Sep 7, 2017

Admissions blog: Brief Personal Essays and how they are assessed

Admissions, MD Program
Medical Sciences Building

Medical Sciences Building

Brief Personal Essays (BPEs) are one of the non-academic components required as part of the application for U of T’s MD Program. These essays are just as their name suggests – brief (only 250 words) and personal (reflective of your personal thoughts and reasoning). Every year we receive questions about how to write a good BPE. In this blog post we will answer some of the more common questions.

Why did you choose these particular essay questions?

Every year a working group collaborates to develop our new BPE questions. These questions are framed around the four competency clusters that we use to assess the non-academic materials that are required for admission. These clusters are:

  • Professional: maturity, reliability, perseverance and responsibility
  • Communicator/collaborator/manager: communication, collaboration, teamwork, time management and leadership
  • Advocate: advocacy, community service and social responsibility
  • Scholar: academic standing, achievements in leadership, research and social responsibility as demonstrated by (but not limited to) awards, conference presentations, publications and scholarships

The questions often relate to current events and common themes in healthcare. They are designed to incite critical thinking, and to encourage personal reflection.

You can find this year’s BPE questions here.

How are these essays being assessed?

The BPEs are being assessed in the following ways:

Does the response answer the question being asked?
Is the response clear and do we understand the argument?
Is the writing style concise?
Is the applicant able to personalize their response by providing examples?
Given the brief nature of these essays – 250 words – it is very important that you focus on clear and concise writing. While we do not deduct marks for spelling and grammar specifically, mistakes like these can lead to a lack of clarity in your response. 

The focus here is really on the content of your essay. Keep in mind the four clusters listed above. Will the individuals reviewing your essay responses be able to identify these clusters in your responses? This is important to reflect on.

What if I disagree with the question, or wish to take an opposing stance to the statement provided?

It is important to note that there is no right or wrong answer to the essay questions and statements we provide. Applicants are invited to take an opposing stance, or to frame their response in a different way based around their personal views, beliefs and arguments. We welcome a diversity of opinions. Our file reviewers are measuring content, clarity and a sound argument (as suggested above). Our reviewers learn during our training process that personal biases are not to influence how these essays are marked.   

Should I use examples and references?

Absolutely. It would be difficult to write a personal essay response without including personal examples and/or references to research, current events, etc. Should you choose to reference research or publications, keep in mind that 250 words is not long at all, so we do not expect to see long citations or footnotes. A simple reference to the author and date is sufficient.

Some advice from our team: do not leave these essays until the last minute. Think about the questions, plan out your thoughts, frame your responses and arguments, draft the essays, and proofread. Then ask your friends, family members, colleagues, university counsellors, etc. to proofread and provide feedback. Take your time and really work hard to write good quality essays, as doing so will certainly enhance your application.


Still have a question about the BPEs? Email us – we are happy to help.