GAMSAT texts can be thought of as existing on a spectrum. On the one hand, ACER GAMSAT papers employ technical texts which are to be read literally. On the other hand, Section 1 questions based on poetry stems are almost entirely figurative. Political cartoon questions, as well as addressing broader social themes, bridge figurative and literal modes of interpretation. This is to say that cartoons have both a literal and a metaphorical meaning. In more practical terms, any cartoon contains a simple image, as well as a brief associated comment or statement – both of these are to be understood literally, but together they serve to demonstrate the cartoonist’s opinion.
Cartoon questions tend to occur less frequently in the GAMSAT exam – there is usually no more than two cartoon stems, with a total of up to three associated Section 1 questions. While these numbers appear relatively small, a strong GAMSAT candidate will do well to remember that the bell curve for Section 1 performance is very clustered around the mean, much more so than in Section 3. This means that scores in this section tend to be less spread out, and every single question will significantly impact a student’s capacity to achieve a high GAMSAT score.
In terms of Section 1 GAMSAT timing – cartoon stems are incredibly compact. Very little time is required to analyse a cartoon question relative to a technical or prose text. Therefore, despite their relative rarity, these GAMSAT questions are actually deceptively valuable. Answering a few political cartoon questions correctly will not only put an examinee ahead of the clock, but will also place a candidate ahead of their competition.
To help GAMSAT students prepare these questions, Fraser’s has put together the following ‘analysing cartoons’ worksheet. By approaching this category of stems with the systematic (rather than a haphazard) strategy, candidates will find their cartoon accuracy improving in no time!
Fraser’s test taking techniques for cartoons can be summarised in three steps. The following is a systematic section on how to interpret cartoons:
The first and most important step in the analysis of cartoon GAMSAT questions is ensuring that all elements of the cartoon have been addressed. The Three C’s approach requires the student to identify and consider the value of three individual aspects of the GAMSAT cartoon question:
This first step in cartoon analysis is critically important to your Section 1 score. The reasons for its importance is that GAMSAT questions often attempt to provide multiple answer options that are generally true, only one of which is specifically correct. For example, an answer option as vague as “Cartoon X is humorous” may be true, however given that this is also likely true for many cartoons, it is not specific enough to be the correct answer for any given GAMSAT stem. Relating this idea to GAMSAT political cartoons – often students select answer options that overlook a character, or an aspect of the context present in a cartoon stem. Analysing a cartoon through the Three C’s eliminates this type of error.
Another important tool for making sure your response to a GAMSAT cartoon question is correct is using your hand to cover up various elements of a cartoon. If you can cover up a character, aspect of context, or line of conversation, and your interpretation of the cartoon still makes sense despite the absence of the covered element – this means your interpretation is likely to be incomplete or incorrect. After all, why would an artist include a redundant element into their cartoon – it would simply take more time to draw the cartoon for no good reason!
Now that all of the key ingredients of the GAMSAT cartoon have been identified, it is time to analyse the stem. When it comes to cartoon analysis, the greatest GAMSAT Section 1 resources are a student’s gut feelings. It is important to immediately state the caveat that gut feelings are not the solution to the problem of ‘how to answer GAMSAT Section 1’ questions. However, what we are saying is that these gut feelings are an important intermediate step in GAMSAT cartoon analysis.
The reason that your initial emotional response to a cartoon is important is because of the cartoon’s intended audience. Political cartoons, such as those found in the exam, are often published in newspapers and magazines for the general public. One does not have to be a professor of international politics to understand the basic appeals to common sense found in these images. This means that if you laughed after seeing a GAMSAT cartoon question, it is almost certainly because the cartoon artists intended you to laugh at the absurd scenario that they have created.
The final step in cartoon analysis involves combining the natural emotional response to the cartoon with the careful analysis of the first step in this schema. In other words, a GAMSAT candidate should ask themselves – why did these characters, in this environment, speaking these lines, make me laugh? Often comedy is derived from an unexpected subversion of expectations. Continue this line of questioning by asking whether the scenario in the cartoon is ‘normal’ and isolating the aspects which appear strange.
To conclude the work of GAMSAT cartoon interpretation, a student should consider formulating their view of the stem in a single sentence. This statement should have the following structure:
In this cartoon, we see X – this is funny because of Y.
Given that the answer to the question ‘Is the GAMSAT difficult’ is a resounding YES, the best GAMSAT practice for this section is achieved by reviewing GAMSAT cartoon questions. It is only by repeatedly employing the framework provided above that a candidate can gain confidence and proficiency in the challenging task of cartoon analysis. Unfortunately, there is a limited supply of ACER GAMSAT cartoon questions. At Fraser’s, our Section 1 question syllabus is updated every single season to ensure that students have access to a large number of political cartoon questions and answers.
Candidates can also find GAMSAT cartoon questions online. While they are in very short supply, the Victorian General Achievement Test (GAT) exams usually contain at least a single cartoon question every year – while this yields no more than a dozen questions in total, this is a good place to begin your GAMSAT preparation. Unlike GAMSAT past papers, previous iterations of the GAT exam can be located online on the VCAA website. Further, GAMSAT Section 1 help can be found by looking through the archives of the New Yorker Magazine. This newspaper has a long history of political cartoon publication. The only drawback to searching through these cartoons in Google Images is the lack of associated GAMSAT cartoon questions. When browsing New Yorker Magazine material, candidates must follow through with the aforementioned three step analysis without a final question for GAMSAT practice.
Now that we have discussed GAMSAT cartoons in some detail, it is time for a brief political cartoon analysis example. It is interesting to note that while GAMSAT cartoon stems are often characterized as ‘political’, they are more often social commentaries rather than political statements.
Step 1: The Three C’s
There are three characters present in the stem of this GAMSAT question. The man and woman sitting on the couch appear to be middle aged and conservatively dressed. It can be inferred that they are husband and wife, and parents to the younger character on the right of the cartoon image.
The younger character on the right, which can be inferred to be the couple's child, appears to have a somewhat surprised expression on their face. You should always be especially careful when analyzing cartoons in terms of the details of the illustration – focusing on the rough sketch can be misleading. In this case however, the eyes and mouth of the child are wide open, as opposed to the placated, smiling expressions of the parents. It is the contrast here that makes this feature important, much more so than the feature in isolation.
The context of this GAMSAT Section 1 question is that it is taking place in a living room. This means that rather than a formal interview, or a public proclamation, the scene in this cartoon is a quintessential coming-of-age experience. This is simply a family gathering where an important announcement is to be made. This is not going to be an off-handed remark that a son or daughter makes while passing their parents in the corridor. Whoever initiated this family meeting made sure that all members of the household were present.
Immediately, from the word “we’ve”, the cartoon artist makes the GAMSAT student aware that it is the parents’ collective voice that is speaking. The statements made by the parents is clearly a reversal, and a play on, the classic “important announcement” scene that is a staple of adolescence, and pop culture. Consider – how many times have you seen this scenario in films – “Mum, Dad, sit down. I have something important to tell you…..”
In this case however, the dialogue is unusual because rather than revealing a truth about themselves, the parents state that the great revelation will concern their child. No doubt, this is the reason why the child is surprised – after all, how many times have you learned something as deeply personal as your future goals from a secondhand source?
Step 2: What’s My Gut Feeling?
My gut feeling is that this GAMSAT cartoon question stem is funny. The overreaching parenting style of the couple, as well as the reversal of the classic family meeting/grand reveal scenario, make this image somewhat absurd. Often, we find that it is absurdity and surprise in normal, everyday scenarios, which serves as the source of humour. If you are wondering what makes GAMSAT political cartoons humorous, ask yourself what you find absurd, or surprising about their content.
Step 3: Why Did I Experience This Emotion?
This is the most difficult step in GAMSAT question analysis. To complete this stage, it is necessary to integrate all of the components of the GAMSAT cartoon question under a cohesive interpretation. The basic formulation should be structured as follows:
I find this cartoon funny because I share the child's surprise that is sat down by their parents at such a mature age, only to have their life mapped out on their behalf. This is funny because of the unexpected reversal of the equivalent real-life situation – usually it is the child that explains themselves to their parents. In general, this cartoon is making fun of the parents’ overbearing behaviour.
Now it’s your turn – fill in the following schema to complete the analysis of another GAMSAT cartoon. We have made a worksheet that can be downloaded here.
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