A medical student’s guide to writing in the GAMSAT
26 April, 2016
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One of the most arduous tests of mental capacity, empathy, writing, and critical thinking skills, the GAMSAT examination is a hurdle many prospective students fear. And let’s face it, writing in Section II of the Humanities segment of the examination sends chills and beads of cold sweat down the spines of most prospective students.
But writing for the GAMSAT® Exam, and practicing for it, does not need to be feared. As a GradReady GAMSAT® Exam tutor, specialised in Section II of the exam (writing in the humanities), I’d like to share some advice on the simple to enhance your GAMSAT® Exam preparation for the exam.
A short word that many prospective students avoid putting into practice, perhaps because they are unsure of what this really means. So let’s break it down:
- Understand the theme. Simple, right? Just read the provided quotes, determine the theme, and argue for or against one/some of them. Whilst this is a common approach, it’s not always the one that will stand out. The GAMSAT® Exam preparation involves nutting out the main theme of the quotes in addition to related ideas. There’s rarely just one theme in the quotes provided, and this raises the point of the brainstorm.
- Brainstorm ideas. By whatever means most accessible to you (mind maps, lists or drawings), flesh out the main theme of the quotes into related information and sub-themes and sub-ideas. This process, during your GAMSAT® Exam preparation at home can take some time, but on the examination day, you’ll need to work fast! Work out which groups of ideas can be linked together most easily by a recurring argument, or can be substantiated the best, and use these for your writing.
- Create a thesis. This is a statement that should be maintained or proved in your writing. A thesis is essential to all forms of writing, not matter the format (including essays, argumentative or reflective, and creative pieces including short stories, diary entries, letter-to-the-editor, or others). The thesis, or main message, must be communicated regularly, explicitly and implicitly throughout your writing. The best theses (plural of singular thesis) address the theme, are creative, sometimes witty, and often make meaningful commentary on issue(s) at hand, i.e. the theme.
- Choose a structure. Select a medium to write in that is most appropriate for the theme of the quotes. The most common form to write in for the GAMSAT® Exam examination, one you may have learnt from a GAMSAT® Exam tutor, is the essay. But as I’ve hinted at above, many formats can be chosen to write in for the GAMSAT® Exam; your task is to select the most appropriate medium to effectively and engagingly communicate your thesis. For example, if the theme of the quotes refer to ‘political governance’ in general, an argumentative essay is likely to be an effective and easy format to support a line of argument on this topic. If the theme however, refers to ‘relationships’, some students may wish to demonstrate the values or importance of relationships through a more reflective, personal or emotional format that regales a narrative, such as: diary entries or a short story. These forms of writing are likely to be less familiar to many students, and the style of writing can make some students feel uncomfortable. Albeit, if an alternative format suits your writing style (or you feel it is more appropriate for the theme), you should make the judgement call. Playing with different writing styles and formats is a task that should most certainly be undertaken during your GAMSAT® Exam preparation.
- Plan body paragraphs thematically. Using those ideas that you came up with in brainstorm, plan a number of ‘topic sentences’ that form the main idea for each paragraph, or chunk of writing, in your piece. Each paragraph should address one idea only and should be directly related to the thesis. Each idea should continue to build and extend the thesis, convincing and compelling the reader of your overall contention (opinion) on the issue.
Hopefully I haven’t lost you in all that, but planning is the most essential part of writing in the GAMSAT® Exam. It should form a regular part of your GAMSAT® Exam preparation for Section II before the exam, and even your planning should be reviewed by a GAMSAT® Exam tutor (formal GAMSAT® Exam tutor or even simply a respected mentor) if you have one. On the big day, planning your essay should take no longer than five (5) minutes. Practice makes perfect, and most importantly-faster.
Now’s the time to put pen (or pencil, whatever takes your fancy) to paper and etch those stupendous ideas into a fully-fledged piece of writing.
- Be clear and succinct. Keep it simple. Write within your own capacity and limits. There is no need, and I see it so very often as a GAMSAT® Exam tutor, to write superfluously with grandiose language in verbose sentences, colourfully flecked by obtuse adjectives (excuse the irony). Instead, write in logical and well-phrased sentences that can be easily understood by a marker who will be reading your essay at a fast pace; because that’s the reality of it. Don’t use words you don’t know the meaning of. But if you do have a rather large literary armory under your figurative writer’s cap, use more complex vocabulary and phrasing judiciously.
- Support what you write. Each topic sentence needs to have some form of ‘evidence’ or reasoning to support what you contend. Depending on the form you have chosen to write in (e.g. essay, short story), this may occur in the style of real-life events, personal narrative, creative narrative, experience, or logical reasoning that is theoretical.
- Always come back to the thesis. If in doubt, word your paragraph in such a way that the ‘supporting evidence’ demonstrates the topic sentence AND the thesis. Your aim is to persuade the reader such that they truly believe what you have written.
Review what you have written and ensure it makes sense. There’s not much time to do this, so it’s a quick fly-by of your writing to ensure it is logical and communicates what you are actually thinking.And you’re done. Well, basically. Now that you’ve completed one of the writing tasks (either A or B), it’s time to rinse and repeat for the second task. So, in summary (my personal advice as a GAMSAT® Exam tutor):
- Write in an appropriate format, and one that you are comfortable with.
Be creative. Don’t let the ‘rules of writing’ get in your way. You are permitted to discuss ideas that are outside-the-square. Write about them, particularly during your GAMSAT® Exam preparation practice, in a tempered and judicious manner.
Written by Dan Wilson, a third-year postgraduate medical student at the University of Melbourne and GradReady GAMSAT® Exam tutor for the Humanities.