GAMSAT Preparation Plan
The preparation plan you adopt to preparing for the GAMSAT (Graduate Australian Medical School Admissions Test) will determine the degree of success that you achieve.
The test has been carefully designed to assess potential candidates ability to undertake rigorous high level studies for entry to medicine, dentistry and other demanding health related fields.
Unlike most tests the GAMSAT is not testing your factual recall of data, facts etc. Rather it is testing a candidates ability to think, reason, make judgments' and solve problems. So while a prior knowledge of science for example in section 3 is useful (and in fact recommended by ACER) many questions can be answered with no prior knowledge.
For this reason a very different strategy to your test preparation for the GAMSAT will be required and this may not be what you are used to.
My strategy for getting ready for the test can be defined as follows -
1. Know the test - careful analysis of the structure of the test and the skills required for all three sections is fundamental before you even begin to do anything. This knowledge will guide everything you do in the later stages of your study.
2. Scrutiny of the types of questions asked in each section.Having this knowledge will start to allow you to quickly recognize the pattern of questions and have pre-developed techniques ready to answer them.
3. Based on the knowledge gained in the above two steps we can begin to decide what needs to be studied and what skills need to be developed.
4. From there we establish a plan of attack and decide what materials we need to develop those skills and study the factual knowledge to the extent it is required.
5. Once the above process has started we put into practice the skills developed and the knowledge acquired through constant practice and testing. In the beginning we will use easier questions and tests to firmly drill in the basics as quickly as possible. Later we move on to actual GAMSAT level difficulty questions, using official materials from ACER as much as possible.
6. Review - in this step we review our performance from our practice questions and use this information to identify further areas of study, weak areas, etc.
Now let's move on to some of the basic materials you'll need to purchase at the outset. Unfortunately as you'll quickly discover sitting GAMSAT is not cheap, and I'm not just talking about money here but also your time investment which will be considerable.
Apart from the fee to sit the test (which is not small) you will also need to invest in practice papers, textbooks and probably also specialist GAMSAT books or courses. I'll set out here a bare minimum list to start with.
Later on I'll give more resources for each individual section of the test. But for the moment we'll keep it simple so can go through the process step by step and not become overwhelmed before you even start.
1. Let's go back to my list above about how to approach preparing for the test, step one was
"know the test"
So the first material to obtain is the GAMSAT Information Booklet which you can download for free from the ACER website in PDF format. Get this and read it cover to cover.
2. Once you've done this obtain the official ACER practice materials from the same website. Unfortunately these are not free.
Many people ask me if they really need to buy ALL of the ACER materials and my answer is always yes as they are still the best and most realistic way to practice actual GAMSAT style questions.
3. Decide what extra materials you are willing to invest in, there are many gamsat prep companies selling different materials.
Do I Really Need To Buy Gamsat Prep Materials?
In a word yes.
That is based on the results of many scientific studies which show that performance in practically every kind of test can be improved by practicing the types of questions in the test.
This applies to both knowledge based tests and tests which are supposed to test innate abilities such as IQ tests or psychometric tests which are supposed to be impossible to prepare for.
The Institute of Psychometric Coaching for instance says -
" Current literature in psychometrics points to the fact that effective preparation improves test results in tests such as IQ, innovation and psychometric tests."
An article in the Harvard Business Review stated -
" A review of 50 scientific studies with more than 130,000 participants shows that practice boosts performance on pretty much any kind of test"
This mirrors research done by the US Federal Trade Commission published in 1979 into the SAT test. This is a numerical and verbal reasoning test (therefore similar to Gamsat) for adults who wish to enter college.
Their research found that proper preparation could increase scores in verbal and numerical reasoning by 20 to 35 points on average.
Other research has confirmed these findings for example a 2008 study by Susanne Jaeggi and Martin Buschkuehl found that appropriate training could even improve base IQ.
Now I know that this may not be what you want to hear.
You don't want to spend any more money on test preparation materials than you have to. But the science is clear that it will give you an advantage
Some may say that this isn't fair as it gives people with more financial resources an advantage over people from less well off backgrounds.
Maybe I even agree with that, but what we think doesn't matter, it doesn't change the evidence and it would be remiss of me to hide this information from you on ideological grounds.
Of course the most important materials you should buy first are the official ACER practice materials. Currently available are some Practice Questions and Sample questions both of which are equivalent to about half a full test each. Then there are 3 full length Practice Tests.
These will provide you with some good question practice however they won't give you detailed strategies and techniques for answering the questions. Another disadvantage about them is that although they tell you the correct answer choice for the multiple choice questions there are no worked solutions so if you can't work out how the answer is arrived at they don't help.
If you are like most people you'll probably want more detailed guidance on how to approach all three sections of the test, analysis of different question types and techniques to answer them.
If you're looking for this my Griffiths Gamsat Review can help. It's a step by step guide to all 3 sections and gives you a complete blueprint to passing the test available from www.gamsatreview.com
Overall Synopsis of the GAMSAT
OK so now we've got our overall strategy developed let's go on to look at each of the three individual sections of the test.
Section 1 - Reasoning in the Humanities & Social Science
In a nutshell this section consists of 75 multiple choice questions to be completed in 100 minutes. In addition candidates will receive an extra 10 minutes reading time. The questions are designed to test your ability to rapidly understand complex verbal and visual information and make deductions based on the material given. The materials are composed of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, cartoons, graphs and diagrams.
Section 2 - Written Communication
Two essays to be written within 60 minutes. You will also be given an additional 5 minutes reading time. The essays must be written in response to the prompts which take the form of 4 or 5 quotes based on a common theme.
Section 3 - Reasoning in Biological & Physical Sciences
In a nutshell 110 multiple choice science questions to be answered in 170 minutes (plus 10 minutes reading time). Questions will be set on biology, physics and chemistry in the following proportions:
Biology - 40%
Chemistry - 40%
Physics - 20%
What level do I need to study to?
The official ACER advice is to study biology and chemistry to first year degree level and physics to A level standard.
In practice this can be difficult if you are not already a science graduate, in practice we have found that a good A level standard is sufficient for all three subjects. Please refer to Griffiths Gamsat Review for more detailed information on this topic plus a detailed subject syllabus you should study for the three subjects.
Finally it is worth pointing out that while many sources of information about GAMSAT claim that no factual recall of anything is necessary you'll find it hard to reach the desired level without memorising anything so that claim is a little disingenuous and should be taken with a pinch of salt.
How To Organise Your Gamsat Study
Hopefully by now you've seen the value of adopting a step by step approach to the Gamsat. Without taking this approach the task can seem overwhelming and it's easy to get lost in the huge amount of information available.
So let's move on to some practicalities.
Setting Up A Study Plan
In simple terms this involves deciding what you need to study and splitting it up into regular and manageable quantities so that you cover all the material before the test. Sounds easy right? But what's the best way to achieve this? A widely used goal setting methodology is the SMART system. This is an acronym which stands for
So let's see in detail how this applies to setting up a Gamsat study schedule
Specific - we know we have to study humanities, biology, chemistry and physics but what exactly do you need to study for each subject. Should you include knowledge of particle accelerators in your physics study? (the answer is no by the way).
Measurable - so once you know exactly what and what not you are going to study you must be able to measure it and know when the task is finished e.g completing a specific 10 chapters in a chemistry book.
Attainable - the goals you set must be realistic and possible to achieve in the time you have left before the test. This will be easier if you are a year away from the test. If you are only a month away it is unlikely you can study a whole A level science syllabus so you'll have to prioritize the subjects you study to those most likely to come up in the test.
Relevant - Is what I'm doing relevant to the Gamsat? If I practice a question is it developing a skill relevant to the test i.e. problem solving or is it testing pure factual recall which is not a Gamsat skill.
Timely - How will you decide the unit in which to measure your goals so they are completed by the necessary date, will they be weekly? monthly? etc. Just as important here, as not trying to do too much in too little time here is to not allow too much time for each goal. Such an approach leads to complacency and inefficient time management. Allow just enough time so each task can be accomplished in a timely manner.
From the above we can see that the ideal approach will be to get an "at a view" year calendar where all the months can be seen in one view. Now mark the date of the next GAMSAT test. from there go backwards to today's date to see how much time you have left until the test. If for example it is 10 months then it is a relatively straightforward task to slot in all your study for each week and month from now until the test.
Further tips on your study calendar:
1. Don't forget to allow time for revision and reinforcement of what you have studied.
2. Don't forget to allow time for sufficient question practice. In GAMSAT study this will be a significant amount of time since a single GAMSAT practice test can take a whole day.
3. Allow time for setbacks, no matter how religiously you try to stick to a plan life can always get in the way. You can become sick etc.
4. Finally if you see the timetable is not working don't be afraid to scrap it and write a new one.
Individual Study Sessions - The Details
Once we've got the macro or big picture plan established to our satisfaction as outlined above we now need to follow the same approach to our micro plan or individual study sessions.
If we plan on studying for one hour we need to make sure that what we will study in that time meets the SMART criteria as explained above. In addition how will we split up our one hour study session? How much will we attempt to do in that session?
Contrary to popular belief the human mind cannot concentrate for long periods of time. In fact it may surprise you to learn that scientific studies have proven that the optimal learning time for the human brain is just 20 minutes. I therefore recommend that a one hour session be divided as follows -
First 20 minutes - studying a new concept from your text book.
5 minute break.
Next 20 minutes attempting questions on the topic studied.
5 minute break.
Final 10 minutes re-reviewing the material studied in the first 20 minutes using our performance in the questions to guide us to areas where more in depth study is required.
Before you begin you should decide exactly what you are going to cover in the first 20 minutes and also have the questions you will attempt in the second 20 minutes decided in advance.
Final tips are to try and study in a quiet pleasant environment and try and study at the same time every day. This will aid you in establishing a routine and put your study plan on auto-pilot. This becomes even more important as you get near to the test day since you will likely become increasingly stressed and having to work out small details will only increase stress levels exponentially . By having a standard plan and routine to fall back on you have one less thing to worry about.
Seeing how you are steadily ticking off your goals in your study calendar and knowing that you are on course to finish by the test is an enormous psychological boost.
Detailed Strategies For The individual Sections
Now let's turn our attention to some more specific advice for each of the individual sections of the GAMSAT.
Again there is much more that can be said about this than it is possible to fit into one short article, so what is written here is a basic introduction. For more detailed advice about each section you can read more in my other articles:
So let's look first of all at Section 1
While there are questions based on cartoons, graphs etc. the majority of questions in this section are based on texts, which may be either fiction or non-fiction. Texts are often taken from novels or non-fiction books.
However I do not recommend that you begin by starting to read entire books.
There simply isn't enough time to do that and you are unlikely to develop the comprehension skills required by such an approach. Rather I recommend that you begin reading short articles of the length which are likely to be in a GAMSAT text and as you read you should be constantly asking yourself what is the argument that the author is trying to make.
The best way to do this is to start reading articles from a variety of sources such as quality newspapers, magazines etc. Paper is better as it is the test format and allows you to underline, take notes in the margin etc. If you are working from online articles try and print them out.
Also try and read articles you would not normally read
It is vital that you become accustomed to reading unfamiliar material without becoming overawed or dismayed at encountering unfamiliar vocabulary or jargon.
In a quality newspaper you should find articles on business, economy, science, the arts etc.
Here are some particular resources you may find useful:
A quality daily newspaper:
Free short stories:
As you probably already know in this section we need to write 2 essays within 60 minutes. The essays will have to be written based on a set of quotes. You can choose to write the essay based on one quote in particular or on the general theme of all the quotes. Successful preparation for this section involves -
1. Having a good essay writing model
2. Sufficient practice at implementing your model
Now here we can see a problem, while there are many good essay writing models out there, not all of them are suited to the specific task of extracting a topic from one or a set of quotes and turning it into an essay which can be reasonably argued from both points of view in just 30 minutes. So when investigating and choosing your essay writing model make sure that it can meet this criteria.
Once you have selected an appropriate model you then need to get sufficient practice on GAMSAT style quotes so you can turn out two essays on autopilot within an hour.
Here is an online quote generator to get random quotes:
This is the section which usually induces the most fear and anxiety in potential candidates. Let me try and put your mind at rest especially if you do not have a science background.
Humanities graduates statistically perform better in the GAMSAT than science graduates
Why this should be the case is unknown, however we can speculate. It may be that they outperform science graduates in papers one and two to a significant degree and hence overcompensate for their science mark in paper three.
Or it may be simply that science graduates get complacent about section three while humanities graduates do not. Maybe humanities graduates study for section three to a disproportionate degree.
Here are some useful resources to get your science study off the ground
Free online science lessons:
Professor Dave Explains
A good series of fun Youtube science tutorials:
How Much Time Do I Need To Prepare For Gamsat?
One of the most frequent questions that candidates ask is how long they need to study for to get ready for the test. The answer can vary considerably according to the individual and depends on multiple factors but the main point to consider is how much time daily or weekly you can devote to the task.
Someone who can study full time will need less time than someone who has a full time job and can only study at the weekends for example. Another important issue to consider is how much pre-existing science knowledge you have. Someone with an existing degree in chemistry would need less time than someone with a music degree.
However, having said the above I would recommend starting your preparation at least six months before the test. This should give you enough time to cover everything as long as you are already well prepared in terms of your study plan.
It's essential that you know what you need to study and have the materials ready to go before you begin. If you start 6 months before and then after two months you realize that you don't really know what topics you are supposed to be studying or you still don't have a reliable essay template then you are likely to be on to a losing strategy.
How Difficult is Gamsat?
There is no doubt that GAMSAT is a very tough test. There are three main factors involved in its level of difficulty:
1. The breadth of knowledge required. Because the test requires knowledge of both humanities and science the sheer quantity of knowledge required makes it difficult.
2. Time pressure. Students frequently report that one of the most difficult aspects of the test is the time pressure involved. Most candidates report having to guess large numbers of questions due to running out of time. If this happens to you try not to worry too much. The test is probably designed to be this way.
3. The mental ability tested. Because Gamsat is primarily testing thinking skills through the medium of problem solving, interpreting complex data sets and pattern recognition etc we can regard it as a type of IQ test measuring a person's innate ability and intelligence. In this regard it is very difficult to improve your fundamental level of intelligence. Although as we shall see later it is not impossible with the right tools.
Yes the test is very difficult but the real question is not how difficult the test is but how well prepared are the people taking it. There is no set pass or fail mark in Gamsat. It is a competitive exam meaning that your success or failure is determined by your ranking according to other candidates. Normally you need to be in around the top 20% to have a chance at being called for university interviews. So worry less about the test and more about being better prepared than your rivals. Even if the test is extremely difficult in one particular year and no-one can complete more than 50% of the questions (to put an extreme example) there will still be a ranking with a top 20% of successful candidates. Likewise even if everyone sitting the test has the IQ of Einstein, 80% will still fail due to the ranking.
Your real enemy is not the test, rather it is the other people sitting the test
What Happens If I Have To Retake The GAMSAT?
When I sat the test I was lucky enough to pass the first time in the top 10% of everyone in my cohort. Well, some of it was due to luck yes, but more so to the intense preparation I put in and my in depth study of the test and the Gamsat specific test taking strategies I developed for it.
But what if you are not so lucky? What happens if you don't make the cut and end up in the situation of having to re-sit in 6 months time? The first thing is to not be too disheartened. You aren't the only one, many people have to re-take the test before finally becoming successful. In my cohort at medical school there were many people who had sat the GAMSAT two or even three times before finally passing and then gaining a place on their desired course. Of course if you've already sat the test and failed three times it may be time to re-evaluate if this is for you, or maybe investigate other routes into your chosen career which don't involve Gamsat.
Now let's look at the positives if you do find yourself in the unfortunate position of having to re-sit the test.
First of all you aren't starting from zero. You've already put in a lot of work (hopefully, if not then maybe that is why you failed!) and starting from a solid base is much better than starting from scratch. You will undoubtedly enter the test next time with more knowledge and better prepared, it would be hard not to.
You're probably already well aware of your weak areas and can immediately move to address them.
Secondly you now have experience of the test. You've done the dress rehearsal, you know what to expect. One of the big problems that students have is the uncertainty and apprehension surrounding this high stakes test. That translates into nervousness and self doubt all of which can affect performance on test day.
But you've been through it already and so have a big advantage over many of your competitors for the next time.
Work/Life Balance While Studying For GAMSAT
Because your whole future depends on the outcome of this test and due to the large amount of preparation necessary it can be easy to let the test completely dominate your life to the exclusion of all else.
While this level of commitment is admirable it is unlikely to be sustainable and could ultimately be prejudicial to your goals as it leads to burnout.
Here are some tips to help you avoid this situation and maintain a healthy work life balance:
1. Planning is key, plan your study times and stick to them. Keep them short and manageable.
2. Include specific time for social engagements/fun activities
3. Don't forget to do some exercise. Not only a gym session or going for a run two or three times a week but also remember to get up, stretch and walk around frequently while studying. Don't remain immobile at a desk for hours on end.
4. Don't kid yourself about unavoidable commitments. Work out what yours are and don't begrudge doing them.
5. Concentrate on your weak areas
6. Plan in a variety of types of study activity so you don't get bored.
For more help with GAMSAT please check out Griffiths GAMSAT Review Home Study System which takes you step by step through all 3 sections and gives you advanced strategies for each.