What is BMAT Section 3 and why is it tested?

Section 3 tests your ability to develop and organise ideas and to communicate them concisely and effectively in writing.

It is more commonly known as the dreaded essay section, and many candidates often finding themselves questioning its relevance during revision frustration.

However, the skills needed to do well in Section 3 are vital for a career in medicine.

The ability to formulate your own arguments and communicate your ideas clearly is crucial for a successful academic or clinical career. 

What will Section 3 look like in the BMAT?

The BMAT is a two-hour exam. You have 30 minutes to spend on Section 3.

Here’s a quick refresher of the format of the BMAT exam:

SectionWhat Does It Test?QuestionsTiming
Section 1Generic skills in Problem solving and critical thinking.32 multiple-choice questions60 minutes
Section 2Application of GCSE scientific knowledge.27 multiple-choice questions30 minutes
Section 3The ability to select and develop ideas and communicate them effectively.One writing task from a choice of three questions30 minutes

The exam paper will offer a choice of three different essay questions, and you must choose one essay to answer. Each essay question will be followed by three prompts and you must address all three parts of this in your essay. For example:

The exam paper will offer a choice of three different essay questions, and you must choose one essay to answer. Each essay question will be followed by three prompts and you must address all three parts of this in your essay. For example:

BMAT Section 3 Example Questions (2019 Paper)

  1. People are often motivated to deny the existence of problems if they disagree with the solutions to those problems.

Explain what you think is meant by the statement. Present a counter-argument. To what extent do you agree with the statement?

2. ‘In science, there are no universal truths, just views of the world that have yet to be shown to be false.’ (Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw)

Explain what you think is meant by the statement. Argue that scientists need to accept some things as ‘truths’ to advance their understanding. To what extent do you agree with the statement?

3. Teamwork is more important for surgical innovation than the skills of an individual surgeon.

Explain the reasoning behind this statement. Argue that the skills of individual surgeons are more important for surgical innovation or progress. To what extent do you agree with the statement?

You are given a single page of A4 as an answer sheet, and your essay must fit into this space. Only what is contained on the single A4 page will be scanned, sent to the examiner, and marked.  

BMAT Section 3 Answer Sheet
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How Can I prepare for BMAT Section 3?

The BMAT essays, like medical interviews, will cover a range of social and medical issues.

To prepare for the BMAT, it is recommended you keep up to date with current medical, social, and political issues.

Newspapers, medical journals, and medical blogs are good resources, with the Health and Science sections of BBC News being particularly useful. Reading these articles will not only arm you with points to use in your essays but will also show you how to argue these ideas articulately and concisely.

It is vital you practice formulating and communicating your ideas about a topic. Get together with other students who are preparing their medical applications and practice debating health and social topics with each other.

This will not only increase your chances of getting a good Section 3 score but will also improve your medical interview skills.

The most vital preparation for all BMAT sections is practice. Download the official past papers here and get used to planning and writing essays under timed conditions.

Print off the official answer sheet and use this for writing your essay; it is key you get used to writing in the limited space available.

Of course, we’d also recommend our own resources to help your prepare for the BMAT. We run the best crash courses in the world for the BMAT, as well as having an intuitive online platform in BMAT Ninja.

You can get access to both, along with 5 x Section 3 essay edits with our BMAT Bundle (our best value BMAT support).

BMAT Essay Planning

To make the most of your limited answer space, it is incredibly important you spend at least 5-10 minutes planning your essay.

Take a spare piece of paper (there is usually a blank page in the question paper earmarked for this purpose) and plan your essay point by point before you think about touching the answer sheet.

The planning stage can be split into two clear parts.

STEP 1

Get everything down on paper.

Write down everything you know about the subject and all your ideas on the topic.

STEP 2

Organise these ideas.

Create clear subsections, which can be derived from the three prompts listed in the essay question, and structure your ideas into bullet points beneath each heading.

Before moving onto writing your essay make sure:

  • The ideas conveyed in your bullet points flow smoothly from one to the next
  • Your essay is well balanced, with points covering both sides of the argument
  • You have not included any points that are outside the scope of the essay question
  • You have only included your most relevant and most important points to make best use of the limited space
  • Every part of the essay question and subsequent prompts have been addressed by your ideas
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Writing Your Essay

The essay should be divided into three main parts: an Introduction, a Main Body, and a Conclusion.

Let’s go into each section in a little more depth starting with the introduction.

THE INTRODUCTION

Your introduction should clearly set out the aims of what you are about to write.

You should state what the essay will try to achieve, and briefly mention some of the main points you will consider, both for and against the essay question.

The introduction is a brief overview of your argument and should not go into any great detail.

Your introduction is successful if it tells the reader:

  • What is the topic of the essay?
  • What is the essay planning to answer?
  • What are the main points for and against?

The introduction is usually where you will tackle the first prompt of the essay question, which usually asks you to explain the reasoning behind a statement or to define a principle.

THE MAIN BODY

The main body of your essay is where you should address your key points in detail.

This should be the longest part of your essay and should be split up into 2-4 paragraphs. Most candidates will write at least one paragraph per each of the three prompts included in the essay question.

It is crucial that the main body of your essay includes points both for and against the essay question.

The marking scheme mandates that the essay must communicate a balanced argument to secure a minimum content score of 3.

You should start a new paragraph for each major new idea in your essay, in order to clearly indicate to the examiner the structure of your argument.

Each paragraph should start with a sentence that signposts the main point you are going to explore in that section. The rest of the paragraph will then expand and back up your main point in greater detail and with relevant examples.

In each paragraph, only include sentences that are directly related to the issue set out in the signposting sentence. 

Quoting sources and statistics can lend an air of professionalism and credibility to your essay. However, if you do not know any, do not make these up – the BMAT examiners are paid by the hour and therefore have the time to fact-check any claim you may make.

THE CONCLUSION

Your conclusion should summarise the main points of your essay, and if appropriate, draw a final judgement on the topic you have been discussing.

There should be no new evidence in your conclusion, it is simply a summary of what you have already stated in the main body of the essay.

In the next section we will go through examples of successful essay plans so you can see how the entire process works.

Read on to check it out.

Examples of Successful Essay Plans

First, we’ll start by presenting the question that we want to answer. Then we’ll go into the kind of notes you should be writing when planning your essay.

An important part to consider is the wording within the question – this will give you an indication of what the examiners are wanting to see and should direct your essay plan.

Fully Worked Essay Question [1]

  1. As a physician, you have a duty to consider the wider society when treating an individual patient.

Explain the reasoning behind this statement. Argue that a doctor’s main priority should always be the patient he is currently treating. With respect to medical treatment, to what extent can a patient’s interests differ from those of the wider population?

Fully Worked Essay Plan [1]

Explain the statement.

  • The four principles of medical ethics, as described by Beauchamps and Childress (2008) are autonomy, beneficence, non-maleficence, and justice.
  • This statement is clearly addressing the principle of justice: the duty to share and allocate treatment equally across all patients.

Argue that a doctor’s main priority should always be the patient he is currently treating.

  • Medical treatment should be individualised where possible. Each patient may respond differently to the same treatment, depending on their individual characteristics and co-morbidities. Therefore while general guidelines may be useful, we should tailor our treatments to best benefit the patient we are currently treating.
  • While utilitarianism holds its place in medical ethics, it is important we do not use ‘considering the wider society’ as an excuse to provide subpar care.

With respect to medical treatment, to what extent can a patient’s interests differ from those of the wider population?

  • Resources are finite; we must allocate treatments where it will be the most effective and provide the most benefit. For example, a specific drug may provide little or no benefit to a terminal cancer patient but may be curative to those with early stage cancer. Therefore we should prioritise the treatment for the latter group.
  • We must consider the cost-effectiveness of each drug. We cannot in good conscience supply an extremely expensive drug that treats only a small number of patients when this comes at the cost of several cheaper treatments that benefit the entire population.
  • Certain medical diagnoses are notifiable and Public Health England must be informed, even if the patient does not wish the condition to be disclosed. This is because in some scenarios (e.g. potential spread of a highly contagious disease) protecting the public is deemed more important than an individual’s right to confidentiality. A similar situation arises if a patient refuses to disclose certain diagnoses to official bodies as required by law (e.g. epilepsy to the DVLA). In this case, the doctor is required to override the patient’s wishes and inform the body themselves.
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Fully Worked Essay Question [2]

2. Publishing surgeons’ mortality rates may lead to surgeons declining to perform high risk cases and only operating on safer, more routine patients.

Explain what this statement means. Argue that the publication of such statistics is necessary. To what extent do you believe league tables will change surgeons’ behaviour to benefit patients?

Fully Worked Essay Plan [2]

Explain what this statement means.

  • Publishing a ‘league table’ of surgeons by their mortality rates may cause physicians to avoid operating on high-risk cases risk to avoid lowering their personal statistics. This will lead to an overall decline in the ability of surgeons and also a dearth of doctors willing to treat difficult cases.

Argue that the publication of such statistics is necessary.

  • Publication of such data is needed for clinical governance, namely to produce audits comparing individual surgeon performance to national and regional averages to ensure competency.
  • Transparent mortality rates could highlight discrepancies in surgical teaching and education between regions
  • By comparing one surgeon to another, surgeons will be incentivised to improve the quality of care they are delivering
  • The NHS ‘Choose and Book’ system was introduced to allow patients greater autonomy over who they are treated by. Publication of surgeons’ mortality rates would help patients make an informed decision when choosing a doctor.

To what extent do you believe league tables will change surgeons’ behaviour to benefit patients?

  • It would be hoped that publication of league tables would incentivise surgeons to perform better, seek continual training, and strive for optimal performance.
  • In medical ethics, beneficence describes a doctor’s duty to perform actions that will benefit patients. It is likely the fear of a poor mortality rate would supersede a surgeon’s duty to abide by this principle; resulting in surgeons avoiding high-risk cases. This would result in an overall detriment, not benefit, to patients.

How will you be marked?

For Section 3, you are graded on both the quality of your content and the quality of your English.

  • Content quality is graded on a scale from 1-5.
  • English quality is graded from A-E.

Therefore the best possible mark you can gain from this section is 5A, however, the average mark achieved is 3A, with only the top 5% of students achieving 4A and above.

Each essay is double marked.

For the quality of content, the scores given by each examiner are averaged if they are the same or one point away from each other.

If you are awarded a 3 by Examiner 1 and a 4 by Examiner 2, you will be awarded a 3.5.

However, if the two examiners disagree by more than one point in their marking (e.g. if you are awarded a 2 and a 4) the essay will be sent to a third examiner, with the final mark will be checked by the BMAT Assessment Manager.

For the quality of English, each examiner awards a score of either A, C, or E. The two scores are then combined in the following ways to give the final result: AA = A, AC = B, CC = C, CE = D, EE = E

What do I need to do to get the top mark?

To achieve a 5 for quality of content, you need to produce an essay that:

  • Has no significant weaknesses
  • Addresses all aspects of the question
  • Has an argument that is clear, logical, and well-reasoned
  • Covers a wide range of relevant points
  • Has a clear and compelling conclusion

 

To achieve an A for quality of English, your writing must have:

  • Fluency
  • Good sentence structure
  • Good use of vocabulary
  • Good spelling, punctuation, and grammar

Does the essay section even matter?

You may hear people say that Section 3 isn’t as important as Section 1 or Section 2.

There is an element of truth to this; Oxford and Leeds place a higher weight on Section 1 and 2 (40% each) compared to Section 3 (20%).

However other universities, such as Cambridge, take all marks for the BMAT score into consideration alongside a number of other factors, such as your A-level grades and interview scores.

Therefore, to be an attractive medical candidate to as many universities as possible, it is important to prepare well for every part of your medical application, including Section 3 of the BMAT.

Top Tips For BMAT Section 3

1

Download the official practice and past paper examinations.

This will make sure you have familiarised yourself with the question format.

2

Don’t slack when you’re practicing!

Even when practicing, make sure you plan your essays well: this is the most important part of writing your essay.

3

Use the official answer sheet.

Practice writing essays using the official answer sheet to get used to the space given.

4

Only practice under timed conditions.

There is little point in writing a perfect essay if it has taken longer than you will have in the exam.

5

Write neatly, and in the smallest font that is still clearly legible to the examiner.

For an examiner faced with hundreds of essay papers to mark, a well-presented and tidy essay will be a delightful change and they will be more likely to award higher marks.

6

Keep up to date with the latest medical, social, and political issues.

You can do this by reading news articles and medical journals. This will allow you to provide an educated argument and bring in fresh viewpoints.

7

Discuss recent medical and political issues with friends & family.

This will help you to shape your ability to formulate and effectively communicate an argument.

Revising for Section 3 of the BMAT is as essential as any other part of your medical application preparation.

The knowledge and skills needed to write a good BMAT essay will serve you well in medicine, and more short-term, in your medical interviews.

The key to achieving a competitive score BMAT sections is to familiarise yourself with past papers, practice under timed conditions, and start prepping early!

If you’re looking for the best support (from an amazing company) for your BMAT, check out our BMAT Bundle!

If cost is a factor for you don’t be put off. We have a generous bursary scheme and we will be able to help you on the road to becoming a doctor.

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