Common pitfalls that students make in the GAMSAT
02 October, 2020
The GAMSAT exam is no simple feat. For many people, months and months of study and apprehension all build up to create a storm of content-overload and anxiety on exam day, often leading to poor performance and ultimately a sub-optimal score. If you’re sitting the GAMSAT again, you may know exactly what I’m talking about.
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It’s safe to say that there are many common pitfalls that any of us can make.
Now I’m not trying to sound bleak; in fact, I’m here to help you avoid those common mistakes. Because, after all, if you put the effort in to prepare yourself for the mammoth that is the GAMSAT exam day, you want it to pay off. And an efficient and well-constructed approach to the GAMSAT exam can make success a much more attainable goal that doesn’t get destroyed by poor technique or burn-out.
Part I: Before Exam Day
Pitfall #1 – “What is Section 1 on again?”
The first tip I give to anyone sitting the GAMSAT is to know the GAMSAT. It may seem time-consuming to read through the ACER Information booklet, however, having a good understanding of what each section of the GAMSAT is actually assessing is crucial to studying effectively for the exam. You can also check out this comprehensive guide to everything GAMSAT. It is also important to stay abreast of any changes in the GAMSAT, such as the change to the digital format in 2020 due to COVID-19.
Pitfall #2 – “I must master everything!”
Everybody has their strengths and weaknesses. For me, in terms of the GAMSAT, my weakness was definitely essay-writing. Whilst this meant that I focused my study a little more towards developing my essay-writing skills, I didn’t worry too much that I wasn’t super confident in this section of the exam. I knew that I was stronger in other areas. Studying for and sitting the GAMSAT is a long process, and you need to have realistic expectations of your abilities. Remember that while there are still minimum thresholds required by most medical schools (usually 50 in each section), a relatively weak performance in one section may be compensated by a stronger performance in another section.
Pitfall #3 – “I can learn it all the week before, right?”
The GAMSAT unfortunately isn’t one of those exams that you can cram for at the last minute. Not only does it cover a huge spectrum of content (biology, chemistry, and physics), but it is also assessing your problem-solving skills, which can only improve with regular practice. This brings me to my next point…
Pitfall #4 – “I don’t have time for practice questions. I just need to learn all this content.”
A lot of people who do poorly in the GAMSAT inevitably realise that they should have done more practice questions. And on top of that, timed exams. Firstly, as I’ve said in my last point, the GAMSAT is about assessing your problem-solving skills. You cannot enhance your ability to analyse information, critically-think, or interpret new ideas, by cramming content into your brain. Learning how to approach and conquer GAMSAT-style questions by doing GAMSAT-style practice questions is essential, as is learning how to endure the marathon that is GAMSAT exam day. I cannot stress how important this particular pitfall is.
Part II: On Exam Day
Pitfall #5 – “My whole life depends on this!”
Some people may scoff at this point I am making, as obviously the GAMSAT is an important event to those who are sitting it and a huge hurdle to overcome. However, it’s important to remember that not everyone who sits the GAMSAT (even multiple times) ends up achieving what they expect. And it is not the be all and end all. If the GAMSAT doesn’t work out, there are other avenues to take in life, including other healthcare-related fields (e.g. nursing, medical research, pharmacy). Another very real issue with staking your entire life on the GAMSAT is that it can increase your anxiety, which may in turn lead to less than stellar performance on exam day.
Pitfall #6 – “I must know the answer to every single question.”
So, you’re in the middle of Section III. You’ve made it to a really long and complicated question that’s about a concept you’ve really struggled with in the past. You’ve still got half the section left to complete and just about half the allocated time has passed. You know that this question is going to take you ages to figure out…
I’m sure the approach to this situation is debatable, but in my opinion, the best use of time here would be to quickly answer the question (even if you’re unsure), flag it and come back later if you have time. Time wasted on something that you may not even answer correctly could be better spent interpreting and answering other questions. Rest assured that many people do not finish the GAMSAT. GAMSAT is a numbers game; it’s about trying to optimise your time to get as many points as possible within the given time limit, not necessarily answering every single question.
Pitfall #7 – “I can write the most sophisticated essay referencing all the texts I studied closely for the exam.”
Of course, there are some people in the world who seem to have the almighty ability to produce amazing pieces of writing within surprisingly short periods of time, and with great knowledge and well-understood references incorporated throughout. However, for many of us, the sixty-minute window for writing two essays really puts a strain on the ability to construct a masterpiece. I would encourage learning to communicate your ideas effectively (and efficiently) within this short period before exam day so that you have a realistic idea of what and how much you can write. One way to do this is to practise writing essays under timed conditions, which is a great way to practise putting your thoughts together in a short time frame.
Part III: Post-Exam Period
Pitfall #8 – “Oh my goodness, I messed up the whole thing. I’m sure I failed!”
This last one is difficult (trust me, I’ve been there myself), however, please remember that whatever happens on GAMSAT exam day happens. You cannot change what you did. Furthermore, remember that just because you think you did poorly doesn’t mean that you actually did.
Ruminating for weeks after the exam on aspects you think you messed up can be really detrimental to your well-being. Of course, reflection is important for future improvement; however, stressing unnecessarily about the minor details of what may have gone wrong (without actually knowing that you got them wrong), is not. I always try and keep a positive mind-set in the first stages after a big exam like the GAMSAT, and only if I receive a sub-optimal result do I (later, when things have cooled off) go and reflect on what I can improve for next time. Please remember that even in the event that you receive a sub-optimal result that it’s not the end of the world; many people do improve on subsequent sittings of the GAMSAT, and there are other solid career options out there (see Pitfall #5 above).
Wow, that’s a lot of pitfalls…
So, I have listed quite a few things here that either myself or those around me have made the mistake of doing when it came to the GAMSAT exam. It’s not to say that every single person sitting the GAMSAT will make all of these common pitfalls. Some may even make only one or none.
I am writing this to remind you to consider and avoid these pitfalls as you prepare for the exam. Being aware of the common pitfalls will make it easier to recognise if you are doing them yourself. Once you are aware that you are falling into one of these pitfalls, it is then simply a matter of correcting them. And just in case you’ve forgotten already, here they are again:
- “What is Section 1 on again?”
- “I must master everything!”
- “I can learn it all the week before, right?”
- “I don’t have time for practice questions. I just need to learn all this content.”
- “My whole life depends on this!”
- “I must know the answer to every single question.”
- “I can write the most sophisticated essay referencing all the texts I studied closely for the exam.”
- “Oh my goodness, I messed up the whole thing. I’m sure I failed!”
Now, after reading about all these pitfalls, you may feel a bit nervous. The GAMSAT exam is not that far away; do you have enough time to implement the appropriate countermeasures so as to not make one of these common mistakes? This blog article should help! Learn more about some last-minute prep you can make to dispel the nervousness and increase your confidence.