The GAMSAT is the Graduate Medical School Admissions Test, which is the postgraduate equivalent of the UCAT (University Clinical Aptitude Test) for undergraduate applicants. The GAMSAT is issued in the UK, Ireland, and Australia, and is managed by ACER (Australian Council for Educational Research) as a requirement to enter postgraduate medical schools. Universities that utilize the GAMSAT have been discussed below..
The GAMSAT exam is used by medical schools to rank candidates for admission. In other words - to get into medical school at any of these universities, you need a good GAMSAT score to beat your competition. But what is the GAMSAT?
Each year, there are typically two opportunities to sit the GAMSAT exam. The company that creates and runs the GAMSAT is called ACER (which is another acronym that stands for Australian Council for Education Research). The exact dates for the test are set by ACER, however, the two sitting sessions have historically occurred in March and September. GAMSAT information, including format changes to the exam, as well as GAMSAT exam dates, are regularly updated GAMSAT information on the ACER website.
The fact that there are two exam seasons every year, lends itself to a common GAMSAT preparation strategy. Many students begin to familiarise themselves with GAMSAT topics in months leading up to the March exam. After experiencing the exam in March, they can then reflect on their GAMSAT mark, and refine their GAMSAT strategy for the September exam.
The GAMSAT exam is split into three sections - Section 1, Section 2, and Section 3. Each of these sections is designed to assess a different skill in conjunction with time management, as there is only a break between the second and third sections.
There are very few students that relish the opportunity to sit an exam. Fewer still enjoy the competition for high GAMSAT score required to effectively compete for a spot at a medical university. It’s very easy to brush off the GAMSAT requirements Australia has imposed on graduate medical admissions as arbitrary or even unfair. This is simply not the case. The GAMSAT exam is both a great indicator of competency, it also directly tests the skills that you will be using as a medical student and a junior doctor.
Forget everything you ever saw on T.V - studying and practicing medicine is much more about processing information than it is about knowing the correct answer. Modern medicine is simply too vast, and too complex, for one to know every medical condition. Frankly, it is too vast and complex to even understand most of the medicine. The mark of a good doctor is being able to reason safely, correctly, and knowing where to look for further information. This is exactly what the GAMSAT is testing.
Many people refer to the GAMSAT as a ‘psychometric’ exam. What this means is that the GAMSAT exam structure asks a candidate to read and evaluate a huge quantity of information, in limited time conditions. While you may be familiar with the GAMSAT topic expressed in any given question, the specifics of the question are likely going to be somewhat novel. For example, you may be familiar with university-level, 1st-year physics, but the GAMSAT question will ask you to apply this knowledge in an unfamiliar context, such as the physics of horse movement.
Your job in the GAMSAT exam will be to consider the new information that you have been given, in the context of the basic principles of science and humanities that you are already familiar with, to answer the questions. This is comparable to the diagnostic process in the hospital, where you never know what the patient is suffering from, only the basic diagnostic principles you have been taught in medical school - it’s detective work!
To find out more about what type of GAMSAT preparation you need, choose our GAMSAT Essentials learning pack!
As mentioned previously, the GAMSAT exam structure consists of three parts. These are called Section 1, Section 2, and Section 3 respectively. In its current format, the GAMSAT is an online exam that is run over a period of approximately 4.5 hours. The exam is conducted at an assigned date and time at a certified ACER testing center. Sections 1 and 3 are multiple-choice, with four options following each question. Section 2 however requires the candidate to write two short essays, in response to two sets of quotes that act as prompts. A computer with specific ACER software is provided for the candidate and is used for all three sections.
Here's a detailed article outlining the GAMSAT Mock Exam Review, click here!
GAMSAT Section 1 is known as “Reasoning in Humanities and Social Sciences”. This GAMSAT section provides the candidate with a question stem, which consists of a passage, cartoon, diagram, or poem, and requires the candidate to respond to specific questions addressed at this provided information.
The purpose of this section is to test how good a candidate is at interpreting the meaning in language, or perhaps the meaning between the lines. More specifically, this is a section that requires the examinee to look beyond literal words on the page in front of them. This includes considering their impressions or emotions of characters in a novel or perhaps identifying the humor or sarcasm in a cartoon. In practical terms, this section could be considered a measure of sympathy and empathy.
When you arrive at the hospital as a medical student, you have to remember that you are not treating patients, you are treating people. Lifestyle decisions and emotional states are critical components in any patient’s healthcare journey. And given that treatment is tailored to the patient, you have to be able to understand the person in the bed in front of you, on a personal (rather than simply clinical) level. In a nutshell, Section 1 of the GAMSAT marks a candidate's capacity of forming an intelligent therapeutic alliance with their future patients.
Section 2 is the written communication section. It provides the candidate with two sets of quotes. Each set of quotes is used as a prompt to write an essay. Each quote set has a common theme, and the first challenge encountered by candidates is identifying this unifying idea. This idea should be the main topic of the essay - though it is up to the examinee to select their perspective on the issue. There is also no clear prescription as to the Section 2 format of the essay, however, GAMSAT marks are consistently awarded for clear communication.
Jumping back to our clinical analogy - how is the need for an essay GAMSAT score explained? The answer is actually straightforward, it is the next logical step in your patient relationship! After an empathetic, and sympathetic discussion, where you have carefully listened to your patient’s complaints, and read between the lines, you are ready to communicate. Historically, patient-doctor communication has been difficult. There is usually a wide knowledge gap between patient and physician.
Furthermore, doctors often find themselves under stressful time conditions. So what should a good physician be able to do under these circumstances? Select the appropriate amount of detail, and appropriate language and structure, to communicate with their patient. This is Section 2 of the GAMSAT explained! You are given sophisticated information in the form of quotes and placed under timed conditions, to test your capacity to communicate clearly and effectively.
Click this link to read more about channelling strategies into your Section 2 GAMSAT prep!
This section is known as “Reasoning in Biological and Physical Sciences”. It is the longest of the three sections, both in terms of time and number of questions. It is also probably the greatest challenge to GAMSAT students who are from a standard science background. The content of this section is 20% physics, 40% biology, and 40% chemistry at the approximately first-year university level, and, as mentioned previously, is entirely multiple choice.
The scientific nature of Section 3 often lures students into adopting an incorrect strategy of pouring hours into book study. Many candidates return to the first principles of science in an attempt to memorize endless formulas and anticipate every possible question topic. In fact, this is one of the most common GAMSAT FAQs when it comes to Section 3. This is a highly ineffective approach! The GAMSAT Section 3 is explicitly designed to present you with new information in the context of science you are familiar with - recall the horse movement example from earlier in this article.
The reason why exclusive book study fails to deliver high GAMSAT marks is that the GAMSAT graduate entry program is looking for a different skillset in successful candidates. Returning once again to our medical student/doctor analogy. Often, real medical cases are much more complicated than textbook examples. It’s rarely as simple as collecting lists of symptoms to make a diagnosis. As a junior doctor, you will frequently encounter a problem that you cannot fully solve. In these circumstances, you have to make use of the resources around you - your colleague, various scientific journals, and the internet all come to the rescue.
Once again, the situation is often time-critical, and it is your responsibility to make a responsible, safe, and intelligent decision for your patient under pressured conditions. This is emulated in Section 3, where your scientific background supports but does not fully answer the questions you encounter. It’s as much about problem-solving as it is about having a scientific background.
Click this link to know more about the Section 3 Question log!
In GAMSAT, marks are awarded for each section independently. These three sections are then averaged to calculate your final GAMSAT mark. It is important to note that when calculating averages, ACER weights Section 3 as double that of Sections 1 or 2, this is not the case for all universities. For a deep dive on GAMSAT scores, click here.
In general, each section has a GAMSAT score between 0 and 100. These numbers are not a reflection of actual GAMSAT marks obtained in the exam. Rather, these are scores that correlate to merit, or how well you did in the GAMSAT. Each year, these GAMSAT scores are further correlated to percentiles. What this means is that getting a 75 GAMSAT score requires the same amount of merit or intelligence between the different years. However, because cohorts of students fluctuate (a strong cohort one year, and a weaker cohort the next for example), the number of people with a score of 75 would be different year to year.
The GAMSAT scoring system is complicated. If you are looking for a detailed analysis of scoring in the GAMSAT explained, we have a fantastic GAMSAT podcast and video material with all the important score calculation GAMSAT information.
The answer to this question largely depends on which medical program you are interested in attending. If you are interested in applying for a graduate-entry program, then the answer is almost certainly yes. There are undergraduate medical courses that have requirements other than the GAMSAT, for example, the UCAT. However, there are GAMSAT requirements for all postgraduate programs in Australia (with some notable exceptions such as the Chancellor's Scholar program at the University of Melbourne).
The broader point to be made here is that it is important to understand the GAMSAT material. As you can see from this article - this is not an arbitrary hurdle to graduate entry medicine. Quite the opposite, it is a test of the skills that you have been preparing in the lead-up to medical admission. In fact - it is a demonstration of your preparedness for clinical practice as a medical student and future doctor!
In order to undertake the GAMSAT, you must register through the ACER website. There are March and September sittings of the GAMSAT. Note that while the runtime of the exam is 4.5 hours, this does not include pre-testing procedures and other unexpected delays, so be prepared to schedule most of your day around this test. There are testing centers in every major Australian city, so it is usually not difficult to find a suitable location to sit the exam.
It is not mandatory to have a background in science to register for the exam but be aware there is a $515 AUD fee to sit the exam. Registration includes a small question document, as well as access to a mock ACER GAMSAT platform online. We strongly encourage candidates to familiarise themselves with this content in order to better understand the question style of the exam and the technical aspect of navigating the exam system.