Gamsat Section 1 Preparation

GAMSAT Overview

Having found your way onto this blog post, I am sure you might know of, or have heard something about the GAMSAT. But what exactly is the GAMSAT? What is the best way to do your Gamsat section 1 preparation? What does it assess and why is high GAMSAT achievement so imperative for so many aspiring medical students?

In this overview, we will begin to explore the answers to these questions and how a fundamental understanding of the GAMSAT format is crucial to achieving a high score.

What is the GAMSAT?

The Graduate Medical School Admissions Test, more commonly referred to as the GAMSAT, is an examination developed and administered by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) on behalf of the Consortium of Graduate Medical Schools. This examination is offered twice a year, typically in March and September, with testing locations in Australia, United Kingdom, Ireland, Singapore, and the United States - more recently administered online to facilitate the Global Coronavirus pandemic. GAMSAT results are the basis of entry into select medical schools and other health programs in many of the listed countries and results are often published a few months after sittings.

According to ACER’s description of the GAMSAT, the exam:

·          “is developed to assist with the selection of students to graduate-entry medical and health sciences programs.

·          is designed to assess the capacity to undertake high-level intellectual studies in a demanding course.

·          evaluates the nature and extent of abilities and skills gained through prior experience and learning, including the mastery and use of concepts in basic science as well as the acquisition of more general skills in problem-solving, critical thinking, and writing.”

Essentially, GAMSAT has been designed in a strategic manner, to critically evaluate whether you have what it takes to become a medical student. It is estimated that over 10,000 students sit the GAMSAT every year, whereas a mere 3,845 (2020) medical school places are available in Australia each year, with much fewer Commonwealth-Supported Places (CSPs). The GAMSAT provides a way to duly filter out and distinguish those who are both willing and capable of becoming medical students from the rest.

How does the GAMSAT fit into Med Entry?

A high GAMSAT score alone is not sufficient to make it into medical school. The requirements vary between institutions, but essentially a combination of your GAMSAT score and Grade point Average (GPA) will be used to rank you against other applicants for the opportunity to receive an interview.

Most commonly, applications to Gamsat universities go through the Graduate Entry Medical Schools Admission System (GEMSAS), though in some cases the medical school will require you to apply directly through the institution (USyd). Some medical schools also require you to submit a portfolio, although this is less common among Australian medical schools. If offered an interview, following completion of the interview you will receive a score, which, combined with your GAMSAT and GPA, you will again be competitively ranked against other students for a place in medical school. Some institutions will also require you to take a Situational Judgement Test. Not all Australian medical schools are GEMSAS participants, but almost all require you to have completed the GAMSAT, with the exception of Monash University.

On average, a student will sit the GAMSAT 2-3 times before achieving their ideal score, and it is very possible for a student to drastically increase their score between sittings. As a result, the path one takes with Gamsat preparation for a test sitting is a critical component in optimising their score. To achieve a high GAMSAT score, students must be well prepared by having a balance of apt knowledge of the structure and criteria of the exam, sufficient understanding of the principal theories and concepts that are often examined, knowledge of how to effectively communicate, and knowledge of how to write meaningful Gamsat essays, among other skills that can be developed with ample preparation for the exam. Though, there are certain qualities that are difficult to prepare but can greatly help students to attain a high score such as high emotional intelligence, the ability to interpret and extract meaning from situations, and a highly important characteristic that is assessed in the exam: empathy.

The GAMSAT both indirectly and directly assesses characteristics such as empathy, intellect, communication skills, and dedication, that would make you an excellent medical student, and in turn, an ideal doctor. By identifying these qualities in yourself and having a fundamental understanding of what ACER is looking for in a candidate, you can more effectively plan out and demonstrate these desired characteristics in your exam, ultimately ensuring a successful score.

Breakdown of the Exam Structure

The exam is comprised of 3 Sections:

·          Section I: Reasoning in Humanities and Social Sciences

·          Section II: Written Communication

·          Section III: Reasoning in Biological and Physical Sciences

Traditionally, the total exam time was 5.5 hours with a one-hour break between Section II and Section III.

In recent sittings, however, due to COVID-19 the Gamsat format and structure were revised and there have been a number of changes. The March 2021 GAMSAT sitting is an online exam, with a total exam time of 4 hours and 45 minutes, still with a one-hour break between Section II and Section III. The breakdown of time between each section is as follows:

Section I: 47 questions in 70 minutes

Section II: 2 essays written in 65 minutes

Section III: 75 questions in 150 minutes

Brief Summary of Each Section

Section I - Reasoning in Humanities and Social Sciences

Section 1 comprises 47 multiple-choice questions, each relating to a particular stem. A stem can be an extract from any text, it can be a poem, a piece of prose, a table, or even a cartoon. The stem can be derived from a number of disciplines, from literature to philosophy to economics. As the name of the section suggests, the stem will pertain to either the humanities or social sciences. After examining the stem, you will answer one or more questions relating to that stem.

Section II - Written Communication

Section 2 requires you to complete 2 tasks, which involve writing an essay based on the provided stimulus in each task. The stimulus for each essay is a collection of quotes all pertaining to a central theme. You are required to first identify the theme and then write an essay in response to that theme. Failure to identify the theme results in significant penalties to your score. Task A generally relates to a socio-economic theme, while Task B is usually more of a personal topic.

Section III - Reasoning in Biological and Physical Sciences

Section 3 comprises 75 multiple-choice questions, pertaining to a topic within the biological and physical sciences. The most common categories assessed include biology, chemistry, physics, and maths. It is crucial to have a fundamental understanding of each of these disciplines to be able to score well in this section.

Gamsat Section 1 Summary
Gamsat Section 1 Summary

Section 1: Reasoning in Humanities & Social Sciences

Section I Overview

Section 1 is the first challenge that you will undertake while completing the GAMSAT. This section involves 47 multiple-choice questions to be completed within 70 minutes. Section I is considered by many to be the most difficult section for students to improve their score in. At first glance, one might assume that Section I is simply reading comprehension, but upon further evaluation into what examiners are looking for, you will find Section I to be much deeper than just that. More than a test of IQ, Section I assesses the interplay of IQ and EQ, requiring you to use your emotional intelligence and empathy to read between the lines of a particular social situation. Section I examines your ability to infer emotions and details through written or visual cues. As emotional intelligence is a necessity for this section and EQ is a quality that cannot simply be taught, Section I has garnered somewhat of a reputation of having a fixed score that cannot be improved in subsequent sittings. While it is true that high emotional intelligence is not a quality that can be instilled into you overnight, there are some sure-fire ways in which you can prepare for this section to ensure dramatic improvement before the exam day.

What is assessed?

Section I involves a stem: a written or visual stimulus for you to interpret and answer one or more multiple-choice questions about. There is a variety of types of stems, the most common of which are extracts which are usually taken from texts such as both fiction and non-fiction novels, as well as news articles and other sources. Other types of stems include poems, scenarios, cartoons, tables, diagrams, and quotes. Longer stems such as texts and scenarios tend to have more associated questions than shorter stems such as cartoons, which generally only have two or three questions.

The types of questions employed in the GAMSAT are often repetitive, as ACER is always looking to assess the same very specific abilities. This means that you must learn to accurately answer the same question rehashed in a slightly different way, using a methodical yet tailored approach, which you know consistently works well for you. Such methods can be developed through completing practice papers, which will be discussed in the next section.

The following questions are examples of some of the common question templates that often come up:

  • “Extract the meaning/theme in...”
  • “Define what is meant by X in...”
  • “Describe the mood during...”
  • “How did X feel during…”
  • “Which of the following titles would best fit this text”.

The difficulty of questions can fluctuate throughout the exam, and at times you can get caught up contemplating and over thinking when you reach a spell of challenging questions. In these situations it is imperative that you move on and keep maintaining a steady pace throughout the exam, leaving the over thinking and second-guessing to the end (though you should try to avoid this altogether).

Preparation Strategies & Tips

First and foremost, the most valuable advice anyone can give you for Section I preparation is to ensure that you read much more often, particularly if you are not someone who dedicates a lot of time to reading. By doing so every day, this allows you to improve many factors that will assist you in scoring well in this section, such as your reading speed, your ability to digest large texts quickly, and your ability to extract meaning from a text. You should also take care to not limit yourself to a single topic, genre, or author. By reading texts from a diverse range of topics, and from different authors, you are thereby providing yourself with experience with various styles of writing, and educating yourself on a number of topics.

You can find a lot of free resources and reading materials to help you with section 1 in our other article on this blog - Gamsat Section 1

The second most important way to prepare yourself for Section I is to utilise Gamsat practice tests, especially those provided by ACER. By doing this you can get a better understanding of the types of questions that ACER will include in the GAMSAT, as often the types of questions are fairly repetitive. When completing practice papers it is important to ALWAYS review and reflect. By reviewing the answers, how you did, what you excelled at, and what you struggled with, and reflecting on what your thought process was when answering questions, you can begin to better understand both your strengths and weaknesses when confronting Section I. By gaining this self-awareness, you can then begin to formulate a personalised approach to different types of stems and questions, based on your performance in the practice exams.

After examining the provided stem, and then answering the ensuing multiple-choice questions it is crucial that you are able to find the balance between personal inferences, and the implicit and explicit meanings within the text. Oftentimes, when evaluating a stem, it is most convenient to relate the situation to your own personal experiences in order to better understand the situation portrayed within the stem. While this is an excellent way to employ empathy to understand how someone may be feeling, one must be very careful not to let your own interpretations or biases misconstrue the message or situation being put forth by the stem. This is particularly important to understand when you approach the more difficult questions within Section I. It is very common in the more challenging Section I questions for there to be two or more answers that could be considered somewhat correct, and for ACER to expect you to clearly identify the MOST correct answer. In situations such as this, you must really evaluate whether your own interpretation or biases are causing you to select the less correct answer. A good way to combat this is to take a step back and ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is stated in the text that supports this answer?
  • Is the supporting evidence explicit or implicitly supporting the answer?
  • If it is implicit, how could my biases alter the interpretation of this message?
  • If someone else who is different from me was trying to read between the lines, would they have extracted a similar meaning?
  • Why or why not?

Such thought processes as demonstrated above can assist you in ensuring that your response is evidence-based and not limited by your own biases. However, for Section I, ACER has explicitly stated that it demands a high level of both subjective and objective thinking, therefore one must still find a balance between allowing empathy to shed light on a situation, and not allowing our own interpretations to alter the truth of a situation.

In short: Do not gravitate towards a particular answer based solely on emotion. Read the stem, and allow it to paint an understanding of the situation, then proceed to answer according to your evidence-based understanding.

Furthermore, as previously stated, during the more challenging questions in Section I, there will be times where two or more answers seem correct to differing degrees. There may be an answer with one particular word that perfectly describes an aspect included in the question, and as such, since the idea fits and is described so perfectly you will be tempted to select that answer. Remember though, that there will always be the one most correct answer. DO NOT settle for a slightly incomplete answer, even if the word in the answer perfectly describes one part of the question. You must ensure that ALL aspects of the question have been addressed. If not, the answer is incorrect.

Another thing to remember is that in most cases, it is best to stick to your gut as your first answer is generally the most likely to be correct. Over thinking and overcomplicating your reasoning for selecting an answer in Section I seldom does much to elucidate the most correct answer. While this is the typical case for most students, it is important to see how this pans out in practice exams; is your first answer usually correct, or is your second guess the most accurate? By understanding your own thought process, and what most frequently leads you to the correct answer, you can become more decisive when you begin to second-guess yourself on the day of the exam.

To do or not to do: Skim Reading

Traditionally, this topic has come up time and time again, when it comes to having enough time and sufficient information to accurately and efficiently finish Section 1:

“Should I try to skim read?”

The answer to this question does depend on your personal reading style and the way that you digest information, however, in a series of studies by researcher Ziming Liu, it was found that when your brain skim reads, there is much less time for deep reading processes and cognition. Therefore, if you choose to skim read during Section I, you are not guaranteed to have absorbed much of the vital information needed to go answer the corresponding questions correctly. Not only that, but you may actually have to waste time going back through the text to verify whether something you thought you read was accurate. The best way to optimise your time in Section I, without losing quality and accuracy in your answering is to work on improving your reading speed WITHOUT skim reading. You can find video after video on how to do this on YouTube, but as previously mentioned reading speed as well as confidence with digesting longer texts can be dramatically improved simply by reading every day.

One thing that can seriously affect your reading speed on the day is a lack of focus due to the stress and pressure you are under to perform well on the day. In order to prepare yourself to combat this stress, it is helpful to employ your own methods of stress relief that you know work for you, in the time leading up to your exam, be that meditation, exercise, or breathing techniques. It is also important to ensure that you have eaten a sufficient amount on the day to provide sufficient fuel for your brain to focus.

Poetry - The “Dying” Art

Gamsat Section 1 Poetry
Gamsat Section 1 Poetry

Unless you’re a literature major or enjoy reading poems in your spare time, which is conceivably rare these days, poetry is probably not something you encounter often. You may have had to analyse a few poems in high-school, but how can you begin to prepare yourself to understand GAMSAT poems, so that when you encounter the seemingly incomprehensible combination of words in the exam, that you can confidently extract meaning to accurately identify the correct answers?

With poetry, practice makes perfect. As is the case with reading novels, exposing yourself to a variety of authors and writing styles can help you to better interpret the message and feelings intended by the poet.

The more you read poems and practice analysing them each day, the more confident you will become when you are faced with them during the exam. It is not uncommon for students to consider poetry as the most foreign and intimidating stem type, though oftentimes the associated questions are some of the more straightforward ones if you have even some experience with reading and interpreting poetry.

Final Word on Section 1 Reasoning in Humanities & Social Sciences

Just because you are not an arts major or have not even touched humanities or social sciences since high school, this does not mean you are doomed at all. Fear not, as all the information that you need to excel will be right there in front of you on the day. The best you can do is to keep a steady pace and keep tackling each question one by one, in whatever order suits you best. Keep calm and do not let your nerves get the better of you. The good thing about GAMSAT is that you can sit it as many times as you like and they will always take your best score.

Further Resources

For more help with GAMSAT check out Griffiths Gamsat Review Home Study System which takes you step by step through all three sections with advanced strategies for each.

Griffiths GAMSAT Review Home Study System
Griffiths GAMSAT Review Home Study System