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What Does the GAMSAT Test?

What Does the GAMSAT Test?

by , 29 November, 2023
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Embarking upon your journey into post-grad medicine can at first seem overwhelming, with the pathways to medical school demanding a lot from aspiring applicants. One crucial step in this process is successfully sitting the GAMSAT®, and given how anxiogenic this can be for many students, it seems beneficial to spend some time demystifying that. Specifically, the aim here will be to clearly expand upon the structure of the GAMSAT, the types of questions one might expect in each section and the core skills that are the highest yield for improving your overall score.

But first some history…

The History of the GAMSAT

The GAMSAT® was developed in the 1990s, originally to assess higher postgraduate academic potential, but has long since become synonymous with separating candidates for postgraduate medicine and dentistry courses. It’s composed of three sections: Reasoning in Humanities & Social Sciences; Written Communication; and, Reasoning in Biological and Physical Sciences and takes a little over five hours from start to finish.

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So given its history, and that it wasn’t developed specifically for medical candidates, one might well wonder how appropriate it is for this use. Reassuringly however, it has been shown to have equivalent or even superior concurrent and predictive validity to both the MCAT and UMAT, with its three sections showing high divergence. To state that more simply, GAMSAT scores have generally been shown to correlate highly with both past academic achievement (GPA) as well as an applicant’s success throughout pre-clinical years in their post-graduate medical program. Furthermore, the three sections in the GAMSAT® test different things and an applicant’s success in one section needn’t predict their success in another.


For more information about the organization that currently manages the GAMSAT®, visit our GAMSAT ACER page.

GAMSAT Test Overall Structure

As stated, the GAMSAT® is composed of three sections:
  1. Reasoning in Humanities and Social Sciences
  2. Written Communication; and
  3. Reasoning in Biological and Physical Sciences

We shall go through each, expanding upon related core competencies that are likely to be explicitly tested in each section, before concluding with some general remarks about the test as a whole. 

Reasoning in Humanities and Social Sciences


In essence GAMSAT section 1 assesses your ability to engage with and reason about some presented texts, somewhat similar to reading comprehension tests you may have been exposed to in your schooling. A standard question in this section may include a large excerpt from a book and then a series of questions relating to its meaning. It’s important to note however, that the ‘text’ itself may vary substantially and include media such as images or poetry.

Okay, so what core competencies are being assessed here, and what can one work on to improve their performance?

1)      Vocabulary.

Adequate understanding of any text necessarily requires that you first grasp the meaning of the words being used. Furthermore, certain questions may assess this quite directly by asking you for a synonym or a term that most appropriately describes an element in the passage.

2)      Contextual Reasoning.

This, and related skills is something you likely do implicitly when reading a text. In almost any act of interpretation, you need to keep in mind the broader context of the text, as this context may subtly colour the meaning of words or otherwise be necessary for basic understanding. For example, you may be asked to assess what is meant by a character being referred to as ‘aflame’, or why they broke their furniture. In answering this question it’d be helpful to check the rest of the text for clues as to whether they were, say, breaking their door to escape a burning building, a kind-hearted amorous vampire, or suffering a violent outburst in a fit of rage.

3)      Psychological Insight.

This is perhaps relatively self-explanatory. In attempting to interpret and understand written descriptions of behaviour, we really do need to understand what someone might be expected to feel in that circumstance. Further, we have to appreciate when their behaviour is unexpected and try to come up with a hypothesis from the text that best explains this divergence. This sort of loose, implicit modelling of other people very much guides our social behaviour and is unsurprisingly also critical for textual analysis.  

4)      Meta Reasoning.

Essentially this means aspects of reasoning of the text that are informed by knowledge outside of the text. It is far less important than the others but may help in grappling with certain questions. For instance, our interpretation of what an author might mean may be helped by being cognisant of their historical context, which is likely to partially inform their world view. 

Written Communication

 

In GAMSAT section 2, you will be asked to write two essay-like responses to two different series of provided potential quotes (one from each). The first quotes or prompts will usually pertain to extremely broad and familiar social or political concepts (i.e ‘is technology bad?’) and the second more subjective social or personal ethics (i.e ‘if you love someone let them go’), and as such every applicant should be familiar enough with the concepts to write a coherent response. Responses are marked on clarity of communication and coherence of argument, and despite people from science backgrounds often reporting that it is the most daunting, I feel its competencies are some of the more easily practiced for.

1)      Coherence of argument.

This is by far the most important skill in this section. Your prose may well be exceptional, but if you aren’t arguing anything coherently related to the prompt it is unlikely to impress the marker. Take a moment before you begin to compose your thoughts and decide what you’d like to argue. Can this question be explored with reference to any academic theories, or examples from history you may be aware of? Consider likely counter arguments, and ultimately why you feel they are unsatisfactory. That leads us nicely to…

2)      Structure.

Whilst many students may find such emphasis being placed on structure reductive, it really is an invaluable way to think about this section. Familiarity with standard structure (for instance: Introduction, Arguments for, Arguments against, Synthesis, Conclusion) can assist you in clearly formatting your own argument, improve the clarity of your prose, and goes a great way into helping the marker understand your overall thesis.

3)      Clarity of prose

This pertains not only to your vocabulary, grammar and general sentence structure but also to the appropriateness of your written style. Keep in mind that ultimately you are writing in service of making your argument clear and rhetorically convincing so you should strive to avoid prose that is either too ornate/overburdened with jargon, or overly casual.

Reasoning in Biological and Physical Sciences

 

GAMSAT section 3 assesses your ability to reason about information relating to the core disciplines of Biology, Chemistry and Physics in proportions of 40%, 40% and 20% respectively. Importantly however, it is not merely a superficial assay of your related academic knowledge but more about your understanding of important concepts and how to use them. Physiological diagrams or systems may be explained to you, alongside a series of questions assessing how you logically interpret them. With that being said, a few questions will more directly assess your discipline specific knowledge and potential applicants would greatly benefit from being moderately familiar with these sciences to aid in their reasoning and interpretations.

1)      Core scientific knowledge.

As stated, explicit knowledge related to biological and physical sciences is only a small part of this section, however certain questions simply can not be answered without it. For instance, a moon may be described as doubling in size and you are asked how much its gravitational pull has increased. More generally however, knowledge of core concepts in chemistry and biology will greatly assist, if not be essential in solving certain problems, especially under time pressure.

 2)      Familiarity with general concepts and styles of scientific reasoning.

Practice makes perfect. As stated previously, questions may be provided in various ways such as a diagrammatic representation of a physiological system, and your familiarity with that style of representation, along with effectively reasoning about physiology from such a diagram will be of great benefit. Furthermore, certain questions may seem almost uninterpretable without adequate familiarity with similar problems. For instance, a bacteria may be described as evolving to be more stable in extreme temperatures and you are simply asked which of a series of possible adaptations is least likely to have evolved. Such a question might either be assessing your understanding of logical mechanism (is the described adaptation even likely to assist?) or some alternative point, such as about genetic constraints (even if mechanistically beneficial, could we expect it to meaningfully alter its membrane thickness without encountering significant problems?). Familiarity with styles of representation, and styles of reasoning are likely to significantly assist with such questions.

It’s important to do some GAMSAT practice questions to get used to the style of the exam.

3)      Logic

This is somewhat related to scientific reasoning, but more broadly encompasses an applicant’s ability to think clearly and logically about a problem. Many questions will provide adequate information such that even someone unfamiliar with the scientific concept may be able to logically deduce the correct answer. Alternatively, even questions that do greatly rely on familiarity with specific scientific concepts, may still require the subtle application of logic to come to the correct answer. 

Conclusion: What Does the GAMSAT Test?

The GAMSAT® test takes over five hours and is relatively unique in its testing environment and format. As such there are several skills that are being assessed of the applicant that are largely implicit but that you would do well to be cognisant of. The major ones to keep in mind are:

1)      Time Management.

Self-explanatory. Use your time effectively, ideally neither rushing nor taking too long. If you find a question is taking too long, simply flag it to yourself and come back after you’ve finished the rest. Check out our other article about How to Manage Time in the GAMSAT Exam for more information.

2)      Reading the question.

Many mistakes are made simply by missing a word or failing to read what is being asked. Take your time and read the question carefully.

3)      Stamina.

Five hours is a long time and remaining productive and alert throughout the duration is as much a skill as anything else. Practice over similar allotments, using something like the GradReady GAMSAT Practice Test, which mimics the actual ACER GAMSAT®. Also, on the day, make sure you’re well rested.

4)      Overcoming test anxiety.

This unfortunately is something that people vary on substantially, and absolutely has the potential to impact on examination performance. Whilst there is no universal solution for this, familiarity with the expected tasks and making sure to be in a good headspace going into the exam may help. Alternatively, consider speaking to a mental health care specialist if this does represent a severe impediment.

For more information about how to prepare for the GAMSAT®, check out our comprehensive GAMSAT preparation guide.