13 February, 2018
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The GAMSAT is a behemoth, it’s demanding, it’s draining and it’s inevitably one of the most challenging tests you will likely sit. Knowing this, there are two ways one can proceed: Panic, shut down and fail to adequately study for the exam, OR construct a plan of attack; one that allows you to adequately prepare for the exam with ample time and minimize unnecessary stress.
Breaking down the exam into manageable chunks is crucial to making sure you cover all areas, from maintaining your strengths to building up your weaknesses. Breaking down the exam into Sections I, II and III are important, then you can further break these down. Today we will be discussing the Biology component of Section III in particular.
Biology-based questions in total comprise 40% of section III, with Chemistry comprising 40% and Physics the remaining 20%. Therefore, it’s essential you nail this aspect of the exam. It should be noted that there is, quite often, an overlap between questions such that they have biology and chemistry aspects to them for example, so all areas of section III should be appreciated.
Planning your study is dependent on the time span you intend to study for: How many days per week you intend to commit, and how much of the day you can focus without going insane. Be honest and create a reasonable and achievable starting point. For the sake of this article lets create a hypothetical plan, which is strikingly and somewhat triggering in its similarity to my own. For me, I spent the first 2-3 weeks of my study going over the concepts using the GradReady lectures and slides supplied, then moved onto MCQs and practice exams for the following months. But to ensure you remain on track, creating weekly or monthly tables of goals per subject is great. For example, I want to have completed 150 biologies MCQs by the end of the next two weeks etc.
Getting the Knowledge Base
As we have just alluded to gaining a solid knowledge base for section III for the day can save you a magnitude of time. While the information is often all in the STEM, being familiar with the language and concepts discussed saves you a lot of time reading. It also allows you to impart some of your own knowledge which can often help you answer the question with more confidence. Because of the depth of knowledge often in the STEMS of questions in the GAMSAT, it is not necessary to meticulously memorize the science. It’s important to be familiar with it, but spending time reciting facts can often be counterproductive in your study time. Instead of focusing on manipulating information is the best way to improve your section III score. What do I mean by this? This means interpreting, critically appraising and applying the information given to you to create ways to solve problems within a scientific context, aka section III questions. The best way to do this isn’t by using some sneaky formula or through memorization: It's through doing practice questions.
Practicing MCQs is, in my humble post-gammy experience the absolute best way to improve your score. It allows you to apply the knowledge you have learned previously, apply analytical skills and begin getting used to the style of questions used in the exam. I still remember the day feeling like I had seen many of the questions before. I hadn’t - I had only sat the GAMSAT once. Instead, it was a familiarity with the style of STEMS, the way the questions were worded and a systematic approach to answering questions in my own way I had developed over the preceding months practicing MCQs. For this reason, I would implore you to spend the majority of your Section III Preparation practicing MCQs.
The GAMSAT can be likened to an academic marathon. You are at the venue for the entire day, it’s a mentally exhausting and taxing day. However, you can train for it, just like a normal marathon. The best way to do this is to begin doing practice exam papers under exam conditions in the lead up to the exam. Through ACER practice exams and GradReady practice exams, you have ample material to sit through your own mock days. Map out how many past exams you would like to do than space them out and schedule them up until the GAMSAT day. It gets you used to focus for extended periods of time and makes the day feel much more familiar.
Consolidating your knowledge is crucial - Really reiterating and targeting areas you struggle with and making sure your study is high yield. One area students often neglect is understanding why they got questions incorrect. Following completion of MCQ quizzes, practice ACER papers or GradReady exams you will have access to answer keys. It’s important to understand why you got questions wrong then turn this into a plan to improve going forward. For example, if you got a question on cell cycle wrong, why? Did you fail to read the text correctly, did you extrapolate past the scope of the question, did your fundamental knowledge have flaws in it? Ask yourself these questions, work out the underlying problem and address it. Continue doing this throughout your study to ensure directed, productive and high yield work. The GAMSAT is about working hard, but it’s also about working smart.
I hope from this blog post you can appreciate that GAMSAT preparation should be comprised of multiple types of study, using a variety of resources. It should ultimately be highly focused on addressing your weaknesses and reinforcing your strengths.