Common Medicine Interview Mistakes

Welcome to our series of Medicine interview guides. This specific guide is about common Medicine Interview mistakes and how to avoid them. Most of these common Medicine interview mistakes apply to both traditional interviews and MMI interviews. However, there is a section at the end that focuses specifically on common MMI Medicine interview mistakes.

Some of these common medical school interview mistakes will be things that you have not thought about before. Other mistakes may seem obvious, and you may feel that you already “know them”. Remember though: learning is not simply a case of acquiring knowledge – it is a case of applying that knowledge to change your behaviour. For example, you may “know” that it is a Medicine interview mistake to answer questions for too long, or that you should not be intimidated by antagonistic interviewers, but when it comes to answering Medicine interview questions, do you consistently apply this knowledge in practice? If not, then you have not truly learnt these things, although you may “know” them. This is why practising for your Medicine interview is so important – to ensure that you implement what you know.

Common medical school interview mistake 1: Speaking for too long

Your goal is not to tell the interviewers every single point that you can think of about a subject to try and show them that you know your stuff. Instead, your goal is to articulate a well-structured, meaningful, impactful answer which you deliver coherently and confidently. To do this, you need to be selective about what you say. You cannot say everything you know. You need to control the length of time you speak and the number of points you include in your answer.

Generally speaking, your answers should be around sixty to ninety seconds if you are not interrupted. This may sound like a short amount of time but consider that you will have done a lot of practice and preparation and are already familiar with the subject matter. You have some idea of what the interviewers might ask and what they are looking for in an answer. For these reasons, sixty to ninety seconds per answer is enough time to give a strong, thorough answer. It also provides you with some leeway to speak for longer if necessary.

Speaking for too long will lose the interest of the interviewers and can reduce the impact and power of what you say. It will also make it more likely that the interviewers will interrupt you or change the subject, which takes control of the interview away from you.

Speaking for too long is a common Medical school interview mistake. The best way to avoid it and instead naturally and smoothly time the length of your answer questions, is to be mindful of time in your preparation and practice. Make it a habit in practice, and then you do not need to worry about it at your actual interview and you can focus on other things instead.

Common medical school interview mistake 2: Trying to cover too many points in one answer

For exactly the same reasons mentioned above, you should limit the number of points that you raise in an answer. A good rule of thumb is to structure your answer into several main points. This will give your answer structure, just as paragraphs do in writing. Around 2 to 4 points per answer is a good general number. This gives you enough time to devote to each point. It will make each point have more impact and be more memorable. This will make the overall point you are trying to convey more powerful and obvious.

You can use words such as firstly, secondly etc. You can also use something called signposting to tell the listener what you are about to do. Although, do not overdo this, as it will make your answers sound rehearsed and can appear patronising. Examples of signposting would include:

• “To answer the first part of the question; what attributes make a good doctor, I would say… to answer the second part of the question; examples of how I demonstrate these attributes, I have…”
• “There are three main things to consider in this scenario. The first one is…”
• “I can answer that question in two parts; firstly I will give some background about the project and then talk about my specific role and contribution… The project was set up in order to…. Regarding my specific contributions, firstly, I set up.”
• “Firstly, I will talk about some of the challenges I experienced, and then I will talk about how I overcame them and finally what I learned from the experience.”

Common medical school interview mistake 3: Jumping straight into a lengthy rehearsed answer

This is a very common Medicine interview mistake. When you are asked a question, unless it is very straightforward, you should take a second to pause, think about what has been asked and then answer the question. This will give you time to gather your thoughts and make your answer sound more natural. When done well, it will also make you appear a more relaxed, confident and thoughtful person.

The other reason to give a brief pause before answering is to make sure that you have heard the question correctly and are not assuming what the question is, especially as you may be a little nervous and more likely to jump the gun with your answers. For example, the interviewer asks you “tell me about some negative experiences in your work experience at the children’s hospital” It is easy to jump the gun and answer the question that you have been preparing for instead: “tell me about your work experience at children’s hospital.”

You will undoubtedly have prepared many answers to common questions such as why do you want to study Medicine? Tell me about your work experience and others. You may know the answers to these extremely well and feel that you could recite them at will. When hearing an interviewer ask you these questions you might feel a sense of excitement or relief that this question has come up and you are ready to jump straight into the answer that you have rehearsed a thousand times.

In this frame of mind, and in combination with your interview nerves, it is easy to think that a question an interviewer asks is precisely the same as the one you have heard before or have practised for, when in fact they are asking you something else. You can avoid this common Medicine interview mistake by listening to the question, taking a moment to gather your thoughts before answering the question and clarifying if you do not understand what was asked.

Common medical school interview mistake 4: Not answering the question

There are a few reasons why candidates make the common interview mistake of not answering the question that they are asked. The first group of reasons are simple. They relate to not properly hearing the question or understanding it. We will cover this first.

Although it may sound obvious – make sure you carefully listen to the question and try to answer it. If you did not hear the question, do not understand it or are not quite sure what they are asking for, then clarify this with the interviewer. You may even forget what a question was asking halfway through your answer. In all of these scenarios, just relax, stay composed and ask for clarification. As long as you stay composed, this will be fine, and it is certainly better than not knowing exactly what the question is but trying to answer it regardless.

You may be quite nervous in the interview. A healthy amount of nerves will actually help you to concentrate and perform better, but if nerves get the better of you, it is easy not to take a question in full. Your interviewers will expect you to be a little nervous. Do not be shy about asking an interviewer to clarify a question or point.

The second main reason people do not answer the question is covered under the common interview mistake “jumping straight into a lengthy rehearsed answer.”

The third main reason candidates make the common interview mistake of not answering the question requires more work to fix. It is due to a candidate’s approach to answering questions. If asked “Do you think that you possess the attributes needed to be a good doctor?” a poor answer would be:

“I have done a large amount of work experience with people such as at community centres and hospitals, and I also keep my knowledge up to date and read scientific and health-related journals”.

This is a poor answer. It is just a list of things. They may be good things, but it does not answer the question. Alternatively, you could see it as only answering half the question. The candidate has listed some events and facts but has not taken the crucial next step of relating this back to them and then explaining how these things demonstrate why the candidate would be a good doctor. A more effective answer would be:

“One of the attributes that I think makes a good doctor is their ability to effectively communicate with and relate to people from many different backgrounds. They have to be able to seamlessly adapt their style depending on whom they are communicating with and the situation. This is something I feel I am good at and always looking to improve. For example, I worked at a community centre during the summer holidays. My role was…”

The candidate can then give a few brief examples of their ability to communicate well with people from many different backgrounds and then the candidate can move on to another attribute such as teamwork. Also, see the tip below about doing more than just describing events and also how to not sound arrogant.

Common medical school interview mistake 5: Merely describing events or achievements instead of relating them back to yourself and showing how they demonstrate that you are a good candidate to study Medicine.

This is a very common medical school interview mistake and in personal statements. Avoiding this Medicine interview mistake will make your answers much stronger. The mistake candidates make is that they give a detailed account of all the things they did in their work experience or of an event or an achievement, but they do not go beyond this. You do need to set a scene and give a background of what happened, so the listener can follow what you are saying. However, this is merely step one. Candidates often fail to take the next crucial step which is relating this description of events back to them and then showing how it specifically demonstrates that they will be an excellent candidate to study Medicine. This could be by specifically talking about what they contributed, what they learned, why it makes them want to study Medicine or what personal attribute this demonstrates about them etc.

Take a look at the example below. It a small excerpt from a personal statement, not a Medicine interview, but it demonstrates this skill well. We have picked this specific excerpt because it describes events which are passive, i.e. watching a surgery, saying that Medicine requires teamwork and is a dynamic profession. All of these do not require the candidate to do much. Despite this, the candidate has still managed to bring the focus back to them and has gone beyond just describing things. They demonstrate why these things would make them a good candidate to be accepted into medical school. If it can be done in passive events like this, then it can certainly be done in other situations where the candidate plays a more active role.

“Teamwork is vital in all aspects of medicine, which I find very appealing. I witnessed a live scoliosis surgery, during which I saw how the outcome depended on the skill and dedication not only of the surgeon but also of every other member of the team. At the GP, I learnt how the clerical staff and nurses were vital in the running of the practice.

Medicine is a dynamic profession that will continue to undergo major advances in the next few decades. These developments will require a commitment to lifelong learning, and I find the prospect of this exciting…. [examples provided]”

If you can go beyond merely describing events and can relate them back to you and show how they demonstrate you have desirable skills, then you will be very effective in answering interview questions. You can then do a much better job at making things such as having a part-time job; organising an event; attending work experience – show how you are a good candidate for Medicine. This is a vital skill to learn and is relatively straightforward to learn if you know the correct techniques to use. There are even acronyms you can use to help you structure your answer and that you can apply to any situation. This is why we cover this topic in much more depth in our Medicine interview course as it will make your answers much more effective.

Common medical school interview mistake 6: Not controlling the direction of the interview

When answering questions, you have a lot of power. You can control what you say and how you say it. You can avoid talking about your weaknesses and instead bring up points that highlight your strengths. You can be deliberate about this and in your answer, include things which will likely lead to follow up questions. In this way, you can control the direction of the interview to some degree. For example, if asked, Medicine is a stressful career so how do you cope with stress? You could respond something along the lines of:

“Being able to deal with stress is something that is very important to help me work as best as I can and for my own overall wellbeing. I know that stress and burnout are common amongst doctors. I feel that preventing stress is key, as well as being able to recognise the signs of stress early on and to also deal with stress itself. I feel that these are things that I do very well. One of the reasons for this is because, in college, myself and several other students took the initiative to set up our own mentoring project, mentoring high school students with difficulties. We successfully mentored over 40 students over two years and then passed our skills on to other students to take over our work when we left. One of the issues that I helped students deal with was their own stress, and it is something I received formal training for. I also read a lot about the topic to help me become a better mentor. Things I learned about dealing with stress and which I apply myself include…..”

In the above example, the mentoring project is one of the candidate’s strengths and something that they want to be brought up at some point in the interview. Here the candidate is answering the specific question asked but also inviting the interviewer to ask follow-up questions on a topic which is a strength for the candidate and one that they are comfortable talking about. In follow-up questions, the candidate can then, for example, talk about their leadership and organisational skills in setting up and running the project.

Ensure, that you always answer the question originally asked to you and that you are not stretching too far to make topics link to each other in an unnatural way. Otherwise, you risk sounding evasive or unable to grasp what you have been asked.

Common medical school interview mistake 7: Giving answers which are too simple

Your interview may consist of a few questions that require only simple, straightforward answers. Generally speaking though, most questions even if they appear simple will actually be an invitation for you to talk longer. For example, a question such as “did you enjoy your work experience?” is usually an invitation to say more than just “yes my work experience was very enjoyable.”

Common medical school interview mistake 8: Poorly handling questions that you do not know the answer to

Do not make the Medicine interview mistake of panicking or becoming flustered if you do not know the answer to something or cannot give an example of something if asked. The interviewers do not expect you to know everything and understand that you are nervous. You have several options on how to deal with this depending on what is most appropriate for the particular situation.

The first option applies to all scenarios – you should always remain calm. Where not knowing something becomes a real problem is if you become flustered or show no self-awareness that you do not know something, as this reflects poorly on your character. However, if you can stay calm in such situations, then this should not be a significant problem. In fact, interviewers can sometimes ask you questions that they think you are unlikely to know the answer for to see how you handle these situations. Staying calm will reflect well on you and also make it more likely that you will think of the answer or a good alternative. It will also mean that your ability to answer the next questions is not affected.

Another option you could use, if it applies to the situation, is offering a slightly different answer to what is asked. For example, if you are asked “what has been your most life changing experience?” and you cannot think of an answer, you could respond along the lines of:

“I consider myself a very reflective person. I like to regularly reflect back on my experiences and learn from them and consider how I have changed. It is difficult to pinpoint my single most life-changing experience, but two examples of very important events which had a significant effect on me are…”

As you can see from the above example, it is usually possible to do this with most questions. People frequently do this without knowing. In some other situations, you simply have to calmly say that you do not know the answer and that it is something that you will go and learn about after the interview.

In other situations, it may be appropriate to answer a question as best as you can and if there is a particular point you cannot quite think of you could say you would like to come back to the question later. Your interviewers may or may not allow you to do this, and you might not always have time to come back to things.

Common medical school interview mistake 9: Not sticking to your convictions strongly enough or on the other hand not accepting that you are wrong

When you are answering questions, interviewers may challenge your points or disagree completely. If you realise that you are genuinely wrong, then simply stay calm and admit it. At the same time do not fold at the first sign of resistance or disapproval of your argument. This is a common Medicine interview mistake. Often interviewers are just doing this to see how well you can back up your argument and handle pressure.

Common medical school interview mistake 10: Panicking or being intimated by tough interviewers

You will come across different types of interviewers. Some will be extremely nice, sometimes even unusually so. Many will simply be nice, and others will be relatively normal. Occasionally you will come across interviewers who appear hostile, or very critical or disapproving of what you say. They may even do things to throw you off such as not shake your hand or appear to ignore you obviously. Within an interview panel, one member may be very nice while the other may come across as very critical or even rude.

It is important to know that interviewers are not doing these things to upset you or to be horrible. They are doing this to test you. In fact, instead of being flustered by this, you should actually be pleased that interviewers are being tough and challenging you. By handling these situations well, you can show many positive attributes such as your ability to handle pressure, to stay calm and to communicate well in difficult circumstances. If they were extremely nice to you, then you would not get an opportunity to demonstrate these skills.

Also, as a general rule, if interviewers are very tough on you that means that you are a strong candidate and your interview is going well so far. They want to challenge you to allow you to demonstrate more. If your interview was going very poorly, it is unlikely that most interviewers will make your day worse making your interview very hard also. Although do not worry if your interviewers are not giving you a hard time! Most interviewers are either friendly or at least neutral and will not go down this route.

Common medical school interview mistake 11: Not getting the balance right between selling yourself and appearing arrogant

Your Medical school interview may be your first ever interview. Often candidates are not used to talking about themselves and are concerned about sounding arrogant and as a result, can downplay their achievements or shift the focus on to team efforts instead of their personal contributions and skills. Sometimes, candidates may give the impression of being arrogant even though they usually are not like this. This can be due to nervousness making them feel defensive or trying too hard to sell themselves. And of course, some candidates simply are arrogant in their normal persona, so that is why their answers appear arrogant.

You can achieve the balance between clearly conveying your strengths and not appearing arrogant using a few simple strategies. Firstly, you should back up statements that you make. Blanket statements, such as “I would make a good doctor, I am likeable etc.” can appear like grand, arrogant claims if you do not back them up with any examples. Usually, specific examples are best.

Another tip is to share feedback you received if it applies to the situation. It is much better to say “I received excellent feedback from my mentoring trainer about my ability to quickly gain rapport with people from all types of backgrounds. I was also pleased to receive thank you cards by two of my mentees” than to simply say that your mentoring work shows you have excellent communication skills.

While trying not to sound arrogant, candidates often make the interview mistake of depersonalising all their answers and not stating what they as an individual contributed. For example, “the team successfully raised £500 worth of sales”. In many situations, things are indeed a team effort, but you need to follow these up by focusing on what you specifically contributed.

In a similar vein, when explaining what you did, you should say what your actions achieved. Instead of saying “I used excellent communication skills and self-awareness to calm the customer down” – which does not give any specifics, you could say “I picked up from his body language and his words that the customer was angry and frustrated. I gave him space and listened to him vent his frustrations. I was respectful and sympathetic, yet I stayed neutral as I did not have the full picture. Very quickly he calmed down and actually became appreciative that I had listened to him. This helped to reset the interaction and for us to have a more meaningful discussion from that point onwards. We were then able to talk about…”

Common MMI Medicine Interview mistakes and how to avoid them

The common Medicine interview mistakes discussed above apply both to traditional interviews and MMI Medicine interviews. This next section focuses specifically on common MMI Medicine interview mistakes.

MMI Medicine interview mistake 1: Not reading the MMI station question properly/making assumptions

Make sure you read the question and do not mistake it for a station that you have previously come across or were expecting. This is a surprisingly common MMI interview mistake. Given that candidates are often nervous during their interviews and they have prepared for and are expecting specific questions, it is easy to understand why candidates sometimes think a station question is precisely the same as one they have come across in the past.

MMI Medicine interview mistake 2: Not staying in the present moment – thinking about previous stations or worrying about future stations

Continually thinking about former stations or future stations is an MMI Medicine interview mistake that you should avoid. You must be fully present at each station and give your best. One of the reasons that MMI interviews have different actors and assessors in each station is to reduce interviewer bias. Your interviewers and actors will not know how your stations have gone so far. So, if you have a bad station, move on and do not worry about previous stations because each station is a new start. See each new station as a new chance to excel. Similarly, do not affect your performance in the current station by worrying about the next station.

MMI Medicine interview mistake 3: Not showing empathy

An MMI interview mistake to avoid is not showing empathy in stations. Empathy does not mean making grand gestures and statements and appearing deeply affected and dramatic. This would generally be a bad idea. The kind of empathy you need in these situations is as simple as saying, “oh dear”, “I am sorry to hear that, that sounds like a really difficult situation” “gosh, that must have been tough”. To be empathetic, you do not need an answer for everything someone in distress says. Use the natural silences. You do not need to fill every second with speech.

MMI Medicine interview mistake 4: Not thinking out loud/ telling the interviewer what you are doing in the appropriate stations

MMI stations can be thought of like a driving test – you need to make it obvious that you have certain skills. You should, of course, be natural as possible in how you do this. One type of station where you could be a little less natural, and think out loud, are stations such as problem-solving stations.

In these stations, sometimes you are faced with puzzles or problems which can be complex. An MMI Medicine interview mistake which some candidates make is long periods of silence. Silence is fine to gather your thoughts, and generally speaking, moments of silence will seem longer to you then they are in reality because you are nervous. So, do not be afraid of silence. However, at the same time, the idea of problem-solving stations is to see your thought process. Even if you are stuck, instead of staying silent, tell the interviewer what you are thinking or what part you are stuck at. How you approach situations is very important. In many cases, you can gain full marks in a station and not even actually get to the correct answer just by your approach.


This is a lengthy article. So here is a summary of the common Medicine interview mistakes that we have covered:

Common Medicine interview mistake 1: Speaking for too long
Common Medicine interview mistake 2: Trying to cover too many points in one answer
Common Medicine interview mistake 3: Jumping straight into a lengthy rehearsed answer
Common Medicine interview mistake 4: Not answering the question
Common Medicine interview mistake 5: Merely describing events or achievements instead of relating them back to yourself and showing how they demonstrate that you are a good candidate to study Medicine.
Common Medicine interview mistake 6: Not controlling the direction of the interview
Common Medicine interview mistake 7: Giving answers which are too simple
Common Medicine interview mistake 8: Poorly handling questions that you do not know the answer to
Common Medicine interview mistake 9: Not sticking to your convictions strongly enough or on the other hand not accepting that you are wrong
Common Medicine interview mistake 10: Panicking or being intimated by tough interviewers
Common Medicine interview mistake 11: Not getting the balance right between selling yourself and appearing arrogant

The above common Medicine interview mistakes apply to both traditional and MMI interviews. We also covered some common MMI medical school interview mistakes. These were:

MMI Medicine interview mistake 1: Not reading the MMI station question properly/making assumptions
MMI Medicine interview mistake 2: Not staying in the present moment – thinking about previous stations or worrying about future stations
MMI Medicine interview mistake 3: Not showing empathy
MMI Medicine interview mistake 4: Not thinking out loud/ telling the interviewer what you are doing in the appropriate stations

As we said at the start of this article, learning is not merely a case of acquiring knowledge, it is changing your behaviour. You may know the above tips, but unless you can follow them, you have not truly learnt this information. It is now important to practice for your interview, reflect on your progress, see what you are doing well and what you are not doing well and then adjusting your approach accordingly. You can practice with friends, family and teachers.

Continue your Medicine interview preparation with Medicine Answered

You can continue your interview preparation by using our other completely free interview guides and reading our medical interview blog. If you prefer a more personalised and face to face approach, then you can attend one of our Medical school interview courses where these concepts are explained in further detail, and we cover new strategies also. We also offer one to one medical school interview tutoring. All our courses and one to one tutoring are delivered only by doctors who have passed all four medical school interviews themselves and have sat on both sides of interview panels. This is the minimum standard for our interview instructors to ensure that you receive the best possible advice and strategies for your medical school interview preparation.