Strategies to Optimise Your GAMSAT Preparation and Get Into Postgrad Medicine in Australia
Ah, the dreaded entrance exams. There’s just no escaping them if you want to study medicine.
Maybe your high school marks weren’t good enough to get into med school as an undergraduate, or maybe you only just discovered that medicine is your true calling.
I mean, what could be more rewarding than saving lives?!
Good news. It’s not too late. You can still accomplish your dreams of becoming a doctor.
However, it’s not going to come easy. Graduate entry medicine is a whole different ball game. It’s not about your ATAR or UMAT score anymore, it’s about your university GPA and… the GAMSAT.
It’s harder. It’s longer. And you’re competing with a whole different set of candidates.
You may be older and wiser… but so is everyone else.
That leaves you with no choice. You must ace the GAMSAT! And you can – with some solid study.
That’s where this blog comes in. I’ll explain the science (and the art) behind GAMSAT preparation.
Together we’ll go through the GAMSAT section by section and you’ll learn exactly what you need to do to get a great score and gain admission into your dream med school!
The GAMSAT explained
The Graduate Medical School Admissions Test is a six-hour exam designed to assess a broad range of knowledge in students who are applying for medical and health professional graduate programs in Australia (as well as Ireland and the UK).
Universities that require a GAMSAT score
Of the 19 medical schools in Australia, 11 offer a postgraduate medicine program.
While all of these courses require a GAMSAT score for entry, the application process differs depending on whether they are part of the consortium known as the Graduate Entry Medical School Admission System (GEMSAS) or not.
You can apply to GEMSAS schools all in one hit in an online application form.
The nine GEMSAS universities are:
- Australian National University
- Griffith University
- Monash University
- The University of Melbourne
- The University of Notre Dame
- Deakin University
- University of Queensland
- The University of Western Australia
- University of Wollongong
Non-GEMSAS universities require you to apply to them directly. These unis tend to have harder entry requirements (particularly for the GAMSAT), favour students who studied their undergrad degree at the same university, and have additional application fees.
The two graduate entry universities that are not part of the GEMSAS are:
- Flinders University
- The University of Sydney
The GAMSAT is divided into three sections, each designed to assess different areas of knowledge and intellect, varying from written communication to biological and physical science.
The three sections of the test are:
- Reasoning in Humanities and Social Sciences
- Written Communication
- Reasoning in Biological and Physical Sciences
Each section of the GAMSAT tests a different set of skills and therefore requires a different method of preparation.
If you’re trying to get into medicine the second time around and didn’t perform well in the UMAT, you’ll be happy to know that you’re much more likely to do better in the GAMSAT.
There are still some critical thinking, problem solving, and logical reasoning exercises involved, but you’re mostly required to apply these skills to scientific concepts and themes.
Yep, this time it’s about real, tangible knowledge! It’s less focused on natural ability, which means studying is more straightforward.
Let’s start at the top.
GAMSAT Section 1: Reasoning in Humanities and Social Sciences
75 multiple choice questions in 100 minutes (plus 10 minutes reading time)
Skills you need: Logical reasoning, literary analysis
GAMSAT Section 1 questions are based on vignettes drawn from a variety of materials, such as prose, poetry, figures, cartoons, and images. You’ll come across some obscure texts full of inferred meanings, opinions, literary devices, and poetic ideas.
Yep, no amount of biology or chemistry knowledge will help you here!
In fact, this is where having a non-science background could be an advantage, because you’re probably more affiliated with this style of question.
This section requires the ability to rapidly read and interpret a variety of genres, to reason and think critically about a stimulus.
The first basic skill that you need to develop is the ability to analyse poetry.
Remember in high school English when you were learning about poetic techniques, metaphors, imagery, and symbolism? It’s time to revisit that!
Set yourself the goal of reading a poem each day and try to analyse it.
Figure out its main points and how it uses language. Who is the speaker? What images does the poet use? Is the poem ironic? What is the theme?
This will get you into the habit of asking these questions so that every time you read a poem, you instantly know what you should be looking for in order to understand its meaning.
It will also serve to broaden your vocabulary, which is a great asset in Section 1. Often you’ll be given two words that have similar meanings but have different connotations, and you need to be able to recognise this.
All this poetry stuff might seem a bit irrelevant to include on a medical entrance exam, but remember the GAMSAT is used to measure your ''aptitude'' for medicine.
Universities are looking for well-rounded students who have strong humanities and social skills so you’re certainly not at a disadvantage if your undergrad degree has nothing to do with medicine.
In the months leading up to the GAMSAT, start doing practice questions and timed "mini tests" that mimic Section 1 poetry questions.
GAMSAT Section 2: Written Communication
2 essay questions in 60 minutes (plus 5 minutes reading time)
Skills you need: The ability to form logical arguments, essay writing, spelling and grammar
This section requires you to produce two well-structured essays. It’s where the GAMSAT assesses your ability to create logical arguments, as well as write concisely with adequate spelling and grammar.
This essay writing section is very much all about how you develop an argument. You need your basic essay writing skills down pat first, but remember, the argument is what’s going to get you marks.
This sounds pretty scary, but look at it as an opportunity. This is your chance to differentiate yourself from other candidates; to show the examiner your personality and that you possess the soft skills required to be a competent doctor. That’s something you can’t achieve with multiple choice answers!
Each writing task (Part A and Part B) is in response to a statement, quote, or idea relating to a common theme. These are general rather than specific in nature, with the first task relating with socio-cultural issues, and the second to more personal issues.
At 30 minutes a pop, there’s not much time for planning, so you’ve got to be ready to put pen to paper!
The way to ensure you take full advantage of every minute is to prepare well.
Start your prep by learning how to properly structure an essay, as this is one of the things you’re marked on. Ideally this will look like your thesis statement, an introduction, three to four paragraphs of supporting evidence, and a conclusion.
Adhering to this format, practise writing strong, cohesive arguments in response to a stimulus. Smash out a draft and get some feedback from someone who knows a thing or two about essay writing.
Then take it a step further and complete past paper questions under timed conditions, because as with all sections of the GAMSAT, a big factor in doing well is managing your time.
The most important thing to try to do in this process is to practise generating interesting, powerful points in your writing. The last thing you want is to deliver a generic, ambiguous piece of writing on exam day. In each practice question, try to interpret the stimulus in different ways and come up with new ideas.
Keep the ultimate goal of the test – your future career as a doctor – in mind as you write an essay. Many topics can be related back to this, even if they don’t appear so at first, so be creative!
GAMSAT Section 3: Reasoning in Biological and Physical Sciences
110 multiple choice questions in 170 minutes (plus 10 minutes reading time)
Skills you need: Basic principles of biology, chemistry, physics
Now for the big, scary science section!
Section 3 is completely disparate from the other two sections and requires you to have a comprehensive understanding of basic scientific principles, and how the various concepts relate to each other.
To get a good GAMSAT result, you must do well in this section.
This part of the exam is so long and so important, that it’s given a double weighting in the overall score.
In other words, your mark here counts for twice as much!
Section 3 is 40% biology, 40% chemistry (half general/half organic), and 20% physics. The assumed knowledge required for these subjects equates to the first year of university studies in biology and chemistry, and year 12 in physics.
However, the stimulus material used during the exam will often be more advanced than this in order to assess your reasoning skills and ability to interpret graphs, tables, and mathematical relationships.
It goes without saying that time is a critical factor. If you can’t work out what scientific principles are involved in a question, you’ll fall behind pretty quickly.
If there's one subject that will definitely give you an edge up, it’s chemistry. Dedicate more of your prep time to learning how to master chemistry problems to give yourself an advantage in Section 3.
For those of you with a non-science background, don’t freak out! You can do well here if you study intensively. The fact that this section is scientific based and can be studied for in the “traditional” sense makes prep a lot easier… well, at least more straightforward.
Basically, you need to invest in a biology textbook, a chemistry textbook, and physics textbook, and read them from start to finish!
Aside from learning the concepts behind the science, the key to acing this section is practice under exam conditions with GAMSAT style questions.
Depending on when you take the exam (it’s offered twice a year in March and September), your GAMSAT results will be released in either May or November, and will consist of five scores: three section scores (marked out of 100), an overall score, which is the weighted average of your section scores, and a percentile rank, which shows you how you performed against other students.
The cut-off scores for most universities vary each year, so how “good” a score is really depends on what score the university is currently accepting. To give yourself the best chance of admission, you want to try and score in the mid to high 60s.
The highest GAMSAT cut-offs for The University of Sydney and University of Queensland tend to sit around 68.
Monash University expects a slightly lower GAMSAT score of 66, and Flinders University a much less threatening 61.
As with the UMAT, universities will often consider your performance in each section of the GAMSAT, with most requiring a minimum score of 50 in each.
The University of Melbourne, however, weights each section equally (i.e. does not adhere to the Section 3 double weighting). It also has a lower score expectation, usually sitting around 57.
There you have it – all the info you need to jump into your GAMSAT prep!
It doesn't matter if you’re a science buff or an arts grad, both types of students can smash the GAMSAT.
So, if you’ve made the decision to go into medicine off the back of an unrelated degree or career, don’t let the GAMSAT deter you. You’ll just need to start earlier and work a little bit harder to catch up.
Regardless of your starting point, with a few months of consistent, optimised GAMSAT prep under your belt, you'll feel confident and ready to take the real thing.
More than anything, success in the GAMSAT requires stamina, and stamina improves with practice.