Prospective students often send an enquiry asking for more information regarding GAMSAT preparation courses; however, on meeting to discuss their needs, we spend most of our time reviewing approaches to the exam. Some students I speak with have never sat the exam and therefore there is great value in discussing 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 this latter group, students often experience stagnation in their scores and frustration at the lack of progress (more on this later).
What GAMSAT isn’t
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 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. 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. GAMSAT is part of a selection process for entry into Medicine 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
The three sections of the GAMSAT 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 has no formal prerequisite knowledge outside of human experience. In some ways, the second section is similar and requires students to write two essay responses to sight unseen topics. These topics are broad 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. It presents the candidate with problems born out of the domains of biology, physiology, organic chemistry, physical chemistry, physics, and mathematics. While these questions necessitate a strong knowledge of scientific principles in each of the subjects listed, knowledge itself is insufficient 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. Thus, the two competencies to acquire for the GAMSAT are knowledge and application — a point of difference between most university examinations (barring engineering) which only require students to know and understand course content.
The ideal GAMSAT preparation involves:
- Appropriately identifying the syllabus to maximise study time
- Including the appropriate theory through effective note taking and completing practice exercises such that you can gain experience applying information
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 through a formal GAMSAT program, like those offered by the Institute of Medical Education. The latter is often chosen by students due to their lack of experience. You can sample our free trial GAMSAT exam here.