Top tips on how to prepare for BMAT Section 1

What is Section 1?

Section 1 of the BMAT is a 60-minute test of Thinking Skills, described officially as a test of the ‘generic skills often required for undergraduate study’. Since it constitutes half the duration of the entire aptitude test and focuses on more abstract intellectual capabilities over scientific understanding, it can seem like a pretty daunting first hurdle on the road to a strong BMAT score. On the other hand, with only 32 questions and an hour in which to answer them, Section 1 arguably gives candidates a lot more room for manoeuvre if you don’t get your timings quite right.

What sorts of questions come up?

The section has been given something of a makeover for 2020, leaving fewer questions than before (down from 35) and none covering ‘Data Analysis and Inference’, which tended to involve interpreting graphs and statistical information. Plenty hasn’t changed, though: as in previous years, all questions take a multiple-choice format and calculators may not be used.

From 2020 onwards, questions will fall into two categories, with 16 questions in each of Problem Solving and Critical Thinking. They will be presented in rough order of difficulty, with questions from the two groups interspersed throughout.

Problem Solving

This looks at how you handle numerical information in three different ways:

• Relevant Selection – filter through a large amount of information, some of which may be redundant or simply irrelevant, and draw conclusions from the details that matter
• Finding Procedures – determine and apply appropriate mathematical operations to generate an answer, usually from a relatively small amount of information
• Identifying Similarity – interpret complementary data sources, typically presented in different ways (e.g. tables or different chart types), and make compatible inferences

Critical Thinking

This assesses your ability to recognise important features of logical arguments, namely:

• Identifying the Main Conclusion – as opposed to statements that are not made in the passage or statements that are made but are not the main point of the argument
• Drawing a Conclusion – something that isn’t stated explicitly in the passage but is consistent with the force of the argument
• Identifying an Assumption – not stated but taken as a given to enable the conclusion to be drawn
• Assessing the Impact of Additional Evidence – statements that would significantly strengthen or weaken the argument in the passage
• Detecting Reasoning Errors – identifying flaws that prevent the conclusion from following coherently from the evidence and underlying assumptions
• Matching Arguments – spotting identical logical processes between the passage and one of the answer options, even when they relate to different subjects
• Applying Principles – working out the underlying principle or opinion in the passage and selecting an answer that is consistent with it

How do I prepare?

Of course, the best way to prepare for Section 1 is by looking through sample questions and past papers, ideally under timed conditions as exam day approaches. The recent specification change unfortunately means that no past papers are entirely representative of the new format – but if you ignore the Data Analysis and Inference questions, previous years’ papers still contain many suitable questions.

Take a look at our list of tips [link] for some excellent specifics on preparing for and sitting Section 1. One key message is that longer-term preparation will be especially valuable for Section 1, since the close textual analysis it involves is usually further from an aspiring medic’s comfort zone than the science of Section 2. If you have any persistent difficulties with any aspect of either Problem Solving or Critical Thinking, don’t hesitate to ask for help from one of our Medic Mind BMAT tutors.

How is it marked?

Each question carries one mark, with no marks deducted for an incorrect answer, and total raw marks are converted to scores between 1 (low) and 9 (high). The median score tends to be around 5.0 and normally corresponds to roughly half marks. 6.0 or more is an excellent score, achieved by around 10% of test-takers, and very few candidates score more than 7.0. Even so, you can get a few questions wrong and still achieve a perfect 9.0!

What are your top tips for BMAT Section 1?

Taking half the total duration of the BMAT, Section 1 can seem pretty intimidating, especially as it doesn’t sit in the more familiar territory of scientific aptitude like Section 2. That’s why we have prepared our top 10 tips for Section 1. Be sure to check out what is in Section 1 of the BMAT in our previous post, so you fully understand what is required.

1 Learn the rules of critical thinking

It is important that you are able to understand and identify factors within arguments such as conclusions, supporting evidence, assumptions made, flaws, strengths and weaknesses. In order to do so, you must be able to understand the argument at hand. Luckily, ‘critical thinking’ of this sort is more than just a nebulous concept – it’s an academic discipline in its own right, and there are many introductory materials on the subject in libraries and online.

Develop a consistent technique for tackling questions based on long passages of text. Read the question first; then decide whether you prefer reading the passage itself before or after the answer options. Both have their merits; we advocate reading the passage first because it gives you the opportunity to form an answer based on the passage alone without having prior knowledge of the answer options potentially cloud your judgement or even affect your memory of what was actually in the passage. Whatever you do, practise your technique and stick to it on exam day.

3 Don’t be thrown by large amounts of information

As of 2020, Section 1 has been updated so that you’ll no longer be faced with questions directly testing data analysis and inference. Even so, Section 1 will still be all about your ability to spot key details hidden among lots of extra information. So it’s worth reminding yourself that most of the information you’re given will be useless and is there as a distraction! Your task is simply to hone in on the stuff that matters.

Building on the psychological advice of the last tip, we specifically advise that you get into the habit of skim reading. You’ve probably heard of it and may do it to some extent already, but in exam situations we tend to stress and try to read every single word of every sentence, which takes time and is proven not to increase comprehension. Try to get a basic overview of what you read, looking particularly for keywords,  and then look in more depth at the section of text or data set that contains the answer.

It may sound silly but brush up on your times tables and your ability to square and cube numbers in your head. As well as being able to convert between fractions and decimals. These simple things will save you valuable time in your exam.

6 Use a process of elimination

As with any multiple choice exam, you’ve simply got to use a process of elimination, which both increases your chances of being correct and saves you time. It’s especially useful when the BMAT examiners ask you to identify combinations of correct or incorrect statements from a given selection.

7 Move straight on after you’ve answered a question

It’s tempting (and comforting) to re-read questions you think you’ve answered correctly before moving on. In fact, these are the very last questions you should think about looking at again since they’re the ones you’re most likely to have got right. You’ll spot this tip in our advice on Section 2 of the BMAT, but it’s particularly useful for the long and complex questions of Section 1, which, if you want to re-read, are best attempted with a fresh pair of eyes.

8 Develop and overall gameplan, and stick to it

Plan how you’re going to divide your time and practise sticking to it rigorously. Work out how many seconds you intend to spend on each question on average and set yourself strict benchmarks for the number of questions you need to have completed by certain points during the paper. This may or may not include time for checking, and that’s up to you.

9 Find a revision strategy that works for you

As a future medic, you probably prefer numbers and charts to blocks of text – so don’t expect your Section 1 revision to work in the same way as your Section 2 or A Level revision. Factor in extra breaks, plan a longer-term strategy to your preparation and be sympathetic to yourself in terms of the amount of time you’ll be prepared to spend on Section 1 each day!

10 Use the full range of practice materials

As with many exams, ultimately to get better you need to practice, practice again, and then practice some more! Make use of the official BMAT Section 1 specimen papers, as well as Medic Mind’s specially-prepared mock questions and full papers. Finally, when it comes to critical thinking, remember that these skills are supposed to be relevant to everyday life: try applying your newfound analytical capabilities to the argument made in newspapers and magazines, or even by your friends and family..!

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