The BMAT is split into three sections, each of which tests a different set of skills. Section 1 tests your problem-solving and critical thinking abilities using a variety of question types. In this article, we will outline some top tips to help you achieve top marks in Section 1 of the BMAT.
Understand the difference between Problem Solving and Critical Thinking questions
Section 1 consists entirely of 32 multiple-choice questions. There are always five answer options, only one of which is correct.
There are two main types of questions in Section 1:
- Problem Solving: These questions test your numerical ability using prior mathematical knowledge and skills.
- Critical Thinking: These questions test your comprehension by asking you to identify conclusions, assumptions and flaws based on a given passage of text.
We will go through each of these question types, in turn, outlining some top tips for each.
This section uses simple concepts of number, spatial reasoning, numerical operations, and quantities which you will have been taught at GCSE level. It is useful to familiarise yourself with the specific prior knowledge needed using the Section 1 question guide available on the Cambridge Assessment Admissions Testing website.
Top tips for Problem Solving questions
- Learn some tricks to speed up your mental maths
Calculators are not permitted in the BMAT, so it is handy to know some shortcuts which may speed up your calculations during section 1.
For example, using multiplier values for percentages is often quicker than the conventional methods. It is also useful to familiarise yourself with and practise skills such as long division and multiplication.
- ‘Draw out’ the information given
Remember that for the BMAT, you will always have space to carry out your own working if needed. Problem-solving questions will often be wordy, and it will be up to you to extract the relevant information and solve it mathematically. One way to help with this is to represent the information provided in the form of equations or diagrams.
For example, the phrase ‘Andrea always has two more apples than Bart’ could be represented in an equation as A = B + 2. If the question is about sequences, directions, or shapes, it may be helpful to make a rough sketch as you are working out.
- Practise spatial reasoning!
Spatial reasoning questions are a subtype of problem solving questions and ask you to visualise a shape in two or three dimensions to solve problems. Most commonly, this will be in the form of shape transformations or drawing nets for three-dimensional shapes.
Students often find spatial reasoning questions difficult to revise for, as spatial awareness cannot always be taught. You may find it useful to sketch a quick diagram as you are working out to help you visualise particular shapes and transformations.
It is also helpful to rule out incorrect answers as soon as you spot them. For example, if you realise that a particular net is impossible given the diagram provided, disregard the answer option immediately. As with all questions, if the working out is taking too long, make an educated guess, taking into account the answers you have eliminated, and return to the question at the end.
- Try to save time with problem-solving questions
The BMAT is a very time-pressured exam, and in section 1 many candidates find that Critical Thinking questions are more time-consuming. By practising problem-solving questions under timed conditions and maximising efficiency, you will have more time to answer Critical Thinking questions.
Remember that there is no negative marking in the BMAT, so if a question is taking too long, make an educated guess and return to it at the end if there is time!
Many candidates find critical thinking questions more challenging, as they are unlike anything you will have been taught in school. The focus of critical thinking questions is on a single argument, made up of a number of reasons leading to a conclusion. The question stem will ask you to evaluate the argument and assess some of its key features.
Top tips for Critical Thinking questions
- Learn the features of an argument
There are three features of arguments you will be expected to know for section 1 of the BMAT:
- Reasons: These are the statements which are put forward for a conclusion to be drawn. The reasons are always accepted as true for the purposes of the BMAT.
- Conclusions: This should follow logically from the reasons given. Conclusions can be identified as they may be introduced by words such as ‘so’ and ‘therefore’.
- Assumptions: These are crucial parts of the argument which have not been stated, I.e. beliefs which have been taken for granted.
Every argument should have distinct reasons and logical conclusions. Understanding the terminology used will help you to distinguish answer options for Critical Thinking questions.
- Identify assumptions and flaws
It is important to understand the differences between assumptions and flaws in order to answer Critical Thinking questions accurately. An assumption is not stated in the text but must be true in order for the conclusion to be drawn. A flaw occurs when the conclusion cannot logically follow the reasoning provided.
For example, if we are given the following passage:
All insects are animals. Some animals have six legs. There is an insect in front of me, therefore, it must have six legs.
We can deduce that this logic is flawed. There is an underlying assumption that all insects have six legs, however, we do not know whether this is the case from the text alone. Therefore, the conclusion that this animal has six legs does not logically follow from the information provided.
- Learn how to approach a Critical Thinking question
While preparing for the UCAT, you may have been taught to read the answer options first and then look at the question stem. Conversely, for Critical Thinking questions, it is important to read the passage first, as doing otherwise may lead to bias. For example, you may be tempted to draw a particular conclusion outlined in one of the answer options if you have already seen it.
It is also important that you only use the information provided to you in the question stem. Do not rely on any prior knowledge when answering the questions and try not to let your personal opinion sway your answer choices. Remember that you should determine the strength of an argument objectively based on the reasoning, logical conclusions, and the presence of any prior assumptions.
- Leave plenty of time for preparation!
Remember that the BMAT is an aptitude test, and your performance will be based on your preparation. It is important to leave enough preparation time to enable you to practise using past paper resources. Equally, it is important not to start too early, so that you don’t burn out! The ideal length of preparation time varies between students but for most people 4-6 weeks of preparation is plenty.
- Use the official resources
All the BMAT past papers are available online on the Cambridge Assessment Admissions Testing website. This is the most useful resource as the styles of the questions do not change much year on year.
For section 1 in particular, think about the wording of the Critical Thinking questions and identify what the question means by terms such as ‘flaws’ and ‘reasoning’. See if you can identify a pattern in which arguments are consistently selected as ‘strongest’ and ‘weakest’.
- Practise under timed conditions
It is useful to practise these questions under timed conditions using past paper materials from the Cambridge Assessment Admissions Testing website. Remember that 60 minutes are given for Section 1, meaning there are just under two minutes to answer each question.
Initially, you may find it useful to practise under untimed conditions until you have gained a better understanding of the different question types. Once you start to accurately answer most questions correctly, move onto timed practice.
- Most importantly, relax!
Being the first section, Section 1 can be quite intimidating. Try to relax as much as possible and treat the exam as if it is just another practice test. After all, the BMAT is a test of aptitude and your performance on the day will be affected by your prior state. Remember that the exam is designed to be tricky, but by using the top tips we have covered and putting in practice, you will achieve the best you can!
If you want help getting into your dream university then also be sure to check out our Elite Coaching Programme. As part of this programme, you will get in-depth help with the entire application process from whatever stage you join at till you get into the medical school of your choice. This is done through 1-on-1 mentoring and the founder of the course, Dr Ashley Hilton is always available for any questions. You can find out more about the Elite Programme here.
Written By Maria Skaria