There is no denying that undertaking the GAMSAT is tough. This comes with good reason; there are limited places to study postgraduate medicine courses in Australia, and so universities require a fair but sound way to separate candidates that possess the mental endurance and maturity to study in this highly demanding and intensive degree.
Consequently, there is limited value in trying to objectively define how subjectively difficult the exam is. Instead, this article is intended to demonstrate exactly why most applicants find it terribly challenging. Knowing this will enable us to appreciate the GAMSAT’s difficulty and work into its challenges, instead of succumbing to paralysing fear.
These are the typical unhelpful suggestions that add to the pains of section 1, whether we are from a humanities background or not. The major reason why Section 1 is troublesome, regardless of our previous studies, is due to its misconception as a strict humanities/comprehension section. The task of section 1 is defined as “reasoning” in humanities and social sciences. With the word ‘reasoning’ comes the demand for genuine and well developed problem solving skills, such as logical deductions and inferences.
Those that come from a non-science background often experience a rude shock as they have not developed the specific cognitive skills to properly reason with the literacy skills they come armed with. This severely caps the potential of a non-science applicant to score highly in the section notoriously known to be accessible to non-science applicants.
In contrast, those from a scientific background become unstuck in two major ways. Firstly, science background applicants also often fail to realise the ‘reasoning’ aspect of Section 1, and treat study as if it were a simple comprehension task. Consequently, and secondly, science applicants are usually left feeling as though they need to improve their reading skills, without considering the cognitive styles that are most commonly tested through the variously different styles of text. Science applicants will often ‘study hard’ by reading and soaking up as much written text as possible, or by developing skills prescribed by very outdated materials that were only applicable to now obsolete styles of the GAMSAT, resulting in a lack of true improvements in the novel assessment of Section 1.
In summary, Section 1 is hugely difficult because it is not the comprehension task that it seems. Students from both a science and non-science background can have trouble, not just the former. Logical reasoning and problem solving are the key skills behind the veil of a sound understanding of the literary language. The vast majority of applicants consequently fail to break into the 60 mark.
We have placed Section 3 before Section 2 because of the similarities between Section's 1 and 3.
When it comes to Section 3, applicants fall into two broad categories: those from a science background that are therefore confident with their abilities in section 3, and those from a non-science background that are immobilised by their lack of scientific understanding. Both styles of applicants find Section 3 difficult.
This is because the Section 3 demands are two fold.
Secondly, one must have the appropriate problem solving skills to also ‘reason’ through the questions (like section 1), but this time with all the glory of logic in the “biological and physical sciences”.
In both the science and non-science applicants, a problem that quite often arises is forgetting either of the two demands: science fluency, or science-oriented problem solving. This is partly due to the fact that as we go through high school and university, we are only usually required to learn knowledge without fully reasoning our way through it. This leaves us accepting things at face value without engaging with rationales. As we prepare for the GAMSAT, this is further reinforced by preparation materials that try to develop cognitive skills, or ‘baskets’, that are now seen as weak and obsolete within the ever-evolving space of the GAMSAT.
To compound all of this further, section 3 is the longest task out of them all, ensuring that whatever skills we develop in our studies must be performed at the highest of level for almost three hours.
So in short, is Section 3 difficult? Yes. It is almost 50% of the GAMSAT’s total writing time. It tests skills so terribly far from the normal academic curriculum it isn’t funny.
Listen to this podcast for a past GAMSAT examinee's reflections: How a biomed student felt about GAMSAT questions
Let’s switch gears. You've probably heard this before, or thought it yourself: "I’ve done essays in the past so I will be fine. This section is listed as being about “communication,” and this is something I do daily."
Why, then, does it come as a surprise when we receive our Section 2 marks?
In reality, Section 2 is about one major thing: ideas. We are asked to generate new ideas and draw conclusions out of the ordinary. This is not the same as simply generating an essay that has a topic sentence and lists examples to support simple observations. We are called upon to synthesise new ideas and conclusions that are out of the ordinary and thought provoking, and is the very reason why section 2 poses a difficult task.
Whether we are from a science or non-science background, we cannot view Section 2 as a task that will score highly if we solely express ourselves eloquently. Though sound expression is part of the task, it is only in so much as a tool to demonstrate how well we can formulate new ideas from a foreign stimulus of information.
This is precisely why so many struggle with Section 2. Failing to generate novel ideas and linkages means it is easy to fall in the cracks and not be seen as remarkable. Section 2 is often viewed as a section that can be fluffed through. This certainly cannot happen without careful development.
Determining the everyday struggles for each section of the GAMSAT will equip you with the needed knowledge to ensure you work around them. Here are some ways to do so:
Once we determine our strengths and weaknesses according to the GAMSAT, we need to generate a plan of attack to maximise the time we have until the exam. This must involve having good time management and targeted study for the skills we need to develop. The sad thing about the GAMSAT is that most applicants aren’t lazy, but instead do not score highly because they spent so much time and effort going through material that incorrectly thought would be beneficial. Preparing with inappropriate tactics may feel right, and yet waste months of hard work.
Here are some free resources that will help you build a good GAMSAT Study Plan:
1) Free Online Course
Our Free Online Course has bountiful materials to get you on the right path. Sign up to get access to the Free LMS and see for yourself the challenging nature of the exam. Use what you have learnt from the diagnostic exam to start getting a feel on how to improve.
2) Paid Courses
If you would like more of the top tier resources we have and want an in-depth and thorough course to develop your skills, you may be interested in our programs. The programs we have involve weekly classes and mock exams in order to best prepare you. Our weekly classes target each section of the GAMSAT and are designed to exercise the high order thinking skills we require to score as highly as possible. If you would like to get started, head over to our enrolment page.
How hard is it to score 70 on the GAMSAT? 70 is often the golden number on people’s lips when they think of their ideal GAMSAT score. Just how hard is it to score this high? Just remember that results are calculated based upon a number of factors, such as bell curve percentile distribution, how many people sit the exam, and how many pass.
The typical distribution of GAMSAT scores look something like this:
It's vital to remember that over 95% of applicants will earn a GAMSAT score between 40 and 80 on the whole. The average GAMSAT score for the March 2023 test was 59; this was the 50th percentile, which means that 50% of students received scores below this level and 50% received scores above it.
With a score of 64, the student falls somewhere in the 75% percentile. This indicates that approximately 75% of students received scores below this level, while 25% had scores above this level.
An extremely high score of 75 would put the student in the 98th percentile, which means that 98% of students received scores below this mark and only 2% received marks higher.
The medical applications can come across as weird and unintuitive. There is an application process for GEMSAS (which includes the majority of post graduate MD universities), as well as separate applications for the non-GEMSAS universities, namely The University of Sydney, Flinders University and Monash University.
Each of these applications has their own important dates to take note of, which usually include: a final date to submit your application (and portfolio if it is a portfolio university), a date for supplementary documentation to be submitted, a date for interview offers being announced, a date that bookings open for your interview (some universities do not give an option), and final the date actual medicine offers are announced.
The application process can be very daunting. We have a guide that we update yearly to help ease the process and can be found here.
Whether the interview your selected universities employs is an MMI or non-MMI, it is hard to stress enough how challenging this interview is. On face value, you seem to have the best odds possible: you fight against many people for a good GPA, you compete against thousands for an interview place, and then once you land an interview you have roughly a 1 to 2 ratio of places to interviewees. Yet, this is indeed one of the most challenging tasks. Why is this the case? The medical interview is unnatural. It is not at all how normal interviews are conducted. It is specifically designed to see who you are without any guards put up.
The MMI (Multi-Mini Interview) is a format of interview whereby each applicant has approximately 5-10 different mini-interviews. Each interview is a ‘station’ that is conducted in a different room and by a different assessor. Each station runs for around 5-10 minutes each. Often, you will be presented with a little bit of information on the door before going in, and have around 1 minute to read it. Then when the bell sounds, you enter the room, and the assessor will ask questions.
Stations range from intrapersonal questions like “Why do you want to enter the healthcare profession?”, to medical ethics scenarios where you are forced to enter a fictitious scenario and asked to analyse the situation, to stations about the public healthcare system, to role play with an actor. The types of stations are plentiful, with approximately 4 follow up questions that need to be answered all within the 5-10 minute station. There is also no rest time between different stations.
The MMI is fast paced, unnerving and challenging. In a blink, all the stations fly past and yet each second of rapid fire answers make a world of difference.
These are the panel interviews and are more of a traditional layout to the medical interview, but equally as challenging as the MMIs as detailed above. They run for approximately 40 minutes and involve being interviewed in front of a committee that will continually ask you questions such as your strengths for studying medicine and desire.
Hopefully, we can now see how important it is to score highly on the GAMSAT. The interview is such a challenging feat and so ensuring we have a high GAMSAT is paramount to maximise our chance not just for an interview, but for an actual offer for medicine. The unfortunate thing about the interviews is we don’t know what GAMSAT score is ideal, and so our focus must be on getting it as high as possible.
The first point of reference would definitely be to take our practice test. Doing so will demonstrate what types of questions are asked (sadly, the practice papers on the ACER website are not representative of the real exam) and exemplify where some of our weakest areas lie.