So you’ve decided to sit the ACER GAMSAT exam - a daunting task no doubt! This blog series is created to help students clarify the structure, and preparation strategies to help you conquer the new ACER online testing format. The GAMSAT tips in this article will focus on clarifying ACER’s role in designing and organising the GAMSAT exam.
ACER is an acronym - it stands for Australian Council for Educational Research. This organisation has offices throughout Australia, Asia, and Europe, and specialises in assessment services. Apart from the GAMSAT exam, ACER also designs tests for select-entry schools, high-school aptitude exams, as well as various other vocational assessments. In other words, there is a real possibility that in the past, you have lived through the “GAMSAT experience” by sitting a psychometric test created by this company.
It is also important to distinguish between ACER GAMSAT and GEMSAS. GEMSAS is our second acronym for this blog post. GEMSAS decodes into the Graduate Entry Medical School Admission System. GEMSAS is completely independent from ACER GAMSAT. The purpose of GEMSAS is to process your medical school application (which will include your GAMSAT score and your GPA) and arrange an interview at your university of preference. It is your responsibility to provide the relevant ACER GAMSAT exam information to GEMSAS during your medical school application process.
The ACER GAMSAT is our third (and final) acronym for this article - it stands for Graduate Medical School Admission Test. ACER has been the company in charge of GAMSAT administration since 1995. The primary concern and focus of this company’s work schedule is occupied by attempting to answer the question of “how does ACER calculate GAMSAT scores that are fair and equitable?” In other words - ACER constantly evaluates and changes the GAMSAT exam in order to reward candidates whose aptitudes best fit medical studies. If you are able to review practice papers or even ACER GAMSAT past papers from the 1990s, it quickly becomes clear that initially, ACER created a test to evaluate a candidate’s knowledge of the university chemistry, biology, and physics syllabus. University lectures would have been the gold standard for GAMSAT preparation.
But ACER quickly realized that such a format lends itself to a high GAMSAT score through rote memorization, and redesigned the test to be a psychometric evaluation.
ACER GAMSAT has since been subject to a careful, seasonal evaluation by the company to ensure that the paper tests cognitive skills and aptitudes, rather than simply memory. This rigorous approach to question evaluation and updating material is also the answer to the question: “Why is GAMSAT so expensive?”
The ACER GAMSAT exam recognises that universities are moving away from pre-requisite subjects, and towards self-contained medical courses. This means that the Australian Council for Educational Research is less often used as a benchmark for university-level biology, chemistry, and physics.
An analogy that could be drawn is a classic Wolf-Goat-Cabbage river problem. For those unfamiliar with this psychometric puzzle - it involves a situation where a wolf, goat, and cabbage must cross a river in a farmer’s small boat. The issue arises in that the boat can hold no more than two passengers (including the farmer) without capsizing. Furthermore, if the goat is left alone on a riverbank with the wolf, it gets eaten. Similarly, the goat will devour the cabbage if the two are left on a bank unattended. The question is this - what is the fewest number of boat crossings in which one can transport all three to the other side of the river.
Note - the cabbage here is considered a passenger.
This problem is entirely logical - however in order to be able to solve it, one must be comfortable with basic arithmetic. It is also greatly beneficial to have a conceptual understanding of a goat, wolf, cabbage, river, and of course, the boat. Certainly, one can correctly answer this question without knowing what a goat or wolf is, however it can make the processes significantly more abstract, and therefore difficult.
When Fraser’s GAMSAT repeated classifies the ACER GAMSAT exam as a ‘psychometric’, what we mean to say is that the skills tested in the exam are not those of wolf’s dietary preferences, but those of the logic required to calculate the fewest number of boat crossings. ACER goes to great lengths to ensure that all of its questions evaluate a candidate's cognitive capacity. This means that the GAMSAT score is not a reflection of the number of chemistry equations you have memorised, but of your suitability for the problem-solving modalities required by medical school.
So let us now address the problem of ACER GAMSAT for non-science background students. The issue here is not that you are less prepared for the logic required by ACER’s testing process, the difficulty you are encountering is that of conceptualising the question. In other words - dealing with the science terms as real, practical concepts rather than abstract, novel terms, makes it much easier for biomedical students to focus on the cognitive problem at the core of the GAMSAT practice question. This is actually good news for the non-science background candidates - it means that you are only Fraser’s bridging course away from being ready to compete with your peers. The ACER GAMSAT papers are designed such that the core logic of a degree, be it arts, commerce, or science, is fully compatible with achieving a high GAMSAT score.
The paradox of ACER Australia GAMSAT practice questions is that they are the GAMSAT gold standard, and yet are simultaneously deceptive. On the one hand, the booklets provided by ACER mimic the style and format of the test exactly. If your goal is to familiarise yourself with GAMSAT questions this is an excellent resource. Often, however, students find the real ACER GAMSAT test more difficult than the papers provided.
The reasons for this are multifactorial. First and foremost, the real exam takes place in a pressured environment where GAMSAT timing is critical. Second, the practice booklets are composed of questions that ACER has retired. In other words, the practice booklets contain the appropriate ratios of various question types, but these materials have not been carefully designed to test candidates' intellectual capacity. These booklets are simply collections of discarded MCQs. The real value of these materials is in conducting an ACER GAMSAT review. A strong candidate would consider the question types that appear in these practice materials. Another important recognition to make is while many of the questions may appear more straightforward than in the online exam, there are still challenging stems among these booklets which would make a worthy addition to your question log.
Fraser’s GAMSAT final advice on ACER practice tests is that you split these resources between the beginning, and ending of your preparation season. Initially, these booklets should be used as a tool for familiarizing yourself with the test and creating a GAMSAT study planner. Towards the end of the GAMSAT prep season, these materials should be completed under mock exam conditions.
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If you are confused about GPA/Medical Applications have a read of some of our other articles: