Section 3 of the GAMSAT is the Biological and Physical Sciences and it judges your potential to understand scientific concepts and generate hypotheses from any given context. This section is the longest and often most daunting part of the GAMSAT exam. It's also perceived as the 'core' of the test. The unwarranted anxiety that this section often causes students is likely what leads them to pursue extremely inefficient GAMSAT preparation strategies.
This is the third article in a series designed to help candidates better understand the GAMSAT. By dissecting this section at a fundamental level, we can begin to look at the possible ways any students can achieve a high section 3 score.
In the previous articles from this series, we have discussed how Sections 1 and 2 mirror the sequence events when a doctor (or medical student) encounters a patient in the hospital. In our article about Section 1, we discussed how reading comprehension texts test a candidate’s ability to understand and empathise with a patient. Section 2, on the other hand, examines a GAMSAT student’s capacity to clearly communicate information to their patient. We have now arrived at Section 3, which is the final, and arguably most critical, element of the patient interaction – the biomedical management itself!
Medical students and doctors often encounter familiar problems in unfamiliar contexts. For instance, you might understand the causes of infection, but that doesn't mean you can instantly diagnose every infection. You'll often need to consult scientific literature, sometimes under time pressure, to make critical decisions for patients—this is precisely what Section 3 of the GAMSAT exam aims to emulate.
ACER, the company responsible for designing and conducting the GAMSAT exam, has given an explicit breakdown of the GAMSAT section 3 questions topics. As of 2023, the 75 questions in section 3 of the GAMSAT exam will be distributed as follows:
The conclusions drawn from this information should dictate your GAMSAT preparation and can make or break your performance on exam day. Not only is a strong understanding of the principles in each aspect of the GAMSAT syllabus for section 3 important for performing well during the exam and these principles are also the bedrock of your medical studies.
Many students, however, see the percentage breakdown on ACER’s guide and are led to believe that reading textbooks and writing pages of summaries will fill the knowledge gaps necessary to score highly in Section 3. However, on exam day it quickly becomes apparent that the accumulation of biology, chemistry, and physics facts and formulas during GAMSAT preparation does not translate into the exam. We have already touched on the reason for this – the specifics of the questions are almost always unfamiliar to students. What ACER is, in fact, conveying to candidates, is that 40% of questions will draw on logic and concepts from the GAMSAT biology topics that are included in 1st-year university courses.
To illustrate this further, consider the following simplified physics question example: A kangaroo uses its legs to hop, and it's tail as a counterbalance – what is the torque occurring at the knee joint of the kangaroo? Very few (if any) students would have any experience with the mechanics of kangaroo locomotion. However, a prepared student would be well aware of the concept of torque in physics. No quantity of formula memorisation or note-writing would allow a student to anticipate a question concerning the physics of the kangaroo movement. A student with a strong understanding of the physics concept of torque, however, should be able to understand the context of the question, effectively utilised the further provided formulas, and put the information together in an appropriate way to respond.
It is for this reason that practising the logic and reasoning facet of answering GAMSAT section 3 questions is far more effective than textbook rote-learning. Candidates should accept that the majority of technical information is provided for this within the GAMSAT exam. This means that the most effective GAMSAT section 3 strategy is learning to interpret the novel data provided, rather than attempting to anticipate the specific topics the exam will cover.
It is certainly true that the GAMSAT is constantly evolving. However, since its conception in 1995, the GAMSAT section 3 questions have shifted away from testing technical memorisation, and application of formulas and facts (as in standard university exams) and towards psychometric testing. Recent GAMSAT candidates consistently state that this test is a middle-ground where background biomedical science knowledge meets abstract critical reasoning. This means that background study of the GAMSAT biology, chemistry, and physics syllabi certainly have its place. This should, however, be no greater than half of your GAMSAT section 3 strategy. Understanding the context knowledge partway.
Unlike university exams that may require straightforward recollection of facts, Section 3 demands a deeper understanding of the topics. In more practical terms, it is not enough to remember GAMSAT physics equations describing the relationship between (for example) pipe diameter and water pressure – you must also understand why this is the case. This profound understanding of GAMSAT section 3 question content also allows for the integration of knowledge across disciplines – for instance, how would the aforementioned pipe differ if it was, in fact, a blood vessel rather than a gardening hose.
The above reasons are explicitly why, at Fraser’s GAMSAT, we break down section 3 preparation into classes and exercises focusing on knowledge and cognitive components respectively. The cognitive element of section 3 prepares you for the flexible, and integrative problem solving that GAMSAT Section 3 demands, while our knowledge provides context and allows for quick question orientation. You can begin investigating the GAMSAT syllabus for section 3, by clicking the link here, to view the GAMSAT biology syllabus, GAMSAT chemistry syllabus, and GAMSAT physics syllabus. In brief, these are the science topics required.
Though be warmed – use this resource with care such that you do not encounter the common GAMSAT student pitfall of having all your time consumed by making GAMSAT biology/chemistry/physics notes rather than solving GAMSAT section 3 practice questions.
How can we practice it? See our FREE Online GAMSAT Practice Test