01 May, 2017
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Perhaps you’re reading this post and are new to the GAMSAT® Exam. If so, like most of us you’re probably reeling internally from the news that you can’t use a calculator in this monster-of-an-exam. In fact, you’re not even permitted to bring in a ruler! For the majority of us, calculating things by hand is something we haven’t done since early high school. Consequently, I’ve encountered a fair few students who find working without a calculator about as easy as changing a car tyre without a jack. Fortunately, there are a few things I’ll discuss here which you can practise now to ensure this doesn’t hold you back unnecessarily.
From my experience tutoring GAMSAT® Exam candidates, there are a couple of reasons why people worry over their non-calculator skills. The first surrounds actually being able to do the calculations required by the questions, and the next to do them in the time available.
First things first, Section III of the GAMSAT® Exam is really the section where you will be required to do some calculations. For an in-detail overview of the GAMSAT® Exam, click here. It’s helpful to keep in mind here that the GAMSAT® Exam has been designed to test your logical thinking skills in the physical and biological sciences and that it’s written with the calculator restrictions in mind. This means that you won’t be tested on highly complicated mathematical theory, or likewise asked to complete page-long derivations. Rather, what you’ll need to focus on is being able to do by hand what you used to do on a calculator without a second thought. It absolutely is possible to do all the questions in section III without a calculator - if it wasn’t, then they wouldn’t put them in the exam! To add some context, some of the things which you’ll need to be able to do for section III include: computations with fractions and/or decimals, basic geometry and trigonometry, and manipulating exponentials and logarithms.
Secondly, timing. It’s arguably the biggest mountain you’ll have to climb, as section III of the GAMSAT® Exam contains 110 questions in 170 minutes. So to be able to approach this section without a calculator, you’ll need to be experienced at performing calculations. FAST. One of our most experienced tutors, Erica, wrote a blog with an in-depth discussion of section III along with some helpful information and timing tips which can be found here. To reasonably tackle the problem of timing, from the perspective doing the calculations alone, you will need to practise. But practise alone usually won’t do the trick. Instead, the key here is to learn what mathematical ‘tricks’ or shortcuts work best for you. If you find yourself unable to perform calculations in less than 2-3 minutes, try looking at how others think of the problems and seeing if you can apply someone else’s logic. Study groups are a great way to do this (for more on studying in a group, click here). Take every opportunity you can to do calculations by hand and do away with checking things on a calculator once you’ve had a bit of practise. Also, finding ways of performing a quick ‘sanity check’ on your answer - even if it’s just thinking about the magnitude of the value you’ve computed - will work wonders for your confidence and thereby help you with both your speed and accuracy.
The non-calculator edict of the GAMSAT® Exam is a challenge for all, however with the above in mind you can reasonably work to put yourself in a position to tackle problems with confidence and accuracy.
Thanks for reading! - Christine