Welcome to the GAMSAT blog article series – ‘How to prepare for GAMSAT’ by Dr Mat Hinksman, Associate Director of Education and Senior Lecturer at METC Institute.
This 3-part article series explains how the ACER GAMSAT exam is different to a university exam, how to best approach GAMSAT study preparation with applied practice for a deeper level of understanding of concepts horizontally within a discipline, how it’s necessary to integrate vertically interdisciplinary concepts for problem-solving in Section III science exercises, and how it's essential to develop your reasoning intuition for answering questions. The methods and approaches outlined in the article series are aimed to guide students towards the ideal preparation for developing theoretical intuition and a successful GAMSAT outcome.
Dr Mat Hinksman Foreword:
This is high-yield advice for anyone planning to sit GAMSAT in the coming months or years. I have drafted this to put into written form a discussion I invariably have with each student I interact with via my role at the METC Institute.
Often prospective students will send an enquiry asking for more information regarding GAMSAT preparation courses however on meeting to discuss the student’s needs, we spend the majority of our time discussing how to approach GAMSAT. In these cases, discussion about courses is a secondary consideration and rightly so. The ideal approach to the exam should be the primary concern of the student and tutor, and any ‘course’ should naturally follow this approach.
Some students I speak with have never sat the exam and for these students there is great value in discussing with them their approach from the initial stages of their preparation. Other students have sat the examination once or multiple times, and many have also completed preparation courses (in some cases a number of them). In this latter group, students often experience stagnation in their scores and frustration at the lack of progress as a result of completing courses of study (more on this later).
Given emphasising the ideal approach is infinitely valuable for the students who study with us, I thought it useful to share this via this medium in order to reach and assist a larger number of candidates (regardless of their intention of studying a METC Institute course, or any preparation course for that matter). The discussion is lengthy; however it is hoped this figurative stitch-in-time will save you energy and make your preparation proficient.
Dr Mat Hinksman
Associate Director of Education
What GAMSAT isn’t
We will start by talking about what GAMSAT is not. When you go to university, your (and hopefully the faculty’s) aim is to receive, comprehend and apply principles pertaining to a particular discipline such that when you leave their tutelage, you have an organised understanding of a component of the world/life (your area of study) which can be used as a tool to solve problems. In order to ensure you have developed such competency, you undergo assessments, and these are supposedly representative of the problems you will be asked to solve in reality. You complete an exam, and your performance is used as a surrogate for your ability in the professional world.
Unfortunately (or fortunately for most students), university exams are not overly difficult - those who show up most of the time and study intensely for a short period of time before an exam usually pass without issue. Some even score maximum subject scores. Some courses are harder than others, but essentially all courses are similar in that universities are in the business of passing students who meet a minimum performance threshold. In order to answer questions in these exams and achieve a pass or better, a superficial level of understanding or worse, simple memorisation will suffice. Medicine is no different. When you enter medical school, passing is again relatively straightforward provided you turn up and pay some attention.
Based on the discussion so far, one likely suspects that GAMSAT is unlike university examinations and this is true. We will discuss how it is different in the next section, but firstly we should consider why it is different. GAMSAT is part of a selection process for entry into medicine (which only happens to be a competitive pursuit given excessive demand vs supply) and so exists to discriminate or resolve the most suitable candidates out of a cohort which contains many suitable students. Contrast this with university assessments which seek to resolve only those candidates who fail to meet a minimum standard. The university may give students high distinctions, credits, and passes, however they are fundamentally only interested in those that pass and those that fail to pass.
Many students will be inexperienced with the style of assessment used in GAMSAT. Practically speaking, it is important to understand the nature of the assessment as it shapes the style of questions you will be asked. While it is of some limited utility to know that the exam is used as a tool to select students for medicine, it is of immense utility to understand that the questions are written to facilitate this process.
What GAMSAT is
We therefore transition into discussion about the nature of the exam and the questions it contains. The three sections of the exam are quite different with their own challenges.
The first focuses on understanding human expression and affairs (loosely referred to as the humanities section) and offers students perhaps the narrowest window to improve their performance given it is relatively short and – more importantly – comprises questions that the candidate will already be somewhat equipped to answer given their experience of the world (i.e. there is no formal pre-requisite knowledge outside of being a human being that has some experience interacting with other human beings via the medium of the English language).
In some ways, the second section is similar. It requires students to write two essay responses to sight unseen topics. These topics are broad in order to provide an appropriately sized canvas for the candidate to express their depth of thought, and to demonstrate their ability to communicate.
Finally, the third section of the exam is perhaps the most arduous given its length and necessity for substantial prerequisite knowledge. Most of the discussion here focuses on the third section of the exam. The third section presents the candidate with problems born out of the domains of biology, physiology, organic chemistry, physical chemistry, physics, and mathematics.
The most poorly understood aspect of the exam is the preceding sentence and one should go back and read this again. It means that while the questions in section three of the exam necessitate a strong knowledge of scientific principles in each of the subjects listed, knowledge itself is insufficient in order to answer the question.
Possessing knowledge places the candidate in a position to answer the questions, but the candidate will only develop proficiency by understanding what of their knowledge is relevant, and how they can apply it. So, there are two competencies to acquire – knowledge, and application. Generally speaking, university examinations require students to know and understand course content – it is not routine for them to rigorously assess application of knowledge except for some degrees (one of which is engineering).
Please navigate below to Part 2 in the GAMSAT blog article series – ‘How to prepare for GAMSAT’ by Dr Mat Hinksman.
Article Part 1 ‘How to Prepare for GAMSAT: understanding what GAMSAT isn’t and is’ - explains what GAMSAT isn’t and is, and the competencies students need to acquire. In addition, it outlines the differences between GAMSAT assessment exams and university assessment exams, and how many students are inexperienced with the style of assessment used in GAMSAT.
Article Part 2 ‘How to Prepare for GAMSAT: horizontal integration - high achiever students and common mistakes’ - discusses how to study and learn, and how a biomedical student may typically approach their studies to establish an isolated understanding of their university biology syllabus – versus how an A-level student will integrate within a discipline horizontally from a deeper understanding and be able to apply integrated concepts within the discipline in new contexts.
Article Part 3 – ‘How to Prepare for GAMSAT: vertical integration - completing exercises for interdisciplinary intuition’ – outlines the vertical integration between the scientific disciplines and the importance of completing exercises and answering questions in order to develop interdisciplinary intuition and understanding of concepts. It explains how GAMSAT style questions necessitate the application of knowledge in novel contexts and the mechanics of answering a GAMSAT science question. It concludes with the ideal GAMSAT preparation breakdown, that will assist students to develop a pathway for the development of their problem-solving intuition.
Watch a video tutorial about this GAMSAT article series with Dr Mat Hinksman HERE.