How to Prepare for GAMSAT Biology
11 July, 2021
The biology component of the GAMSAT comprises 40% of Section 3—a significant proportion of marks for the test. It is thus vital that you adequately prepare for biology. Many of you reading this may be finishing or have previously finished natural science degrees and believe that, as a result, you will be adequately prepared for GAMSAT biology. Unfortunately, this assumption is often incorrect, as GAMSAT questions prioritise interpretation and synthesis of new information over regurgitation of old information. This blog post will explain the importance of studying for GAMSAT biology and then provide some tips on how to prepare!
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Why do I need to study biology, regardless of my background?
Many natural science degrees require students to rote learn and memorise the functions and roles of specific genes, hormones, and so forth in the body. This type of knowledge is incredibly important for a research scientist or passing your end-of-semester exams in natural science study; however, it is almost irrelevant knowledge for the GAMSAT. Most GAMSAT questions will provide you with all of the specialised information you need, making memorisation of details a useless skill. What you do require, however, is a very solid foundation of the basics so that you can apply them to novel situations. Therefore, even if you are in your final year of a biology degree, it is not a bad idea to go back through the basic concepts, and really think about how they might relate to more advanced concepts.
The GAMSAT is full of novel situations to test your application of basic concepts. Throughout the exam, you will often be presented with information seemingly from a foreign field of knowledge. For example, you may have a question that relates to the kidney functions of a cat. All that is required here is to strip down the question to the fundamental forms of biological knowledge and principles that the question contains, and to think about how you can apply the basic concepts to the novel situation. It may even help to think about GAMSAT questions as logic puzzles dressed up with science terms to make them look intimidating. For a general overview of the GAMSAT Exam, check out What is the GAMSAT.
How can I study for GAMSAT biology?
As you have hopefully gathered from the above, memorising bucketloads of information is not the way to go about studying for GAMSAT biology, as ACER is not interested in how many discrete facts you’ve memorised, but in how you can apply information. In fact, many questions do not require that you have any specific knowledge beforehand, but rather that you can take the new information provided to you in the stem and apply it to the questions. With that in mind, you may be wondering how to go about preparing for an exam that isn’t completely knowledge-based.
Firstly, while you don’t need to have oodles of knowledge, having the basics is definitely a good idea. Make sure that you at least know how cells and genes work, and the very basic facts about the various organ systems in the body. The chapter summary pages in your average first year human biology textbook is about the level of detail that you will need with regard to organ systems. When you learn something new, try and relate it to what you have already learned. Learning new concepts in relation to other concepts will help you form connections in your mind, allowing you to learn the new concepts better and to see everything as part of an interconnected whole.
Secondly, make sure you brush up on your maths and graph reading skills. Many Section 3 questions, including biology questions, require you to interpret data. Data may be presented on standard 2D graphs, or in more unusual ways. Basic mathematical skills are also required to compare data points, interpret formulae given in the stem, and so on. Calculators are not permitted in GAMSAT so the maths will not be too difficult, but you should at least feel comfortable with rearranging equations, formula interpretation (e.g. knowing what will happen if you increase a numerator or denominator), and estimations.
Thirdly, practice, practice, practice! GAMSAT-style questions are very different to the questions encountered in most university exams. Practice is therefore very important for getting used to the style of questions encountered in the GAMSAT, and for practicing application of basic concepts and interpretation of new data. ACER has official practice questions that you download when you sign up for GAMSAT; alternatively, GradReady’s GAMSAT preparation courses come with access to an extensive MCQ bank to provide you with plenty of practice.
Studying for GAMSAT Biology can be daunting, but hopefully this blog post has provided some reasons why it is necessary to persist, and how you can go about preparing. We at GradReady wish you all the best with your GAMSAT Biology preparation! Find more information about how to prepare for GAMSAT Section 3 in this article.