The Non-Science Backgrounder's Guide to the GAMSAT
27 June, 2021
The GAMSAT is daunting enough for anyone, including science students, from whom most of the testing pool is derived. Yet those from non-science backgrounds often have a particular fear of this test, which in truth is unwarranted. This article will outline some aspects about the GAMSAT, its scoring system, and so highlight key areas in which the non-science background student might focus their attention during GAMSAT preparation.
Read 765 times
Non-science background students are defined as non-health science undergraduates, and they come from all walks of life - classical music, political arts, global studies, mathematics or even the workforce itself! At first, GAMSAT preparation, especially for the science part (Section III), seems abhorrent, ghastly and every other fear-inducing synonym that you can think of. The truth? It’s really not.
There’s a systematic way to break down the walls of the content and give yourself the best shot at smashing it come GAMSAT day. It’s about recognising that no matter the undergraduate background that you come from, you have learnt facts in the past, you have problem-solved in the past, and you have triumphed over tests in the past. All these skills that are misperceived as being non-transferable to a science ilk are indeed transferable. Furthermore, individuals with a new or different perspective analyse problems in ways that science students have taken for granted or misapplied. Especially in the essay part (section II), these perspectives may indeed be of benefit compared to those from a purely science orientation.
The best advice possible for now is to focus your preparation on Section III, where you will be at the greatest disadvantage compared to students with science background. An excellent post on this topic is available on the GradReady blog.
In case the concept of GAMSAT preparation is entirely new to you, here’s a brief run-down of the test’s three sections:
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.
- S1: Humanities & Social Sciences - 64 minutes + 6 mins reading time, 47 MCQs
- S2: Written Communication - 60 minutes + 5 mins reading time, 2 essays
- S3: Biological and Physical Sciences - 142 minutes + 8 mins reading time, 75 MCQs
The overall score is then calculated using the formula:
Section 1 + Section 2 + (2 x Section 3)/4
Since there is a double weighting to section 3, this places particular importance on preparing for those science questions, especially for students without a strong science 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).
The score for each section is a percentile of how one performs amongst their peers on that given test. So, while the exact graph will vary slightly from test-to-test, based on the curve below, if one scored better than 90% of the field in a given section (y-axis), they would score a 66 on that section (follow it across to the line, then from there go down to the x-axis). Thus, key milestones are that 56 is the median score, 61 is the top quartile, and 66 is the top 10%.
The shape of the graph demonstrates how most scores are clustered around the median. This is more clearly demonstrated in the following image. Therefore, the slight differences in the cutoff scores required for entry at different medical schools, which seem to vary only slightly from the low 60s to high 60s, actually represent major jumps in terms of percentile ranks.
The reason that medical schools continue to use a test like the GAMSAT that is so detested by the general undergraduate public is because there seems no better way to do it. Like for the interviews, studies have shown conflicting evidence on the correlation between GAMSAT scores and future medical school performance. A 2007 study in the Medical Journal of Australia found no association between GAMSAT scores and clinical reasoning tasks, a fundamental activity in medical school curricula. However, the GAMSAT shows high reliability and is a better predictor than the UCAT for future performance at medical school. However, putting the research aside, there is some merit to the test, and it is usually an essential part of your application for post-graduate medicine in Australia.
Indeed, in addition to gauging the ability of students to deal with stress, the GAMSAT ensures that students cover a variety of study materials and have aptitudes in the areas of humanities, social science and biological sciences. A common complaint against the exam from non-science background students is that the test is insurmountable. I think that the crux of our issue with the GAMSAT is that the test is really an ephemeral idea, a concept of fear and self-evaluation that few have the internal capacity to conquer. But it shouldn’t be like this. In essence, the test is a chance to separate ourselves from those that think in this pessimistic fashion.
So, my ultimate GAMSAT wisdom? Collate all the GAMSAT tips that you possibly can and give it a crack. Excellent starting points are the GradReady posts about Preparing for Section 1, Section 2, and Section 3. Another of our tutors wrote a great article on GAMSAT tips and preparation for Section II, which can be seen here.
Attack the science sections in the proportions (as listed above) that they contribute to the exam. That is, spend 40% of the time on chemistry, 40% biology, and 20% physics. In doing so, make sure that you focus on the basic principles. If you have to learn it from the bottom-up, so be it.
The GAMSAT is the major hurdle that turns non-science background students away from Medical School. And honestly, I can’t envisage anything worse – so many of the most empathetic, insightful, and intelligent medical students, doctors and health professionals are ones that once prided themselves on writing an eloquent political essay on the distribution of maize in Sub-Saharan Africa, or indeed wrote poetry and prose until their head spun. If you think medicine is for you, don’t deny yourself the chance to be a phenomenal addition to the field - crush the GAMSAT head on. There are plenty of open-source resources out there, but of course, nothing matches the nurturing guidance of a GAMSAT preparation course.