Entering Medical School at the University of Auckland

University of Auckland Medical School Entry
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Here’s everything you need to know about entering medical school at the University of Auckland.

This article has been created to give you an honest and unbiased look at the topic. It combines insights from hundreds of students over the years, as well as our own experience in entering, graduating and assisting thousands of others through the same process.

Updated Nov 11 2019 to reflect new and important 2019/2020 changes.

Some of the information in this article may be contradictory to what you have heard elsewhere. This difference may be due to the following:

  1. Other companies may have an agenda to feeding you false information
  2. Other individuals or companies may lack the level of experience or depth of insight that we have
  3. Other organisations or institutions (including the University) may lack understanding about certain aspects of the entry process from a student’s point of view
  4. Other organisations or institutions (including the University) may be legally restricted from speaking as freely as they would like

Common sources of (mis)information

SourceWho are they?Caveats
University of Auckland official website or sourcesA formal institution who has to tread carefully. They are the most accurate source of information about the technical aspects of medical entry. However, their stance on certain issues is heavily biased and flawed (we will cover these).
University student associationsStudent-run groups with good intentions but lacking experienced insight. Highly variable. Some advice from these sources is perfectly accurate and reasonable. Some advice in previous years has been detrimental and something we would not advocate.
For-profit companies and corporationsBusinesses who want to sell you something, however, their market viability is tied to reputation. Be sceptical. Some information has historically been false, skewed towards inciting fear or anxiety, or over-exaggerated. There are exceptions to this, which we seek out and bring to your attention.
Medical StudentsIndividuals with good intentions but virtually no real experience.Unfortunately, a massive source of misinformation. While pieces of advice here and there are useful and comforting, students often have only themselves and their peers to validate their advice.

The reality is that each information source has advantages and disadvantages. Always verify your facts and seek a balanced answer. Even sources you trust, like your family friends might be misinformed, and even official institutions like the University are biased and don’t know the whole truth.

How are we different?

We take enormous pride in being accountable for our information and guidance. JTT is unique for a number of ways:

  1. We have more individual experience in assisting students into medical school than any other person in New Zealand
  2. We are legally bound to put genuine student support first, as part of our company constitution
  3. JTT is the only company that is owned and operated by medical students and doctors, without a larger umbrella company or corporation
  4. JTT was created explicitly to support future doctors
  5. We are a social enterprise in legal partnership with Foster Our Future, a registered NZ charity
  6. We have growing and active relationships with community organisations and schools who recognise our commitment to student service

Overview of medical entry pathways

There are three methods through which you can enter medical school at UoA:

  1. First-year Biomedical Science (Biomed)
  2. First-year Health Science (HealthSci)
  3. Post-graduate entry

The first two options are the typical undergraduate pathway and are called “Overlapping First Year 1” or OLY1 for short. This is because both Biomed and HealthSci share four papers in common. These four papers are known as the core papers. We will come back to this shortly, but first, let’s talk about each option.

Option 1: First-year Biomedical Science

Quick Facts

Biomed is science-heavy with a competitive atmosphere. It’s historically the most common entry pathway into medical school.

What are the papers? [BIOSCI 107, POPLHTLH 111, CHEM 110, MEDSCI 142], BIOSCI 106, BIOSCI 101, PHYSICS 160, GENERAL EDUCATION
How high does my rank score need to be? NCEA 280, CIE 310, IB 33

A common mistake we see students making is to not enrol into Biomed because they are afraid of the physics paper which is absent in HealthSci. However, this is generally a mistake for two main reasons:

  1. Physics is a non-core paper, meaning the grade you receive in this paper is less important (we’ll explain this core vs non-core business soon)
  2. PHYSICS 160 is a very easy paper, at roughly the year 12 to year 13 NCEA equivalent in difficulty

Our recommendation: We generally recommend students to do Biomed over HealthSci if you are aiming for undergraduate, first-year entry because your non-core papers take up less time. However, HealthSci may open up more alternative career pathways that are typically of interest to students aiming for medicine – e.g. public health.

Option 2: First-year Health Science

Quick Facts

HealthSci is public health focused with lots of essays and assignments. The content is interesting for those interested in more than just the science side of healthcare.

What are the papers? [BIOSCI 107, POPLHTLH 111, CHEM 110, MEDSCI 142], POPLHLTH 101, POPLHTLH 102, HLTHPSYCH 122, GENERAL EDUCATION
How high does my rank score need to be? NCEA 250, CIE 300, IB 33

For students only concerned with medical entry, we recommend Biomed over HealthSci as a general rule (obviously there are exceptions) because:

  1. The non-core papers have more essays and assignments which necessarily take more time than normal studying and labs. This takes away from study time for core papers.
  2. Biomed is more competitive and students who do not attend our classes (to calibrate themselves) can get more relaxed. The reason HealthSci students tend to be a bit more relaxed is for speculation, but it may be because the ultra-competitive science-heavy students opt for Biomed combined with the fact that HealthSci students often are interested in other healthcare pathways outside of medical school.

✋ It’s important to make a point now that you should be doing the degree of study that you enjoy the most, so the argument for opting to enrol in HealthSci is incredibly strong and valid. But from a purely strategic, medical entry point-of-view Biomed confers some slight advantages.

Option 3: Post-graduate Entry

Quick Facts

Perceived to be “the road less travelled”, but actually over 1/3 of the medical class is through post-graduate entry. In our view, post-graduate entry is the underappreciated winning option.

What are the papers? Depends on the degree
What grades are required? Generally a GPA of 8.0 or 8.25 for the last three years of study.
What degrees can you do? Students typically choose science or healthscience degrees because it is easy to convert your grades for direct medical entry after your third or fourth year of study. However it is possible to do any degree first, then enter into OLY1 Biomed or HealthSci as a bridge. This means you could pursue a non-medical interest first, giving yourself time and experience to evaluate your options.

UPDATE: As of 2019, graduate entry looks at the last three years of study, rather than the last 2 years as it has historically been. This means students who do not do well in first year will still have their first-year grades looked at as part of their graduate application. This may require an additional honours or PGDip to bring the grade average up.

✋ Importantly, this means that non-cores in first year cannot be completely disregarded as they have been in the past. Our new recommendation is that you should aim for at least A- in non-cores, if not A.

Most school leavers see first-year as an all-or-nothing, do-or-die kind of race.

This is far from the truth.

In reality, post-graduate entry offers some significant advantages that should make it a strong consideration for all students, rather than the Plan B that it is conventionally seen as. To explain this properly, let me lay down some basic information first:

  1. Medicine is (at the fastest) a 6-year degree, followed by 5 to 12 years of further work and study before becoming a specialist.
  2. On top of being a 15 to 20-year commitment, the lifestyle that medicine demands due to the high hours of study and work required (even after graduation) mean that many other aspects of life are put on pause or completely sacrificed during these 20 years.
  3. Surveys show that up to 60% of physicians would not recommend medicine for their children, and up to 30% of medical graduates would rather do another profession.
  4. Medical school as a domestic student will cost you almost $100,000 in loans to pay off (if using student loans).
  5. Medicine as a profession has the highest depression and suicide rate of any other career in NZ.
  6. Once entering or graduating a medical degree, it is difficult to leave or swap for another career option due to narrowness of the medical pathway, high social pressure, and high burden of student loan accumulated.

The point is that this is a big decision. Students who are fresh out of high-school are extremely unlikely to have enough career insight or even life-experience to make an informed decision about their career.

💡 It is partly for this reason that medical school is an exclusively post-graduate degree for almost every other country in the world.

👍 Post-graduate entry is a valuable option because it offers you:

  1. More time to experience, consider options, understand your priorities and preferences and collect valuable information
  2. Skills and knowledge outside of medicine which will be useful for you even as a medical professional
  3. Experience within University to figure out your studying and self-management system (the biggest reason students fail to enter as an undergraduate)
  4. Opens up other career options in fields that you may be genuinely passionate in

👎 The disadvantages of post-graduate entry are:

  1. Harder to maintain high grades for the entire degree
  2. Longer time (this is only an additional two years, which is trivial compared to the advantages)
  3. More student loan (but if entering medicine, the student loan will be so high that it becomes irrelevant anyway)

The Overlapping Year 1 (OLY1) Experience

Breaking down the real entry requirement

There are four core papers:

  • BIOSCI 107 – Foundations of biological science
  • CHEM 110 – Chemistry of life science
  • POPLHLTH 111 – Population Health
  • MEDSCI 142 – Foundations of medical science

The first three papers are in the first semester while only MEDSCI 142 is in the second semester.

This is an important detail which we will revisit shortly.

Weightings

Grades make up 60% of the total medical entry weighting. It is taken as an average across your papers, called a Grade Point Average (GPA). In particular, the four core papers are used for this weighting. Each paper is graded using a combination of tests, exams, assignments and labs. An overall weighting of 90% is awarded an A+, with a grade point of 9.0.

GradeBoundaryPoints
A+90%9.0
A85%8.0
A-80%7.0
B+75%6.0
B70%5.0
B-65%4.0
C+60%3.0
C55%2.0
C-50%1.0
Fail<50%0.0

Failing any paper will make you ineligible to enter medicine that year, regardless of other grades.

😕 Tests and exams are sometimes marked incorrectly.

For example, an answer marked as wrong could be argued to be correct (sometimes easily). In these cases, it would be fair to have the paper remarked, occasionally meaning the grade improves as well.

However, in reality, the University fights against this and it is almost guaranteed to require significant legal pressure and action to have the paper remarked. I have personally never seen a student successful organise a remark, despite there being contentious marking almost every year.

The UCAT makes up 15% of the total weighting and is held in the middle of the year. It is a critical thinking test which we discuss in-depth in a separate article.

At the end of the year, around late November is the Multiple Mini Interview (MMI) which constitutes the remaining 25% weighting. Again, we discuss this in-depth in a separate article and in our MMI courses.

So in summary, GPA (60%), UCAT (15%) and MMI (25%) determine your medical entry.

Historical pattern

Every year, approximately 1500 students will compete for medical school. Roughly 40% of these students will give up after Semester 1 due to inadequate grades. In the middle of the year, students sit their UCAT. The combination of their semester 1 grades for BIOSCI 107, CHEM 110, POPLHLTH 111, and the interim results for MEDSCI 142 in the second semester are used to select approximately the top 350 students. These students are given an interview.

The top 150 students based on the grades from their four core papers, their UCAT, and their interview score are accepted in from the undergraduate pool to enter medical school. Roughly 10 to 15 people are on the waiting list each year. The number accepted from the waiting list is variable but has been around 10 in the past. This number is just an approximation but has steadily been increasing every year. Roughly 10% of the initial cohort will make it into medical school.

💡 Common misinterpretations of what the University states

The University website here, states that inteview eligibility is with grade point average (GPA) of 6.0 and above. This is true, however, the interview ranking which determines whether students who are eligible actually receive an interview are based on the four core papers only. This means that the only purpose the other four non-core papers serve is to bring your total GPA above 6.0.

They also state that if the final grades are not available, then the highest possible is awarded. In reality, the final MEDSCI grade is never available by the time the interview offers are released. Therefore, the maximum possible grade assuming a 100% exam is calculated based on the student’s test and lab results.

The grades you need in reality are summarised in this table here. We’ve summarised the important features in this table below.

Core GPASafety
9.0Very safe. Below average UCAT and below-average to average MMI needed.
8.75Very safe. Below average or average UCAT and average MMI needed.
8.5Safe. Average UCAT and average or above-average MMI needed.
8.25Decent chance with an average to above-average UCAT and good MMI.
8.0Risky. Need a good UCAT and excellent MMI. Waiting list likely.
7.75High risk. Need near-perfect UCAT and MMI. Waiting list guaranteed.
7.5Unlikely. Need near-perfect UCAT and MMI and luck. Very rare, but does happen.

Note that these are based on general entry. The grade boundaries are different for special entry schemes such as rural, or Māori and Pacific applicants.

Protips 🔥

Based on these facts, we can establish our first two important tips:

  1. Don’t underestimate the first semester because three of the four core papers are in the first semester.
  2. Don’t focus too much on non-core papers as heavily. The most important role is to bring your average eight paper GPA to be above 6.0 (B+). If your core papers are all A+, giving you a core GPA of 9.0, you should aim to achieve an A- or A for non-cores.

💡 In theory your non-core grades can be as low as a C for first-year entry, but in case of graduate-entry, you don’t want your non-cores to bring your 3-year GPA down. Fortunately, the amount of work required to achieve an A- or A, compared to A+ is much less.

Main challenges of medical entry in OLY1

The first-year entry experience can be stressful, but it isn’t set in stone. Proactive students will learn about these challenges ahead of time and prepare themselves to smoothly overcome them.

Top priorities

There are three main areas of challenge that students should prepare for to optimise their experience and chances of success. These are, in order of priority:

  1. Time and stress management
  2. Studying system and efficiency
  3. Academic content

Students and parents normally place academic challenges at the top. It can be frustrating from our side when having this conversation because they can be fixed on getting tutoring or academic help that they overlook our advice. Part of this is because of the precedent set for seeking tutoring by profit-first companies.

Very frustrating…

The truth is, you don’t need any academic preparation if you have the first two sorted!

🤔 Think about this: We stand to financially gain by telling you to get more academic preparation. So does it make sense for us to lie to you by saying that it isn’t as important as you think?

Purely anecdotally (but across the thousands of students we have seen), easily over 95% of students who fail to enter medical school in first-year fail due to poor time or stress management, or because of a study system that didn’t translate efforts and time into the results they deserve.

Here’s the thing other companies won’t tell you because it hurts their profit margin: it doesn’t matter how much tutoring you get if you can’t study properly.

We won’t go into how to overcome these in this article, we have several other articles on these topics. This one would be a good place to start.

First-year’s most avoidable mistake

Admittedly, it takes a bit of time and effort to develop your time, stress and studying skills. It’s unarguably worth it, but there’s another mistake that really makes an impactful difference.

The first month.

If ever there was a time where tutoring had a leverageable long-term impact, it would be to prepare for the first month of the year.

Here’s a fact: the first month can heavily influence your entire year.

It’s actually a very logical series of events that you need to understand. Let’s have a look at this extremely common example of a typical student, Steve, an 18-year-old school leaver, who does not tackle the first month optimally (a.k.a. the majority of students in reality).

First 3 days

First time being out of high-school! Steve is getting used to independence and finding his feet when it comes to managing his studies and time adequately.

End of the week 1

Steve is shocked at the pace and quantity of content he has to learn. He’s falling a couple lectures behind but overall he isn’t too concerned. He’s determined to get back on track and puts his head down to study. Unfortunately, because he has so much to study, he doesn’t have the freedom to experiment with his studying system. Should be fine…

End of week 2

Steve has fallen a little more behind. He’s now behind on around 5 lectures. A single productive weekend should be enough to catch up, but he’s worried that he will continue to fall behind as the content seems to be getting even harder. He hasn’t had much rest and is starting to feel a bit tired. He isn’t too worried yet – after all, it’s only week 2.

End of the first month

Steve is now behind on 10 or more lectures and is a bit worried. He hasn’t had any time to improve his study efficiency so the reasons he fell behind in the first place are causing him to continuously and gradually fall further behind. The competition and comparison against his peers is starting to stress him out a bit. He’ll need to study hard for the next couple of weeks before tests.

Week 5 and 6

The first round of tests for 3 of his 4 core papers. These tests account for around 15 to 30% of his final paper weighting and Steve only haphazardly was able to cram for the 10 to 15 lectures he was behind on.

End of the second month

Steve worked really hard for his tests but unfortunately he only received an A- grade. He now needs to get over 90% for this other test and exam to get an A+. Unfortunately he still hasn’t been able to improve his efficiency so the same issues as before are keeping him behind. He’s made a few modifications which have helped him keep afloat, but he wishes he had learned this 2 months ago.

End of the first semester

Despite his best efforts, Steve only managed to get an A- and two A’s for his first semester core paper grades. With an A+ in MEDSCI 142, he can bring his core GPA up to 8.00, which gives him a chance at entering medicine with a near-perfect UCAT and MMI. Unfortuantely he hasn’t been able to prepare for UCAT too much since he was busy frantically studying for exams. He can’t afford to slack off in the inter-semester break: he needs to prepare for UCAT and change his studying system to nail an A+ for MEDSCI 142.

Second semester

With the pressure of needing a near-perfect MMI, as well as a definite A+ in MEDSCI 142, Steve continues to remain highly stressed and feeling burnt out. While his friends who got high core grades in the first semester can relax a bit for the second half of the year, Steve cannot.

January the next year

Through his diligent efforts, Steve nailed his interview and got and A+ for MEDSCI 142. He was put on the waiting list for medicine and in late January, a month after everyone else, he was accepted into medical school 🎉

For the sake of this example, we gave Steve a nice and happy ending. But it isn’t a stretch of the imagination to see that this could have ended very differently.

Here are some alternative outcomes:

  • Steve had a mental breakdown and had to drop out of the year
  • Steve was unable to achieve an excellent UCAT or MMI or get the A+ in MEDSCI 142 and was not accepted
  • Steve was able to achieve all these, but he wasn’t accepted in from the waitlist

At this point, you might be thinking that this seems like a very long series of logical jumps and assumptions to be made. Isn’t it a bit of a slippery slope logical fallacy?

👏 Excellent critical thinking skills!

While it can certainly seem that way, this is an incredibly common series of events that occurs. Remember how we said earlier that about 40% of the original cohort of 1500 students will remove themselves from the med race after the first semester?

In our observation over the several years that we have been doing this, we predict that this series of events (or some variation) happens to about half of the cohort, every year.

To put that in perspective, Biomed and HealthSci students are generally the top achievers in their schools. In fact, in purely academic terms, we are talking about 1500 of the nations top 20% of high-school achievers. Half of these students are Steve and only 10% of these 1500 will make it into medical school.

💡 Fun fact: Our early preparation courses were not our idea. Our students actually requested for us to create a service because they felt it would be useful for future generations to avoid the mistakes they made – most of these mistakes being within that first month!

So how can you avoid this Steve-y fate?

There are three things that Steve could have done to change his situation:

  1. Improve his time and stress management – this should ideally be worked on before the year begins
  2. Improve his study skills – this should be worked on before the year begins and continuously evaluated throughout the year with high priority
  3. Learn at least the first few weeks worth of lectures in advance to give himself a buffer to soak up any inevitable inefficiency

Hopefully, this list looks familiar. It’s the three priorities we said you need to work on, in that order.

Product plug: Our JTT Academy was designed to address all of these issues. You can read more about it here.

You can read more about the technical requirements and other admission pathways on the University website here.

And seeing as you read to the bottom of this article, you’ll probably also want to check out these articles:

What do you think? Agree? Disagree?

I’d love to read what you think, so leave it in the comments below!

About the author
Justin Sung
Justin Sung
Justin is a medical doctor, University of Auckland graduate, published research author, certified teacher, and founder of JTT. He has assisted thousands of students into healthcare careers since 2011, making him New Zealand's individually most experienced medical entry expert. He regularly works with schools and organisations to help students and professionals learn more effectively.

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