by Elliot D, 09 February, 2017
The GAMSAT® Exam season has landed violently upon us, and students hoping to get into medical school are, across Australia, realising that the big day is less than two months away! We have strongly encouraged our GradReady pupils to earnestly begin writing essays at this stage; and I am personally pressuring my humanities class to submit multiple essays to myself for marking from this week right up until the GAMSAT® Exam.
Though in this blog series, we have usefully addressed the overall structure and plan for writing a GAMSAT essay, I want to very specifically address the “reflective” writing task in the GAMSAT® Exam for this particular blog post. Generally, many students who are sitting the GAMSAT® Exam have a very strong background in science, and so the “reflective” essay is a scary proposition that causes a great deal of stress. In this blog, I want to offer some advice, and look at how we can begin to write a great, “reflective” GAMSAT® Exam essay.
You may have noticed that I have utilised quotation marks when talking about the “reflective” essay (to indicate it is “so-called”, and for irony). This is because the second essay of the GAMSAT® Exam, often referred to as the “reflective” essay, ought to be thought of as the creative essay. Different from the argumentative essay you should pen for the initial writing task, the creative essay is much broader in the type of writing permissible. When we discuss the “reflective” essay in the GAMSAT® Exam, many students believe that this is entirely restricted to a personal reflective account. I want to emphasise that this is not the case.
The second essay on the GAMSAT® Exam task can be written creatively, and can take many forms, including: personal reflection, historical account, fictional story, poetry and the like. Similarly, there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ structure, you may choose to have a beginning, middle and end, or you might even want to drop the reader into the middle of a story. The fact that there are less ‘rules’ in this particular essay, is also a source of grief for objectively-minded science students. We will now look at some examples quotes (which I provided to my students this week as practice), and discuss how we may address them.
Initially, you need to identify the theme. Similarly to the argumentative writing task, you still need to address your creative writing to a theme. For the above quotes, the overall theme is arguably ‘evil’ – then there are multiple sub-themes such as ‘inner evil’, ‘humans are by nature, evil’, ‘neutrality’, and ‘unfamiliarity’ (that I have identified). When you write your creative essay, you need to be penning within one of the themes that you identify; however, please don’t think you need to repeat any of the quotes, nor do you have to restrict to the specific theme an individual quote is positioned in, you may discuss an overall (or ‘bigger picture’) theme identified (I.e. ‘evil’ here).
What to write? Here are some bullet point ideas:
Personal reflection of a time that you triumphed over evil.
Fictional story of a character being burdened by the evil of the hegemonic socio-political system
Poem addressing the nature of man, and the evil within
Historical (though made up) account of a German soldier forced to commit atrocities in World War 2
These are just some examples for you to consider. My personal view is that the personal reflective structure can turn out very badly for you – no offense to any of my readers intended, but it is typically the case that what has happened in your personal life will not be as interesting to the GAMSAT® Exam marker as it is to yourself. Further, a ‘this happened, then this happened, then this finally happened’ type of personal reflective account will be boring and not inviting. You need to design a piece of creative writing that will really grip the reader – whether it’s controversial, well-written, or really deeply addresses characters’ emotions. I favour the latter option, as I feel the GAMSAT® Exam writing task is almost to test your empathy for medical school. An excellent way to do this is through describing emotions of a character(s) in heavy detail in a potential essay. I will now try to quickly write the start of a rough example based on the quotes above, for you to ponder:
The woman shuffled solemnly through the treacherous pouring rain, each drop pounding profoundly from above and soaking her to the bone. Trudging through the empty marketplace, normally bustling during the day, she kept her eyes levelled to the cold pavement under her aching feet. Neither the foreboding loneliness of the journey nor her heavy black boots were bothering her troubled mind. Her suffering, anguish, and shame made sure of that. Forced onto the street by the crippling debts crushing her family, she really had no choice. The unrelenting nausea that fought desperately to flatten her to the stone pavement was suffocating. The disgust was unparalleled. Relinquishing her strength briefly, she lent on a stone pillar outside a glowing, white house. Lights blazed triumphantly inside, the warmth boasting heartily to the freezing weather. White walls glistened in the moonlight, repulsing the meandering darkness. Laughter echoed from the perfect family residing within the splendour of the beautiful home. A home filled with dreams and comfort, security and pleasure – so unfamiliar to her.
Through the heavy darkness and drenching rain, she peered closely towards the bold front door. Light was escaping silently through the slightest of openings. Possibilities occurred to her. Riches appeared in front of her eyes. An opportunity for escape. Her aching muscles slowly lifted her feet towards the open door, her left hand toying with the hilt of a kitchen knife, buried underneath her skirts…
Elliot is a junior doctor at the Prince Charles Hospital, a law graduate, a current PhD student (in international relations, feminist studies and international law), and scored 82 on Section 2 of the GAMSAT® Exam.