GAMSAT Stress Management Strategies
13 February, 2021
It is not an exaggeration to state that the GAMSAT is the most stressful and challenging aspect of the entire medical school journey. Thousands upon thousands of candidates sit the GAMSAT each year, all vying for a limited number of interview opportunities at the handful of medical schools scattered across the country. It is a gruelling exam, challenging your reasoning and problem solving across the natural sciences and the social sciences. And the reward from doing well in this test is an easier pathway to a much sought-after spot at medical school, which is a much-desired first step on a career progression that is literally the dream of thousands of candidates. Evidently, sitting the GAMSAT, with all of these pressures, expectations, and difficulties, is highly stressful. You must learn now, even prior to the test, to forgive yourself for feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or frazzled, and how to work with these feelings and emotions so that they are effectively harnessed to motivate you, rather than crippling your GAMSAT efforts. Luckily, this is exactly what this blog is addressing.
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This blog includes tips and tricks that will help you manage this avalanche of stress that may occur before, during, or after the GAMSAT. Further, there are also some much-needed links for extra support at the bottom of the page for anyone who may feel overcome with stress or worry. Seeking help is important and there are a lot of services out there that can help you. One of the major problems within the medical profession (and also within the medical student population) is that not enough of us seek help when we need it, and it is vital we start with these habits of support and community now.
Managing GAMSAT stress before the exam
Perhaps the earliest point of stress is to do with the vast amount of content within the GAMSAT. Looking at the GAMSAT from the outside presents the test as a daunting monolith, an unclimbable mountain, and an unscalable horror. A cursory glance at the content requirements, which is briefly summarised as a roughly first-year university level knowledge of the key natural sciences and a similar appreciation of the diverse and broad content of the entirety of the social sciences, is daunting. This, quite often, is enough to dissuade the strongest and bravest potential candidates. However, one crucial point that is missed here is that the GAMSAT is not a traditional exam, and it does not ask, at any point, for regurgitation or recall of facts, figures, or formulae from these disparate sciences. Rather, the exam focuses on assessing students’ abilities to synthesise and analyse information presented on the spot. You should, therefore, expect to find yourself answering questions in the GAMSAT about topics that you have never heard of, and be comfortable and relaxed in doing so!
Without a proper understanding of what exactly the GAMSAT is testing, stress levels could rise through the roof in attempting to conceptualise the over-stated content requirement of the test. The key here is to familiarise yourself with the unfamiliar (and being prepared to face it in the actual exam) through the completion of practice questions as often as possible, a broad appreciation of the very basics of the sciences and testing your synthesis and logical abilities.
In the months and weeks leading up to the GAMSAT, where pressure will continue to mount and stress levels will boil over, there are important stress-reduction strategies you can undertake. I have listed several here to help, some of which are simple, but simply need to be emphasised, again and again:
- Diet: Constant study and the associated stress encourages the consumption of quick and easy junk food and highly processed ‘food’. However, as is well known, these foods enhance the inflammatory processes and biological circuits that allow stress to thrive, as well as overwhelming your body and brain with sugars and fats that keep you operating sub-par. The best study preparation you can do is to cook food yourself from non-packaged ingredients sourced from (often most accessible and cheaper) markets. Cooking is also a very relaxing activity that can prepare you delicious food to nourish your mind, body and soul!
- Sleep: Without enough sleep, your neurons will never have the chance to form the connections they need to retain and integrate learnt information during the day. This means aiming for around 6-7hrs sleep a night and ensuring your practice good sleeping habits for a restful evening. Such as leaving time to wind down at night, not drinking caffeine near bed, not looking at a screen near bedtime, and trying to sleep at the same time each day.
- Exercise: Absolutely vital. Your mind cannot function without a healthy body, which only regular exercise can provide. Increasing your physical activity will make you a more effective studier through a sharper mind, better sleep, and greater concentration. Moreover, it’s a great excuse to get outside and take your mind off the GAMSAT.
- Communicate: Whether it’s a friend or family member, or a professional, talking to someone about how you’re feeling can be really helpful during stressful times. I’ve included some links below that may help with this.
- Fun: Do not stop doing what you love! Whatever ‘fun’ may be for you, making sure you continue to do things that you enjoy outside of university and GAMSAT study is essential.
- Relax: Many people hear about these and then try to utilise them at the last minute with little success. Here is a great spreadsheet (https://www.beyondblue.org.au/docs/default-source/senseability/relaxation-techniques.pdf?sfvrsn=2) about different techniques you may want to try. My recommendation would be to try some out early and see what works for you.
Managing GAMSAT stress during the exam
With the global pandemic that has been raging for over a year now, there is much uncertainty. The GAMSAT exam is no exception. The format of the exam has been in flux for the last year, as we have moved away from the traditional all-day, written exam – and perhaps there will be a new format just around the corner! Despite any changes, and regardless of the duration, no doubt the test will still be extremely stressful! And so, strategies for managing stress during the GAMSAT are vital.
At present, it seems that the 2021 edition of the GAMSAT will be taking place digitally, but still in a physical venue (i.e. it will be done over a computer). On the day, make sure to bring enough food (I would recommend healthy and protein-full, low-GI food rather than high-sugar snacks that can lead to serious highs and lows) and caffeine (but only have as much as you normally would!). Check what services are available at your test centre before you arrive, and logistics such as transport, so you do not fuel stress levels by arriving late to the exam (I had recurrent nightmares of this scenario before my GAMSAT!).
During the actual exam, you may find it helpful to practice slow breathing or other relaxation techniques, such as those described in the link above. This is true especially when there are brief pauses between sections, as you wait to start a new section, within reading time, or at any stage you feel it is necessary. Importantly, no one answers the entire test perfectly. If you feel you do not know the answer to a question, or you are not confident on one of your essays and so forth, do not beat yourself up. Again, no one does this exam perfectly, and you are bound to make mistakes. Be comfortable in moving on from a difficult question, and positively striding forward to address subsequent MCQs and the rest of the exam!
Managing GAMSAT stress after the exam
Ruminating after the exam on aspects you ‘think you may have messed up’ can be really detrimental to your well-being. Whilst reflection is important for future improvement, stressing unnecessarily about the minor details of what may have gone wrong (without actually knowing), 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.
Before, during, and even after the GAMSAT exam can all be times marked by significant stress and anxiety, but they also do not have to be. There are many strategies and resources out there to help manage stress, and I have mentioned only a few here. Remember if you are feeling overwhelmed or in need of more help, you can always reach out to someone. I have provided some links below that may help with GAMSAT stress.
Plus, we’ve prepared a GAMSAT Study Syllabus you can download. Having a solid GAMSAT study plan in place can be the key to managing GAMSAT stress. Our GAMSAT Study Syllabus covers all the areas you need to prepare for, and also helps to organise your study in a way that will allow you to learn all this in an efficient manner.
Exam Stress Techniques: https://headspace.org.au/young-people/how-to-reduce-stress-and-prepare-for-exams/
Relaxation Techniques: https://www.beyondblue.org.au/docs/default-source/senseability/relaxation-techniques.pdf?sfvrsn=2
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