UCAT
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What Parents Need to Know About Undergraduate Medical Admission

Published on
April 15, 2024
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Is your child looking to study medicine? Well, first of all, congratulations to you because medicine is a rewarding and well-respected career. Your child is certainly amongst the ambitious and bright few who look to pursue a career in medicine. However, getting into medicine can be very demanding. Every year, medical schools receive thousands of applications, of which only a handful are successful.

So, it is important that you are there alongside your child, providing the necessary support and guidance throughout this stressful yet rewarding journey. In this article we will cover the different pathways to get into medicine, with a focus on undergraduate applications. We will hone in on the specific requirements of an undergraduate application, like the UCAT, and discuss how your child can maximize their chances of admission.

Pathways To Medicine In Australia

In Australia, there are two main pathways into medicine, the undergraduate, often referred to as direct entry, and the graduate route. Both routes have slightly different requirements and expectations but are both highly competitive. Academic success, high aptitude test scores and stellar interview performances are required to make the cut.

To filter the large number of applications medical programs receive, universities usually employ cut-offs around academic and test scores. Students who ‘make the cut’ are then invited for interviews, but the final decision is usually a holistic one where the students’ performance across all factors is considered before making an offer.

Undergraduate Medicine In Australia

For the direct entry, or undergraduate route, students apply during or after completing their Year 12 studies. ATAR is very important for these applications. Usually, any ATAR below 90 will be considered too low to get into medicine. On top of that, almost all universities require sitting the University Clinical Aptitude Test (UCAT).

The UCAT is an aptitude exam which gauges a candidate’s aptitude for clinical study. It lasts for 2 hours across five sections, where a range of abilities, including mathematical reasoning, comprehension, pattern recognition, are assessed. The test is scored out of 900; usually a UCAT score in excess of 670 is considered competitive enough to meet the threshold for medicine at most universities.

Undergraduate applications will usually go in with just these two scores, the ATAR and the UCAT. Candidates will then be invited for a medical interview, which could vary significantly in its structure and design across universities. Usually, a high degree of maturity and professionalism is expected of candidates willing to embark on the journey of becoming doctors. This is tested in the interview process, where the best and brightest are selected.

The final decision is taken holistically, considering all factors—the ATAR, UCAT, and the interview. The undergraduate route is preferred by students because it usually takes 5-6 years to complete medical study, as compared to a minimum of 7 years (three years undergraduate degree plus four years post-graduate medicine) in the graduate route. One could save 1-2 years depending on their circumstances.

Graduate Medicine In Australia

The graduate route involves applying after completing an undergraduate degree. Applicants come from all sorts of backgrounds, from arts to biomedical sciences—really, anyone interested in medicine can apply if they meet the specific university prerequisites. Graduate applications, like undergraduate applications, begin with two scores, the GPA and the Graduate Medical School Admissions Test (GAMSAT).

The GAMSAT is the UCAT alternative of an aptitude test, and the GPA is the ATAR alternative of academic performance. Interview calls are made based on these initial scores, and, just as the undergraduate route, the final decision is most often a holistic one.

Although these routes might seem like alternatives, they are not. It just depends on one’s preparedness and motivation to pursue medicine out of high school. If one is certain medicine is what they want to pursue, they can apply for undergraduate medicine. Even if they are unsuccessful, they can reapply through the graduate route three years later.

If your child is unsure about medicine out of high school, and wants some time to explore what’s out there, there’s always the option of applying via the graduate route. There’s virtually no time restriction with the graduate route. One can apply after an undergraduate degree, or even after a Ph.D.--the graduate route is always an option.

Undergraduate Medical Applications

The undergraduate route to medicine requires early preparation, at a time when a lot of people are not serious about life, and that is exactly what makes it challenging. The truth is, very few people are sure about what they want to do in life in high school. The level of motivation, maturity, and aptitude expected of undergraduate medicine applicants requires one to be well-prepared, focused, and serious about what they want to do in life.

Getting a high ATAR and UCAT score is crucial to an undergraduate application. The UCAT needs to be studied alongside an already demanding Year 12 curriculum. All of this can be very overwhelming; it means giving up on comfort, social life and holidays.

The level of motivation and focus required to build a good undergraduate application is high, and, arguably, too much to ask of most young high school students. Nonetheless, a few exceptional students are able to pull it off. It might be hard, but it is certainly possible with the right preparation. We will now cover individual aspects of the application and discuss what they entail and how to improve on them.

Your Child’s ATAR Requirement For Medicine In Australia

The ATAR score is a rank that all Year 12 students get based on their performance in Year 11 and 12 exams. The ATAR is a rank, expressed as a percentile. For instance, an ATAR of 70 means that one was in the top 30% of their year group in Australia. Medical schools use the ATAR to rank applicants. Only if one falls in the top 10% of the country can one hope to get into medicine. This means that any ATAR below 90 is not considered competitive enough to get into medicine.

The journey to get a high ATAR can be a challenging one. ATAR results are made up of 50% school examinations and 50% exams. This 50-50 split means that a student’s performance needs to be consistently high throughout the year—performing well in school examinations as well as final external state-wide exams. This requires focus and motivation.

A Parents’ role in this is as crucial as the students’ role. You need to ensure that your child is provided with all the resources, time, and comfort to be able to perform consistently. The environment at home can have a big impact on your child’s performance. Make sure there’s peace and quiet at home for your child to study. Play your part by consistently offering them encouragement to keep them motivated, because what they’re trying to achieve is indeed challenging.

Preparing My Child For UCAT

The UCAT is a compulsory aptitude test required by most undergraduate medical schools in Australia. It is designed to assess certain key skills that are required to be a successful medical student. The exam is only two hours long and requires extreme concentration and practice to execute well.

The UCAT is unique in that it doesn’t assess any content. All sections have questions that require no pre-requisite knowledge, apart from quantitative reasoning, which requires knowledge of basic math topics.  This feature makes the exam challenging for a lot of high school students because this is not an exam style that they are accustomed to.

Throughout their studies until this point, your child has been trained to consume content and apply it in exam questions. This is not the case with the UCAT as the nature of the exam precludes high school exam strategies. The UCAT is certainly unchartered territory for high school students, needing special attention from both you and your child.

How Can My Child Get A High UCAT Score?

So, how does a high school student do well in the UCAT? The answer lies not only in practice because students often hit a plateau with their scores not knowing how to improve further. Specific exam strategies are required to think appropriately and effectively to solve questions, such as those in verbal reasoning and pattern recognition. The role of teaching and coaching in this context becomes ever so important and because the UCAT is unlike anything your child would have come across to date, it is worth arranging extra resources towards it.

We here at Frasers offer a range of UCAT courses, ranging from quick weekend strategy courses to a comprehensive study scheme that provides over 10 hours of one-on-one tutoring. We have experienced tutors, who have been teaching successful UCAT strategies for a number of years.

The variety and expertise we offer means that depending on your circumstances, you can pick the course that’s right for you and your child. However, one thing is for certain: because of the nature of the UCAT exam and the difficult schedule that a lot of Year 12 students have, it is worth investing in getting professional help for UCAT preparation. This could prove to be the difference in your child getting into medicine.

The Medical School Interview

The initial application comprises the ATAR and UCAT, with offers for medical interview being offered to a select group of candidates. Invitations to interview are made predominantly on the basis of ATAR and UCAT scores. Given that your child meets the required thresholds—usually an ATAR of above 90, and a UCAT of above 670—an interview call is likely.

From that stage onwards, the decision of UCAT, ATAR, and interview weighting varies from medical school to medical school. It could be that case that some schools will weigh one’s interview performance higher, and therefore, even with high academic and aptitude scores, one could be rejected.

Others will take the opposite view. Therefore, it is best to think of the process as the ATAR and UCAT getting one to the interview stage, and from that stage onwards, everything depends on how impressed the admission committee are with your child’s personality, motivation, and awareness demonstrated in their interview.

Other Considerations For Your Child’s Med School Admission

There are other factors that will also influence your child’s chances of getting into medicine. The first of these is Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander status. There are reserved positions from students from Aboriginal backgrounds, and preference is given to such students over other ethnicities. So, if you, or your child classifies themselves as an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person, your child could have a smoother path into undergraduate medicine.

The second most important factor is rurality. Medical schools generally give preference to applicants from rural or regional areas of Australia. The reason for this is the shortage of doctors in those areas. In order to classify as a rural applicant, you need to either be residing in a rural area for a cumulative period of ten years, or five or more consecutive years at any point in your child’s life. Some universities offer dedicated pathways for rural applicants, such as Tasmania and Monash. A rural status could increase your child’s chances of securing a place in medical school, therefore it is worth-while considering whether or not they qualify.

How Do I Help My Child Apply To Medical School?

The process for undergraduate medical applications depends on where your child is applying in Australia. Applications for undergraduate medicine are usually made through portals, such as VTAC and UAC. VTAC covers Victorian undergraduate applications, whereas UAC mainly covers ACT and NSW. There are similar portals that exist for applications to South Australia, Western Australia, and the Northern Territory. However, some universities, such as Tasmania, require submission through their own dedicated portals.

Because application processes vary from university to university, it is best to check the process on the admissions webpage before applying. Generally, the application process will involve filling out an application form with personal details and providing details of ATAR and UCAT scores.

Where To From Here?

This article provided a bird’s eye view to medical school applications in Australia, focusing particularly on undergraduate applications.

We hope you found this article helpful, and we would be more than happy to field any further questions that you may have regarding UCAT and your child’s application to medicine. To learn more about the UCAT and its preparation strategies, visit our website and read our range of freely resourced articles to gain an in-depth understanding of the exam. 

We also have specific articles that discuss the common myths around the UCAT. It is worthwhile to understand the actualtiies of the exam and not succumb to false information. This way your child can have a guided approach to ace the exam. We also have information on ATAR requirements to enter undergraduate medical degrees in Australia.