Where To Apply With A Low UCAT Score (Top 7 Universities)

Updated on: December 8, 2023
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Written By Dr Ollie

Every article is fact-checked by a medical professional. However, inaccuracies may still persist.

Where you apply with a low UCAT score is arguably far more important than your university choices if you’ve got a high UCAT score.

But to be clear, just because you have a low UCAT score doesn’t mean you’re not going to get into medical school.

It just means you have to be careful as to which medical schools you apply to.

The top 7 universities to apply to if you have a low UCAT score are:

  1. Keele
  2. Cardiff
  3. QUB
  4. Exeter
  5. Sunderland
  6. Plymouth
  7. Aston

In this article, I’m going to look at each of these 7 medical schools, exploring how they use your UCAT score in their selection process and what makes them such good picks if you don’t have a top score.

If you’re sure what sort of UCAT score you have, you can find the full guide on where to apply with your UCAT score here.

Keele University

How they use your UCAT: You must meet Keele’s minimum UCAT cut-off score as an entry requirement but after that it’s only used as a tie-breaker

Keele would be an excellent university to apply to with a low UCAT score as long as you’re able to meet their minimum entry requirement.

For the 2022/23 application cycle, this was a total UCAT score above 2,280 and anything but a Situational Judgement band 4.

So, as long as you’ve got an average section score above 570, and a Situational Judgement band 1-3, you’re good to go.

Once you’ve met their UCAT cut-off score, it’s only used again in the selection process if needed as a tie-breaker between two otherwise equivalent students.

Medical students sat in a university lecture

This could be at two different points:

  1. Deciding who to invite to interview
  2. Deciding which interviewed candidates should get an offer

Keele is unique as a medical school in using a Roles and Responsibilities form to select who they want to interview.

On this form applicants describe their work experience, positions of responsibility they’ve held, evidence of them supporting or caring for people and any exceptional achievements or circumstances.

The Roles and Responsibilities form is Keele’s main tool for selecting UK applicants for interview.

But, if two candidates have the same Roles and Responsibilities form score, the UCAT may be used as a tie-breaker to see who gets invited to interview.

Equally, following the interview, if two applicants had exactly the same interview score, the UCAT may be used to decide who gets given an offer.

Cardiff University

How they use your UCAT: it may be used as a tie-breaker when deciding on which applicants to invite to interview

There’s actually a good chance that Cardiff University won’t look at your UCAT score at all!

They say:

“We prioritise attained academic qualifications… but we will use a UCAT tariff if we are oversubscribed with applicants with exceptional academic scores to help select which applicants to interview.”

Cardiff’s selection process uses a numerical scoring system to evaluate an applicant’s academic achievements.

Points are awarded to a candidate’s 9 best GCSE subjects (including biology, chemistry, English language and maths), with extra points available for achieved A-levels or honours degrees.

All of Cardiff’s applicants are then ranked in order of their academic scores in order to determine that year’s academic cut-off.

Every candidate above the cut-off point then proceeds to a consideration of their non-academic criteria.

This is a review of their personal statement and academic reference.

Following this, applicants are shortlisted and subsequently invited to interview.

Cardiff explicitly states that they do not have a minimum UCAT threshold score and that whether or not they use the UCAT in their selection process is only determined after they’ve assessed the academic scores of all their applicants.

They “aim to interview as many well qualified applicants as possible” so if they can interview everyone they deem as having met the academic threshold then they will.

However, it’s only in a year that they have too many qualified candidates that they’re forced to use the UCAT as a bit of a tie-breaker to help select applicants for the limited interview spots.

Queen’s University Belfast

How they use your UCAT: Your UCAT result is given a score that is combined with one for your GCSEs to select who to invite for interview

Although Queen’s University Belfast does use and score your UCAT result, it’s a great university to apply to if you’ve got a low UCAT score as they allocate very little weight to it.

For 2023 entry, the following bands were used to determine a candidate’s score:

Banding of UCAT ScoresPoints
1200 – 18990
1900 – 20991
2100 – 22992
2300 – 24993
2500 – 26994
2700 – 28995
2900 – 36006

Now, with a score of 2,900 or over required to get the maximum 6 points, which equates to an average section score of over 725, you may be wondering why this is a good choice for someone with a low UCAT score.

The reason for this is that the points allocated to an applicant’s UCAT score somewhat pale in comparison to those on offer for a candidate’s GCSE results.

In total, you can get up to 36 points for your 9 best GCSEs, meaning they’re given 6 times more weight than your UCAT result.

Alphabetic GradingNumeric GradingPoints
A*94
A7 and 83
B62
C and C*4 and 51

The scores for both your UCAT and GCSEs are then combined to give an overall points total.

It’s this overall score that is then used to select candidates for interview.

Applicants are ranked in total score order and a cut-off score calculated. This cut-off varies from year to year but Queen’s University Belfast do release previous years’ data:

YearPoints Threshold For An Interview
201932 and above
202030 and above
202132 and above
202237 and above

If necessary, the Situational Judgement score may be used to distinguish between two candidates who are on exactly the same points, but otherwise it isn’t used.

Looking at this data, you can see that apart from in 2022, you could potentially have secured an interview using the points for your GCSE results alone.

With 36 points on offer for your academics, if you’ve got a full set of 9 A*s you can be pretty sure that you’ll probably be invited for an interview no matter how you do in the UCAT.

The University of Exeter

How they use your UCAT: Your UCAT result is given a 25% weighting and combined with your A-level predictions (or achieved grades) with a 75% weighting to calculate an overall score

With only a 25% weighting on your UCAT result, Exeter is another university where you can use a strong academic background to make up for any UCAT shortcomings.

Interestingly, Exeter actually places a very large focus on your predicted (or achieved) A-level grades.

Your GCSEs are literally only used to make sure you meet their minimum entry requirements.

Your UCAT performance is evaluated by looking at what decile you placed in, and three of your A-levels predictions are taken into account.

The table below was released by Exeter in order to give applicants an idea of how they score decile and grade combinations for non-contextual applicants.

However, the exact scores for each combination may vary slightly when you apply.

Decile/GradeA*A*A*A*A*AA*AAAAAAABABBBBBBBCBCCCCC or below
9th10093857870635548400
8th9890837568605345380
7th9588807365585043350
6th9385787063554840330
5th9083756860534538300
4th8880736558504335280
3rd8578706355484033250
2nd8375686053453830230
1st0000000000

Looking at the table, you can see that with the predicted grades of AAA and a UCAT score that put you in the 9th decile, Exeter would give you a score of 78.

However, if your predicted grades were A*A*A*, you could come in the 2nd decile for your UCAT result and still get a score of 83.

It is worth noting that if you get in the 1st decile for the UCAT, you won’t be able to get an interview no matter what your predicted grades are.

These scores are then used to rank and select applicants for interview.

A pre-defined number of offers are made to candidates who have been deemed suitable by the interview panel.

However, if there are a high number of candidates within the eligible pool for offers, their UCAT scores may be used a second time to determine who will get one of the limited spots available.

The University of Sunderland

How they use your UCAT: Your UCAT score is used in combination with your grades and Sunderland’s interview selection tool to determine which candidates are invited to interview

The University of Sunderland is one of the UK’s newest medical schools and took its first intake of students in 2019.

It was one of five new medical schools to open and was apart of the government’s plan to increase the number of doctors graduating from UK universities every year.

Partnered with the University of Keele, but delivering a new spiral curriculum, in many ways the selection process at Sunderland reflects their partner university.

Instead of using a Roles and Responsibilities form, Sunderland has an ‘interview selection tool.’

This is a short survey sent out to applicants that is used as part of the shortlisting process for interviews.

You’re asked about your work experience over the past 2 years, in hands-on, public-facing roles.

You’re not allowed to include any school or college-organised programs nor any time you’ve spent shadowing medical staff in a clinical environment.

Hospital work experience observing a surgeon at work

You can list up to 4 work experiences and are able to write a short amount about each.

This interview selection tool response, in addition to your academic achievements and UCAT score, is what determines whether or not you’re invited to interview.

Now, the reason I think the University of Sunderland would be a good place to apply if you’ve got a low UCAT score is two-fold:

  1. They have a low minimum requirement for the UCAT
  2. In a similar fashion to Keele, they likely don’t highly weight it

To apply to the University of Sunderland, you just need to be within the top 8 deciles of test takers and not have a Situational Judgement band of 4.

As far as I could find, Sunderland doesn’t release exactly how they weigh each of the components that they consider for interview selection, but I strongly suspect the UCAT doesn’t make up a big part of it.

The University of Plymouth

How they use your UCAT: Your UCAT result is used alongside your A-levels and GCSEs for the shortlisting of applicants for interview

The University of Plymouth initially consider applications based on their academics and UCAT scores alone.

Your personal statement or work experience isn’t taken into account when they decide who to interview.

Instead, the Admissions Advisory Panel takes into account the number of places available on each course, the number of applications received and the academic profiles of the applicants to determine how interviews will proceed.

Traditionally, Plymouth has had a low UCAT cut-off point for applicants:

Year of EntryUCAT Cut-OffAverage Section Score
20171870467.5
20182400600
20192330582.5
20202290572.5
20212400600
20222610652.5
20232680670

Now, this admittedly did seem to change in 2023.

However, 2023 was one of the most competitive years to get into medical school yet.

Looking at the years before, a cut-off score of only 600 even in 2021 is pretty insane.

Plymouth doesn’t publicly state exactly how they weigh and evaluate the different factors that go into their decision as to who they want to interview, but looking at the data I’d suggest the UCAT doesn’t make up a huge part of it.

It is worth noting that just because historically Plymouth has been a great place to apply to if you’ve got a low UCAT score, that doesn’t necessarily mean it will continue to be one in the future.

What I can say is that I spent two years living and working in Plymouth as a junior doctor and absolutely loved my time down there, so would definitely recommend it as a part of the world!

Aston University

How they use your UCAT: Your GCSEs and UCAT are each allocated a score that is combined to rank and then select applicants for interview

The final university on this list of medical schools that I think would be good to apply to if you’ve got a low UCAT score is Aston University.

For starters, they have no UCAT cut-off score and accept students with any Situational Judgement band (1-4).

Applicants are invited to interview based on a combined GCSE and UCAT scoring system.

GCSEs are scored as follows with a maximum score of 24 points:

GCSE GradePoints
9/8/A*4
7/A3
6/B2
5/4/C1
Anything below0

The university scores 6 subjects: maths, English language, biology, and chemistry + your 2 highest grades in your remaining subjects.

You can also get extra marks for any A-levels you’ve already achieved, but not for predicted grades.

This academic mark is then combined with a UCAT mark, out of a maximum of 12.

The total possible range of UCAT scores is divided into equal deciles of 0.5 point graduations:

UCAT ScorePoints
3500 – 360012
3400 – 349911.5
3300 – 339911
3200 – 329910.5
Etc.Etc.

Using this system, you can see how your academics are worth double the weight of your UCAT score.

This offers you the opportunity to more than make up ground you may have lost in the UCAT with some strong GCSE results.

In 2021, the lowest UCAT score to receive an interview was 1700 (average of 425 per section) whilst the average UCAT score of students who enrolled was 2529.7 (average of 632.4 per section). 

Aston Medical School is located in Birmingham city centre and I think could offer a brilliant opportunity for you to bag an offer if you’ve got strong GCSEs no matter your UCAT result.

Final Thoughts

The UCAT is an incredibly difficult exam, so if you do get a low score I’d strongly recommend looking into each of these universities on this list.

Even if you’ve been to an open day and your heart is set on a particular medical school, there’s just almost no point applying to it if they solely use the UCAT to rank candidates for interview and you’ve got a sub-600 score.

You’ll be much better off applying strategically, and not letting your UCAT result hold you back from achieving your goal of becoming a doctor.

About the author
After studying medicine at the University of Leicester, Dr Ollie now works as a junior doctor in London. His interests include medical education and expedition medicine, as well as having a strong belief in the importance of widening access to medicine.