Twenty two of the 23 English schools participating in the expansion programme admit applicants to a five year “traditional” medical course (one institution, not a separate medical school, admits students to study for phase I (two years) before being integrated with students from another school for phase II (three years) of the programme and because of this process we considered it as a separate medical school). Within this group are two schools that offer a non-foundation six year course, which includes a one year BSc/BA degree. We grouped schools into five categories depending on the steps taken to process the UCAS form and to decide whether or not to make an applicant an offer ().
Summary of processes undertaken by medical schools offering five year “traditional” course
Academic criteria— shows the academic criteria used by schools to identify applicants who would progress further in the assessment process. High A level grades (A or B in the exams taken at age 17-18) in two or more science subjects are a common requirement, but there is discordance with regard to the acceptability of A level re-sits (that is, exams passed at the required grade on a second or subsequent attempt).
Academic criteria for admission to English medical schools
Non-academic criteria—With the exception of two, all schools considered some aspect of non-academic criteria when assessing the student's personal statement and the referee's report presented in the UCAS application form. The non-academic criteria identified by each school varied in terms of number and nature but there was some commonality in terms of evidence of motivation for, and a commitment to, medicine; team working, leadership, and the acceptance of responsibility; a range of extracurricular interests; and experience of working in health or social care settings.
Short listing candidates for interview
The number of people involved in assessing applicants' UCAS forms ranged from one to 30 across schools. In four schools this involved lay people—that is, people who were not member of the academic or clinical staff, such as a local headteacher. Only 11 schools offered training for people assessing the UCAS forms, and within this group the nature of training varied considerably (). Among the schools that assessed non-academic criteria, 13 either double mark each form or involve the use of a second assessor if a form was rejected by the main assessor.
Shortlisting candidates for interview at medical school
Method of assessing the UCAS form
Of the 20 schools that scored UCAS forms on academic and non-academic criteria, 11 have complex scoring systems based on the allocation of marks (often from 0-3 or 0-5) for a set of predefined criteria, with written guidance to assist scoring. At six other schools assessment is less complex and aims to divide applicants into those who should or should not be called for interview, and those who are borderline. Of the remaining schools, one assesses the UCAS form on a combination of GCSE (general certificate of secondary education, taken at 15-16 years) results, predicted A level grades, and healthcare experience with other non-academic criteria coming into play only for applicants who fall short on this initial scoring, while another has developed an online questionnaire that all applicants complete. This is scored electronically, and the results are coupled with an assessor's scoring of the referee's statement. The last school did not reveal details of how the form was assessed.
Two schools use the biomedical admissions test (BMAT, a two hour paper developed by the University of Cambridge local examinations syndicate that tests critical thinking; www.bmat.org.uk
) to provide information additional to that presented on the UCAS form to select candidates, with one of these also requiring candidates to provide further background A level module scores. One other school has trialled the personal qualities assessment (PQA) tool but at present does not use it as part of the formal selection process. The PQA is an instrument designed to assess a range of personal qualities considered to be important for the study and practice of medicine, dentistry, and other health professions (www.pqa.net.au
). It comprises questions, grouped into three sections; the first measures cognitive skills, the other two measure relevant personality/attitudinal traits.
Who is on the panel?—Only one school suggested that it would be prepared to hold one-on-one interviews but that this would occur only if one of the designated interviewers for that day was unable to attend at the last minute—for example, as a result of illness. All other schools had a minimum of two or three examiners, with two schools explicitly preferring larger panels of four to five people. Interview panels invariably comprised at least one or more senior members of the academic/clinical staff. Ten schools included lay members, and six included senior medical students. All schools attempted to get a mix of men and women on the panel and, when possible, to have panellists from different ethnic backgrounds. As with the training of assessors of the UCAS forms, there was a range of different training provision between medical schools ().
The interview process at various medical schools
Interview format—Interviews were designed to draw out from candidates replies that would assist in assessing their performance against several prespecified categories (usually but not always correlating with the categories used to assess the UCAS form). Two schools had a standardised process where candidates were asked predetermined questions from a bank formulated by the school. All other schools, bar three, adopted a more mixed approach where questions were both predetermined and also interviewer led depending on the candidate's responses and statements on the UCAS form. At the remaining three schools questions were solely interviewer led but still directed to elicit information on pre-agreed criteria. Two schools have introduced variations to the simple question and answer approach within the interview. One has introduced questions to elicit information on communication skills based on a video viewed by candidates while waiting for their interview; at the other, candidates are given a question to consider, again while waiting for their interview, and which they are told they will be required to answer during their interview. Other schools are considering the introduction of problem solving tasks and group work as part of the interview process, though these components are not yet in place as part of the actual assessment.