back now yes of course I would have done things differently, but my older and wiser self knows where I went wrong. Overall year 1 was the making of me as an adult, and as a medical student, and I wouldnt change it (even with all the bad times).

My advice to freshers

Coming into medical school is such a huge life change, most of you will be leaving home to a new and exciting (but also very big and scary) place, and a lot of you will have to learn how to adjust to university teaching and work, I just wanted to share a few of my tips with you all so you dont fall into the same traps as I did.

  1. DO NOT COMPARE YOURSELF TO OTHERS: all the way through college as prospective medical students you are used to comparing yourself to everyone else, because thats what applying to medicine does to you. To ensure you are applying to the correct medical schools for you hours upon hours have probably been spent (even if you wont admit it) scouring the student room looking at how well everyone else did on the UKCAT, and how many more A*s they have at GCSE. In medicine it is very easy to do the same thing, but I promise you that it is not healthy at all. back in school it was very likely that you were used to being the top of the class, now you have entered medical school nearly everyone who is in your year is also used to being the same thing. Everything strives for their own personal goals and that is absolutely fine, but dont start comparing the amount of work you do to someone else or comparing scores on tests with other people as it is not productive nor good for your mental wellbeing. I would say strive to better yourself rather than compare yourself, set your own personal goals to beat and dont get disheartened when your score isnt at the top of the year, because it will happen, just know that a pass is a pass and you will still be that doctor you dreamed of being one day.
  2. Dont buy every textbook: It is so easy to fill your bookshelf up with beautiful (and expensive) medical textbooks before you start university, but dont buy every single book from the list. I would personally reccomend you try out the books before you buy them and see which ones you will use and which ones you dont like, everyone has different preferences and trust me spending £40+ on a textbook which you will use twice is just not worth it.
  3. Take time for YOU! its super easy when starting medical school to go mad and study all the time, and you may feel like the amount of work is never-ending, but it is so so important that you take time for yourself to go to societies, chill with friends and have that film night you have been talking about for 3 weeks. Medicine is a stressful, time consuming and complex degree, and it is so easy to get carried away and hold your breath under the sea of work hanging over you, but please dont forget to come up for air once in a while. Enjoy these years, as in a couple of years time you will be on placement and it is highly likely you will have less and less time for yourself as the years go on.
  4. Chat to your lecturers: A lot of students will just passively sit in a lecture and when they dont understand something will easily brush over it. But your lecturers are there to teach you and often a lot of them would love for you to ask the questions and get the explanations, dont be afraid to approach them in person or via email to discuss any confusion you may be feeling. It is much better to get it sorted straight away than to be confused 2 days before the exam unsure where to turn.
  5. Revise smart: this is by far one of the most important points I will make. Coming from A-levels or a past degree, you will be very used to how to revise to pass the exams to get you into medicine, but remember now your here, your learning information to utilise during your vocation, and with such a large volume of information to take in it is important that you learn how to revise smart. Often for many people their old study buddy (past papers) no longer exists, and it is important that you take the mock exams during your first year as a time to practice different revision methods for when it counts, I can say for 99% of people how they revised previously is unlikely to work for medicine, so start early. A key point is also that you are never ever going to be able to know everything in such great detail as you may be used to with A-levels, hence you need to learn to revise smart and prioritise things which you have covered a lot and in more detail, look at it this way, it is much more likely that the topic you spent a whole week on is going to be examined on than the 1 slide during a random lecture in first week, so get prioritizing and make sure you know what is more likely to appear.

There are so many things I could say here, But above are my key staples of advice for every fresher out there.

Looking forward

Having completed my first 2 weeks of year 2 I am feeling very excited about this year to come, I have clinical exams coming at the end of this year plus my first chance to experience finals as a second year. I am still getting used to introducing myself though, I keep walking into clinical skills saying “hello my name is Natalie and I am a fir… sorry second year medical student”, that will just never ring right with me, how did I get from GCSE results day to here?

Looking ahead I cannot wait to get stuck in!


Nat x



Great books/resources for pre-clinical Medics

As a new academic year is fastly approaching now september is upon us, and many new first year medics will be starting medical school, I thought it was the right time to share the resources which I found useful during my first year.

As a disclaimer I study as CBL style course, so we are required to do a lot of independant study outside of the timetable, every single book I am including today I have used to study from to fulfil my CBL learning outcomes. I also firmly believe that every one of these resources have great content in a well laid out easy to use manner, and they have been a great asset during my first year of medical school.

Pocock and Richards Human physiology (****)

This textbook has a brilliant, well laid out and very detailed explanation of all things medical and human physiology. It is very easy to follow and has brilliant diagrams which make the exppococklaination in the text much clearer. There are many physiology books out there but this one really is comprehensive.

The only downside to this book is that it can be slightly to wordy during explanations of key concepts, and I have found that the sheer amount of words on the page can be a little overwhelming when trying to find the relevant information. But providing you know what you are looking for you get the hang of skim reading.


Gray’s anatomy for students (***)

Gray’s anatomy for students is an outstanding anatomy resource with brilliant large images which help beginners to anatomy have a much clearer understanding and appreciation and the location of structures within the human body. grays

Do not be fooled, this is nothing to do with the TV show, it is actually based off the original Gray’s anatomy book published in 1858 by Henry Gray. The textbook is much more modern today, and has much better digitally produced images to make it clearer though so dont worry.

As for the downsides to this textbook, similar to Pocock and Richards human physiology it is a very very wordy text, and often has a lot more detail than will be required of a first or second year medical student, it is often hard to distinguish between what is useful and what is not so can be a little more confusing to read than others. The images really do make up for it though.

Moore’s essential clinical anatomy (*****)

This was my go to anatomy textbook during sessions in year 1. I found it concise, well laid out and easier to use than Gray’s as the text including mostly essential information rather than having a giant explanation for everything.

I really loved Mmoores.jpgoore’s anatomy for the summary tables also, especially the ones for the cranial nerves, upper and lower limb muscles as they very so clear and very easy to understand compared to having to read through text to pick out the essential information.

Also Moore’s is brilliant if you follow a PBL/CBL course as it has clinical boxes to explain the clinical anatomy for certain parts of the body, a really great edition. Definetly the better (and also one of the cheaper) of all the anatomy textbooks I have used and thoroughly reccomend it.

grays cards.jpgGray’s anatomy flashcards (*****)

These flashcards are a MUST HAVE for any medical student, I would honestly give them 6 stars! They are such a great resource to practice naming and labelling the anatomical structures you have been studying, and essential for anatomy spotter examination revision. The numerous flashcards allow you to study anything from muscle location to radiological image identification.

100% a must have, cannot reccomend more.

Teach me anatomy website (****)

Sometimes when I did not have my anatomy textbook to hand in classes I would go online to find useful information, and many many times I came across TMA, I have to say it is absolutely fabulous!

The website has a clear menu and is well laid out into sections, it has brilliant hand drawn and annotated images to enhance your anatomical knowledge and also has clinical anatomy boxes to learn about the clinical aspect of anatomy.

I would have to say the only downside to this webpage is that it isn’t as comprehensive as the books, it is a very concise overview of the anatomy but is often lacking some of the information the textbooks posses about the finer details. Great for a summary though.

Kumar and Clark’s clinical medicine (*****)

By far my most used textbook for case based learning. It encompasses all you need to know about clinical medicine and I would go as far as saying it really is my clinical medicine bible.

kc.jpgFormat wise the book is incredibly large and heavy, but this is because it is so detailed with brilliant colour coded headings for different topics, great summary tables throughout and very useful images of the body which are so useful for clinical examination practice. The book is so comprehensive I find I rarely reach for another resource unless I cannot find the information within here, which I have to admit is very rare, especially with the 9th edition. It is so well laid out, clear and easy to follow.

What I also love about this book is the student consult online features, which allow you to access the textbook online from any computer through your account (perfect in lectures and classes as it is so heavy), and allows you print out notes and make annotations to the book.

Would definetly reccomend to any clinical or pre-clinical medic.

Khan Academy videos (*****)

I found revising from a textbook or webpage can often be boring, and when on the go or wanting something a little different to study from I always reach for KA’s videos on their medicine page.

These videos can be found on youtube or via the KA app, and they are brilliant. The videos are sorted into section so you can see the relevant videos under 1 topic heading, they involve are very comprehensive and the explanations used by the narrators for each topic is brilliant.

Really highly reccomend to any visual learner.

Hand-written tutorials (*****)

Another great website I used for revision, the videos are much like khan academies in the sense they are well narrated, but often they have better image and diagram quality than the KA videos.

Really great resource again.

Geeky Medics (*****)ytsckser

Geeky medics is a great online and App based website for OSCE practice as well as some great easy to read summaries of various pre-clinical and clinical medicine.

Highly reccomend, especially for OSCE practice.


These resources were my holy grail throughout year 1 of medical school, and I have rated them above out of 5*’s to show how useful I found each of them. To go to each of the resources/buy them I have included links to the pages in the headings so just click on those.

As a disclaimer make sure you check your medical schools required texts before purchasing anything, every medical school uses different textbooks and reccomend different textbooks for their students.

Nat x

Applying to medicine using your strengths: Decoding university admissions policies.

Applying to medicine can be one of the most confusing and stressful times. Your faced with a sea of applicants who have amazing grades and entrance exams scores, are baffled into confusion by each universities admissions policy and are just unsure what will make the cut.

Each year thousands of people apply to medicine, competition ratios are incredibly high with many more applicants to offers, and around 60% of applicants will get 4 rejections when applying to medicine due to this. Hence it is so important to give yourself the best shot at getting an offer, the best way to do this is to apply to medical schools where your credentials stand out. For example applying to a medical school which only uses the UKCAT to score candidates for interview when you have a score over 800 will mean you will be selected for sure, whereas if you apply with a score below 600 you will not be competitive.

During my application cycle I really struggled to ‘decode’ the admissions policies of each university, and it was hard to know not only what they were looking for, but also what would be good enough to be competitive there. One of the major regrets of my application was not understanding these admissions policies and applying to places where my application just drowned in a see of other more qualified people, but I didnt know that at the time.

What I have created is a document which collates all of the information found on the university admissions policies for GCSEs, Alevels and entrance exams at each medical school for A100 and placed them together so it is easy to see at a glance where you will not stand out and where you are likely to be a strong applicant. This document is made by myself completely, but does not replace any university admissions document and the information in this document may not be completely accurate and up to date, so can I ask anyone that uses it to ensure before going any further you check the universities website to double check your requirements meet the standard.

I hope this document helps people, TSR have a resource very similar but sadly it is a little out of date hence why I felt it important to make a more up to date version.

2017 entry NRM2707 admissions policy document: 

A100 2017 entry admissions policies (NRM2707-FDB)


When asked for password just select open the document as read only!

I hope this helps anyone applying to medicine and helps ease confusion by having everything in one place. Please if you notice any incorrect information contact me so I can edit it to prevent the spread of incorrect information. Please read the disclaimer on the first page!

Natalie x

What is it like to study under a lecture-based curriculum?

As you may be aware if you have read my previous blog post I have just completed year 1 of medicine at Cardiff university, which is a predominantly CBL based course style in the pre-clinical years. So you may now be wondering how on earth I am going to be able to tell you what a lecture based curriculum is like because I haven’t witnessed one, but this is where it gets a little complex.

Most universities for medicine will brand their course structure with a single title such as CBL/PBL/lecture-based, but just because the main style of teaching on the course falls under the 1 method doesn’t mean you will not experience another method also. At Cardiff during the autumn semester of year 1 all medical students undergo a programme of 3 modules named ‘Platform for clinical sciences’ which is not in CBL format, it is in fact a lecture based style of teaching. So for 3 months of my year 1 study I did experience a lecture based course style, and this post is going to be my reflection on that experience as well as guide to what it is really like studying under this type of curriculum.

What does a lecture based curriculum even mean?

I have covered in a previous post the many different types of course structures across the medical schools in the UK. As a brief summary, a lecture based curriculum is exactly what it says on the tin. Medical students will spend the majority of their pre-clinical years learning the pre-clinical sciences through all year lectures, small group tutorials, seminars and lab teachings. This course style requires much less independant study and self inquiry and relies much more on the students engaging and taking in the material delivered to them in these structured classes.


Teaching delivered through lab sessions. 

As stated in my previous post sometimes this course style can mean a lack of patient contact and clinical exposure in pre-clinical years, but for me this was not the case as clinical skills and some very early patient contact sessions were timetabled into our week to help us prepare for clinical practice early on.

My experience of a lecture-based curriculum.

As I only witnessed this method of teaching for 3 months It was like a whirlwind to me, I was new to medical school, freshers was in full swing and I was also having a tough time adjusting to life without my family around me, so I apologise if the details are lacking here.

PCS as it was known by students is the rigorous programme of 3 modules undertaken in autumn term of year 1 at Cardiff medical school. From my understanding its aim seems to be to bring all students from various different backgrounds and education systems together and up to speed as well as give us a very good grounding in the basics (but it didnt seem very basic at the time) of the pre-clinical sciences so we could apply our knowledge and build on it further during case based learning. The 3 module programme was neither systems based nor science based to me, but this may have been because it was very fast paced and we moved from topic to topic very quickly. Each module did have a theme though so it wasn’t all that crazy.

A typical week in the life of a lecture based student can be seen below, I have modified one of my timetables to show you the average contact hours as well as the variety of learning methods encompassed into one week. What may be different to many other courses is that Cardiff cover the majority of the core anatomy teaching within PCS, hence it may seem like we have a lot of anatomy sessions, this may not be the case at other medical schools who do not aim to give students the majority of the core anatomical teaching within a short space of time.


A general overview of a lecture based medical students week.

Above was an average timetable for me during my first term at medical school, if you have counted it clocks up 26 hours of timetabled study which is broken down into lectures (6 hours), anatomy lab (6 hours), physiology labs (3 hours), small group tutorials (9 hours) and clinical skills teaching (2 hours). Obviously this is not at all representative of every lecture based curriculum, especially if your thinking of heading to oxbridge where supervisions are scheduled into the week, but it is a good idea of the kind of things you will be doing if you chose this curriculum style.

What was this like as a learning environment?

From a personal standpoint after a whole year of trying to make it work, lectures just are not the right learning environment for me. I struggle to focus on listening for long periods of time and I find my focus is much greater when I am actively studying. Saying this I found that attending the lectures and recording them as well as listening and trying to take notes made the information much easier to study, but it didn’t necessarily stick the first time. I took much better to the small groups, lab teaching and anatomy teaching. The small group teaching was particularly great because it allowed me to build on the information from lectures and solve the problems surrounding these in smaller groups with close guidance from an academic in this field. I did find that at the end of the day I had to review a lot of the material from lectures and groups to truly understand it all, hence this made the days very long and tiring, but it was worth it when it all finally clicked.

This style of curriculum is incredibly full on, hefty contact hours as well as little time scheduled for independant study meant I was always behind in terms of where I wanted my understanding to be, and I can definetly say this course style did not suit me at all. A lot of information was covered in a very short amount of time and I was always running to catch up.

Looking back on this style of learning now though having been through CBL, it providing me with a great foundation knowledge bank of pre-clinical science and has made my life so much easier in case group as the content we are covering is just building on things we have already covered. Hence in reflection whilst it was such a slog going through the long hours and lack of sleep, it was worth it to have that solid basis for further study.

How do you cope with the workload and full timetable?

I am not going to lie, the timetable and workload I witnessed whilst following this curriculum was very intense, and hence it required a lot of forward thinking and planning.

It is really important to plan out your days with your timetable in mind to be able to review your lecture material and other resources as well as study and frankly for myself just keep up. I found it best to plan my week in advance, giving myself slots for study, review and also FREE TIME! I cannot stress the importance of balance when following this curriculum, it is so easy to end up locked away in your room/library drowning in books, but you need to make time for yourself and know your limits.

Looking back now I approached this term with the wrong mindset of trying to make notes on absolutely everything, and whilst this did benefit me during CBL, it was impossible to keep up with alongside this very full timetable. Hence to cope with the workload of this curriculum I advise you annotate your lectures during the actual lecture and only make brief notes to consolidate things you dont know. This also frees some time up to do things you enjoy as well as study when exams are around the corner.

The workload was very straining, particularly because one single 50 minute lecture would cover a whole chapters worth of information in a textbook, and with multiple of these a week it can often feel slightly suffocating upon review. My best advice here is stop panicking and just try your best to take notes during the lectures and then on the weekend spend a good couple of hours reviewing it all and making sure you understand everything.

Is a lecture based course for me?

Before coming to medical school I thought I would really enjoy a lecture based course, but having experienced it I would have to say I do prefer a more self inquiry based CBL /PBL structure. For me people who enjoy being given information directly to learn rather than having to motivate themselves and search for the information themselves would be more suited to this style of course. Also if you have a deep interest in the pre-clinical sciences then a lecture based course may cover more of this in greater detail, and hence it may appeal to you. My advice as always is check out every single universities course at an open day or via a prospectus before you apply and find out what you like the sound of and what interests you.


This is my experience of a lecture based curriculum. Although it was brief and will differ from other medical schools which adopt this technique throughout their entire curriculum, I hope it was a useful insight into a more traditional course style. It didn’t personally work for me, but hopefully from above you can get a sense of what its like and whether you personally would suit this course style.

Nat x

What is it like to study under a CBL curriculum?

As you may already know I have just completed year 1 at Cardiff University Medical school, and the curriculum here follows a case based learning (CBL) approach from January of year 1, and for anyone who is interested it is an integrated CBL style course with a systems based approach.

Just as a side note, Term 1 at Cardiff goes by the name of platform for clinical sciences and this is delivered in a lecture based traditional format, so I will be doing a separate post on what it is like to follow a lecture based curriculum for those interested in medical schools which follow that method.

This blog post is going to be a complete run down of what its like to follow a CBL course structure, and I will address many aspects which I feel applicants often ask questions on or feel daunted by when starting the course or looking to apply.

What is CBL?

I have already addressed this topic in a previous blog post but this was on more general terms, instead here I will be describing the CBL style course I have personally witnessed at Cardiff medical school.

Case based learning at Cardiff university runs on a 2 week timetable and follows a given clinical case on one of the body systems. The case itself is split into two parts over the two weeks, the first part often addresses a patients complaint to the GP and the second part shows a development of the patients condition as part of the case. For example the first weeks case may see an middle aged gentleman who is suffering with chest pain, and this could escalate the following week to the gentleman being rushed into A&E with a heart attack. The aim of CBL is to discuss in a small group (10 people) the case, devise learning outcomes and brainstorm ideas to learn about the anatomy, physiology, pathology, histology, sociology and psychology linked to the case in question, and be able to apply this to our practice during placements.


CBL case structure from a students perspective

As you can see above, there is a clear outline of what CBL entails (this is specific to Cardiff but I’ve heart it is similar at a lot of universities, and even similar to some PBL courses).

What is case group like as a learning environment?

At my university case groups comprise of 10 students and one academic staff member who is named the facilitator. During each CBL session (we have 3 over the 2 weeks), one person of the 10 will be a chair to keep the session organised and one person will scribe everything that we are discussing. The facilitators role is to keep us on track, prevent us from going on tangents and point out some useful topics of discussion if we are struggling, their main aim is to ensure our learning outcomes cover all the learning points we are supposed to cover during this case, so they do guide us when needed (i think this is where CBL differs from PBL).

For me case group was a brilliant environment to learn in, it allowed us a great safe and supportive place to share our ideas, and it allowed people who did not particularly understand one topic or learning outcome to listen to the findings from others who did, hence sharing ideas really does add to your knowledge and means your very unlikely to miss something important.

The cons for me of case group were the lack of formality, this meant that often people showed up without completing the learning outcomes and this meant some individuals in the group were not pulling their weight and piggybacking if you will off the hard work of others. Also if your not a particularly confident person case group can put you in the spotlight which may be slightly uncomfortable until your used to it.

Overall for me it is a great way to learn, and a very supportive and encouraging environment.

How do you cope with the large amount of self directed learning?

Coming from A-levels where all the information needed to pass the exams was handed to me on a plate, CBL was initially incredibly daunting. I remember leaving the first case group session with a load of learning outcomes and thinking “how am I ever going to find the answers to these on my own”, but trust me when I say its really not like that at all!

I found that the lecture material and lab material which we undertook during the 2 week case answered a lot of my learning outcomes without the need for extra reading in great amounts. Yes there were learning outcomes which weren’t covered at all by timetabled teaching, but I did in the end enjoy going to the library or back to my room and opening up my textbook to find the answers. I am a very motivated studier and this probably helped me as I enjoyed the self-directed aspect of CBL a lot more than I expected I would. SD learning is a key skill to have in medicine, and something which you will rely on heavily during the clinical years, so CBL was a great asset for me.

The main struggle is the transition to this style of learning, but over time if you work at it you will perfect the method best for you. Its also about studying smart, not every learning outcome developed by your group will be important, so make sure you spend less time on those.

For me the one big plus at Cardiff was that we received learning outcomes at the end of the 2 weeks, so even if I missed something out I could use the weekend between cases to fill in the blanks and work out what is important and what is less so.

What is integrated clinical placements like during pre-clinical years?

anyone attending a medical school with an integrated curriculum will know placements are a staple in years 1 and 2. At Cardiff we did 1 full day (8-5) of placement with half a day spent seeing real patients in the community/GP clinics who have the same issues as discussed in the case, and the other half spent learning the relevant clinical skills needed to practice on the wards in clinical years (as well as pass the ISCE and OSCE examinations).

I found clinical placements linked very well to the case, and allowed me to develop my clinical knowledge and patient communication early on. It was also really great to see the clinical issues we are learning about on real patients and to develop the key evidence based approach to medicine. I would definetly recommend any medical school with early clinical contact.


  • Do you ever feel like you are having to teach yourself? 

No not at all, yes self directed learning means sitting down with a textbook and learning the relevant information, but if I am ever stuck I can ask my facilitator, email a lecturer or ask any of the academics overseeing my course to point me in the right direction. Also a lot of our learning outcomes are addressed in timetabled teaching, it really isn’t as self-directed as many people think.

  • Do you feel unprepared for exams?

The short answer is no, if you put the work in during the CBL sessions and in your own revision time, you will be able to learn all the relevant information needed for the exams, especially considering we have learning outcomes to follow. Yes there is a lot of content in the course, so its practically impossible to know every last detail like at A2 level, but if you revise smart you will walk into the exams feeling prepared.


Above is my experience with Cardiff’s CBL style course, and hopefully is an insight into anyone who is looking at studying a course with a similar structure.  I am so glad I chose this course style because it really does work for me!

Nat x

Medical school course structures: is there a difference?

When browsing the websites and prospectus documents of medical schools all across the UK, when describing their course structure often there are many words and phrases which are used: PBL, CBL, Integrated, Traditional. What do they really mean? Are they the same at each medical school? Which one suits me best? Well this blog post will hopefully help anyone confused with the course types and hopefully will point you in the direction of the course type which may suit you best.

I will be covering various different aspects of the course in this post including:

  • Method of delivery
  • Process by which material is covered
  • Clinical exposure

please note that you can only compare and contrast courses within these 3 categories. 

Problem Based learning (PBL) and Case Based learning (CBL).

A lot of medical schools in the UK have adopted the PBL method of teaching, originally pioneered in Canada and first introduced into the UK in the 90’s by Manchester medical school. It has a very similar cousin in terms of course structure, this is the CBL method of teaching, pioneered in the USA and adopted by Cardiff medical school recently in the UK.  

Generally PBL and CBL share many similarities and sometimes its very hard to distinguish between the two teaching methods, hence below I am going to group them together when describing what they entail and how they are delivered. I will address their differences in a later section.

What does a PBL/CBL course structure entail?

Most PBL/CBL courses offered by medical schools are very similar, most run on a 1 week/2 week rotation of problems/cases and they follow a set structure as described below.

Students will meet in a small group with a facilitator for the first session of PBL/CBL. The problem/case will then be introduced to the students and they will be given some time to brainstorm their ideas and generate learning outcomes for the case. Some medical schools provide learning outcomes at the start of the case, some provide them for use at the end of the case and some do not give learning outcomes at all.

The students will then continue the week/2 week period by attending lectures, seminars, small groups and labs to fulfil their learning outcomes. As well as the timetabled activity PBL/CBL requires a great deal of self directed study to answer the learning outcomes, hence self motivation by students is very important in a PBL/CBL styled course.

Students will then meet again in their small group with their facilitator to share their ideas and answer their learning outcomes.


Basic outline of a PBL/CBL style course

As I stated before every university has a different take on the PBL/CBL styled course, hence I am going to be doing a blog post specifically about my experiences with CBL as a Cardiff student so you can get the idea of what its really like to study under this curriculum.

Differences between PBL and CBL.

Generally speaking (having spoken to my colleagues at various medical schools) PBL and CBL seem to be more similar than different, but it is important to remember that they are different learning styles and so do have some differences which can be seen.

PBL is described as an open enquiry method which allows students to discuss all topics and tangents of the problem faced with little or no guidance from the facilitator. This can be problematic if the group go off an a tangent, and can sometimes mean that the problem in question will never be answered totally – hence the conclusion may be false. Also with PBL often the learning outcomes are never officially defined and the timetabled teaching may not be as directed to the problems material. One positive is PBL does well to enhance a students problem solving skills.

CBL on the other hand is described as a guided enquiry which targets students to certain areas of the case given to generate specific learning outcomes. Facilitators generally play a more active role in keeping the session on task, and sometimes will bring up topics to guide the session, this means the learning outcomes and outcome obtained from CBL at the end of the case is most likely correct. Timetabled teaching backs up the learning outcomes very well and often official learning outcomes are provided. One downside to CBL is that its less like solving a problem as enquiry is solely directed at a purpose.

Even with saying the above I have seen students who describe PBL exactly the same as how I describe CBL as taught by my medical school, so it completely depends on the school you attend.

Lecture based course styles.

Many medical schools describe their courses as traditional lecture based or even science based, and this can often mean different things at different institutions.

These courses usually have a great deal of focus on the pre-clinical sciences and students follow a rigorous programme of all year lectures, small group and lab teaching. Hence these course types have much less independant study and self inquiry. Lecture/science based courses give students a very strong grounding in the preclinical sciences, but often a lack of early clinical exposure can make the transition from pre-clinical to clinical medicine more daunting.

Process by which material is covered. 

Material can be covered in two main ways for a medicine course:

  • Subject-based/traditional: Material is covered in subjects such as anatomy, pathology, physiology, histology etc. These courses are now very rare as the teaching method is not as fluid as the system-based counterpart, but often this method works very well with traditional lecture based courses.
  • System-based: material is covered by body system, bringing together anatomy, pathology, physiology and histology to cover each body system individually and in turn. This is the much more popular method used nowadays by medical schools as it is more fluid and proves more logical to the students who undertake it. I personally feel this allows for a more focussed approach and prevents confusion.


Clinical exposure.

Nowadays the word ‘Integrated’ is found in most medical schools course description. Integrated means that in preclinical years there will be some clinical contact and for clinical years it means that lectures and small groups will be integrated into their clinical practice. 

Most medical schools now boast some form of early patient contact as it is very important for students to link preclinical sciences with their clinical application as well as develop an evidence based approach to learning.

Very few medical schools now have the deeply defined pre-clinical and clinical years.


So what do I look for in a course?

All of the above features can be found in various combinations at the medical schools across the UK, For example my medical school (Cardiff) use an integrated CBL systems based approach, whereas when viewing medical schools I also witnessed a traditional lecture based course with barely any integration. But the important thing is identifying which course is right for you.

The best way to do this is to visit university open days and talk to students on the course your interested in, but below is a general guide of what traits tend to suit each course style:

  • CBL/PBL: Enjoys self directed study. Willing to motivate themselves to work outside of timetabled teaching. Likes to share ideas within a group setting to aid their learning. Does not enjoy being ‘Spoonfed’ information to a great extent via lectures. Does not enjoy/feel lectures are a great way of learning for them. Prefers learning within a smaller group. 
  • Lecture based: Prefers being spoonfed information. Dislikes self-directed learning. Feels they cannot motivate themselves adequately for self-directed study.

As for integration, it is really the applicants choice as to whether they prefer early clinical contact or not. Most medical schools do now have some form of early clinical contact and less of a distinction between preclinical and clinical medicine, but there are some courses out there which are more distinct (less integrated).


This really is a basic outline of all of the course styles for applicants which may be feeling a little confused when browsing medical schools. As I stated before tomorrow I will release a blog post on what its like to follow a CBL/PBL style course and my feelings on that for anyone interested.


How should an offer holder prepare for medical school?

Funnily enough I seem to get this question a lot from A-level students who have firm offers for medicine and have a very long summer ahead of them. I assume that because the application process is so drawn out and you have been thinking about medicine for a long time now, you are just excited to get stuck into all things medicine… But dont get to ahead of yourself, here is my advice on what to do with your summer before you start medical school.

A-levels are over: time to celebrate!

You will all have worked incredibly hard in the weeks and months leading up to your A2 examinations, so reward yourself. Give yourself time to relax, celebrate with friends and enjoy life outside of textbooks. A lot of offer holders seem to forget that they literally just finished exams before they are being eager to jump into learning new things, but give your mind and body time to rest and recuperate. Trust me, you will thank me when September comes and your feeling energised to start your degree.

Travel, Enjoy yourself and do things you have been longing to do!

This is going to be one of the longest summers you will have during your life, 3 months is ample to get yourself cultured and enjoy the amazing side of life. You dont have to spend 3 months backpacking in far flung places, but try and spend some time doing things you have always wanted to do. For me this was going on my first foreign holiday, and going to see once of the ancient wonders of the world, but thats not everyones cup of tea. Get yourself involved in a sport or take up a hobby you have always wanted to try, because this is the most free time you will have for many years to come: You would be crazy not to make the most of it.

Do some research about your university and course!

It is important to go into university prepared, so make sure you spend some time online looking at your accommodation, university, course and town/city. Being familiar with things will make the settling in period much easier and will also prevent the pre-move-in-panic. Make sure you know your term dates and you have a list of things you will be required for your course and accommodation to ease the strain when it comes to purchasing it all.

Get to grips with your finances!

Ensure you are aware of how much student finance you are entitled to, and add this to any extra income you may get throughout the year to start to build a budget for yourself. Its really important that your finances are sorted by the time you start freshers as it is then one less thing to worry about. Also once your offer has been confirmed get your student bank account open and dont forget to order a student rail card!

But what about the actual medicine stuff? Can I prepare for medical school academically? Should I be reading around? Which textbooks will give me a headstart?

I really strongly advise against doing any pre-reading for the course. Each medical school follows a different curriculum, and although we do end up with the same knowledge bank in the end, the way the degree is delivered and at what depth/pace is very different. If you jump into textbooks you can often go and overcomplicate things before starting, as not everything will need to be covered. My best advice is just leave that stuff till you begin, if you really want to start something then have a look over some basic human anatomy to familiarise yourself with the bodies systems, but I personally wouldn’t even recommend that. Do not get yourself bogged down before you even have begun, its better to go into medical school with a clear fresh mind than worry yourself over content in the summer.

So to sum it up, by advice is relax, enjoy yourself and dont worry to much about the actual content of the course. Enjoy the last long summer you will have!





My application: Story time…

Probably one of the most common things I get asked when speaking at open days or when on the student room is about my “profile”, I personally hate that term but I can understand why people are so interested in this information. When applying for medicine I was always curious as to what the people on the other side had achieved, medicine is so competitive and to me knowing more about the people who made it (and maybe why the made it) allowed me to understand the application process a little more. I used the information of other successful candidates to work out my chances at different medical schools, and it helped me be more realistic about my goals. Of course I am the very first to jump out and say that every medical school uses different criteria to assess candidates, but I see no harm in knowing what type of grades/work experience/UKCAT managed to gain an interview at a certain place yet did not at another. Hence this is why I am going to share my application story in the hope that it can be of use to somebody (please hold on this might be a tad on the long side… and I have a tendency to waffle).

Natalierm2707’s application story:

I applied to med school during my A2 year at college, this is really the first oppurtunity people ever get to apply, and I was very lucky to gain acceptance first time around.

 – GCSE grades: 9A*’s and 1.5A’s (in french and R.E. respectively), I also got Dist*Dist* in BTEC sport and Dist in I.T. but these are sadly irrelevant when it comes to medicine applications.

– AS levels: AAAB in Biology, Chemistry, Geography and Maths respectively (also got a B in general studies but very few medical schools accept this)

 – Predicted A2 levels: A*AA in Biology, Chemistry and geography respectively (and I went on to achieve exactly this).

– UKCAT: 2700 overall which gives a 675 average (very good for the year of entry… wish somebody had told me that though!).

In terms of work experience and voluntary work I had done: 12 weeks voluntary work on a hospital ward; 1 week shadowing at Europe’s largest cancer hospital; 1 month (at date of application – but 3 months by date of interview and 10 months in total) voluntary work taking disabled children out to do sports. In terms of extra-curriculars I had done: choir; open university course; charity events at college and I worked for a large pet retailer.

as shown above my profile was by no means extraordinary, I would probably label myself as an average medical school applicant. my GCSE grades were by far my strong point, and If I had known at the time that my UKCAT was good (previous year was an all time high for the average UKCAT score and hence I compared myself to that rather than my years average stupidly) then I would have had a stronger application and applied to different medical schools. My AS was average and in comparison to most my work experience/extracurricular were very poor (and this was my downfall).

I applied to:

Liverpool: rejected pre-interview (personal statement not competitive enough).

Lancaster: rejected pre-interview (personal statement not competitive enough).

Sheffield: rejected pre-interview (personal statement not competitive enough).

Cardiff: early interview invite – offer after interview (AAA) – FIRM!

I also applied to KCL for genetics and received an AAB offer, but declined this.


So that is basically my application profile if you will, and reflecting on the above information here is my advice:

  1. apply to your strengths: make sure you research every single medical school and its admissions policy and requirements, choose med schools you are likely to get an interview at and this will give you ample chance to interview and hence more chances at an offer. I cannot stress how much I regret not doing this, Instead I chose universities I visited on the open day and which my school had promoted to me, Cardiff was my only well thought through choice and I am so lucky that I had thought it through or else I wouldn’t have jut finished year 1!
  2. get your work experience/extra-curriculars to boost your personal statement: your personal statement is a large part of your application which is heavily scrutinized, my best advice is you ensure you have some good voluntary work, work experience and extra-curricular activities behind you.
  3. if you are defeated try again: so many people apply to medicine and get rejected from all of their choices first time, its more common than you think. please do not be disheartened if this is you, just suck it up and improve your application for the next time around.

Hopefully this was useful in some way!

for now.

Natalie x