A guide to GAMSAT (Don’t panic!)
The GAMSAT (or Graduate Medical School Admissions test – don’t ask me where the first A comes from) is the subject of much fear amongst applicants to graduate entry medicine (GEM). It seems like only yesterday that I was prepping for the exam myself, spending countless hours going over my A-level books and panicking/procrastinating until the big day arrived. At a recent GEM open day, many of the prospective applicants I spoke to seemed worried about the GAMSAT, speaking of it in hush tones (‘the exam that shall not be named’) and with a look of deep panic in their eyes. If you were one of those people then I am writing this blog for you, to deliver on my promise to help you conquer your fears and give you a fighting chance of turning up to GAMSAT feeling well-prepared and confident that you will give it you absolute best shot.
Below I have compiled some top tips that I used during my preparation for GAMSAT. I was able to achieve a score over 60, which should be more than enough to pass the cut-offs for interview. Remember, this is just a hoop for you to jump through to get to the next stage in your applications, please don’t make yourself ill with stress and burnout at this stage (there will be plenty of time for that when you get to Med-school!! *quiet sobbing*).
Have a read of the main GAMSAT page (https://gamsat.acer.org/) and the Swansea university page (http://www.swansea.ac.uk/medicine/learningandteaching/gamsat/) for some background information before you get started. Hope that this helps!
- Start early (and with baby steps)
Be sure to give yourself enough time to cover all the material you want to (Believe me this isn’t the type of exam that you can cram for). Personally I gave myself about 2 months, spending the first month preparing notes and going over revision material, and the second month doing past papers and practice questions. This style of preparation will give you time to get used to the material you need to study, pick up on your strongest and weakest areas, collate notes and revision resources and, most importantly, have time to live your life.
Everyone is different, I give this advice only as a guideline. Perhaps you are the type who prefers to thrive under the pressure of starting prep a few days/hours before your exams, or maybe you’re looking to get a head-start on GAMSAT 2049, either way my recommendation is to set yourself a realistic strategy that suits both your work style and that you can fit around your daily life. This isn’t going to be an easy ride, but if you start it right then you’ll be patting yourself on the back come GAMSAT day.
2. Do some research first
I’m sure that at this stage you would have already done this, but just in case you haven’t I would recommend getting all the info you can on what the GAMSAT will entail. You can get this from the websites I’ve mentioned above, and there are also come excellent youtube videos that explain what to expect from GAMSAT (Basically all of these -> https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=Gamsat). It’s a good way to ease yourself into revision, and will help you to strategise for the exam.
In a nutshell, the GAMSAT involves 3 sections:
- Section 1 is “Reasoning in humanities and social sciences” – basically a 1.5hr MCQ which tests your ability to interpret information and apply reasoning to it. It’s a bit like an English Lit exam; you will be given a passage of text on any subject and then asked objective and subjective questions about what has been said.
- Section 2 is “Written communication” – I struggled with this section the most, you will have 1 hour to write 2 essays that highlight your ability to reason in the written form. You will need to be able to apply both sides of an argument to your essays, as well as coming to a reasonable conclusion (and if you can chuck in some stuff about Medicine that’s a bonus!)
- Section 3 is “Reasoning in Biological and Physical sciences” (a.k.a the Science section) – This is a 3hr MCQ testing your knowledge of Biology (40%), Chemistry (40%) and Physics (20%). I believe that you are no longer required a calculator (please check this, it’s been a couple of years since I did it!) so mental arithmetic can be applied to most questions, and generally the level of knowledge is up to an A-level standard.
3. Top tips for each section
The first section is a difficult one to revise for as anything could come up on the day, and if you’re from a science background you won’t be used to answering these ‘waffly-type’ questions with subjective answers. To condition your mind to this section I would recommend testing yourself every time you read a passage of text. It could be the daily newspaper (or if you’re from the 21st century – an online article), that novel you’ve been telling yourself you’ll get around to reading, poetry (I’m a Kipling fan myself); basically anything that you can digest and pick-apart to get that analytical brain buzzing. Every time you read a passage, test yourself on what the passage meant, whether there were are meanings underlying the text and what techniques the authors used to express those meanings. If you have some willing/tolerant people to discuss the text with then all the better! Discussion will expand your mind, and might give you some fresh ideas of things to research and apply to your revision ( it also comes in handy for practising Section 2).
Depending on your background this section might be your best friend or your worst nightmare! Coming from a background of empirical science-based objective exams I really struggled with this style of questioning at first. As I mentioned before, the idea with this section is to write essays that argue both sides of a point, then applying reason and logic to try and come to some sort of conclusion.
Now as a start I’d recommend looking up some resources on how to structure essays effectively. There’s plenty of online tools to help with this, or you may wish to read some essays and try to pick out the structure for yourself. Choose a structure that works for you and stick to it for whatever question you get asked on the day, this way you at least have a familiar framework in which to write your answer.
On the day, you will get to choose 2 topics from 2 separate lists that they will provide you. The topics can be just about anything, but don’t let this stop you from applying them to medicine wherever you can (after all this should be more interesting to you, and the more interested you are in something the better the writing will be). Try to prepare for topics by getting as much background knowledge as you can on a range of different subject areas. I highly recommend watching TED talks (https://www.ted.com/); they are entertaining, interesting, provide a host of useful topics to discuss and they are FREE! I also used the Crash-Course youtube channel (https://www.youtube.com/user/crashcourse), again this is an excellent free tool for getting a little background on a range of topics. Find whatever resources suit you and allocate time each day to sift through and find useful information that you can apply to your essays. Don’t worry too much about stats (although if you can remember them all the better!), just expand your understanding of concepts that could come up and try to wrap your head around both sides of the argument.
My final tip for section 2 is to practice writing as much as you can. If you have time to write out full essays then that’s fantastic, set yourself a time goal and by the end of your revision try to write 2 full essays within the 1hr slot. However another strategy I used was not to write out essays in full, but to bullet point the structure and arguments I would use for the essay if I were to write it out. This is useful as it saves you time and energy, but also gets you into the habit of planning your essays and getting comfortable with the structure you have chosen. If you want to have a go at this try going on a random quote generator (e.g. https://codepen.io/kkoutoup/pen/zxmGLE), get a random quote as the topic of your essay and work from there. Just keep trying over and over, write down your list of arguments for each quote and come to a conclusion as to whether you agree or disagree with it. The more of a habit you can make it, the more comfortable you will be on the day.
For the ‘Science section’ you are going to need to get your hands on some A-level standard revision materials (although if I’m honest I used YouTube for the majority of my revision). My strategy was to go through the past GAMSAT papers. For each question I made a note of what topic they asked about (e.g. cells, stereoisomers, gravity etc.) to get an idea of what topics they tested, and most importantly what topics they tested repeatedly. This will give you a better idea of what you realistically need to revise for and what level of depth you need to go into with your revision.
The section is weighted more heavily towards Biology and Chemistry, but don’t neglect the physics questions as they could make or break your exam. Again I would recommend looking up some YouTube channels (Crash Course Physics is excellent for this), just to get your head around the topics.
4. Past papers
Get your hands on as many past paper questions as you can. Some universities can help you out with these, or you might have to pay for them alongside your GAMSAT entrance fee. Alternatively there are some revision materials that you can purchase with example questions and tips for the exam (I’m afraid I didn’t use any myself, but they have been highly recommended to me so maybe look them up).
However you get them, use the example questions throughout your revision to familiarise yourself with the exam format and the topics you will be tested on. If you can, try to keep one paper to the side and the week before your GAMSAT run a mock session for yourself. The GAMSAT is a loooooonnnnnnggg day, it’s as much a test of endurance as it is of knowledge, so having a realistic idea of how to pace yourself for each section is invaluable.
So that is all of the advice that I have for anyone sitting the GAMSAT. I hope that at least somewhere in this blog is a nugget of useful information for you, and I really hope I haven’t put you off doing the exam in the first place! Remember, as arduous as it may seem, this is just a stepping stone in your journey into Medicine. All the GEM students have been in your shoes, and we have all felt the same as you do now, but we managed to succeed and achieve the goal we strived for, and I believe you will too.
(p.s. Thought I would throw in a picture of my dog Ruby walking down Mumbles beach in Swansea, please come visit for a better look!)