Going to med school and sitting the GAMSAT exam has always been my passion. I am highly detail-oriented and a perfectionist with a successful biomedical degree. I have often performed well at difficult university exams as well, but my GAMSAT experience turned out to be a nightmare.
In the lead up to the GAMSAT exam, I undertook mostly self-directed study. I revised Science concepts that I needed to brush up on and completed practice questions and exams that I found online. Whilst I thought these questions were quite accurate at the time, they were quite obsolete as part of the paper-based, not online. To prepare for GAMSAT Section 2, a couple of friends and I wrote essays together and gave each other feedback.
Whilst I had certainly dedicated sufficient time to preparing for the GAMSAT, I still felt apprehensive going into the exam. Compared to my friends, I felt that I was really bad at Section 1 GAMSAT. I find those questions ambiguous and hard to study. Moreover, my confidence had taken a hit when I did badly on the free mock GAMSAT test I did only days before the real thing.
NOTE: This is an exam experience encountered by one student and it should not be assumed that everyone would go through similar experiences!
The morning of the exam felt surreal. Months of the study had all been leading up to today, it felt like my whole future depended on it. My dream of getting into medical school. How embarrassing would it be to tell people that I had failed it? Imagine having to repeat this process all over again? This was a lot of pressure.
I felt sick with nerves and struggled to keep down breakfast. Although I had plans in my head of toast and coffee, I could barely stomach an apple with the butterflies in my stomach. Arriving at the testing centre was intimidating. As I scanned across the crowds of people I wondered: were they more prepared for GAMSAT than me? Were they naturally smarter than me? The self-doubt crept in…
The unfamiliar format of this now online GAMSAT exam was further adding to my stress. Seeing an array of computer screens, I wondered how they would compare to my own personal laptop. Would these ones be slow and laggy? Was there a risk of technical difficulty? The online format was so different from the paper-based exams that I had grown used to at school and uni. Couldn’t I just go back to colouring in some bubbles with a pencil?
Sitting down to commence Section 1, I was so full of adrenaline. My heart was pounding and my ears were ringing. I had to re-read the first passage a few times because the words just weren’t sinking in - here I was, in the real GAMSAT! It wasn’t just my initial nerves tripping me up in this section, though. Even once the initial shock of being in the real exam subsided, I struggled to be confident that almost any of the answers I selected were correct!
I have always struggled with the subjectivity of Section 1, as I often see multiple answer options as being ‘correct’. I was trying to eliminate my options down to at least two to choose from but then I would waste time trying to figure out which of the two was correct. I would read and re-read the passage. What am I missing? How is one answer more correct than the other here?
Overthinking these difficult questions not only led to me getting extremely frustrated; it also wasted time. I was getting so immersed in trying to get the answers right that I completely lost track of the time! I had to randomly guess a few questions at the end without even looking at their stems. Now, maybe that would have been an acceptable concession if I was confident in the answers I had submitted - but I certainly wasn’t. This felt like my GAMSAT Section 1 nightmare was coming true. I had felt better about the recent mock exam I did and I didn’t even do well in that… how atrocious will today’s Section 1 Score turn out!
And just like that, we were straight into Section 2. With no real break to disrupt my negative thoughts, I was spiralling downwards fast. All I could think was ‘please let these be essay topics I’ve prepared for’! Time starts. My eyes darted across the screen, trying to ascertain what the topics were. ‘Crap, I’ve got nothing. My mind was blank. At least Section 1 was multiple choice, I thought. There was nothing more intimidating than those empty, white text boxes staring back at me during Section 2.
After spending a considerable portion of time planning, I was able to scrape an introduction and body paragraph together for both essays. Whilst I’m glad I was able to get something on the page, they definitely were not the fleshed-out, well-structured ideas that I would’ve liked to have conveyed.
After my nightmarish morning, I was desperate for a break. Unfortunately, lining up for the bathroom, grabbing my bag and finding my friends outside consumed most of the 30-minute window. Once I did find my friends, I was looking to them to confirm that they had had a similar experience. As terrible as it sounds, I was hoping that they had struggled too… maybe even more than I had. Alas, they seemed much calmer than I felt.
Amongst themselves, they went on to discuss what they wrote about in GAMSAT Section 2 and some particularly contentious Section 1 questions. I just zoned out. Instead, I was consumed by my own thoughts. I knew that if I stood any chance of redeeming my messing up in Section 1 and completely blanking in Section 2, I would have to pull out a miracle performance in Section 3.
In almost no time, I was back sitting at my computer screen. Attempting a pep talk, I reminded myself that Section 3 is usually my strong suit. ‘I can do this, I just have to make sure I get almost every question in this section correct’.
Unfortunately, this ‘pep talk’ back-fired badly. I ended up putting a lot of pressure on myself to be even more of a perfectionist than normal. Accordingly, I spent a long time reading each stem, aiming to understand every word before looking at a question. Even still, I found myself needing to refer back to the stems often and was constantly re-checking my mental maths instead of trusting myself.
I had a strategy going into Section 3: I would complete all of the easiest and quickest questions first, whilst I felt freshest. Yet, almost every time I thought I found a stem that appeared easy, it didn’t end up being quick at all! This caused me to panic and abandon my strategy as it clearly wasn’t going to work, I thought.
Unlike Section 1, I can at least say that I am confident that I was able to reach the correct answer for some of the Section 3 questions. Although they were often more time-consuming and complex than they appeared, at least they are objective. However, my self-doubt caused me to move through the section slowly, meaning that, again, I had to blindly guess answers at the end of the exam. Looking at my performance on the day as a whole, I doubt that it was enough to gain a competitive score for medical school entry. Defeated, I wondered: Is the GAMSAT too hard for me? Does this mean I’m not cut out for medicine?
Walking out of the testing centre I felt so dejected. Reuniting with my friends wasn’t reassuring. Whilst none of them were exactly energetic or ecstatic, they seemed to be walking away having had a more positive GAMSAT experience than I had had. Now I felt almost certain that I did not score well.
Rather than feeling proud of the preparation that I had put in and for having the courage to attempt the exam today, my mind went straight to having to repeat the test. How could I possibly go through this nightmare experience again? Why is the GAMSAT so expensive? The >$500 price tag in itself is a deterrent to re-sitting the exam, let alone having to undergo more preparation. Should I sit GAMSAT again? Could I bear to sit it again?
Months later I received my GAMSAT score. Unfortunately, it was as I feared: a bad GAMSAT result. Reading that red ACER scorecard, I felt so frustrated. Not just at myself but more so at the medical entry system as a whole. Indeed, ensuring GAMSAT difficulty is important to distinguish candidates. I understood why we students have to be ranked and compared. Nevertheless, hearing GAMSAT success stories - especially from your friends and classmates - can be so difficult when you’ve worked hard and still don’t fare well in the exam.
Looking back on why I received a bad GAMSAT result, I believe it came down to two things: my GAMSAT prep in the lead-up and my mindset on the day. Although I dedicated a lot of time to prepare for the exam, I believe I did the wrong type of study: focusing on re-learning content and practising with outdated questions. Moreover, my negative self-talk really slowed me down during the exam which impeded my ability to complete any of the three sections.
When I re-sit the GAMSAT, perhaps the most important thing for me to do is to become comfortable with getting some questions wrong. Letting go of this perfectionism should not only allow me to increase my speed in moving through the paper but also stop me from getting thrown off by difficult stems or essay topics.
Another thing that I have learnt through my negative GAMSAT experience is the importance of using up-to-date practice questions and resources. Having read Fraser’s GAMSAT testimonials, I will likely utilise one of their GAMSAT preparation courses as well as their free GAMSAT resources before undertaking my next GAMSAT. I think simulating the mock exam experience over and over will be beneficial for me so that I can practise being more confident in my approach to answering the questions.
Finally, I think it is important to keep in mind that what is considered a good GAMSAT score is arbitrary and changing. Likewise, what you may think is a bad score may not be as terrible as you think, especially if you have an excellent GPA and are eligible for other bonuses such as coming from a rural background. This assessment is just one part of a complex medical application process - it isn’t the be-all and end-all. Keeping this in mind should, hopefully, help with reducing GAMSAT exam-day pressure next time around.