In Section 1, you get 35 questions, and you have 60 minutes to get as many right as you can. The timing is quite reasonable (it’s nowhere near as tight as Section 2), so it’s quite feasible to get all 35 questions done, and if you’re lucky, even have a few minutes left over at the end to check your answers.
Section 1 broadly covers two types of question – (1) Critical Thinking, and (2) Problem Solving. Some books/websites add a third category called ‘Data Manipulation’, but we lump that in with Problem Solving, because the skills needed to do well in both are very overlapping.
Anyway, this post touches on some of the ways to prepare for Section 1. Sadly, we don’t have the space here to give a complete ‘Guide to Section 1’, but if you’re interested, you’ll find that on BMAT Ninja (www.bmat.ninja). It does cost a bit of money to get access to our notes (£29 for access to all our notes for Sections 1, 2 and 3), but if money’s even slightly an issue, we’ve got an enormous bursary programme and we’re very happy to give students from lower-income backgrounds access to all our material for free.
Now that the shameless plug is over, let’s get to the meat of this post.
Critical Thinking questions are quite straightforward – you get a paragraph of 4-5 lines, and a multiple-choice question based on that paragraph. For example, the question might ask “Which of the following best summarises the conclusion of the passage?”. You can do well in critical thinking in two ways: (1) being naturally gifted at critically analysing arguments, or (2) just doing lots of practice. A lot of our students find themselves in the first boat – they can understand what the passage is saying straight away, and can get to the answer intuitively. For those who struggle with that, there are a number of techniques you can use for each type of question that’ll really help (we teach those on the course). A-level OCR Critical Thinking papers are quite good, and if you can find an A-level textbook, it’ll probably teach you most of the tips that we go over.
If you’re struggling with the critical thinking questions (and even if you’re not), we’d highly recommend going through the ~500 or so questions we’ve got available for free on BMAT Ninja. Most of those questions have been taken from past BMAT, TSA and IMAT papers, so you know they’re almost exactly the same as what you’re likely to get when you take the BMAT. We’ve also done statistical analyses of the questions and the students who used BMAT Ninja in 2015, and we found that the students who did all of the Critical Thinking practice questions on our website did significantly better in Section 1 of the actual BMAT.
The bottom line is that the critical thinking questions are very formulaic, and practising them extensively will pay dividends when you take the BMAT.
Problem Solving is trickier to prepare for. Our mantra is simple – Fractions are your friends. It’s amazing just how many of the BMAT questions require students to be proficient at calculating fractions quickly. If you’re really bad at doing fractions quickly, then please, please look over your old Maths GCSE textbooks and do lots and lots of practice. Seriously. If you’re good at fractions, you’ll be good at the BMAT.
Other than fractions, doing well in Problem Solving is mostly a matter of finding the shortcut. The questions often have a lot of information that you just don’t have time to go through, and more often than not, there’s a quick and easy way to get to the answer. The students who find those shortcuts in a timely fashion are the ones who do very well on the exam.
Other ways to improve your Problem Solving score are to be quick at doing mental and written maths. There are quite a few questions each year that require some sort of mathematical calculation (both with and without fractions), so being rapid at doing those is always helpful. In particular, we reckon you should know your times tables up to 12 inside out, the first 20 square numbers, and the first 10 cube numbers.
Because the Problem Solving questions are less formulaic than Critical Thinking questions, you can’t guarantee doing well on them by simply doing lots and lots of questions. Instead, we’d suggest (a) getting quick at maths, and then (b) doing lots of questions with solutions. Time for another plug – the questions we’ve got on BMAT Ninja (www.bmat.ninja) all have solutions that have been written by Oxbridge medical students. Doing the questions themselves is completely free, but if you upgrade your account (it costs £29) you get access to the solutions too. As always, if money is an issue, just get in touch with us and we’ll sort something out.
In a nutshell
So basically, in order to do well in Section 1, it’s mostly a case of (a) getting quick at doing maths, and (b) doing loads of questions. Feel free to give us a shout via email, Facebook, Twitter, text, phone or anything else if you’ve got any questions, and we’ll be happy to help 🙂