by Erica Danieletto, 29 April, 2016
Last updated 24th September 2018
Although I’m a Humanities Tutor I often get asked by my non-science students about how to prepare for S3, so this article will list some things that you might like to think about if you’re tackling the GAMSAT® Exam without any science under your belt.
Firstly, don’t freak out. There are plenty of non-science students who make it through so it’s not impossible (even though it might feel like it when you first start studying). Secondly, remember that there is more than one way to skin a cat. Some non-science students end up acing S3, others get through with amazing S1 and S2 scores and just ensure that S3 doesn’t pull them down, and the rest end up doing very respectably in each section. Either way, it’s your overall mark that counts (providing you don’t fail a section) so it really doesn’t matter how you pull it off.
Factor in some extra time to spend on the basic theory. There’s no point opening a university level chemistry textbook if you don’t know what a ketone is (although you’ll be pleased to know that you don’t need to know this past the GAMSAT® Exam - I only vaguely remember and (apart from one PBL on diabetic ketoacidosis) you may never think of the structure of a ketone again!)
Make sure you don’t jump into GAMSAT® Exam style practice questions without adequate base knowledge, otherwise you’ll just end up feeling totally demoralised. Many textbooks have a number of practice questions at the end of each chapter. They won’t be anything like the GAMSAT® Exam style, but they will help you work out if you’re taking in the content.
Ensure you have a huge bank of practice questions so that when you are ready, you can begin to do some while you’re still studying content. Later in the course of your preparation you should work towards solely studying with practice questions and exams.
If you’re working full time (it seems that most non-science students didn’t enter medicine straight from their undergraduate degree) make sure you put together a comprehensive study plan so you can cover everything in the time you’ve got.
If you’re coming to the GAMSAT® Exam with only a bit of high school chemistry that’s a decade old you’ll probably find that you need to supplement your materials with something basic before you tackle any GAMSAT® Exam-style content. Some people recommend starting straight on textbooks but even that did my head in, so I actually ended up starting going with Organic Chemistry I For Dummies (less than $30) and after a couple of weeks of reading that on the train to and from work I understood the basic functional groups and major chemical reactions you need to know for Chem in the GAMSAT® Exam. There are similar books for each subject so have a look around for something super basic to ease into it!
Of course, you will need some GAMSAT® Exam style practise questions to work with too (but note my comments about timing above). Given the amount of study most people put into the GAMSAT® Exam, make sure you go for something with plenty of questions so you can steadily work through them, and make sure you have answers with explanations so you actually understand why the correct answer is right and why the other options are wrong. The material available from ACER, which roughly corresponds to 2 exams worth of example questions, are likely to be the best study material around and I’d highly recommend purchasing them. Unfortunately, this only amounts to about 6 hours of science study time, and I definitely found myself needing more than that in the many months of preparation required.
Now, although these blogs aren’t supposed to be sales pitches, the chances are that if you don’t have a science background, you may be looking at doing some sort of study course. Let’s pick one at random to talk about – GradReady for example. GradReady materials are designed to comprehensively cover all of the science material required for the GAMSAT® Exam, and separated into dozens of specific categories the cross-reference to our textbook. As of this year, we’ve also grouped the MCQs according to difficulty level. We currently have over 4000 MCQs in our MCQ bank (increasing weekly as our busy little creators work away) and we have 6 full-length exams (with 4 more in preparation!). Not to mention our full-day “mock-exam” and debrief that we offer about 3 weeks before the GAMSAT® Exam. So if you’re after a large volume of high-quality content, check us out.
I generally found that my head would explode after a few hours of reading about Henderson Hasselbalch equations in textbooks, so I used online videos to supplement my study. I particularly liked The Khan Academy videos which are short, sweet, easy to understand and most importantly free!
If humanities is your strong suit, don’t neglect it! Make sure that you practice S1 questions to get a hang of the timed conditions (I also used some poetry websites to tap into that high school English class mentality of interpreting stimulus because it had been a while) and write plenty of practice essays - no matter how comfortable you are at developing arguments, churning out 2 essays in an hour is no mean feat. If you can maximise your marks in the humanities sections you give yourself a bit more wiggle room for S3.
Lastly, if you’re really not getting the hang of torque, or you just can’t handle another substitution/elimination reaction, it’s not the end of the world! If you have studied well and have excellent exam technique (completing S3 in time, getting the hang of eliminating distractors and making educated guesses) you can still do well enough on S3 and ride in on your S1 and S2 marks. Seriously, I pretty much blind guessed all the physics questions and counted carbons at times and it worked out ok. Granted, I still hate biochemistry with a passion but I’m totally ok with the fact that clinical pharmacology is probably off limits as a career choice!
Be sure to follow GradReady GAMSAT Preparation on Facebook to stay up to date.
As a student from a non-science background, what are my chances of getting into medicine?
Many students from arts, law and other non-science backgrounds attain entry to medical school each year, so it is absolutely possible to score well in the GAMSAT ® Exam and get an offer! Some humanities students score extremely well in S1 and S2, which brings their total score up high enough to obtain a place. On the other hand, many non-science students manage to get excellent S3 marks as well with several months of well-planned study.
What level of knowledge is required for the GAMSAT® Exam?
ACER stipulate that you need science knowledge equivalent to first year university chemistry and biology, and year 12 physics to score well in S3. However, remember that the GAMSAT ® Exam is a test of reasoning, so it’s not about memorising a first year university syllabus. Rather it’s about learning the basics so you can work through the question stem and apply your problem solving skills to determine the answer.
Do I need to score highly in S3 to get an interview/offer?
Although S3 is weighted double (except for UMelb), you still have S1 and S2 working in your favour, so don’t forget that. Some non-science students do end up acing S3, others get through with amazing S1 and S2 scores and just ensure that S3 doesn’t pull them down, and the rest end up doing very respectably in each section. Either way, it’s your overall mark that counts (providing you don’t fail a section) so it really doesn’t matter how you pull it off. Bear in mind that the pass mark (50) for S3 is actually equivalent to roughly the 20th percentile, so scoring a ‘pass’ isn’t as hard as you’d think.
Will I need to purchase additional materials?
If you’re coming to the GAMSAT® Exam with only some high school chemistry that’s a decade old you might find that you need to supplement your materials with something more basic before you tackle the GAMSAT® Exam-style content. The good news is there are some amazing free online resources (Khan Academy videos are great) and the Dummies series for science subjects are probably available for loan from your university library (non-student memberships are usually available for a fee). To give yourself the best chance, perhaps consider planned course aimed specifically at the GAMSAT® Exam and with a large number of GAMSAT® Exam style MCQs and exams.
Should I practise GAMSAT® Exam style questions?
Absolutely! Although make sure you don’t jump into them without an appropriate level of base knowledge or you’ll just end up feeling demoralised. Plan your study so that you’ve got time to learn the basics and ensure that your preparation materials contain plenty of GAMSAT ® Exam style MCQs that will keep you busy for the lead up to the exam.
How do I study for the humanities (S1 and S2) sections?
Even if humanities is your strong suit, don’t neglect it! Make sure that you practice S1 questions to get a hang of the timed conditions and write plenty of practice essays - no matter how comfortable you are at developing arguments, churning out 2 essays in an hour is no mean feat.