GAMSAT Section 1: How to prepare in 2021

12 min read


Read 41908 times

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the information on this page may not always be up-to-date. It is highly recommended that you check the ACER website for the most accurate information.

Although it isn’t the longest section of the GAMSAT ® exam, preparing for Section 1 can be challenging for many students, most ostensibly due to the fact that, unlike Section 3, there isn’t really a clear list of things you need to know. Furthermore, it’s not uncommon for science-background students to struggle with Section 1 (and Section 2 for that matter) due to a lack of wider reading. This guide aims to provide you with an overview of how to prepare for and approach Section 1 of the GAMSAT ® exam.

  1. What is GAMSAT ® Section 1?
  2. How to prepare for GAMSAT ® Section 1
  3. GAMSAT ® Section 1 Reading List
  4. GAMSAT ® Section 1 Tips
  5. Further Preparation Materials

What is GAMSAT Section 1?

Section 1 of the GAMSAT ® exam is also known as “Reasoning in Humanities and Social Sciences”. ACER uses this multi-choice section to assess your interpretation of qualitative information as well as your reading comprehension. As a result, it could be considered the foil to Section 2, which is an assessment of your language production. For Section 1 of the GAMSAT ® exam you will be asked questions on a wide array of different media forms, which may include the following (note that this list is not exhaustive):

  1. Literature
  2. Psychology
  3. Anthropology
  4. Non-Fiction
  5. Graphic Comics

GAMSAT Section 1 Overview

Description Breakdown Duration
Section 1: Reasoning in Humanities Tests critical reasoning skills as well as the ability to draw conclusions based on evidence with stimuli derived from a variety of non-scientific texts, from fiction and poetry to cartoons Reading Time 47 MCQs 6 Minutes 64 Minutes

GAMSAT ® Section 1 Timing

  • 47 MCQs
  • 70 Minutes (including 6 mins reading time)
  • ~ 1 min 20 seconds writing time to complete each question

As in all the sections of the GAMSAT ® exam, exam, the questions in Section 1 will range in difficulty, and so it’s important to be able to answer the ‘easy’ questions quickly, and ‘bank’ some time for yourself. This will come in handy when you have to spend time on the more difficult questions- Due to the nature of the GAMSAT ® exam, it will be these questions that differentiate you from the crowd.

Having a rough estimate of the allotted time per MCQ will also help you keep track of your progress to ensure that you are making adequate progress on the day, and let you know if you need to redouble your efforts to finish in time. It's important to keep in mind that you can obviously only get marks for questions you answer, so make sure that you make it to the end.

For general tips and strategies on how you can prepare for the GAMSAT ® exam, visit our Guide to GAMSAT ® Preparation.

How to Prepare for GAMSAT Section 1

Your preparation for GAMSAT ® Section 1 should be seen as two-fold:

  1. Preparing for the content
    • This involves becoming familiar with the principles underlying the humanities and social sciences, or perhaps more accurately, the principles underlying the main mediums through which you’ll be assessed
  2. Developing an MCQ Strategy

It would be foolhardy to attempt to read material in the hope of encountering it again in the GAMSAT ® exam – exposing oneself to content in the hope of encountering it again in the exam is a Sisyphean task and is well beyond the abilities of mortals or any but the luckiest.

Instead, it is much more useful to consider the different types of media that you might encounter in GAMSAT ® Section 1. If you understand the basic elements of a medium as well as the techniques often utilised in them, it can help you go a long way to answering the questions.

1. GAMSAT ® Section 1 - Poetry

Poetry is an increasingly diverse genre. However, the defining feature is some degree of rhythm or meter. Poetry is primarily concerned with creating effects or capturing moods through the use of language. As such, the weight of what poetry is expressing is not always explicit in the meaning of words, but rather the sounds they make, the way they are combined, or in references to other material. As such, it is important to familiarise yourself with literary techniques and poetic devices so that you can successfully identify them, and better understand their implications and imagery when you are asked questions on them. A good place to start might be the resources below:

2. GAMSAT ® Section 1 - Fiction

Similar to poetry, there is an exceptionally broad variety of fiction available, and a vast array of styles. As such there is a veritable Pandora’s box of literary techniques that you may encounter. One example might be dialogue where you will be asked to identify emotional states or motivations from third person interactions. Another might be the use of irony in a situation where what appears to be the case differs wildly from actuality. Irony is a subtle device and actually an umbrella term for many devices including dramatic irony, situational irony and verbal irony. You would not go wrong to read the Wikipedia page on Irony . Similar to above, it’s important to have a solid understanding of these literary devices to allow you to successfully identify and interpret questions on them. When reading a fiction passage, it’s important to ask some key questions: Who’s point of view is it? Who are the characters? What is the structure of the passage? What happens? What are the stylistic elements? What is the tone?

3. GAMSAT ® Section 1 - Non-Fiction

The variety of non-fiction passages used in Section 1 of the GAMSAT ® exam is vast: Academic articles, autobiography, biography, essays, guides, critiques, reports, statutes, philosophy and social theory amongst others. Accordingly, the non-fiction questions generally make up the largest portion of Section 1 MCQs. Over recent years there has been a trend towards more technical and jargonistic writing - It’s important to remember that you’re not expected to have specialised knowledge in any of the fields presented to you and to avoid becoming intimidated by unfamiliar language and terms. Always aim to consider the style of the passage, the theme, and what you think the author is trying to say.

4. GAMSAT ® Section 1 - Graphic Media & Cartoons

Graphic media and cartoons should not be neglected. They provide a valuable opportunity to assess the understanding of the distinction between implication and inference . A good source of practice would be satirical political cartoons in newspapers. You should endeavor to identify the message the cartoon is presenting as well as describe what each individual component of it represents. Some useful sites with free cartoons include:

5. GAMSAT ® Section 1 - Charts & Diagrams

The use of charts and diagrams is becoming increasingly prominent in Section 1 of the GAMSAT ® exam, often used to display textual information in a visual form. Similar to preparing for Section 3, the key to preparing here is to develop a practiced approach to reading and understanding graphs and diagrams.

6. GAMSAT ® Section 1 - Quotes

Section 1 of the GAMSAT ® exam may also present you with stems that consist of a single quote, asking you to identify key themes or ideas. These sorts of MCQs are quite similar to Section 2 in respect to testing this skill, and it may be helpful to prepare by practicing the exercise of theme finding.

In addition to understanding the principles behind these different types of media, working on something as basic as your vocabulary can be particularly helpful. Developing your vocabulary has multiple advantages:

  1. Firstly, if you are asked about a word in a question, or there is a word that is pivotal in answering the question that you do not know, you will be in trouble.
  2. Secondly, by having knowledge of the meaning of words you will be more readily able to make subtle distinctions between words. This can be especially important when it comes to identifying motivations or emotional states.
  3. Finally, there is a theory that an increased vocabulary will artificially improve your intelligence. This is because it is faster to think of, and make connections with, a single word than it is to do the same with the concept that the word represents. As such it can be understood that this effect is compounded by an extensive vocabulary.

Our Free Trial includes a GAMSAT ® Study Guide with an in-depth, day-by-day study schedule for Section 1 along with all the other sections of the GAMSAT ® exam to help you plan out your preparation. You’ll also get access to 50 MCQs from our Intelligent MCQ Bank and a wealth of other free resources.

Sign up to test our industry-leading online learning technology for yourself:

Get Access to:
  • 50 Free MCQs
  • Week-By-Week Study Guide
  • Complete Session 3 Topic List
  • Recorded Webinars
Free trial

GAMSAT Section 1 Reading List

A common piece of advice is to read widely in order to expose yourself to different media in preparation for Section 1 of the GAMSAT ® exam. However, if this is not performed mindfully in a systematic manner, it is next to useless and may in fact harm you as it will essentially become busy work with limited gains.

It is therefore important to have in mind what you are wanting to achieve out of your readings and use these goals to ensure that you read actively.

Below are some guidelines on how to achieve this:

  1. Choose short texts. You’re able to finish them faster and it’s important to expose yourself to as many different styles of writing, as many different characters, interactions, and themes as possible. It’s fine to enjoy The Lord of the Rings in your own time, but there is only one writing style there. Instead, target collections of short stories, essays and long-form articles.
  2. In order to read actively, perform some exercises. One such exercise involves pausing your reading at the conclusion of each character dialogue or interaction. Explicitly identify each character’s motivations and then the reasons why (with these motivations in mind) they say and do the things they do at each new step. Finally, try to identify how each character's knowledge and motivations have changed as a result of this interaction.
  3. Another exercise is to try and identify the emotional state and responses to each action.
  4. Include a certain amount of Australian content as ACER will often make special note of including this in the exam.

Nevertheless, when performed correctly, reading widely can definitely be beneficial in terms of your GAMSAT ® Preparation. In terms of what to read, this can be broken down into multiple categories. Keep in mind that any reading you do will help with both Section 1 and Section 2 of the GAMSAT ® exam.

Section 1 Reading List

Type of Media Description Free Resources


Newspapers are perhaps one of the more obvious mediums through which you can read on a wide range of topics and issues.The newspapers listed here arguably offer some of the least biased and fairest reporting.

Books & Short Stories

It’s best to aim for short texts. Aim for excellent writing with a focus on authors who have mastered the short-story modality.


Again, take advantage of the shorter texts allowing you to read one a day.


Poetry is often an area that students tend to dislike, but it’s still a medium that you should familiarise yourself with. Poems are generally a lot shorter so they provide you with an opportunity to read one daily.

Utilising a dictionary as you read will help develop your vocabulary, and reading is just beneficial overall to help expand your thoughts and enhance your own personal development.

Another area that can often be of value to students in their preparation is philosophy. The focus on philosophy in the GAMSAT ® exam can be tricky in terms of complex ideas and ambiguous writing. Nevertheless there are some common philosophers that may be worthwhile reading as part of your preparation. Delving into this particular topic will familiarise you with philosophical writing and introduce you to another style of writing and different ways of forming ideas.

To begin with, the following Daily Mail article is a great starting point as an introduction to famous philosophers and their theories, but you should follow up for more scholarly information. Some recommended philosophers include:

  1. George Santayana
  2. Anthony Clifford Grayling - The Meaning of Things
  3. Youtube: School of Life Philosophy

GAMSAT Section 1 Tips

If preparing for the content should be the first pillar of our preparation, the second involves developing your exam technique and MCQ Strategy. This is important as with good technique, it is possible to get the right answer without necessarily knowing what the answer is by application of some basic statistics and educated guesswork.

MCQs are good for examiners because they can be rapidly and objectively marked. However, there are some benefits for examinees as well. This is because their very design can be taken advantage of. What’s more, the individuals applying the formula to write these questions are victims of the same fallacies and foibles as any other person. If these can be identified then they can also be exploited.

The first thing to appreciate is how MCQs are written. By doing so it is easier to take advantage of their flaws:

  1. Firstly, the examiner determines what skills or knowledge they want to test with a question. For example, “I want to test the ability to identify metaphor.”
  2. The correct option is written, “A: Metaphor”
  3. Another exercise is to try and identify the emotional state and responses to each action.
  4. The next step is to write the incorrect answers, or what are known as distractors. Because of the way the human brain works, it is much easier to write something that is true than is untrue. It is more difficult to write plausible incorrect responses and so some of these will be obviously wrong for want of better choice This often leads to distractors being obvious or repetitive and this can be taken advantage of if we notice it.
  5. Finally, the stem will be written or chosen. This is a huge source of error. Because the correct answer must be irrefutably correct to maintain the validity of the question, the stem by definition has to include elements that invalidate the distracting options. This can often be clumsy or awkward and suggest the correct answer even if you do not explicitly know what it is.
  6. Importantly, after this the question will go through an editing process. Frequently editors will contrive a situation or specific interpretation of the question in which the current correct answer is wrong and further modify the stem to close this loophole, further making the correct answer obvious.

So, as you can see, with a keen eye for inconsistencies you can very quickly narrow your acceptable answers down.

However, this will not get you 100% of the way. What follows is a method for approaching each and every MCQ that will further increase your odds of arriving at the correct option.

  1. Read the question

    Read the question, i.e. the task you need to complete to answer the question correctly. Nothing will save you from choosing the wrong answer if you misread the question and so this step is essential. Not only this, but it will prime your mind on what to look for in the stem.

  2. Read the answer options

    Not only will this also prime your mind on what to look for in the stem, it will also demonstrate the way in which your mind should be working. It will give you key words and grammatical cues to look for in the stem such as the difference between “an” and “a.”

  3. Identify the objective

    Through the combination of these two you should be able to identify the objective of the question, i.e. what knowledge or skill they are testing. For example, even though you may be asked about what a certain phrase means, what it is actually assessing is your ability to understand the concept of metaphor.

  4. Read the stem

    As you are reading you should be able to identify elements that lend towards one or more options being the answer, and elements that detract from one or more of the options. You can then tally at the end to see which answer is the most likely. Couple this with your ability to rule out obvious detractors and your statistical odds alone, and you improve your chances of getting the right option.

For further tips and advice make sure you sign up for our GAMSAT ® Free Trial to watch a recording of our GAMSAT ® Section 1 Workshop - Check out the 12 minute excerpt below

    Get Access to:
    • 50 Free MCQs
    • Week-By-Week Study Guide
    • Complete Session 3 Topic List
    • Recorded Webinars
    Free trial

Further Preparation Materials

  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 study for the GAMSAT ® Exam

    A breakdown of how to approach study effectively and how to set up a GAMSAT ® study schedule.

  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.