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Why you shouldn’t neglect English

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Why doing well in English is essential for gaining entry into medicine and succeeding in your medical course and career.

Some students love it. Others hate it: Reading books, writing essays and analysing articles where the content matter is highly subjective and there is no definitive ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer. English is the polar opposite of many subjects favoured by maths and science minded students because essay questions require a highly critical and subjective thinking style in order to write high scoring responses. However, like it or not, all students looking to study undergraduate medicine or other popular health science courses, need to do well in English in order to gain entry into, and succeed in, their preferred undergraduate medicine course.

I’m going to do well in Maths and Chemistry why should I care about English?

In case you are unaware, English (or other English language subject) will in most states always count towards your ATAR score. It doesn’t matter if you receive perfect study scores in every other subject and English is your lowest score, it will still count.

Even small changes in your raw English score can have significant implications for your ATAR as demonstrated below. The difference between a raw score of 40 and 45 for English (assuming all other variables are stable) can be the difference between scoring in the 98s and 99s – a significant difference for students needing to obtain scores in that top end.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Raw35Eng.pngb2ap3_thumbnail_Raw40Eng.png

b2ap3_thumbnail_raw45Eng.pngb2ap3_thumbnail_raw50Eng.png

 

Almost all undergraduate medicine courses require ‘satisfactory’ completion of English or other English language subjects. Remember that where your English score does not fall within the top 8% of candidates you will need to score higher so as to avoid scaling below a required study score of 35 or equivalent. Ideally, you should be aiming to score above 40 to ensure that you are not dragged down by this negative scaling, and can obtain the requisite English score and subsequent ATAR that you need.

But I already speak English at home; I’m fluent so why should I study for it?

The English exam is not a leisurely, casual conversation or dinner time discussion with family or friends. You will be required to write complex, coherent and fluid essays in an intense and demanding exam environment . The style of your essays needs to be formal and needs to be able to change according to whether it is a section 1, 2 or 3 essay, and the topic and format that you choose. Thus, it is crucial that as a writer you find your academic voice, and form opinions on the relevant issues in your text prior to sitting the English exam. You may not be able to predict the exact essays questions that you will be asked on the English exam, but, if you are well prepared, you will be able to synthesise a complex thesis statement supported by sufficient evidence for a topic that you may not have seen before.

But how is English relevant to medicine?

Your ability to communicate and understand people is absolutely essential to your success in the medical profession. You need to be able to assist and understand people when they are under enormous pressure both physically and psychologically whilst still being able explain complex medical concepts in a way that is relevant and helpful to them. The best doctors are held in high esteem by their patients not only for their outstanding medical knowledge, but also for the manner and the sensitive way in which they are able to deal with such personal and difficult medical problems for their patient.

Being highly intelligent and knowing everything there is to know about your chosen field of medical expertise is of no benefit to anyone if you can’t explain and share this knowledge with others. The ability to elucidate intricate medical information in a way that is accessible and clear to your future patients will be integral to your success as a medical professional.

How else will English help me get into medicine?

Most undergraduate medical schools now require that you have a medical interview or MMI as part of their selection criteria. It will be irrelevant if you are the brightest student with an ATAR score of 99.95 and UMAT 99th percentile if you are unable to express yourself in a fluid and concise manner. Being able to communicate effectively and succinctly is a skill that interviewers will be looking for to assess your  ’people skills’ and aptitude for a career in medicine.

Just as you are required to analyse pieces of writing such as a newspaper article or letters to the editor, medical interviewers are looking for candidates who not only understand the key issues facing our society today, but also, those who comprehend the many and varied viewpoints on such issues. It shows great maturity to acknowledge that there are valid points for both sides of an argument. Finally, being able to persuade the interviewers and justify with solid reasoning why you support a particular point of view, shows that you are able to consider an issue in depth, and form your own opinion on an issue from the information available.

How can I improve my English?

The first and most obvious answer to this would be read your required texts. No, sparknotes will not do! This isn’t year 7 chapter summaries with a cute pictures on the side, this is VCE/HSC English. Your essays need to be at least 800 words in length so it is absolutely crucial that you know your texts inside out and back to front.

Read widely and read as many relevant texts to your school’s chosen theme as you can. Write down a list of key examples that are relevant to your topic and choose quotes that sit well with this theme. Make sure you have memorised enough quotes and examples to be able to write a solid essay. Try to use short, concise quotations that also encapsulate several ideas or themes. Also, try to avoid using examples that are too clichéd such as speeches by Mandela or Martin Luther King Jr.

As you final semester begins, try to write more and more full length English essays. If this sounds too much, then at least write detailed essay plans for a variety of essay topics. Talk to your friends and discuss in class different ways of approaching a particular issue so that you can gauge a wider range of opinions and thus formulate a more well rounded response.

Finally, read the newspaper! Yes, those newspapers lacking pictures and covered in tiny font may not seem particularly exciting, but reading the newspaper is the only way to keep up to date with relevant issues as they develop. It also helps to analyse the persuasive techniques used by the author or letter writer to convince the audience of their views. If you do no extra reading, at the very least, try to skim the Opinions section of the newspaper each morning and highlight any particularly emotive or persuasive sentences or phrases that jump out at you.

Final word:

Perhaps the biggest difference with essay writing at this level is that you cannot simply getting away with regurgitating other peoples opinions. The best English essays stand out from the rest because it is obvious to the marker that the student has understood what the text is trying to convey and formed their own opinion on the text, whilst acknowledging that the text may be interpreted in a variety of different ways.

 

MedEntry UMAT preparation has an extensive Essay Writing Guide available on the LMS for students sitting the GAMSAT with an emphasis on grammar and essay structure. MedEntry also offers a variety of vocabulary games and other verbal reasoning exercises to help students improve their English language skills. Students should be wary that no dictionaries are permitted in the UMAT exam, thus it is crucial that students have a wide range of vocabulary and learn to analyse articles in the way required by UMAT exam questions. 

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