Making the Most of a Gap Year Part 2: The Boring Stuff

Last updated: 8/8/2020

Step 2: The Boring Stuff

If you hold a deferred/unconditional offer to study medicine and know where you’ll be in a year, feel free to skip over this article and move on to Step 3: The Fun Part.

As great as a gap year can be, you probably don’t want to have to do it twice. To ensure that your gap year is a successful one, you will have to go through some 'boring stuff', which will be the focus of this article. 

A reminder of what the overall picture might look like:

Step 2 The Boring Stuff: Exam resits, Develop your medical school application, Entrance exams, Reference checks

a) Exam Resits

Medical schools in the UK typically have standard entry requirements of AAA at A-level, 38 for IB or AAAAA for Highers (this varies between universities and it would be smart to check their website for specific requirements). An international student may also be required to submit proof of proficiency in English by taking the IELTS exam. 

As admission to medicine is very competitive, it’s worth revisiting the exams if your application comes up shy to maximise your chances at getting an offer. Taking note of exam dates and setting aside enough time to study for them is an excellent first step in making that happen. 

A piece of paper showing a grade of “A” drawn on it.

b) Improving Your Medical School Application 

There are several aspects to a successful medical school application, with grades making up just one element of the overall picture. It is therefore worth taking a look at what else you can do during your gap year to improve your application in any way.

This is ideal as you now have ample amounts of time to look for work experience, see about working as a Healthcare Assistant in your local hospital, volunteer in care facilities, etc. 

While gaining additional work experience, a sound tip would be to write everything down. Have a notebook that is dedicated to jotting down what you learned, the cases you saw, the diseases that interested you, and most importantly, how you reflected on the experience and why it has solidified your decision to pursue a career in medicine.

This all works in favour of developing a convincing personal statement that shows you have a realistic expectation of the field and gives you something interesting to talk about at your medical school interview. 

In some cases, you might even get paid work experience, which is always a plus!

A medical school application

c) Entrance Exams

Regardless of how you have performed in your UCAT or BMAT, these results expire after a year and applying again means you’re required to take them again. While the preparation process may be tedious and time consuming, having done them before will make taking them again much easier.

Another plus is that 1) you can schedule the UCAT for whenever suits you (within the open window for registration) and 2) since the BMAT only applies to a small number of schools, you could definitely get away with not taking it at all. 

You should also keep in mind that applying to medical schools outside of UCAS might require other entrance exams, e.g. HPAT for Ireland and if you’re applying as a graduate, GAMSAT for Australia. 

A hand holding a UCAT score report.

d) Reference Checks 

This part will play a bigger role when it comes to actually submitting your application through UCAS. Since universities require an academic reference, there will come a time when you will have to reach out to your former school or college to request one.

Many institutions will have a system set in place to ensure that this will be as seamless as possible. But just in case, it would be helpful to have a secure contact in place so you can ask for help when you need to. 

A trusted advisor who knows you and the strengths of your application will also be able to give you personalised advice when it comes to where to apply, interview feedback, etc., making the process that much easier in the long run.  

Alternatively, if you’re a mature student requiring a reference check and you’re not in a position to ask for one easily, you should contact the medical school you’re applying to discuss your options.

A teacher (or advisor)


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