Someone asked this question on The Student Room a while back, so I thought I’d write up my take on the topic here, being as honest and pragmatic as possible. Let’s answer the question – are preparation courses useful?
The Short Answer
What do you get when you attend a preparation course? You get:
1) Medical students who can teach you the techniques they used to do well.
2) Top study materials that save you from having to do the prep work yourself.
3) The support of senior students who can help you with your application and answer any questions you might have.
All of the things provided by preparation courses are very useful, but, of course, they’re absolutely not essential. You can certainly use books and the internet to find some good resources, you could pick up tricks and techniques through diligent practice. If you need help with interview/personal statement related things, you can always ask your school teachers or students that you know in the year above.
Naturally, it may come down to you whether you want/can spend a decent amount of money on a UCAT or BMAT Preparation Course and if it will be worth the investment. We certainly think it is, but we would never presume to say that it’s essential in order to do well.
Preparation Courses vs Other Resources
When you participate in these courses, what you’re really getting is a curated collection of preparation resources designed to help you understand what the exam wants.
Revision resources for both exams are plentiful, and for some students, the basics may be enough to get them through these tests. However, the majority of students will find massive benefits from using additional resources.
What Preparation Resources are Available?
Your options for BMAT and UCAT preparation resources may seem overwhelming, especially as some of the best information isn’t found easily for free online. A quick search will typically find you some past papers, some video guides and a few blog posts from previous applicants. None of this is particularly in-depth and some of these sources may not be particularly reliable.
To take it a step further, there are various budget options for your exam revision. For example, you could prepare for Section 2 of BMAT by looking through a CGP guide to find the relevant areas to revise from. It’s inexpensive, trusted and easily available, but it’s not perfect. You’ll be paying for the whole thing, including the stuff that has no impact on your application whatsoever. And at the end of the day, it’s just a book, so what you can do with it is incredibly limited.
Then there are full preparation courses. The first thing to mention is that a good preparation course will have cherry-picked the best parts of the above resources. For you, there’s no searching required, everything will be there in one place for you. And that’s just the bare minimum! As these courses are created by experts, the information you’ll be getting will be even more in-depth and will help you understand the finer details of your exam.
With any revision plan, you’re going to need practice questions and mock papers to complete. Other resources may provide you with a good amount of questions or with detailed worked solutions that fully explain the answer, but it’s hard to find both. That is unless you’re looking at preparation courses!
Lastly, it’s nice to have a human element in your revision. Someone who you can ask a question to or someone with experience that can properly explain something you don’t understand. Whether it’s a one-day crash course or a one-to-one tuition session, having someone to help you through it is amazingly helpful!
Bear in mind, not every preparation course will contain everything we’ve discussed, some courses specialise in doing one thing extremely well. For example, 6med offers:
These provide you with hundreds of guides, including hours of video content, which cover everything that you would want to know about taking the exam.
Our selection of Ninja Platforms, including UCAT.Ninja and BMAT.Ninja, provide you with tons of tutorials and guides, as well as access to hundreds of practice questions, each with a fully worked solution. There are also mock papers to complete that test both your knowledge and exam technique.
These one-day courses are taught live by an expert tutor and aim to cover as much as possible in a concise and interactive manner. You’ll get a chance to work with other students and ask questions directly to an expert. You’ll also get resources to take home and use for your preparation.
Any one of these options could be exactly what you need to increase your knowledge or confidence for the exam! And if you feel that 2 or more of these would be helpful, a bundle is also available that includes all of the above and more! Bear in mind that these options are available for both UCAT and BMAT, as well as your interview and personal statement preparation.
"How Much Work will I need to do?"
As we’ve discussed, one of the major benefits of a preparation course is the convenience they provide. Preparation courses are useful because the pre-work, so to speak, has already been done for you. You don’t need to spend time finding the resources, or even just figuring out which strategies are best – you just need to practice.
But that’s the major thing to consider – preparation courses are totally pointless if you don’t put the practice in yourself. With BMAT, you might pick up a few extra points in Section 2 because a course taught you some physics that you didn’t know before, but with BMAT section 1, and all of UCAT, there’s no way you’re going to remember or internalize everything you were taught on a one/two-day course or in a collection of videos without reinforcing it with practice.
A lot of the time, students think of these preparation courses as magic bullets that will instantly get them a decent grade. That is absolutely not the case. If you do participate in a course, you need to put just as much practice time into the exams as those who didn’t attend – the benefits are that you’ve been taught proven techniques for tackling the exam, and have the resources you need all in one place.
It’s important to say that the people teaching the courses have no “insider knowledge” that makes them qualified to teach the courses. The guys who teach at Kaplan, Blackstone tutors, Oxbridge Applications (and yes, 6med) are all medical students who did well on the tests themselves.
Did they make these techniques up themselves? Probably not – again, a lot of it comes down to doing the pre-work in finding the strategies that work. These courses make it easier for the majority of students because the work has already been done for you. That doesn’t mean it’s necessarily always easy finding the best strategies and techniques, especially when the UCAT changes almost every year with new question types and sections being added/removed.
And with learning anything yourself, it’s not always clear-cut what you have to do and some topics can be more difficult to understand. Having a highly talented teacher around to explain difficult concepts, point out weaknesses, as well as highlight important tips and tricks from their own personal experience, is something that’s hard to replace by reading a book or browsing the internet.
What makes a good teacher is a whole other subject, but for us, alongside a passion for teaching and a top UCAT score, they should be strong communicators, with a dash of flair and a great sense of humour. We get over 60+ medical students apply for 2 or 3 coveted teaching spots every year, so rest assured you’ll be in safe hands if you don’t understand anything.
So, are preperation courses worth it?
At the end of the day, you need to decide if you feel spending money on a preparation course is worth it. Every student is different and some are naturally able to revise easily without much help, but that’s not to say every student needs to be this way. Getting help is only natural and no university is expecting you to ace the exam with little or no preparation.
What about 6med in particular, what makes our courses worth the price? Our courses, such as the BMAT and UCAT Crash Courses were created because there was no “lower end” of the price bracket – The ~£129 that we charge for our courses is still a lot of money, but it’s far, far cheaper than the others out there, and judging by the feedback we get from our students every year, our courses are just as good (if not better) than the more expensive ones.
Just to sum up: preparation courses are not necessary, but they are helpful. It’s up to you to decide whether the money spent is worth it for the materials, teaching and support that you get.
If you decide it will be worth it, 6med provides the most effective preparation courses around!
We have options for every aspect of your application, from personal statement support to exam preparation and interview advice. Can’t decide what to pick? The Complete Bundle has you covered, with access to everything you’ll need for one low price!