There are many factors that have precipitated the transition to an online GAMSAT. First and foremost – 2020 was an unusual year, to say the least. Understandably – ACER chose to be COVID-safe this past year and opted for an online GAMSAT to maximize social distancing. While there is a vaccine on the horizon, and the worst of COVID is hopefully behind us, ACER is understandably weary of mass gatherings of thousands of students in exam halls.
But this probably is not the only reason. An online GAMSAT may also be a cost-saving measure for ACER – less printed booklets, less hall hire logistics, and more straightforward invigilation and marking procedures.
Secondly – digitalization is the way of the future. The online GAMSAT format is simply a sign of the times. Many people already type faster than they write, and storing information online is much more secure than storing paper records.
Ultimately, the fact that it is an online test should not worry you – the new online platform is nothing more than a change in format. The content of the exam will remain consistent and will continue the ACER trend of fairly assigning scores based on merit. Think of this as dipping your toes into the logistical world of hospital medicine – after all, many major hospitals have also recently transitioned to online records-keeping systems!
Find out what GAMSAT preparation books are ideal to ace the GAMSAT exam!
The shift to an online GAMSAT does bring with it major changes to the format. Firstly, it is significantly shorter than the paper written test. Here is a table summary of the new GAMSAT online exam structure.
NOTE: This table is only reflective of the GAMSAT exam structure during COVID and does not highlight the current exam taking style or total questions! To understand more about what's changed, read our 'what is GAMSAT exam?' article!
Now that the GAMSAT is online, an important change has also been made to reading time. Whereas in the past, sitting in the exam hall, you could not begin writing during this time, the new online GAMSAT structure means that reading time is not incorporated into the total allocated time. In other words – it is a recommendation rather than an enforced rule.
It’s certainly our recommendation at Fraser’s GAMSAT that you take 5-6 minutes to look through the online test before you launch into answering questions, but that’s a topic for another time!
On the day of the GAMSAT, you will be expected to arrive at the testing centre at 8:15 AM (local time), following this you will undergo 4.5 hours of testing. Those of us who remember the delays associated with seating and paper distribution will be relieved to hear that ACER believes that the pre-testing procedure for 2021 GAMSAT will be significantly faster, given that there will be fewer candidates per testing venue.
Another return to form by the 2021 GAMSAT online format, is that Section 1 and Section 2 are separated from Section 3 by a 30-minute break. This is different from the 2020 online GAMSAT format in that both test sessions occur on the same day.
This is a very important question. If you visit the ACER website and read the information booklet outlining the online GAMSAT, there is a section dedicated to equity and fairness. A GAMSAT score is valid for two years. What this means is that the online exam results from March 2021 have to be comparable with those obtained from the written papers 2019. It is reasonable to wonder how 2019, 2020, and 2021 exams can all be comparable given that they were different lengths and different formats. However, this should not worry you.
Firstly, ACER specializes in education research, and it is their explicit obligation to the Universities to award GAMSAT results based on merit so that medical schools can select the best candidates in a fair and equitable manner. Every question, every section, and the exam duration/structure is designed to test candidates in such a way that the results are comparable between years.
Another important point to consider is that the content distribution for Section 3 (40% Chemistry, 40% Biology, 20% Physics) is the same for the online GAMSAT test, as it was for the paper variant. Similarly, the criteria for assessment of Section 1 and Section 2 remain unchanged. In other words, the difficulty and time per question are proportionally equivalent between the years, regardless of the exam format.
During the March 2020 season of the GAMSAT, ACER opted to use Procter, which is software that allowed candidates to sit the exam from the comfort of their own home. As of September 2020 however, ACER has kept the online format, but transitioned back to formal testing centres. At Fraser’s GAMSAT, we have been keeping a close eye on candidates that have participated in online testing, and would like to share some preliminary information and advice about the online testing format.
The first piece of advice is this – sit ergonomically! The exam is 4.5 hours long, and it is a dramatically different seating posture to what most candidates are used to under normal exam conditions. It’s critically important that you avoid back and neck strains that will interfere with your concentration on the day. Stretches, hydration, and timely toilet breaks are also simple, but important tools in your arsenal to fight burnout during the exam.
If you’d like to know more about keeping yourself focused during the online GAMSAT.
The second piece of advice relates to note-taking strategies. The exam is no longer a physical piece of paper that you can take notes on during your thinking process. You are now permitted two sheets of scrap paper per each session. In other words, two sheets for Section I and II, and a further two sheets for Section 3 (four sheets in total). This paper is important ‘thinking real-estate’. It’s space for diagrams, essay plans, and basic calculations.
These are now more important than ever given that you can no longer annotate the exam itself.
Finally, remember to familiarise yourself with the online system. Candidates from 2020 have stated that familiarising themselves with the system helps locate additional information associated with each stem. This information is sometimes located in separate tabs. Other habits to develop in the online setting include very proactive scrolling. In a paper exam, you would check every page to make sure you have not missed any information – the online equivalent of this is ensuring that all the information available has been displayed on the screen.
A section coming up described the online GAMSAT demo available on the ACER website in further detail.
Understanding the platform ACER uses to assess candidates should be as important as considerations such as the number of questions and time available to answer. The format of the exam, and the familiarity one has with it, is a key component that needs to be tackled as an opportunity to perfect one’s preparation strategies. The platform ACER uses ultimately changes the testing grounds, and hence incorporating familiarity into preparation is part of the training.
While the picture-perfect demo of the online ACER GAMSAT platform can be accessed via the ACER website following registration, we at Fraser’s have been working away at creating a comparable online GAMSAT exam system for our students to actually prepare for how they will be tested. The images below demonstrate the general format of the platform.
Provided below, are screenshots of Section 3, followed by a Section 1 question respectively. What can be seen is a side-by-side layout of the stem and the answer options. As mentioned in the previous section, we can see a scroll bar on the stem side of the image in both cases – there may be more information contained in the stem than is initially visible.
As with most online systems, there is also an indication of progress, which tells you what question you are up to, and how many you have remaining.
Another point of interest when navigating online systems is the icons on the right side of the screen, which allow you to view additional information related to the stem (if it is available), as well as scroll to a specific question.
An FAQ among many candidates is whether it is possible to familiarise yourself with the online test platform prior to the online GAMSAT exam. The good news here is that there is no need to trawl through online forums to read unreliable information from previous examinees! It is ACER’s top priority that they only test a candidate’s Section skills (rather than their familiarity with the online platform. For this reason, ACER has created an online platform demo.
You can access this demo by registering yourself on the ACER website, following which you will be provided with a link to an interactive demo of the digital delivery platform.
Unfortunately, all the questions in this demo are recycled from existing practice material which you can also purchase on the ACER website. This means that none of your responses in the online demo will be marked.
But have no fear – this is where Fraser’s GAMSAT comes in! We have faithfully recreated the ACER online platform, complete with questions and solutions on our LMS.
It is clear from the ACER decision to move to an online platform that their internal research has confirmed that a candidate capable of achieving a score of say 75, on a paper exam in 2019, would achieve an online exam result of 75 in 2021 or 2022. But the elephant in the room still remains – the online test is approximately 1 hour shorter than its paper counterpart. This may be a positive online exam adjustment for those of us who are mental marathon sprinters, rather than marathon runners.
As mentioned earlier, the information provided by ACER is very explicit about the equivalence of the question difficulty between the years.
Find out more on how to prepare for each section of the GAMSAT.
An important consideration with this change to exam duration, however, is that you may have to change your strategies for managing mental fatigue during the exam.
For an interesting take on how our very own Kristian scored over 70 in his three GAMSAT attempts, listen to our GAMSAT podcast now!
As mentioned previously on our blog, the online exam result is explicitly designed to be equivalent to the paper exam in terms of eligibility for medical school applications. The new sitting format has been carefully redesigned, with balanced changes to structure and duration to ensure a fair outcome for all candidates, no matter the years they choose to sit the GAMSAT.
At Fraser’s GAMSAT, we like to advise all candidates to ‘trust the process'. The online format of the exam will not be a consideration taken into account by medical school admission committees. Rather, the old reliable indicators of GAMSAT score, GPA, and interview (in various combinations) will continue constituting the primary hurdles to admission.
Fraser’s GAMSAT is a tuition company that was founded in 2010, with a focus on changing the way people prepare for GAMSAT and the long-term mentorship of students.
For more information about the GAMSAT preparation courses that we offer, click here.