Education Blog

Question: IB or A-levels: which should I take if I want to study medicine at university?

The Telegraph, 13 October 2016 – Read the article in full here.


Vivienne Durham: Check requirements but make sure you practice for the BMAT and UKCAT

Your question leads me to surmise that you are diligent and well organised: two of the many personal qualities that all medical students need, in addition to excellent academic qualifications. 

Achieving as many A* grades at GCSE as possible next summer will be your immediate target, I am sure.

Exact requirements differ between medical schools, so I would strongly urge you to check requirements for medicine via the Ucas website before making your final decision about A-levels or the IB.  Chemistry and maths are almost always required of A-level candidates applying for medicine. 

A-levels are regarded as offering more intensive study in specific subjects than the International Baccalaureate Diploma (IB), but this is frequently debated. 

Students are not obliged to take any arts subjects as part of their A-level choices.  However, the IB is well regarded for providing a full and well-rounded, rigorous education. 

As a benchmark, minimum IB requirements for studying medicine are usually 6 points in all Higher Level subjects and all Standard level subjects; Chemistry and biology specified as required subjects at the Higher Level; 36 points as the minimum requirement for top universities.

Achieving as many A* grades at GCSE as possible next summer will be your immediate target, I am sure.

Even more important than A-levels or IB will be your performance in the autumn term of Year 13 in the admissions tests required of all medical applicants to UK universities.

The BMAT (Bio Medical Admissions Test) is required by universities such as Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial and UCL and the UKCAT (UK Clinical Aptitude Test) is required by many universities.

It is essential to practise these very demanding tests and sample papers are available online. Do ask your school what preparation it will offer you for the BMAT and UKCAT.

The Medical Schools Council offers invaluable advice about applying to medical school (, including information about the BMAT and UKCAT.

In addition to high academic achievement, medical schools look for commitment, perseverance, initiative, personal integrity, concern for others and ability to communicate. 

Work experience during the next two years in a hospice, hospital, GP’s surgery or medical environment will also be essential and this summer after your GCSEs is the ideal time to start. Good luck.  

Vivienne Durham, schools advisory director at Enjoy Education and former head at Francis Holland School, Regent’s Park

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