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 applied 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
Horizontal and Vertical Integration
The final point is important and necessitates completion of exercises whether they are GAMSAT-style questions, or simply exercises similar to those seen in textbooks (the latter are still very valuable – if the student cannot answer such questions, they have little chance of success answering GAMSAT-style questions).
Thus after effectively identifying the syllabus, completing a first pass of the material, taking high quality notes, committing to a rigorous pursuit of turning unknown-unknowns to known-unknowns via practice exams, and studying these known-unknowns via further study, the student develops both a horizontally and vertically integrated understanding of the fundamental scientific concepts. The filing cabinet is no longer a filing cabinet, but a detailed network of inter-related concepts that is also an integral component of how the student now understands and experiences their world. Instead of scientific subjects, the network now forms the empirical basis via which the student moves in the world. It looks something like this:
Figure 4: The exceptional GAMSAT student has established a mental model similar to the above. Here the concepts are well understood, but most importantly well integrated within disciplines (horizontally) and across disciplines (vertically).
It is vital to accept the need to integrate the scientific study with the existing empirical understanding (one’s intuition) of the world in order for the former to become intuitive. In other words, for science to become intuitive, it cannot be sequestered in a corner of the mind without connections to what it is the student already knows and understands. For this integration to occur, there will need to be revision and in all likelihood some deletion of what it is one thinks they already know/understand for without these modifications, new knowledge networks cannot be established.
Without these networks, intuition cannot be developed. And without intuition, the student has little chance of answering GAMSAT-style questions in the requisite timeframe as these questions necessitate the application of knowledge in novel contexts. Without integrated knowledge networks, the student will inefficiently spend their exam time recalling and arranging concepts rather than applying concepts to solve problems.
You can easily test yourself to determine if you intuitively understand a concept. Go to a GAMSAT practice problem (such as a simple physics motion problem) and observe whether your default modelling of the issue (and subsequent answer) is along scientific lines, or along previously held erroneous (and at times difficult to overcome) beliefs.
Once sophisticated knowledge networks are established, the mechanics of answering a GAMSAT science question are something like:
- Automatic understanding of where in the knowledge network the question is pitched (e.g. this question is about a frog’s heart so is likely to be in the region of cardiovascular physiology) – in this way, the student pre-empts where things may go and is ready to augment their view of the question as more information comes to light
- Understanding what of the local concepts are relevant including which are key, and which are peripheral (e.g. the question is about cardiovascular physiology with potential peripheral relations to respiration, work, fluid dynamics, homeostasis etc.)
- Understanding the cardinality of applying such concepts or in other words understanding the steps involved in deriving the solution from the information given. The student needs to be able to perform an accounting of the information that is provided and what is missing that will allow derivation of the answer. Knowledge of concepts is then applied to fill the gaps with the choice of knowledge tailored to the gaps. This involves detailed understanding and experience in applying concepts – what is otherwise known as critical thinking and can only be developed via experience
The ideal GAMSAT preparation
After reading all of that, you will already know what the ideal preparation looks like. It will involve:
- Appropriately identify the syllabus so that your study time is maximised;
- Include the appropriate theory to the relevant depth;
- Consider how to properly study this theory (and how to take notes) so as to again maximise study time and make studying more interesting/enjoyable;
- Include sufficient practice exercises such that you can gain experience applying information and ultimately allowing development of intuition.
Everything else is more or less irrelevant including the medium of delivery. Provided a study plan adheres to the above principles, it will result in success if the student works hard. The plan can be self-directed, or it can be delivered via a formal GAMSAT course. The latter is often chosen by students due to their lack of experience.
We hope you enjoyed this 3-Part GAMSAT blog article series – ‘How to prepare for GAMSAT’ by Dr Mat Hinksman. You might have a few questions after reading this educational series and Dr Hinksman has kindly provided some answers below.
Do preparation courses work?
This is the wrong question. A better question to ask is do courses emphasise the ideal way to study? (addressed in the section The ideal GAMSAT preparation). Of course there are courses that emphasise this approach. The next logical question is does the course I am considering emphasise the ideal way to study? If so, enrol and study hard. If not, look for another course.
Many courses will simply provide the theory +/- practice questions and fail to emphasise building an understanding of how to use these resources (this is the reason students enrol in multiple courses after experiencing poor results from previous courses).
Do you need a GAMSAT preparation course?
Not necessarily provided you are confident in being able to establish a study plan for yourself which encompasses the ideal approach to study (addressed in the section The ideal GAMSAT preparation). If you can organise this yourself, then you do not need a formal course. The majority of students will however not be assured in arranging their own study plan, and in such cases a formal course should be considered (carefully).
Why would you need a preparation course?
Students will often state that the theory is available to them online or via textbooks (there are some excellent open textbooks and resources such as the Khan Academy) so why can’t they simply study this material and sit them exam. The short answer is that they can, and if they work hard enough in studying the theory and applying the principles, they can be very successful.
The aim of a quality preparation course is to provide direction to the student by providing them with all of the necessary (and omitting the unnecessary) resources along with guidance on how to use these resources. Good courses will also provide a study plan which orients the student and administers their time appropriately based on their goals.
In essence, a good preparation course serves to administer and orient the efforts of the student thereby maximising effort they had already intended to exert. Courses cannot claim to either provide scientific theory which is not available elsewhere (a ridiculous assertion) or simplify the process such that performing well in the exam will mean minimal work (there is no silver-bullet).
Do METC Institute courses work?
METC Institute courses follow the principles of ideal preparation that we have already discussed. Whether a course works for an individual student is largely dependent on their commitment to the process outlined here. Students who are committed to diligently completing METC Institute courses (which are administered according to the principles outlined here) will invariably go on to perform well in their exam.
If you are looking for education excellence and to optimise your chance of success, METC Institute has the most comprehensive vocational preparation programs available in Australia.
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.