It has been announced that the current session of GAMSAT is going to be a Gamsat online.
ACER has announced this measure due to the worldwide coronavirus (COVID19) outbreak which forced the test administrator to cancel the physical test in favour of holding Gamsat online.
What does this mean for candidates in the short and long term?
Could this disadvantage or advantage candidates and is it likely to become a permanent development in the test?
According to the feedback I've received from students there seems to be roughly a 50/50 split between people who are in favour of this measure and those who are not.
People who are desperate to get into medicine as soon as possible or people who are re-taking Gamsat in order to improve on a prior low mark are mainly in favour.
It is estimated that 50% or more of candidates each year are actually repeat takers.
These are therefore people who may have already lost a year or more due to prior unsuccessful attempts and just want to get on with it.
They prefer this option to outright cancelling the test and losing another year.
In contrast there are a lot of people who are not happy with the change to an online format.
They say that there is a strong possibility that they could be disadvantaged by people cheating and that furthermore they have prepared for a paper test and the sudden change to an online format will disadvantage them.
But is this true?
Some people will say that other large scale tests such as MCAT the North American equivalent of GAMSAT is also held online without any apparent issues.
There is a big difference...MCAT is held online yes, BUT you have to go to an authorized test centre to take it on a computer in the test centre and there are physical invigilators present.
So it is more accurate to say that MCAT is a computerized test rather than an online test.
What ACER have proposed is that people sit the test in their own homes with their own computers via the internet.
The issues with this are immediately apparent, the opportunities to cheat abound.
Now it's unlikely that the worst abuses such as having an entirely different person sit the test for you could occur. Modern online test proctoring services such as www.proctoru.com for example have facial recognition software and other measures to prevent cheating.
However even so this could be manipulated because they would need to rely on a scan or uploaded photo of an ID card which they would then compare with a the user's face via webcam.
But someone who wanted to have another person sit the test for them could easily put a photo of another person on their ID which wouldn't be detectable in a scan or photo taken straight on.
This type of proctoring software has other tools to detect cheating such as detecting other voices in the room etc but there are many scenarios which could not be accounted for such as another person sitting the same test somewhere else or opposite you with a second monitor and holding up the answers A, B, C or D on a piece of paper or just sending the correct answer choices to you on a silenced mobile phone out of view of the camera etc.
Indeed if you had the phone taped directly behind the camera, even if the online invigilators became suspicious or just did a random check and asked you to move the camera around so they can see the room it would always be invisible to the camera.
The same would apply if you had notes taped behind the camera.
The camera would by necessity be pointing at your face during the test so a small object such as a calculator could be used and quickly concealed in a hidden location if a proctor asked you to move the camera as your hands are also out of view.
So people's concerns in this respect are indeed easily justified.
So many abuses are possible, digital watches and test timing devices are not allowed in Gamsat but could also be taped behind the camera. How will they check drinks? You could even urinate in a bucket underneath your seat to get round the restrictions on toilet breaks!
And in the event of being on the point of getting caught someone could just switch off their internet and claim it cut out - impossible to prove otherwise.
Let's just hope people don't resort to these measures.
Online vs Paper Test
Now let us examine another issue, if you have been preparing for a paper test there could also be disadvantages to doing it online. We don't know the details yet, but will there still be reading time?
And even if there is when you take the test will you be able to answer the questions in any order as with a paper test, or will the computer oblige you to work through one by one in order?
All this has yet to be revealed but in any case whatever the situation it is the same for everyone, so at least not as unfair as if a proportion of students decide to cheat.
The essay writing paper however is a different matter entirely. These will now have to be typed on the computer instead of hand written.
Some people are very fast typists. Others are probably more two finger plodders like me. The fast typists will obviously have a big advantage. There's still a few weeks to go before the test to try and improve your typing speed but realistically who is going to have time for that along with the studying etc?
What about the future?
Could this become a permanent change for all future sittings of the test?
My instinct says no.
Gamsat is a very high stakes test which universities have signed up to due to the integrity of it being a proper physically monitored test in a controlled testing location.
While ACER can get away with this change on a temporary basis due to the exceptional circumstances of the coronavirus outbreak I don't believe they could justify making it a permanent arrangement.
But this is just my opinion.
At the end of the day these type of decisions are often decided by economics. By holding the test online ACER would obviously save a lot of money through not having to rent out large and expensive test centres around the world.
If ACER see's that this sitting goes well maybe they will be tempted to try and sell the idea to the universities, who knows, we'll have to wait and see.
Given the lack of information at this time about how the test will be run online there isn't much more to say at this point.
My advice is simply to make the most of the extra preparation time available caused by the delay.
Hopefully everything will be back to normal by the September sitting.
Best of luck!
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