Whether you are a literature major, a commerce student, or an administration professional - medicine may very well be your dream career. However, the road to graduate medical school admission presents many hurdles - the first of which is the GAMSAT exam.
The GAMSAT is required for entrance to almost all postgraduate medical schools in Australia. Given that undergraduate study is often not an option for students that have already completed university degrees - the GAMSAT exam is essentially an inevitability. Fraser’s GAMSAT has already published an article that breaks down the content of the GAMSAT - but as a brief refresher, the core of the test consists of three sections.
The GAMSAT sections are as follows:
After years of collecting data and analysing our students' performance, our expert GAMSAT tutors can confidently say that non-science students can often be very competitive in Section 1 and Section 2. This is largely because these sections focus on humanities, and the playing field across the cohort is often level. In other words, science students have not spent their undergraduate years perfecting their capacity to analyse a text or write an essay and therefore have no advantage in Section 1 and Section 2 of the GAMSAT exam. In fact, students from an arts background should reassure themselves that their training places them in a somewhat favourable position for two out of the three sections. While Section 3 of the GAMSAT is certainly the largest and most heavily weighted section of the exam, the combined weight of Section 1 and Section 2 means that a non-science background does not equal a poor GAMSAT score!
The initial stages of GAMSAT preparation can be daunting even with the help of a biomedical science degree. A novice GAMSAT candidate passes through fairly consistent phases of GAMSAT preparation. Initially, students consider sitting the GAMSAT without preparation - considering this a benchmark-setting that will help them gauge the difficulty of the exam, as well as their strengths and weaknesses. The subsequent stage can be classified as ‘GAMSAT for Dummies’.
This stage often involves students being drawn into the mistake of purchasing various GAMSAT preparation books. Fraser’s GAMSAT experts has covered the usefulness of these resources in some detail - but the bottom line is that a GAMSAT preparation book tends to be nothing more than an expensive paperweight. In terms of resources, the ACER practice tests are much cheaper and much more authentic. Some students choose a ‘first principles approach’ - this involves battling through Khan Academy videos. While this approach is commendable in moderation - the psychometric nature of the exam dictates that you should split your time between reviewing concepts and completing practice GAMSAT questions.
Sometimes, students find themselves overwhelmed with the preparation options and opt for a GAMSAT preparation course to organise their study.
Let it be said that given the massive amount of available GAMSAT preparation material that exists, you must find a strategy that is tailored to your needs. After all, no two students are alike!
The best way to prepare for GAMSAT will be different for everyone. Section 3 is often much more daunting than Section 1 and Section 2 for a non-science background student. In this case, it can be advantageous to get a good handle on key biomedical concepts before attempting GAMSAT sample questions. Generally, ACER (the education company that runs GAMSAT Australia) recommends a Biology and Chemistry level of first-year university and a Physics level of Year 12 in order to complete Section 3 of the GAMSAT exam. Check out our GAMSAT syllabus for more information about what this entails.
A useful starting point for GAMSAT preparation is creating a GAMSAT syllabus checklist. These topic checklists are available on Fraser’s GAMSAT website, and our science section articles go into some detail as to how to tackle each aspect of the science section. The goal of the checklist is to pace your study and topic review - creating a preparation timeline and plan is critical to effective GAMSAT workflow. It is also an important skill set to master in medical school - so GAMSAT preparation is the perfect trial run!
The next step is integrating a few GAMSAT practice questions and getting comfortable with the logic that the exam requires. Many GAMSAT questions require candidates to reason rather than recall university facts and formulas - in some cases, a checklist assisted review could place you in good stead to practice GAMSAT in 2 months after familiarizing yourself with the relevant science subjects.
Physics tends to be a sore point for a lot of non-science students. In the absence of a strong mathematics background (or a strange passion for applying torque formulas), you might find this section entirely overwhelming. Physics questions focus heavily on concept application, and as such require a more guided approach to study. Reviewing GAMSAT maths and solving physics problems is a necessity for preparing for this aspect of the test. A key component of GAMSAT questions is that they require you to apply knowledge rather than memorise and regurgitate. This means memorising chapters of chemistry and physics textbooks will not be useful, but a rather wholesome GAMSAT Chemistry syllabus and physics books can do the needful.
The majority of biology questions in Section 3 on the other hand, will require you to analyse data and graphs. Unlike physics, this is largely a universal skill that is present in almost any syllabus. In fact, there is a certain quantity of diagram analysis in Section 1 that is similar to the charts in Section 3. This overlap serves as proof of the accessibility of Section 3 to a humanities trained student.
However, your first steps should be to investigate the free resources Fraser’s GAMSAT has created - these can guide and aid in your science study. As you work through the GAMSAT Science Syllabus and become more familiar with key concepts, you will be ready to tackle GAMSAT example questions. As mentioned previously, GAMSAT practice question review is critical to exam preparation. Given that the GAMSAT primarily tests cognition and logic, the experience in recognising question types and formulating approaches to categories of questions is by far the most valuable aspect of ACER GAMSAT preparation.
Finally, if you feel that you cannot get through the sciences with your own study strategies, it may be useful to consider a GAMSAT preparation course. Having said this, it is important to do due diligence in finding the course that best suits your needs. In our blogs, we have previously written about the value the various preparation companies bring to their students. The major advantage that a course brings with it is that of a cohort - trust us when we say that organic chemistry is much more palatable when you are with a study group of friends.
No matter your educational background, it is critical to play to your own strengths when it comes to achieving a high score in the GAMSAT exam. This means doubling down on perfecting your Section 2 and Section 1 approaches.
Section 1 requires comprehension of a range of humanities questions. These range from cartoons to poems and prose. As with Section 3, the best preparation for Section 1 is practice questions, this way you understand the broad range of texts and question styles. Timing and effective reading is also a critical skill. There are also other activities such as reading or listening to audiobooks that can enhance the ‘soft’ skills that are important in Section 1.
Although you may be a confident essay writer at university - the style of written communication in the GAMSAT is quite distinct from a standard arts essay. The GAMSAT timing means there is only one hour to write two essays. This is perhaps more stressful than the standard arts undergraduate exam, and it is exacerbated by the fact that there is no indication of what the GAMSAT topics may require the candidate to write. Fraser’s GAMSAT Essay Quote Generator Tool is a resource that can generate a near-endless number of quote sets for you to practice quote interpretation, analysis, and writing.
Just make sure to proofread, and re-write your essay - it is impossible to improve on clarity and structure without being critical of your own work.
The answer to this question can never be a blanket rule. Ideally, the earlier you can start preparing, the better. A good way to start can be completing a practice exam to set a benchmark for your Section 1, Section 2 and Section 3 performance. This can be useful in making a timeline for your GAMSAT preparation. It can be a good idea to work backwards from your GAMSAT exam date. Don’t forget that life can get in the way of preparation, so factor in rest and relaxation into your schedule. As a medical student, I must underscore the importance of taking these breaks - no successful doctor burns the candle at both ends. Overwork leads to poor quality study and underperformance in stressful decision-making situations.
If you are interested in a GAMSAT preparation course, consider the duration of these courses and the specifics of the course content.
While getting a high GAMSAT score for Section 1 and Section 2 will help your overall GAMSAT score, it is important to understand the overall application process. Some universities will apply double weighting to Section 3, meaning it is important to consider the impact of a low score in Section 3. Other factors can make this approach a risk too. For example, if there are many poetry questions or cartoons throughout Section 1 when your strength is primarily in prose, you may find yourself underperforming across the board. The best strategy is always a balanced approach because this strategy hedges its bets against the unexpected nature of GAMSAT questions. Another important factor that must not be forgotten is that most universities will require a minimum score of 50 in every section of the GAMSAT. Therefore even an excellent average GAMSAT mark can be undermined by poor performance in a single section.
A GAMSAT score can’t be considered ‘good’ or ‘bad’ in isolation. GAMSAT scores are all relative to which university you want to apply for and then the other requirements for a medical interview at that medical school. The question you should be asking yourself is this - “is my GAMSAT score good enough for the medical school with which I am applying?”. In most cases, applicants will be ranked on a combination of their GAMSAT score and GPA. Some medical schools also require a portfolio or award additional points for completing an undergraduate degree at the same university or for having experience in healthcare. See our Medical Applications Guide for more specific information.
Absolutely no! While sitting the GAMSAT exam is a massive commitment (both financially and in terms of preparation), this exam is not insurmountable and can be studied alongside a full-time university course, as well as a part-time job. This is the case for the majority of candidates sitting this exam. Having said this however, your GAMSAT preparation should include a clear strategy of where you need to improve and what focus is required for Section 1, Section 2 and Section 3; otherwise you run the risk of transforming your preparation into an unfocused time sink.
As many as you need! The GAMSAT exam can be taken multiple times, and there are two sittings every year. The first GAMSAT date is in March, and the second is the GAMSAT in September. The major drawback to sitting the exam multiple times is often the cost. Fortunately, however, ACER does not prevent candidates from trying to achieve a higher GAMSAT score as many times as they need.
Some medical schools will be better tailored to students with a non-science background as they have more pre-clinical years. These preclinical years focus on core sciences rather than in-hospital training. Other medical schools have prerequisite subjects that are required for admission. However, this should not be the main factor guiding your medical school preference, as ultimately, all medical degrees in Australia are created equal. A student from a non-science background will ultimately achieve the same level of medical training and qualification as a biomedical science undergraduate. Medicine (and the GAMSAT exam!) requires a range of skills and traits that are not exclusive to people that have completed science-based undergraduate degrees.
If you’re looking for some resources to get started with, check out Fraser’s Free Resources - GAMSAT Prep.
If you are interested in learning more about GAMSAT Section 3 science topics, check out the GAMSAT blog series: