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.
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, and (3) the support of senior students who can help you with your application and answer any questions you might have.
Thus, 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, and 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’s just down to you whether you feel spending £129 on the UKCAT Crash Course is worth it in return for what you get out of it. We certainly think it is, but we would never presume to say that it’s essential in order to do well.
Preparation courses – A shortcut:
When you attend these courses, what you’re really getting is a shortcut to preparing for the exams. For example, you can easily prepare for section 2 of BMAT by looking through CGP guides and finding the relevant areas, and then revising those topics. That is, incidentally, exactly what I did when I was preparing for BMAT, because the Kaplan course wasn’t helpful at all and I needed to ensure I knew all the Science they were likely to ask. If you attend the BMAT Crash Course, you get a booklet which basically has revision notes for all 3 sciences in a coherent format, in one place. Is it necessary? No. Is it helpful? Yes.
For the UKCAT, you can’t really ‘revise’ for it per se, and only find ways of getting to the correct answers as quickly and accurately as possible. You’ll find that the UKCAT Crash Course pretty much covers all the ways of saving time, as well as strategies to help you reach the correct answer. We’re confident we know what works because a large group of us sit down every year and pool all our knowledge and personal experience in order to create and continuously update a high-yield, one-day course.
In that sense, preparation courses are useful because the pre-work, so to speak, has already been done for you. You don’t need to spent time finding the resources, or even just figuring out which strategies are best – you just need to practice. Which brings me to my second point – 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 UKCAT, there’s no way you’re going to remember or internalize everything you were taught on a one/two-day course 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 attend 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 shortcuts and techniques (and hopefully properly and fully understand them) 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 ABSOLUTELY NO “insider knowledge” that makes them qualified to teach the courses. The guys who teach at Kaplan, Blackstone tutors, Oxbridge Applications (and yes, BMAT and UKCAT Crash Courses) are just medical students (I’ve met a lot of them in my time at Cambridge), who did well on the tests themselves, and therefore feel qualified to teach you.
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: attending the course makes 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 UKCAT 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 qualified and 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 another article in itself, but for us, alongside a passion for teaching and a top UKCAT 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.
I’m not sure how true this is of other companies, but what you also get when you attend one of our courses is the support and mentorship of students who have achieved what you’re aiming to achieve. I know that sounds unbelievably arrogant, but it’s true – when I was applying, having students in senior years who could give application, personal statement and interview advice was really helpful. If you’ve got friends who can do that in the year above, that’s perfect – make sure to ask them for help. If not, that’s what we’re here for. We give all of our students our personal email addresses so they can email us with any enquiries or issues they might have. Some even added us on Facebook – that’s totally cool as well. We’re happy to help, and really do want you to succeed.
So in conclusion, at the end of the day, you need to decide if you feel spending money on a preparation course is worth it. I attended Kaplan’s BMAT course, which cost £330 and got absolutely nothing out of it (except the 5 papers, which admittedly, were quite useful). I’ve heard though, that their UKCAT course is better and actually does help (though it still costs £330, which is an obscene amount of money). The BMAT and UKCAT 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.
This has been longer than I thought it would, but just to sum up: preparation courses are not necessary, but they are helpful. It’s up to you to decide whether that £129 (or £330) is worth it for the materials, teaching and support that you get.
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