How to Prepare for GAMSAT Physics
28 January, 2021
When approaching physics, and more broadly section 3 of the GAMSAT, practice questions are going to be your best friend and you need to practice the way you play. Most of your sittings should be answering multiple questions under GAMSAT style conditions (think roughly 2 minutes per question) and should be spread across biology, chemistry, and physics to give you the best shot at success on exam day.
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Practice the way you play.
But how are you going to play on game day?
What to expect out of physics questions on the exam.
Physics is arguably the least represented background among students who decide to sit the GAMSAT. Most students come in with a background in biology or chemistry, or at times humanities, but rarely have a strong physics background. This makes the physics questions and concepts seen on the exam seem much harder than their other subject counterparts, especially because many students intentionally avoid studying physics knowing it will be a bit of an uphill battle BUT physics is a potentially invaluable window to increase your section 3 score.
20% of the questions in section 3 are based around physics concepts and ideas. This may make it seem counterintuitive to spend much time on physics given biology and chemistry each make up 40% of section 3, but given few students have physics backgrounds, this may very well be the separation between you and other students.
What I mean is that if most of the cohort taking the exam do quite well on the chemistry and biology portions of the exam (given most of them will have some sort of background in at least one or both of these subjects), that makes the physics questions the separator between the 50th and 95th percentiles. A few correctly answered physics questions could mean a significant difference in your overall score and standing within your cohort, especially if the rest of the cohort is purposely avoiding studying physics content and is skipping those questions on the day.
So, you’re convinced to study physics but where to start?
The mountain of content within the realm of physics is quite literally insurmountable. There’s good reason many careers that stem from undergraduate physics degrees are so specialised. Consider engineering where you have mechanical, electrical, civil, aerospace, industrial, chemical, the list literally goes on and on. If the professionals don’t spend their time studying all types of physics, then neither should you. Studying physics for the GAMSAT, much like biology or chemistry, is about nailing the basics and then teaching your brain to critically think and analyse in the language of physics. That is mostly achieved through practise questions, and if you’re the type of person who loves content, use the practise questions as a guide for what to study – just don’t get lost down the rabbit hole of learning everything about every topic; all you need is the basics.
- Spend some time at the start of your study going through the basics and reteaching yourself how simple mathematic principles work and operate. It is almost a guarantee that these will come up in the exam (and they may even come up in biology and chemistry as well).
- Don’t go too far into any area of study. All you will need are the basics for each subject so give yourself a limit of how far to study into each topic. For example, it is useful to know broadly how charged particles interact with each other (based on charge, size of charge, distance between, etc) but you don’t need to understand the minutiae of how torque on a current carrying wire can be utilised in dc electric motors based on charged particles.
- Practise GAMSAT style questions as much as possible. The GAMSAT famously has stated their objective is not to test background knowledge but critical thinking and analytic skills. Essentially someone with no background in any of the subjects, but who was incredibly gifted at answering word problems and deciphering graphical information, could perform well on the exam. Critical and analytical thinking is a skill, not a concept. This means the way you improve at it is in part learning a bit about it generally, but more so about doing it over and over until you get good at it.
- It’s generally fine to give yourself a bit more time per question as you start doing practice questions so that you can really understand the content as you go through and look up concepts to fill in gaps where you don’t understand the content. The end goal though, should be to emulate exam conditions as much as possible, which means you should be striving to hold yourself to roughly 2 minutes per question from a few months out from the exam. This will start to set your internal alarm clock to go off naturally to tell you if a question is taking too long so you can budget your time effectively.
- If nothing else, there are other test taking skills to build to give you a better chance of getting questions right. Where a question is taking too long or you know from the outset that you’re not going to be able to arrive at an answer reasonably quickly, utilise educated guessing, narrowing down answers you know to be incorrect, estimating, rounding, etc. Even if it doesn’t get you to an answer, if it eliminates some answers based on educated reasoning, it increases your odds at getting it right, and that might be enough.
In saying all this, it is also incredibly important to make sure you don’t neglect the other areas of study. Given section 3 will consist of 80% biology and chemistry and there’s a section 1 and 2 as well, make sure you are giving adequate time and energy to the other topics as well. It is really important to keep in mind that the exam is testing reasoning and not a memorisation of rules and equations across all subjects. The better you get at reasoning in general, the skill will carry over into biology, chemistry and physics and might even help in humanities as well.
What to do on test day.
Be ruthless. Your goal in the lead up to the exam and with your study generally is to focus on your weaknesses to give yourself the best shot at success on exam day. Your goal on exam day is to focus on your strengths (to ensure you get all the questions correct that you can) and count your losses where you know something is taking too much time or energy.
You don’t need to answer every single physics question with absolute confidence, but every question you get to at least educated guess towards is going to be a higher chance at improving your overall score. So, spend a bit of time on each question where possible but know when to cut your losses and move on so that you can save your mental capacity for the questions that you’re more likely to get correct.
The most important thing on test day is to not get bogged down trying to answer any question for too long. Some questions will only take you on average a minute to answer, so you might gain yourself some time on those questions, but you shouldn’t realistically be spending any more than around 3 minutes on a question because your time is too valuable on the day given it is incredibly restricted. Many people don’t get through the entire exam and you want to make sure you don’t miss out on questions that are easy for you that might be at the end of the exam booklet because you spent too much time staring at a question that you couldn’t work out how to solve.
At the end of the day, the exam is all about critical thinking and analytic skills, and just as importantly it’s about tactically approaching the exam as a whole and being constantly conscious of your time in the exam and how you are performing mentally. All it takes is one good sitting of the exam and you never have to sit it again.
Wherever you are in your study journey, know that there are thousands of other students at the same point as you. Keep pushing through until exam date and know that you will get a well-deserved rest after the exam is over. Be smart both in your preparation and on the day of the exam and plan as much as possible to avoid under or over studying.
And most importantly, good luck!
For more tips about preparing for GAMSAT Section 3, read our next article here.