GAMSAT Chemistry: How to Prepare

It’s hard to know which discipline students find more difficult when preparing for Section 3 of the GAMSAT ® exam - GAMSAT ® Chemistry or Physics. On one hand, Physics is generally a lot more unfamiliar to the typical student, but Chemistry makes up a larger portion of Section 3 and the concepts and ideas covered can be more difficult to visualise and tricky to work through.

GAMSAT ® Chemistry is very much about the application of certain theories and ideas to specific problems and broadly speaking requires a smaller knowledge base than the Biology component of the exam. In addition, it requires a certain level of maths (similar to Physics) to often use the information provided - This may take the form of equations, the need to make large approximations, and the ability to work with logarithmic scales.

This guide will help you to understand why Chemistry is important for both the GAMSAT ® and in medical/health professional education. But most importantly, the tips and advice you should be taking on to maximize your efficiency when studying and performance during the GAMSAT ® Exam

  1. Why is Chemistry in the GAMSAT ® ?
  2. Best ways to study GAMSAT ® Chemistry
  3. Tips for studying GAMSAT ® Chemistry
  4. Approaching Chemistry Questions on Exam Day
  5. Conclusion
  6. Further Preparation Resources

Why is Chemistry in the GAMSAT?

Students from all backgrounds find preparing for Section 3 challenging, and while the physics content is often feared by students the most, the level of assumed knowledge of chemistry (and biology ) is higher than that of physics. This means that ACER can assess complex chemical concepts and combine these with concepts from the realms of physics or biology. Though the breakdown of GAMSAT ® questions allocates roughly 40% of questions to chemistry, units are often a mix of at least two of the sciences, plus analytical and logical reasoning skills. Combining disciplines makes it less likely that the content of a unit will be familiar to students. Having a confident grasp on chemistry puts you in a strong position to tackle these ‘combined units’ (which make up most of the exam), as well as the ‘pure chemistry’ units.

Don’t let the lines, letters and arrows overwhelm you! In a very simplistic nutshell, the GAMSAT ® exam comes down to assessing logical ways of thinking and basic scientific principles disguised behind complex, abstract and unfamiliar scientific contexts

Chemistry in particular can seem particularly daunting in a visual sense: GAMSAT ® questions often present students with complex arrangements of large molecules or reaction pathways with lots of steps. The visual layout of long skeleton structures of chemicals, as well as jumbles of letters and numbers, can (understandably) be confronting to students, causing them to forget that the basic chemical principles still apply. Remember that the chemical structures may be new (and may have long names with lots of numbers and hyphens), but the underlying rules of chemistry still apply.

Best ways to study GAMSAT Chemistry

Your approach to studying Chemistry will depend largely on your current level of background knowledge. Remember, while you need to feel confident with the assumed knowledge in chemistry, in recent years Section 3 has become less of a traditional science exam and more of an assessment of analytical and reasoning skills in a scientific context. This has different implications for students with a strong background in chemistry and students who are less familiar with this field.

For all students, but particularly those from a non-science background , a good approach to studying the chemistry component of Section 3 is outlined below:

  1. Go over the break-down of topics as listed below this section of the guide.
  2. Assess which topics you feel the most and least confident with. For example, you can use free resources like Khan Academy which provides written and video summaries by topic - See below for some more useful chemistry resources. It may be a good idea to rank the topics (e.g. using a traffic light system) based on how confident you feel. Note: it is still important to do this step even if you have a strong background in chemistry so that you know where your strengths and weaknesses lie!
  3. Plan your study based on your rankings. Devote more time to working through the harder topics first, but give yourself a breather by looking over ‘easier’ topics from time to time (so you don’t get rusty on these). Work out which resources are the most effective for you and your studying style. The amount of time you spend building your foundational knowledge before launching into practice questions will vary depending on your science background, but don’t feel like you need to have covered everything before you start doing GAMSAT ® questions! A more time-effective method is to develop a study timetable that lets you revise concepts and then test yourself with practice questions.
  4. Jump into practice questions. As mentioned above, Section 3 is not a test of memorising detailed scientific concepts; it tests how you can reach logical conclusions using scientific knowledge in unfamiliar situations. For this reason, it is very worthwhile spending as much time as you can going through practice MCQs. Chemistry involves lots of patterns and rules that require practice in order for you to answer questions confidently and efficiently (remember: time is a scarce resource in the GAMSAT ® Exam). Whenever you come across a concept you don’t understand, remember to go back to your study resources and look it up - Tracking these with a revision list is an effective way of doing this. Make sure you simulate test conditions as much as possible, including completing full practice exams.
  5. Start putting yourself under time pressure. Although a lot of chemistry is problem-solving, some aspects of it are simple knowledge recall. Being familiar with simple equations like M = m/n will maximise the amount of time you can spend on working through more complex aspects of a question. Ideally, you want to complete as many full practice exams under timed conditions as possible: this simulates not only the time pressure but also the fact that the real exam alternates rapidly between biology, chemistry and physics, as well as between different question styles (e.g. graphical interpretation, tables, comparative analyses, lengthy stems). Adapting your thinking style to tackle these different types of questions requires you to rapidly ‘shift gears’, which takes practice. However, remember that your aim to get in as many practice MCQs as you can: if you don’t have time to schedule an entire practice paper (especially early on in your studying), do as many questions as possible and try to split these into random questions and questions on topics you find difficult.

To make a start with some free MCQs, you can sign up for our GAMSAT ® Free Trial which includes 50 free MCQs from our intelligent MCQ Bank, as well as heaps of other free resources!

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Tips for studying GAMSAT Chemistry

  • Atoms: Make sure to understand the features/structure of atoms and how these they change across the periodic table according to patterns.
  • Stoichiometry: Balancing chemical equations takes practice but it is a skill that is frequently assessed in the GAMSAT ® Exam, especially as chemical equations often feature in biology and physics questions, too.
  • Electronegativity and Bond Polarity: Like equations, this concept crops up throughout the GAMSAT ® Exam, as it is relevant not just to chemistry, but to biology and physics more broadly. This is an example of a topic that can assess a student’s ability to make inferences using inductive reasoning: for example students may be asked to predict or compare how various molecules will behave based on the principles of electronegativity and polarity.
  • Electrons and Chemical Bonds: GAMSAT ® Break this topic down into the metallic, covalent, ionic and hydrogen bonding. Once you are confident with these types of bonds and how they are represented (e.g. Lewis diagrams and VSEPR theory), delve deeper into sigma and pi bonds.
  • Gases: Know the essential equations like PV=nRT and be comfortable manipulating them. You should understand the individual parameters of this equation and how they influence the behaviour of gases.
  • Thermodynamics and Kinetics: Enthalpy, entropy and Gibb’s Free Energy can seem like daunting concepts but it is important to understand them so that you can manipulate the key equations. Reaction rates (including rate-limiting steps) and different order reactions (e.g. zero order, first order etc.) may also feature in chemistry and biology questions, so make sure you familiarise yourself with these concepts.
  • Acids and Bases: You should be able to define what makes an acid and a base and be comfortable drawing connections between this topic, trends across the periodic table and electronegativity.
  • Electrochemistry: Questions addressing this topic often draw connections to concepts from physics and often involve redox equations. Make sure you are comfortable constructing reduction and oxidation half equations.
  • Organic Reactions: You need to have a firm grasp on nomenclature and skeleton structures of carbon compounds. You should also understand how the functional groups of a molecule affect its physical properties as well as polarity and electronegativity. This topic is a good opportunity to assess students on comparative analytical skills of unfamiliar, complex molecules (but remember that no matter how complex the molecule, functional groups all behave the same!).
  • Stereochemistry and Projections: 3D visualisation can be tricky under exam pressure, especially when taking an online exam, so practicing drawing out different molecular conformations and enantiomers is key! Make sure you understand concepts like chirality, which is often paired with topics like Biochemistry.
  • Biochemistry: Synthesis pathways of protein, fat and carbohydrates, as well as the citric acid cycle, are prime areas for overlap between the disciplines of biology and chemistry. Don’t forget that these familiar concepts are never assessed in a straight-forward manner, but rather will involve stem comprehension and diagram/graph interpretation; but a solid foundation of the biochemical processes themselves will set you up to analyse the information in the unit efficiently.
  • Spectroscopies, Spectrometries and Laboratory Techniques: As data interpretation is a common theme across the GAMSAT ® Exam, you should be familiar with the common techniques used to collect data in the field of chemistry. Again, these questions require interpretation of unfamiliar data in a familiar context: for example, you may be presented with the results of chromatography (a familiar context) from which you need to draw conclusions and compare unknown substances (unfamiliar data).

For further free GAMSAT ® Exam resources, including a complete topic list for Section 3, check out a complete list here: Free GAMSAT ® Preparation Materials

Download our GAMSAT ® Exam Study Syllabus for a full list of Section 3 topics as well as tips and advice for Section 1 and 2:

Approaching Chemistry Questions on Exam Day

The body’s physiological response to stress prevents us from thinking clearly and can quickly spiral into ‘panic mode’. Simple breathing exercises before you start the exam can quieten your nerves and let you channel your adrenaline into solving the problems in front of you, instead of creating an ‘adrenaline brain fog’. Practice simple breathing exercises in the lead up to exam day. Don’t forget: nerves are normal in the GAMSAT ® Exam! There will always be some level of stress, but you can find a way to turn your nerves into productivity.

Back to Basics
When you get stuck on a question or unit, take a moment to return to the basics; whether that be the ‘facts’ of the unit, or the basic scientific principles the unit is assessing. For example, return to something as simple as “I know that oxidation means that electrons are lost” and then continue your reasoning from there.

Don’t Jump to Conclusions
Make sure your thinking process is clear and systematic. Because chemistry often involves maths, you need to be able to return to your working and reassess your steps if your answer doesn’t match any of the options.

Cutting Losses
Section 3 involves a large number of questions, usually too many to get through in the time limit. Practice as best as you can and aim to attempt all the questions, but in the exam remember that sometimes you’ll need to cut your losses. If you are really struggling with a question, or you really can’t interpret a graph, it will probably be in your favour to move on so that you have more time to give the rest of the questions a go (there might be some questions that you can answer more easily waiting at the end of the paper).

Never leave an answer blank!
If you do have to move on from a question, take your best guess and mark it on your answer sheet then and there (don’t leave an answer blank in the hope of coming back to it, as you probably won’t have time). You can always mark down the question number in case you do have time to return to it, but make sure you’ve written down an answer before you move on in case you run out of time. You are not penalised for incorrect answers!


Chemistry is ‘money for jam’

Though chemistry can seem somewhat daunting and mysterious at first (especially in the form it is presented in GAMSAT ® questions), the good news is that molecules behave very predictably (at least, when we study chemistry in a theoretical context such as the GAMSAT ® Exam). Once you get your head around the break-down of topics in chemistry (listed above) and the essential equations, you can practice applying these rules, and you will have a solid foundation from which to jump into abstract or unfamiliar situations (which students encounter around every corner in the GAMSAT ® Exam). Mastering the essential chemical principles and equations is “money for jam”: you can make a lot of jam at only a small cost and sell it for lots of money (in other words, these concepts are high yield because the rules themselves never change). The key to successful studying for the GAMSAT ® is to plan out your schedule so that you maximise the time you can spend practicing and reviewing chemistry practice questions. Once you have your head around the basic concepts and equations, put them into practice!

Further Preparation Resources

  1. What is the GAMSAT ® ?

    Everything you need to know about the GAMSAT ® exam from structure and overview to which universities require the GAMSAT ® .

  2. Understanding your GAMSAT ® Results

    Covers everything you need to know about your GAMSAT ® Results - How the scoring works, result release dates and even GAMSAT ® score cutoffs.

  3. How to prepare for GAMSAT ® Section 1

    An overview of what to expect in Section 1 of the GAMSAT ® exam, and how to prepare.

  4. How to prepare for GAMSAT ® Section 2

    An overview of what to expect in Section 2 of the GAMSAT ® exam, how to prepare, and how to perfect your essay technique.

  5. How to prepare for GAMSAT ® Section 3

    An overview of what to expect in Section 3 of the GAMSAT ® exam, and how to prepare for each of the topics – Biology, Chemistry, & Physics.

  6. How to prepare for GAMSAT ® Biology

    What to expect and how to prepare for Biology in the GAMSAT ® exam.

  7. How to prepare for GAMSAT ® Physics

    What to expect and how to prepare for Chemistry in the GAMSAT ® exam.

For further tips and advice make sure you sign up for our GAMSAT ® Free Trial to watch a recording of our GAMSAT ® Section 3 Workshop - Check out the 10 minute excerpt below

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