There is no argument that the GAMSAT exam is a gruelling test. In our previous articles we have discussed the challenges that a student faces in terms of the vast amount of content that needs to be covered, especially for Section 2 and Section 3. Because the GAMSAT is a psychometric exam however, the greatest challenge faced by any candidate is maintaining exam focus throughout the many hours of testing.
In preparation for the test, many of you would have undertaken GAMSAT preparation classes, improved your understanding of science and humanities, as well as consulted your friends and tutors for GAMSAT tips and tricks. They are critically important when it comes to answering individual questions correctly. Unfortunately, your analytical and time management skills are less useful when tackling exam burnout. The analogy that comes to mind here is that your mind is a muscle, and even if you can lift a heavy weight once, it does not mean you will be able to maintain the heavy load for many hours to come.
In this article, we will be discussing endurance strategy for ACER’s psychometric test. Specifically, we will review the principles of exam focus, and move through to the specifics of retaining focus during GAMSAT Section 3, especially after all the hard work of Sections 1 and Section 2.
The basic truth that we need to begin our discussion with is that deteriorating exam focus is inevitable. It is impossible to train your brain to maintain a consistent accuracy when attempting hundreds of humanities and sciences questions. In fact, this has been extensively demonstrated by psychological studies of exam performance. The important conclusion regarding exam focus here is that we need to learn how to manage this reality, rather than attempting to avoid it.
Let’s begin by looking at the data. Below you can find a graph that charts an average candidate's exam exam focus, against time spent taking the test.
In straightforward terms, you should think of ‘exam focus’ as the likelihood that you will be able to correctly complete a given question. This certainly depends on your baseline knowledge and preparation, but no matter how meticulous your GAMSAT study plan, 4 hours into testing you will inevitably only correctly answer 30% of the questions that you would otherwise find straightforward.
Reflecting on the focus drop described in the previous section, we should not apply this problem directly to the GAMSAT exam. Overlying the graph above on the sequence of the exam, you can clearly see that peak concentration would be possible only during Section 1 and part of Section 2. For most students, these are not the sections where most of your points are gained. The graph reaches a minimum and plateaus towards the end of the horizontal time axis. This is precisely when students will be attempting the most challenging aspect of the exam - Section 3.
After reviewing our database of over a decade of GAMSAT experience, as well as reviewing further psychometric literature, the analytics team at Fraser’s recorded a very reasonable observation. There is an objective improvement in exam focus following the break between Section 1, Section 2 and Section 3. This means that even a fairly uneventful lunch that distracted a student from the stresses of the GAMSAT resulted in a significant boost in focus at the beginning of the next section.
It goes without saying that this is not the end of our GAMSAT exam day tips. A single break only provides a short focus boost before mental fatigue sets in again. Our conclusion is that the best way to study for GAMSAT is to select several time points during the test, when you will take a break. This would result in a concentration graph that can be seen below.
If you were to contrast the impact of consecutive breaks with a ‘head-on’ approach that is used by the average student, it becomes clear that the accuracy and consistency of our proposed method provides better overall results. The obvious trade-off to taking a break however, is that it is time spent away from the exam. Our data suggests that students tend to achieve higher overall scores if their focus is improved through breaks, rather than if they push through a greater number of questions at a reduced accuracy.
Another important point to consider is that a focused student completes questions faster, compensating for the few minute spent on recollecting themselves.
Sections 1 and 2 (especially Section 2) are particularly stressful from a time perspective. The consensus at Fraser’s GAMSAT is that maintaining concentration during Section 1 and Section 2 largely falls to GAMSAT preparation prior to the exam.
The first aspect of Section 1 and Section 2 focus is feeling well-rested, and well nourished on the day. Completing mock exams in the 30 days prior to sitting the test, you should take care to figure out exactly how much sleep you need to prepare yourself for this great mental hurdle. Other points to consider include what you eat on the day, being careful to regulate your caffeine intake, and the size of your meals. Furthermore, it is important to choose appropriately comfortable clothes, which will prevent you from being distracted on exam day.
The second aspect of Section 1 and Section 2 focus is question technique. This involves correct speed reading when responding to humanities passages, as well as a practised quote interpretation and planning technique when writing your essays.
Given the time constraints, you should limit yourself to water breaks in Section 1, and avoid breaks altogether in Section 2 if possible. Both of these sections fall largely into the ‘high concentration’ zone of the test, and therefore can successfully be attempted without many tactical concentration boosts.
Despite Section 3 occurring immediately following a break, most students commence the sciences section with an improved, but ultimately sub-optimal concentration level. While it is not possible to restore your focus to Section 1 standards, it is necessary to prevent further loss of exam concentration for this final part of the test.
Employing the aforementioned strategic concentration boost strategy, students should consider the best time to take a break. It is generally accepted that concentration deteriorates in an exponential fashion. This means that you should view your exam focus the same way radioactive exponential decay - look for the half-life!
In straightforward terms, we recommend taking a break when your exam focus has halved.
A rule of thumb when estimating when to collect yourself, is to simply use the remaining questions quantity as a guide. When you have completed half of the questions available since your previous break - it’s time to take a step back and recover. For example, if you begin Section 3 with 100 questions, then you should aim to take a break at 50 questions. Following this break, you should take another after completing a further 25 questions. Following this method, you can aim to take 2-3 breaks during Section 3.
There are two options when it comes to taking breaks. A bathroom break costs you more time, but the change of scenery, as well as the physical walk to the bathroom tend to be more mentally refreshing. A more time-friendly alternative is to simply look away from your exam, take a sip of your water bottle, and a few deep breaths. Regardless of your preferred technique, it is critical to take your mind off the exam questions, and approach the break as a brief mindfulness exercise.