One of the most frequently asked GAMSAT medicine questions concerns the validity of the ACER test. After all, it is considerably challenging, and achieving a GAMSAT score that allows for entry into a GEMSAS university requires months, if not years, of dedicated effort. Many students often feel that the distinct psychometric format of the GAMSAT exam, as well as the additional humanities and written communication segments, are irrelevant to the practice of medicine. Given this perspective, those who have difficulty completing the GAMSAT feel reasonably frustrated that their entry into medical training is delayed by seemingly arbitrary testing parameters.
Fortunately, there is nothing arbitrary about the GAMSAT exam. In this article, we will outline the five major reasons why ACER, as well as the GEMSAS Consortium, consider the GAMSAT exam an excellent evaluation of a student's medical capabilities.
Before continuing to read this article, however, please bear in mind that while ACER GAMSAT is a good metric for candidate evaluation, this does not mean that it is the singular definite metric. In other words, while doing well on the exam does mean there is a good likelihood that you will be an excellent medical candidate, a poor exam performance does not mean that you have no medical potential. The ACER test is used to rule people in rather than rule people out. If you are aiming to improve your GAMSAT score, the purpose of this article is to reassure you that GAMSAT preparation is a valuable use of your time in the scheme of your medical training - it is not just about your score!
The primary reason why the GAMSAT is worth it is not evident from a pre-medical school perspective. This is reasonable, as the test is created by industry professionals to select the candidates that best suit the GEMSAS medical school, and training hospital criteria. This elusive feature of the GAMSAT exam is that it effectively emulates the format of the medical consultation. If you are interested in reading more about this parallel, you should consider reading the in-depth breakdown presented in the articles linked at the bottom of this blog post. To give a brief overview of this similarly between GAMSAT exam structure and medical practice, a basic medical consult with a patient involves three steps; listening to the patient, answering their questions, and constructing a medical diagnosis.
This is precisely what the GAMSAT requires a candidate to do, albeit in a roundabout way. First, you read a text and absorb information, following this you write an essay to communicate an idea, finally - you move on to the evaluation of scientific concepts to arrive at empirical solutions.
When questioning the validity of GAMSAT scores for medicine, consider the following: ACER is effectively placing you in the shoes of a junior doctor during the GAMSAT exam. In essence, the test evaluates a similar skill-set that you will employ during your future hospital placement, but without the technical medical aspects that you have not yet acquired. This is precisely the reason why Fraser’s GAMSAT advocates that students focus on GAMSAT Practice question analysis and evaluation (rather than rote learning content) in GAMSAT prep process. The exam is concerned much less with your core knowledge, which simply serves as GAMSAT context, and is much more concerned with your evaluation and communication skill-set.
Previously, we mentioned that Fraser’s GAMSAT prefers to focus on GAMSAT sample questions analysis and evaluation rather than memorization of content. This is not to say that students should ignore the basic humanities and sciences altogether. There is a gross misconception in junior medical training, that medicine is primarily Section 3 biology, and Section 3 chemistry (and especially physics) play a secondary role in diagnosis and management. As is reflected by the GAMSAT medicine questions, this is certainly not the case. Neglect of the fundamental sciences severely caps your capacity to practice medicine. While biology describes the components of the body, it is physics that describes how the body works. Ignorance of electricity physics and basic fluid mechanics essentially limits a medical candidate from having any sort of meaningful understanding of the respiratory, cardiovascular, renal, and neurological systems.
Similarly, Section 2 written communication is a core component of research and publication. Contemporary medical practice is no longer limited to clinical work - the breadth of experience and training requires a modern doctor to be able to contribute to the broader scientific community. In order to publish in meaningful journals, the work of a physician or surgeon must be logical, and eloquent.
Ultimately, there is no opportunity for acquiring these critical skills during medical school, and certainly no time during medical practice. This is precisely why the GAMSAT syllabus is constructed such that these key hurdle knowledge requirements are tested to a satisfactory level prior to a candidates admission to a GEMSAS medical school.
The ACER company is much more than simply a contractor for GEMSAS medical schools. While the details of ACER are described in a dedicated Fraser’s GAMSAT article, the major point to be stated regarding this company is that its primary focus is education research. In other words, ACER belongs to an industry that has built its reputation for spending millions of dollars carefully reviewing contractor’s requirements, as well as candidate exam performance, to scientifically construct an ideal assessment. In the case of the GAMSAT exam, ACER has over two decades of experience and data to inform its exam structure and question set. This is also one of the main answers to the question “why is the GAMSAT so expensive?”. In fact, the construction of an ACER exam is a complex and multifactorial process. Unlike many competitive exams such as high-school ATAR tests, or exams you encounter at university, ACER does not seek to standardise its marks.
This means that candidates who sit the GAMSAT are given scores that reflect the merit of their performance, rather than their ranking. The implication of this is that a score of 70 maintains consistent value within its two year validity period. Furthermore, there is no limit to the number of students who can achieve a 70 score - this means that in a strong cohort, a 70 may be less useful for medical admission than an equivalent score in a weak cohort.
Ultimately, the technicalities of the ACER exam construction process are less relevant than the guarantee of quality. Given the competitive nature of the medical education industry, it is of utmost importance to GEMSAS and ACER that GAMSAT scores for medicine are relevant and equitable. As such, you should put your faith in the multimillion-dollar research and development process that answers the question “why is the GAMSAT so expensive?”. It is expensive because it is rigorously designed to be meaningful and fair. It is expensive because it works hard to evaluate you in the most effective and valid way, ensuring that no deserving candidate is missed!
The final reason that the GAMSAT is indeed a valid measure of a medical candidate is that it is gruelling. It is certainly important to maintain one’s mental health, and challenging academics are only worthwhile if the challenge is meaningful. Having said this, however, one must remember that medical training and hospital work require resilience. After all, if the purpose of the GAMSAT was to simply test your peak psychometric abilities, then the individual sections could have their durations cut in half, and testing conducted across several days to ensure candidate comfort. The reason why this is not the case is that the nature of medical work is all about endurance. Because good patient care requires continuous oversight from informed clinicians, medical training and hospital shifts are often of long duration. This means you need to train to maintain your focus for long periods of time.
Many students find this frustrating, largely because they have never been required to concentrate for such long periods of time, especially when the stakes are so high. Unfortunately, the stakes in a medical career only increase following the GAMSAT exam. The most practical way to approach this aspect of the test is to recognise that marathons require training. Mental endurance can reliably be improved by consistent training. This is precisely why implementing detailed GAMSAT study plans is critical to exam performance.
The final, and arguably most important reason for the validity of the GAMSAT exam, is that it is testing a ‘soft’ skill-set that is critical to the dynamic world of medicine. The first difference a medical student notices, when they transition from pre-clinical ‘textbook’ study to hospital-based practice, is that patient scenarios do not neatly fall into prescribed categories. After all, the human body is a complex system that exists on a spectrum, while medical diagnoses are binary, criteria led, classifications. The GAMSAT exam does not seek to evaluate your performance between the guidelines rather than within them. In other words, the GEMSAS medical schools are interested in your performance, when you are confronted by the unfamiliar, rather than the ‘stock-standard. While this may appear frustrating, this is part and parcel of any candidate evaluation in the medical world.
The reality of the situation is that most qualified doctors can safely practise under routine circumstances regardless of their level of training. It is only the most capable individuals which can maintain a level-headed cool in time-sensitive and critical situations. The bottom line of this final reason that the GAMSAT exam is valid, is this - have faith in yourself!
Most students who are preparing to undertake a medical career in good faith have a genuine belief that they have a skill set to contribute to this profession. As such, you should think of the GAMSAT as proof of your intellectual capacity rather than a barrier to entry. In other words - it is your opportunity to demonstrate your worthiness to the admissions committee.