Applying to Medicine at Cambridge University (Medical Sciences)

At Cambridge University, students focus on medical sciences first, before learning to apply that knowledge to medical practice as a clinical student.

The first three years (pre-clinical studies) involve lectures, practical classes (including dissections) and supervisions, with typically 20-25 timetabled teaching hours each week. The emphasis during the clinical studies (Years 4, 5 and 6) is on learning in clinical settings: at the bedside, in outpatient clinics and in GP surgeries, which is supported by seminars, tutorials and discussion groups.

Assessment, both formative and summative, plays a significant role throughout. The ongoing progress of students is reviewed weekly and termly by their College supervisors. Formal assessment, which determines one’s ability to proceed with the course, includes written and practical examinations, coursework submission and clinical assessments.

Successful completion of the first three years leads to a BA degree and on successful completion of the clinical studies in Cambridge students are awarded two degrees, the Bachelor of Medicine and the Bachelor of Surgery (MB, BChir).

Academic Requirements
- A-levels: A*A*A
- IB: 40-42 points, with 776 at Higher Level

How did you decide between Oxford and Cambridge?

My impression had always been that Cambridge was better for science. Also I liked the fact that Cambridge was dominated by the university and the city was more an afterthought while Oxford was half city and half university. (Profile 474)

Cambridge accepted more Medics and put less emphasis on GCSEs. They also looked at AS Module scores. (Profile 618)

My sister was at Cambridge, and I fell in love with the place when I visited her. I like the fact that the town is much smaller, so friendlier and less impersonal. Cambridge is better for pre-clinical medicine. (Profile 237)

Did you have to sit any pre-interview exams?

The MVAT. I did some past paper questions and discussed them with my chemistry teacher. I also did some past paper questions from the UK mathematical challenge as they seemed similar in style to sections 1 and 2. In section 3 you get the chance to show how much you know so if you can bring in things you've read from outside the A-Level syllabus it may help. Also I think in 2003 they will ask about scientific epistemology - it might be worth looking it up. (Profile 474)

MVAT test about a month before interview. I just read some general science books, but it tests aptitude rather than knowledge (Profile 27)

BMAT was rather tough, and my score wasn't fantastic. If you're from Malaysia and have entered kuiz sains nasional or any other maths/science quizes, and have done well in them, the scientific paper shouldn't be too tough for you. (Profile 317)

I got 23.3 on the BMAT. (6.1, 6.7 and 10.5) (Profile 618)

BMAT exam... I got 6.2, 5.0, 12.0 (if I remember rightly). The practice book really helped me, esp. for the written section, getting used to writing in the time limit. Revise GCSE level science. (Profile 204)

MVAT-it covered Biology, Chemistry, Maths & Physics, so I revised those subjects (especially physics, which I didn't do at A-level) (Profile 237)

How was/were your interview(s), in general?

I stayed overnight in the college and met some of the other interviewees who were reasuringly friendly and nervous. My first interview was the next day and I thought I would be asked lots of hard science questions but was asked mainly about ethics and only a little science. The second interview was split half and half between questions on my motivation for medicine and science. The third I had thought went disastrously for the reasons I will outline below. (Profile 474)

In the first one, the interviewer said "I've got 20 minutes to ask you academic questions" and so he did. I got given some graphs showing insulin concentration in the blood to talk about.

In the second interview, I was given a can of Heinz Baked Beans to talk about!!! I also had to talk about my interests, which led to a discussion about sport and health. I was shown some histology (microscope images of body tissue) pictures to analyse as well. (Profile 27)

There were two subject specific interviews. They went reasonably well. The interviewer will keep pushing you and you will inevitably feel uncomfortable and often quite embarrassed. The key is to keep working at any problem you are given, even if your logic is a bit patchy at times. As long as you get to the solutions in a relatively logical manner, you will be fine. (Profile 618)

The first interview was general, and was pretty friendly. Two interviewers, who were talking to me about why I wanted to do medicine, relevant things I'd read recently, and generally asking about me. The second was subject based, and was scarier. Just one interviewer, who asked me one of the essays I hadn't answered in the MVAT paper. Also asked me about nerves - a topic I hadn't covered yet in Biology. He was looking for what I could work out, rather than what I knew. (Profile 237)

What questions were you asked during your interview(s)?

In my first interview I was asked expected questions such as why did I want to become a doctor and what the positives and negatives of life as a doctor were etc. This was followed by questions on the ethics of Professor von Haegan's televised dissection. Here I tried to explain why proponents of both sides of the argument thought what they thought and then gave and reasoned my own opinion. I was then asked what I thought the biggest advances in medicine in the past twenty years were and what diseases were the biggest killers. I was finally asked how blood is returned to the heart. In my second interview I was asked again why I wanted to be a doctor and why I wanted to study at Christ's and Cambridge. I was then asked to explain how embryonic stem cells differentiate into specialised tissue and this led on once again to questions on the ethics of this. We finished by the interviewer asking me to take him through the process of evolution with reference to the shells he had in front of him. In my final interview I really thought I'd messed up. He fist asked me again why I wanted to be a doctor etc and then said that since this was the college of Darwin we should perhaps talk about evolution and speciation. He asked me what a species was and how speciation took place. I messed this up but instead of giving me another bite at the cherry he continued to talk for a long time. I hadn't said much after about ten minutes and was getting worried and so I started to interject with hopefully intelligent questions and comments E.G. "Is that an example of positive feedback?" and "Is that similar to the recent sequencing of the mouse genome?" etc. Each time I said something, the usual reply was that I was correct but only partially or that there was a better answer. I came out feeling like I'd blown it but in hindsight having received an offer I think that the interviewer was looking for me to engage him in discussion and make rational propositions which showed thought even if they weren't correct. Don't let me put you off, the interviewer was extremely nice, I just didn't like it because I thought I'd messed up. Be confident but not cocky. If you have any questions just e-mail me, I'd like to help if I can. (Profile 474)

Really odd questions, i had to devise experiments and everytime i answered the interviewer would say "good, but pretend i dont believe you, give me another answer!" I was asked "why dont proteins fall out of membranes" questions on BSE and prions and loads of other random questions that i really didnt know the answers to- i just made up some logiacal stuff and they seemed to like it (Profile 132)

I was asked to explain the membrane (biphospholipid layer) and also what would I do to prove that it really is that. I was also asked bout my school trip to Manchester,and my opinion on the trip, etc (Profile 317)

Mostly AS Biology, Chemistry and Physics. Make sure you, not only know what bullet points of the specification are examined at AS, but also the conceptual knowledge behind them. It is key that you understand your subject well. (Profile 618)

General biology-related stuff, all very medical and the sort of questions you had to think around rather than having an instant answer. There was some stuff about blood circulation and also mother/baby immune system interactions, and some questions about a skull. (Profile 204)

What advice do you have for potential applicants based on your experiences?

Read around your subject. Try your best and if you don't suceed be glad you tried. Don't apply if you can't handle being rejected. The most important thing for me was to become a doctor; Cambridge was an afterthought. (Profile 474)

Read a few science journals, and look around online for nuggets of science and health info. But really, there is only a limited amount of preparation you can do. Just relax and talk at the interview - talk as much as you can. The longer you can talk, the more impressed they will be (as long as you are not just waffling) and the less time they have to ask you questions. (Profile 27)

Read up a lot about medical related stuff. Read new scientist and stuff like that. If you have a genuine interst, they will see it. (Profile 132)

Read around your subject, ie for medicine pop-sciency books such as Richard Dawkins, Matt Ridley and also New Scientist. Aside from being really interesting anyway it gives you something to talk about in the interview. (Profile 204)