Getting into Medical or Dental School During COVID-19: FAQs

Admissions

6/14/2021

The pandemic changed the shape of medical and dental admissions in 2020. In 2021, the picture is always changing, so bookmark our live updates page to stay up-to-date.

Whatever happens, don't worry. Learn how to get into medical school and just stay flexible if and when minor changes to the admissions process occur.

Q. Will the UCAT definitely go ahead in 2021?

Q. Will all UCAT test centres be open?

  • Pearson VUE testing centres are currently open for testing in the United Kingdom. If you are planning to sit the UCAT outside the UK, refer to the official Pearson VUE website

Q. How will I know if the UCAT situation changes?

  • We will add updates if/when they have been confirmed (bookmark the page). You may also get an email from Pearson VUE if things change dramatically.

Q. Who makes the decision on whether the UCAT schedule will be changed, or if the UCAT will go ahead at all?

  • The UCAT Consortium will make decisions on any changes to be made to the UCAT following discussions with Pearson VUE and consultations with its consortium of medical and dental schools. Of course, these decisions will be made in accordance with government policies.

Q. Will my UCAT exam be postponed? 

  • The COVID-19 situation is always changing, but at present, it appears the UCAT will go ahead as planned. 

If you decide to reschedule, you can do it without charge if you notify the exam board in time. 

A student using a hand sanitiser to clean her hands

What about A-level and GCSE grades during Covid?

The government has confirmed that exams this year will not go ahead. Grades will be set by teachers. 

Pupils will only be assessed on what they have been taught.

Your subject teachers will ascertain your grade by collating evidence of your ability. Your teachers will have authority over what assessment format they provide and how they calculate the grades. 

The Department of Education has provided a framework on how grades should be awarded, but ultimately your subject teachers will decide what work they want to calculate your grade from and what style assessments to assign you.

Teachers can base their decision on a range of evidence, including the option of questions set by exam boards, mock exams, and coursework. They can also refer to any appropriate work completed during the course (essays and tests, for example). 

It has been confirmed that algorithms will not be used.

External regulations will take place to ensure the grades are awarded fairly, are not inflated due to bias and that all submitted work is not plagiarised. 

Learn more about getting the grades to get into medical school.

A-level grade FAQs

Will I be tested on the entire specification?

If your class hasn’t collectively learned a specific topic and are not going to, it should not appear on your assessment materials. You will only be tested on material you have been taught. Teachers may make the decision to omit certain topics or content from assessment materials if lockdown has prevented students from learning the topic sufficiently. 

When does the academic year finish?

The deadline for your teachers to submit your grades is 18th of June. You would have already completed any work or assessments that count towards your grades before this date. Therefore we expect Year 13 to finish their academic year at the latest in June, but it may be earlier as no dates have been released yet.

When will I know my final grade?

Officially, you receive your finalised A-Level results on the 10th of August. Your teacher may give you an indication of your grade before their submission in June.

Can I sit official A-Level exams if I’m not happy with my grades?

Yes. The information regarding this has yet to be confirmed but there will be an exam series run in Autumn 2021. Ofqual has proposed that these may take place in October.

TIPS

  • Ask your teachers what to expect. Examples of questions to ask include when your assessments will take place, and what formats your assessments will take (e.g. how many tests, will they be in an exam hall or informally in the classroom, and how will the subject’s content be distributed between the tests).
  • Ask your teacher for direct advice. Determine where they are placing their attention the most in terms of evidence. E.g. if they say that an upcoming mock will be particularly influential in your grade, it would be smart to prioritise that revision. Your teacher may tell you directly what to dedicate most of your time to.
  • Use past paper resources. It’s possible your teachers may use past paper questions as part of their evaluation of your grade so this will make sure you are best prepared.
  • Make sure there are no gaps in your knowledge so you are prepared for any assessments coming up. Take every exam seriously as your teachers may use strong test scores as evidence.
  • Complete any coursework to the best of your ability if this may be used as evidence.

How will COVID-19 affect my UCAT personal statement?

Should I Write About COVID-19?

Before you start writing about COVID-19, reflect on your past six months and think about what your experience was like during the pandemic:

Minimal impact: You had to attend online classes, spend more time at home, and couldn’t meet up with friends.

Serious impact: Your family went through serious financial hardship, you or your loved one(s) became sick due to COVID-19, or you were incredibly stressed during the lockdown.

Positive impact: COVID-19 made you think more deeply about the healthcare system and the sacrifice that healthcare workers made. You were also able to reflect on your life, and possibly developed a constructive habit or initiated a project.

If you were impacted minimally, don’t write about COVID-19 in your personal statement. In other cases, it may be worth considering.

If you’ve decided to write about COVID-19 in your personal statement, don’t overdo it and dedicate only a part of your personal statement to the COVID-19 experience.

COVID-19 will be a very common topic this year. Unless you’ve gone through an exceptional, life-changing experience, it would be really hard for your personal statement to stand out among thousands of others if you solely focus on the pandemic.

Learn about how to craft a brilliant UCAS personal statement for medicine or dentistry.

Think About the Purpose of Your Personal Statement

Your personal statement is not a place where you simply list or describe your hardships, including COVID-19. The description of your experience should be followed by how you’ve demonstrated or developed various qualities, values and skillsets desired by medical schools.

For example, simply writing that your parents were made redundant as a result of COVID-19 and your family went through a period of severe hardship doesn’t say much about you. This advice also applies at interview. Interviewers may well drill down on your personal statement in detail.

A number of students wearing a mask to protect themselves from COVID-19

How can I apply to volunteer for the NHS during COVID-19?

What roles are available to support the NHS during COVID-19? 

Community Response Volunteer 

You help the most vulnerable in self-isolation by delivering essential supplies such as medicines and food to the doorstep of their home.

Patient Transport Volunteer 

You drive patients home who have been discharged after treatment. This role will require you to complete a DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) check.

NHS Transport Volunteer 

You deliver medical equipment, supplies and medicines between healthcare providers.

Check-in and Chat Volunteer 

You contact the most vulnerable self-isolation to give them over-the-phone support and comfort.

After registration

Once you have registered and have been approved you will have access to the active daily volunteer tasks via the GoodSAM app. You can pick the tasks you want to do within your local area and mark them complete once done. The GoodSAM app allows you to display yourself as available so healthcare providers can request your assistance too. 

All volunteer roles will require a form of photographic identification but only the 'patient transport volunteer' role requires a DBS check. 

All volunteers will receive a 'Getting Started Pack' with information about social-distancing rules and other protective measures.

These volunteering roles are only available to those who are over 18, fit and without any Coronavirus symptoms.

What work experience alternatives are available during COVID-19?

Work experience alternatives during COVID-19

Media

Note: stick to reliable and trusted sites. While Wikipedia can be great, it is not advisable to mention this source in your UCAS personal statement or medical school interviews.

  • NHS Health Careers is perfect for gaining a better understanding of all things medical, such as the role of a doctor, training as a doctor and working for the NHS.
  • YouTube has a wealth of NHS junior doctor vloggers who discuss and show the reality of their working days in hospitals to give their viewers a good understanding of what the role really involves. Dr Hope's Sick Notes is a great channel where he openly shares his experiences, the pros and cons of medicine and how being a junior doctor influences his personal life.

Sign up for virtual services

  • Observe GP is a free online interactive platform that allows you to observe GPs in action - not live, of course, but this gives you the opportunity to virtually shadow GPs. 

Even before COVID-19 gaining work experience was very difficult but now the Royal College of General Practice has made it possible virtually.

‍Read to gain insight

Reading the autobiographies and biographies of junior doctors, consultants and surgeons is another way to gain insight into the world of medicine. 

Top 5 books to read before medical school.

This genre of reading material provides great details on managing example case-studies, the issues that surrounded them and how they were and/or could have been managed better or differently. 

If you find it hard to focus when reading, listen to our top 5 medical podcasts.

‍Volunteering during COVID-19:

This option should only be considered after careful consideration of the risks to your family and those you volunteer to help. 

You can check with your local council’s website for volunteer placements to help people who are isolated and do not have support during COVID-19 quarantine. 

If all else fails

If none of the above works, think about where else would be good to do work experience in the future when COVID-19 has calmed down and prepare an application.

Think about your past non-medical work experience. For example, how could you use your retail work experience to your advantage in your medical or dental school application? Think about which skills are transferable; the clear communication you used for customer care, for example, is also needed for patient care.

COVID-19 and the UCAT: How to Deal with Anxiety and Stress

Mindfulness is one of the key ways to combat anxiety. We deal with the subject in greater depth in our mindfulness tips for exams article

The information you digest affects your mental health. Limit your exposure to stress-inducing stimuli. Consider carefully what you expose yourself to.

You could also try an app. The Calm app aims to help you ‘sleep more, stress less and live better’. That's got to be useful when you’re preparing for a big test like the UCAT.

There’s also Headspace, which has a similarly healthy following amongst people who’d like to balance their mood during times of high stress.

Other stress-reducing activities

Taking a short walk in a green area. According to an article published in Nature, ‘Spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and wellbeing’.

Exercise - releases endorphins in your brain, and helps to relax your muscles and relieve tension. Don’t forget that the body and mind are closely linked, so this will also affect your mental health.

Where can I study during COVID-19?

If you are unable to study in places like public libraries, school libraries, computer labs, and local cafés, you need to make your home environment as low-stress and productive as possible.

Noise. This can be a problem at home, from other people chatting or the TV, to siblings playing music. Try earphones or better still try earplugs if you have any accessible. 

Time of day.  When does your home environment tend to quieten down each day? This is the time to get some peaceful, undisturbed study done. This might be during the early hours of the morning or mid-evening.

Summary

  • The UCAT 2021 will go ahead this year, despite COVID-19.
  • As exams are cancelled, the UCAT is more important than ever. Get a head start with our UCAT prep course.
  • Work experience is still possible during COVID-19; look at remote and alternative options.
  • Relieving stress is critical - think about techniques to find your calm.

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