Preparing for the GAMSAT Exam with a Non-Science Background
10 February, 2022
Not having studied the natural sciences in high school or university is not an insurmountable barrier to getting a good GAMSAT score. This blog aims to encourage all our so-called ‘non-science’ background colleagues that they can perform well in the GAMSAT! Preparing for the GAMSAT with a non-science background is not an impossible feat! I say so-called because ‘non-science’ here basically means that the candidate did not study a Bachelor of Science or Biomedical science (or similar variations), even though the term ‘science’ certainly should always be understood to accompany the health, social, philosophical and other sciences.
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I also just want to start by noting that from my own experience in medical school, the non-science students were consistently the best performers, incredibly diligent and hard-working, technically competent, and far more empathetic than colleagues with a history in the natural sciences. So, the real barrier for many of us is the GAMSAT exam, and once this has been surmounted, the path through medical school is highly achievable for anyone from any background!
The GAMSAT is broken up into three sections – where the first two sections address the humanities and social sciences, and candidates are expected to answer related MCQs and write essays. GAMSAT Section 3 addresses knowledge in the natural sciences, and specifically in biology, chemistry and physics. In discussing how to prepare for the GAMSAT here, I will focus overwhelmingly on Section 3, as this is typically the most problematic section for students who are preparing for the GAMSAT with a non-science background.
As we discussed in our other blog, The Non-Science Backgrounder's Guide to the GAMSAT, Section 3 is split into 40% chemistry, for which first-year university equivalence is assumed, 40% biology and 20% physics, for which a level of high-school equivalence is assumed.
The overall score is then calculated using the formula:
Section 1 + Section 2 + (2 x Section 3)/4
So, you can see here that there is a double weighting to Section 3, and so there is some degree of importance placed on preparing for those natural science questions, especially for students without a relevant background. However, some medical schools, such as the University of Melbourne, use a different formula, which does not make the science section double-weighted (thus is instead the mean score of the three sections).
One of the most important points to emphasise is that the GAMSAT is a test that does not interrogate your ability to recall vast amounts of knowledge (or really any at all) – everything you need to answer the question is within the question itself, and the focus is really on recognising patterns and applying logic to answering the question. Despite this, it is really vitally important to learn how to prepare for the GAMSAT so that you have a basic understanding of the natural sciences and can, most crucially, interpret and recognise the language and vocabulary of the natural sciences.
It is thus quite a good idea to follow ACER’s advice here, and ensure that you at least get familiar with resources in GAMSAT biology, chemistry and physics that are at the recommended level (i.e. Year 12 or first year university). This may mean investing in textbooks (I searched the unit guides of the local university to find out what textbooks they used in chemistry and physics!) and going through explanatory videos online. Everyone does say that you don’t need textbooks to study for GAMSAT, but GAMSAT is an application & extension exam so foundation knowledge is key to build on. And, as ACER says, “It must be stressed that success in GAMSAT is unlikely without knowledge and ability in the biological and physical sciences.”
Firstly, then, if you are preparing for the GAMSAT with a non-science background, you need to start by learning the basics – i.e. getting familiar with the ‘language’ and concepts of the natural sciences. You do not need to, and you should not, feel the need to memorise anything you read here. It just won't work, as significant reasoning is needed in GAMSAT Section III, which are all based on the basics. For example, for organic chemistry, everything comes down to functional groups - electrophile, nucleophile, etc. If you have a clear idea about functional groups, you can apply them in any questions, you can immediately reason the structure given, how it will likely react with what in certain mechanism.
Second, do plenty of practice questions before, during and after your revision of the basic concepts. The prior testing of yourself should just establish a baseline and help you get a feel to the ‘style’ of GAMSAT questions, and you should not, at all, take your results to heart at this very early stage! When you are completing questions, don’t just emptily check the questions, but ensure you write down the concept or the topics that you didn't get and why you didn't understand it. Then make a notebook writing down the concepts you did not understand previously, and write some notes about its mechanism (as brief as possible) then revise it periodically. Don’t forget to take advantage of GradReady’s library of Free GAMSAT Practice Questions and Materials.
Third, revise frequently! It is beneficial if you can try to do a little revision every day – rather than huge slogs of study in one or two days. This allows your brain to reset, take a rest, and create those neuronal connections to help with your learning! In this too, you need to look after yourself during your study – keeping in mind all of those good study habits such as eating well, exercising, and sleeping adequately!
FAQs for students preparing for the GAMSAT with a non-science background
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 GAMSAT Section 1 and GAMSAT Section 2, 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 GAMSAT Section 3. 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 GAMSAT Section 3 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 a planned course aimed specifically at the GAMSAT exam and with a large number of GAMSAT exam style MCQs and exams, such as GradReady’s GAMSAT preparation courses.
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 small feat.
Finally, we recommend that you sign up for our GAMSAT Free Trial which includes 50 MCQs from our Intelligent MCQ Bank, access to our week-by-week study guide for each section, and a wealth of our GAMSAT resources. It will make preparing for the GAMSAT with a non-science background easier.