GAMSAT Section 1
Gamsat section 1 is not usually the section students are most worried about, that honour normally falls to section 3. However it is the section that students often have the most difficulty preparing for. This is due to two main reasons:
1. Lack of a defined syllabus.
While the Gamsat syllabus for the science section is by no means clear one could at least make a reasonable guess based on the level that ACER recommends studying to (first year degree level) and the topics usually found in science courses at that level. ACER even conveniently informs us that 80% is based on biology and chemistry and only 20% on physics.
However no such advice is given for section 1. We are only given some rather vague and unhelpful jargon that questions in this section will test
"skills in the interpretation and understanding of ideas in social and cultural contexts".
And while they give us some information on the types of base material will be used to set the questions there is no detail as to what proportion each of these will appear.
2. Lack of preparation materials.
While you can just go out and buy some textbooks for the science, what do you buy for section 1? Do you go and buy a load of novels or poetry books? Even a complete beginner to Gamsat could work out that isn't a very good strategy but what exactly is the answer to this conundrum?
In this article we will attempt to address these issues and set out a simple strategy by which you can begin to take the uncertainty out of section one.
Things To Do First
Before we get into the detail though I'd like to mention three things right at the outset that can drastically improve your section one performance.
Learn To Speed Read.
One of the biggest problems with all sections of Gamsat is the time pressure. Candidates often fail to finish answering all the questions. In the humanities and social sciences paper there is a lot of text and complex information which needs to be assimilated and understood as fast as possible. So if you can improve your reading speed you will immediately gain an advantage.
So I recommend you look into a speed reading system which works for you. They do not usually need months to work and shouldn't have a detrimental impact on understanding there is even some evidence that speed reading techniques can improve reading and comprehension for dyslexics.
Most involve learning to eliminate sub-vocalisation (hearing the word in your head as you read) and minimising eye movements by scanning groups of words at a time instead of individual words.
I recommend these two links as a good starting point -
Improve Your Reading Comprehension
A second vitally important thing you can do is to adopt strategies to improve your reading comprehension. Unlike most other verbal comprehension tests where you can read the questions first and then quickly scan the text for the answer, Gamsat section 1 questions do not work in this way. In Gamsat you need a complete overall understanding of the text and the authors argument and the questions will test your grasp of these.
As such it is critical to develop this skill. One widely used model to improve reading comprehension is the PASS model, which stands for -
Ask and Answer questions
In the Preview stage you just read the heading or first couple of lines of each section or paragraph, review what you already know about the topic and try to predict what the text is about.
The Ask phase focuses on asking a systematic set of questions about the paragraph to ensure you have an understanding of the piece or the authors argument . These questions are "Who" "What" "When" "Where" "Why" and "How". If the answers do not match your predictions from the Preview stage you need to ask yourself why and how they differ.
Summarize, restate in your own words what the paragraph is about or what argument it is trying to make.
In the final step, Synthesize, say how the paragraph relates to the text as a whole and build up a mental map of the whole text.
Further resources for improving reading comprehension can be found here:
Learn Critical Thinking
Wikipedia defines critical thinking as
"the analysis.. which includes the rational, skeptical, unbiased analysis, or evaluation of factual evidence... of facts to form a judgement."
A large part of this includes logical reasoning, spotting logical fallacies in arguments, processing information and looking at all sides of an argument to reach a reasoned conclusion.
These skills will help you apply the comprehension you obtained from the reading comprehension skills detailed above to choosing the correct answers to questions based on the text. The questions frequently contain statements about the text and you will need to be able to discern if they logically represent the arguments made by the author.
Refer to Wikipedia for more information on critical thinking.
The Foundation for Critical Thinking also has a Youtube channel with some interesting videos on this topic.
Source Material In Section 1
The source material for questions in section 1 will be taken from the following:
1. Fiction Text - this could be novels, short stories, plays etc.
2. Non Fiction - could be excerpts from political, social, economic or philosophical works or even taken from technical manuals.
4. Proverbs or popular sayings
6. Diagrammatic Reasoning - questions requiring interpretation of some kind of diagram
7. Charts or tables - extracting information from some kind of mathematical tabulation or data.
Types Of Questions Based on The Source Material
All the questions in section 1 will be in the multiple choice format and will be of three kinds -
1. Understanding - recognising both explicit and implicit meanings of the text, or a character in the text.
2. Reasoning - which implies reaching conclusions, connecting ideas and extrapolating.
3. Critical thinking - the use of reasoning to make judgments.
You have a large amount of different types of source material which needs to be covered so you need to set up a reading program which can cover as many of the different types of material stated above as efficiently as possible. It isn't a good idea to start reading long novels, or poetry books etc as not only is that too time consuming but is also unlikely to instill the skills necessary for answering Gamsat questions.
Rather I recommend to begin regularly reading short texts: Set yourself a time limit to read them and while reading continually apply all the principles set out above regarding comprehension and critical thinking.
A good place to start is a quality daily newspaper which will typically contain short articles on many different topics from politics, economy, the arts, science, travel, contemporary culture etc. From there you can expand to short stories, poems and so on.
Here is a list of resources you may find useful:
Quality newspapers and magazines with varied articles:
Free short stories you can read online -
A great site for finding cartoons on many different topics (not just political which most cartoon sites tend to concentrate on is
For diagrammatic reasoning a good website which allows you to practice various types of test is https://www.assessmentday.co.uk/ try several of their tests for example the mechanical reasoning test, numerical reasoning, inductive reasoning and others. They are all useful practice for Gamsat style questions.
Putting It Into Practice
So now we've got a good grasp of what will be in the test and what materials to read to prepare let's put it all together and see how we can now actually practice the above.
Use The Acer Materials
Having begun to begin to read texts and poems and other types of source materials you'll need to start practicing questions.
The first and most important materials you should buy are the official ACER practice tests which you can get from ACER when you register for the test. These remain the best and most realistic examples of questions that come up in the real test. The student feedback I get every year consistently says that these questions are very similar to the real test and that section one changes very little year on year.
The ACER practice tests come in the form of PDF downloads but I recommend you print them out to get the most realistic question practice possible similar to real test conditions. You can underline, annotate and so on as you would in the real test.
Unfortunately the amount of official ACER materials is limited, there are only three full length practice tests so at some stage you may want to buy some more commercially available materials. That's fine and will give you some good extra practice but start with the ACER papers first.
Keep A Question Log
The whole point of practice is to learn from your mistakes. The best way to do this is to keep track of questions you've answered during your practice in a question log and record the type of source material (i.e. fiction, non-fiction, poem etc) and the type of question such as reasoning, inference and so on and record whether or not you got the correct answer. A great way to do this quickly is set up a spreadsheet.
Over time you'll see patterns beginning to emerge which will direct you to which areas you need to dedicate more time to.
Develop Accuracy First
As you work your way through questions you should first concentrate on developing your technique to choose the right answer. Don't worry too much about speed at the beginning, that will come automatically as you begin to get better at reading, understanding and identifying question types.
Create A Language Log
In the same way as you gain insight through a question log a language log can help you to improve vocabulary and your recognition of literary devices. In the course of your reading if you encounter some new vocabulary the write it down and write down the meaning. Likewise if you are unsure regarding literary devices and are uncertain on the definition of allegory or alliteration then record it in your language log.
Don't Be Overawed
My final piece of advice when you read a passage for section 1 is do not allow yourself to be overawed or intimidated by any particular kind of text. Most of the texts selected for the humanities paper will not be the kind of thing you'd choose to read for fun. Mostly they will be selected precisely for their difficulty and uncommon vocabulary so don't be surprised to see a text on 17th century Russian socio-economics. The most important thing is to not become dismayed when encountering a text on an unfamiliar topic. Just work through it steadily using the principles you've practiced many times.
For more help with Section 1 please also see Griffiths Gamsat Review which has a more detailed analysis of all the different question types which can appear in GAMSAT with detailed strategies for answering them.