Most successful GAMSAT stories are often focused on GAMSAT preparation. Students advocate for various GAMSAT courses, resources, or question sets as if these were the key ingredients to a good GAMSAT score. These success stories are complicated by a second group of candidates that seem to score well in this exam despite very limited use of practice materials. These seemingly contradictory anecdotes filter their way down to the students currently sitting the exam, and make it very difficult to understand the ingredients to a successful GAMSAT.
As is often the case, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. In this article, we will discuss a few late-game tips and tricks that anyone can use to boost their GAMSAT results. Because the GAMSAT exam relies heavily on analysing the question stem, the ideas covered in this article are completely independent of any work you have done learning from good GAMSAT resources. Instead, we will focus on tactics and mindsets!
Anxiety is the enemy of performance. Unfortunately - it’s ever-present in the field of biomedicine. After all, whether you are stressing over a good GAMSAT score or managing a complex patient, the stakes always seem incredibly high. This is why knowing yourself is the first step to biomedical success. This might sound a little abstract - what we are trying to say is that it’s important to spend the weeks leading up to the GAMSAT to perfect your stress management strategies.
This means figuring out how much sleep you need to feel well-rested, what your perfect breakfast includes, as well as basic breathing techniques that soothe exam nerves. The goal of this advice is simply that you arrive at your exam centre, on the day of the GAMSAT exam, with a mindset that will deliver a GAMSAT success story.
As important as it is to make yourself comfortable, there are also a few pre-GAMSAT pitfalls that everyone should absolutely avoid. Firstly, last-minute studying prior to a high stakes exam is probably not recommended - especially if it spills over into the late hours of the night and affects your sleep schedule. This is important for a couple of reasons:
The second pitfall is nutrition - learn your relationship with caffeine. If you drink coffee simply because it is a tasty warm beverage, then perhaps it is a soothing way to relax prior to an exam. But, if you are sensitive to caffeine, it would be unwise to experiment with your body’s arousal levels on the day of the test. The same can be said of sugary drinks - be aware that there is an energy low that follows the energy high. This is why the best drink in a time of distress is good, old-fashioned tap water.
Many people walk into GAMSAT Section 1 with a misconception that they can work their way through this part of the test on gut feelings alone. Sometimes students work through this section so carelessly that they are left wondering, “is the GAMSAT test hard?” Unfortunately, a GAMSAT Section 1 good score requires a slightly more technical approach. The most effective way through the challenges of Section 1 is to adopt the mindset of a lawyer in court. As you are reading a stem, consider both gut feelings and hard evidence. When answering any given question, try and formulate the answer options as follows “I believe ‘A’ is the correct answer because …”. This forces you to find a strong argument from the passage rather than work off impressions alone.
Another useful tool to improve your GAMSAT Section 1 success rate is to adapt your reading approach depending on the text. Try not to worry too much when you encounter a technical stem, and find yourself confused as to the meaning of various technical terms. Remember - technical texts are written by experts, for experts! Your job is to identify the relationship between the technical terms rather than try to guess what they mean. The rule of thumb in these scenarios is that if you understand every word in a given phrase, but the overall meaning of the phrase confuses you, this may be a technical term that should not be deciphered.
The exact opposite approach is true when it comes to Section 1 poetry, prose, or cartoon themes. These text types are meant to be enjoyed by everyone. As much as this advice may be difficult to follow - try and enjoy these types of stems. Allow yourself to be guided by the humour or melancholy you experience as you read them.
When it comes to achieving great Section 2 GAMSAT results, the most important piece of advice is to ‘stick to your guns’. This means that once you have read the comments, and come up with a message or argument, you would like to express, DO NOT change it halfway through your essay. The same goes for quote interpretation - do not over analyse each quote, try to come up with a straightforward interpretation that you are comfortable with, and lock it in. This confident approach will save you time for writing and proofreading. Understandably, taking this approach may run the risk of misinterpreting the essay prompts - that’s okay! Remember, most good GAMSAT scores in Section 2 are awarded for clarity and consistency in communication rather than accuracy of quote interpretation.
Another point to address is Section 2 writer’s block. Almost everyone has experienced this at some point in their GAMSAT preparation. The real reason behind this frustrating challenge is you are often setting yourself an impossible task - writing a structured essay without knowing the overarching point of the structure! To give a Section 3 equivalent example - imagine if you attempted to solve a physics question by attempting to apply different equations of the formula sheet at random, hoping to accidentally arrive at the correct solution. This is why a successful Section 2 strategy always has to involve a ‘broad picture’ approach. Consider what you want to argue across your essay before you put pen to paper - you can even write down your central argument on your scrap paper to remind you. Once you have your main point focused, let it guide your body paragraphs.
Finally - avoid ‘overwriting’ at all costs. This means that the language that you use should be within your comfort zone. It is painfully obvious when students try and use unnecessary adjectives to impress examiners.
Another benefit of following these three guiding tips is that you will write your essays faster. This is an inevitable consequence of writing in a more certain and straightforward style!
When it comes to Section 3 - a good GAMSAT score is as much a product of mindset as it is of good GAMSAT resources. If you are a biomedical science student, avoid approaching Section 3 questions from a first-principles perspective. Rather than leaning on your science knowledge to answer questions, lean on the information in the stem. Your university degree should really only be used to provide context when you are trying to decipher a question.
For example, if you encounter a stem focusing on amino acids, avoid the temptation to skim over the information in the preamble, only to use your own biochemistry skills to answer the questions. The reason why this approach puts you at a disadvantage is that the stem often guides the examinee as to the methods they should use to correctly respond to the scenario. When you skip over the stem, you are essentially taking a risk, assuming that your own techniques will be as effective as those suggested by the question stem.
Section 3 is also notorious because it leads to exam burnout in many students. This is reasonable, given that it is the last section of the GAMSAT exam and arguably also the most challenging. The only effective method of counteracting mental exhaustion is giving yourself a break. While this might sound counterintuitive, taking three or four minutes midway through the exam is an evidence-based method to refresh your mind. While you may lose this time as you take your focus away from the exam, your long-term performance will significantly improve throughout the rest of the questions. It may also be useful to take shorter water breaks when you feel yourself becoming overwhelmed with a question. Look away from the screen, take a sip of your water, take a deep breath, and approach the question once you feel collected.
The final ingredient in our recipe for a healthy GAMSAT is some time to destress and debrief. Once the GAMSAT is all done, there is no need to worry about your performance in the short term. Your mind has worked incredibly hard in the past few months, and especially in the past few hours. Regardless of your performance on the day, you deserve to be rewarded. This is a simple principle of psychology - to avoid mental distress, your brain expects recognition in return for effort. This is why you will often hear that many successful GAMSAT students spend some time relaxing with friends and family after the exam.
Once you have caught up on some much-needed rest and relaxation, it is a worthwhile idea to have a quick debrief. This could be an entirely solitary activity, going through some key concepts or texts in the GAMSAT that you found confusing or challenging. Others opt to catch up for a coffee with their study group to exchange exam experiences. While this may sound stressful, it can be a great character-building exercise. Professional development in the medical field is all about continuously confronting gaps in your knowledge to improve patient care. If you ever make mistakes, these are not a reflection of your shortcomings but an opportunity for improvement. Even in the unfortunate circumstance of a GAMSAT score not being good enough for medical entry, a persistent future medical student will use their experience as a learning opportunity for retaking the exam and not a black mark on their record.
While you are wondering how you can write your GAMSAT success story, here's an useful tip - make your GAMSAT test day highly optimal. How, you ask? Read our article on tips to optimise your test day experience in the easiest, possible way!