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We have reached that time of year that we start to think about the GAMSAT 2020 March. It’s a time of year where questions are abound – what should we be expecting and why we should be expecting it? With that being said, let’s take a brief look at the 2019 GAMSAT trends, making sure to cover all sections of the exam. After analysing and discussing what the highs and lows were in GAMSAT 2019 March, we’ll move on to the GAMSAT 2019 September. Finally, we’ll bring the information together in order to speculate about how we think the GAMSAT 2020 March will look!

What happened in GAMSAT 2019 March

GAMSAT 2019 March Section I: Reasoning in Humanities

Complexity remains a huge obstacle in Section 1 and timing continues to make things difficult. In previous exams, Section 1 stems were likely to feature technical texts and literary proses. There was an emphasis on philosophical texts and psychological theories, many of which were either abstract or uncommon. However, there has been a decrease in complexity between September 2018 and March 2019 – although, this doesn’t mean that Reasoning in Humanities is any easier. In fact, it’s apparent that the stems in Section 1 have gotten longer – making time management in the GAMSAT 2019 March very challenging.

Of the 200 students and tutors who took the GAMSAT 2019 March, only 19% reported completing Section I, while a staggering 46% reported missing anywhere between 10 and 30 questions.

The biggest change in March 2019 was the spike in stems dealing with medical ethics. This increase in medical ethics mirrored major changes to the Australian medical system, particularly surrounding the prevalent issue of opioid medications over-prescription. This isn’t to say that there’s a positive correlation between societal issues and Section I stems, however it does seem to be an uncanny coincidence that these two things happened at the same time.

As some of you may know, in the past ACER has had a tendency to present students with Section 1 stems that revolve around understanding literary techniques or interpreting the meaning of random or obscure words. The exam has now shifted away from that and instead tends toward longer, but less convoluted, content. This challenges time management and speed of comprehension rather than a person’s knowledge of literature. In contrast with September 2018, the GAMSAT 2019 March was extremely dense, the language, however, was easier to grasp. In our post-exam survey, 70% of students reported that if they were exposed to medical ethics, it would have helped them in Section 1. This was accompanied by an increase in the difficulty of Section I, with 50% of our student cohort rating it a 4 out of 5 – five being the most difficult.

GAMSAT 2019 March Section II: Written Communication

In 2019, ACER moved away from more open-ended themes such as: change, ambition, superstition, and freedom that we saw in 2018, and towards themes that have multiple layers of complexity. For example, in March 2019, the themes were Population Control/Family Size for Task A and Role Models for Task B, (90% of students who sat the March GAMSAT identified the same themes). They’re more specific than previous years but have multiple levels of complexity that can be unlocked with the right approach. Removing ambiguity and ensuring students can accurately write on the theme forces students to narrow their ideas to treat a more specific niche. In fact, we noticed that students who incorrectly identified the theme reported significantly lower Section 2 scores, far lower than what our predicted scores in mock exams were when they had correctly identified the theme.

If you want to see all GAMSAT Section 2 topics dating back to the early 2000s, download the below GAMSAT Section 2 topic history.

Unbeknownst to many, Section 2 is a platform wherein ACER is able to not only test our ability to express ourselves (as is commonly thought to be its purpose), but to examine our capacity to critically appraise an issue and demonstrate the depth of our insight, irrespective of a background in literature or social sciences. Given this, it stands to reason that narrowing in on the themes presented in Section 2 tasks serves ACER in differentiating students. With broad, open-ended themes ACER are less able to separate out the stronger Section 2 candidates from those less capable of putting their reasoning on display due to an increased ease of approaching the theme rather than having to adapt and develop a coherent flow of ideas to something unexpectedly specific. In our recent post-exam survey, 80% of our students agreed that writing practice essays with specific themes helped them in the actual exam and most of our students agreed that the Fraser’s Ideas Based Approach to Section 2 helped them display their full potential. The Fraser’s Approach allowed students to tackle themes much easier than those who walk into a Section 2 with either a “wing it” attitude, or the very commonly seen pre-templated essay to regurgitate regardless of theme.

GAMSAT 2019 March Section III: Reasoning in Biological and Physical Sciences

Whilst the general consensus is that Section 3 hasn’t changed much over the years, there have been two very significant, if subtle, changes that need to be considered. The first of which is probably more commonly known and that is a step away from knowledge-based questions toward logic-based ones. The second, has discretely flown under the radar for something that has become such a prolific part of the Section 3 space. It is the inclusion of much more mathematically directed stems and questions. Both of these changes make perfect sense when assessing the overall purpose of Section 3; reasoning in biological and physical sciences. The logic-based deductions and the arithmetic fall very much in line with a test that looks to gauge a person’s ability to critically analyse without getting caught up in the memorisation and regurgitation of myriad science factoids.

We know that people don’t do well basing their entire Section 3 preparation on their knowledge with no prior engagement in cognitive skills that tackle logic and reasoning. Where the knowledge base can provide us with a crutch to lean on, is when confronting a stem derived from something that we may have learned in our biology, chemistry, or physics classes. The reason being, that when we see these questions, rather than being overwhelmed by the ‘science’ of them, we are able to comfortably assess what is being presented and break it down into its necessary facets, so that we can get to the crux of what is actually being asked.

Following this line of reasoning, mathematics is undoubtedly the most important and yet most widely under-appreciated cognitive skill recommended for Section 3 of the GAMSAT. A whopping 80% of our students have reported that studying maths was helpful. Through our analyses of the past four GAMSATs, we’ve found that approximately 30% of the section required complex arithmetical calculations. It is no surprise then, that close to 70% of our students reported time management and the length of stems to be the most difficult aspect of Section 3.

What we discovered in GAMSAT 2019 September

GAMSAT 2019 September Section I: Reasoning in Humanities

As discussed, the March GAMSAT had a strong emphasis on medical ethics, however we saw a step back from this come September. In September, it was actually poetry that seemed to dominate Section 1. A large majority of students found it very difficult to navigate and interpret these stems due to their lengths and subtle shades of meaning. Despite length being an issue in this section, 64% of our students reported missing only 0-5 questions out of the entire section. This is a stark contrast to March where 46% of students reported missing anywhere between 10 – 30 questions in Section 1. Another difference to the March exam, was that students reported relying on a common sense of emotional intelligence more. Fortunately though, ACER has continued to shift away from the use of archaic language and language analysis. As mentioned before, this means putting more of this challenge into the question length instead.

GAMSAT 2019 September Section II: Written Communication

Similar to March, Section 2 was made more difficult by presenting prompts with greater nuance. As discussed already, this nuance meant that the themes in each task were more targeted, with greater specificity. Further, the September Section 2 was an excellent example as to how the themes that ACER can pit you against are ever unpredictable. Tax, and tolerance were the themes presented. Where tax is a very specific theme, tolerance is quite broad and abstract. It is very possible that ACER are now trying to find a balance where they can test a student’s ability to write to both specific and broad themes, which in a sense would ensure that the student is able to construct ideas with a wider scope. For this sitting, students consistently reported Section 2 as the easiest section in the GAMSAT.

GAMSAT 2019 September Section III: Reasoning in Biological and Physical Sciences

The shift towards logic-based questions continued in biology and chemistry, where there was a strong focus on complex graphs and data analysis. Laid out in a style akin to a scientific journal, many students found themselves getting tricked into reading more meticulously than may otherwise have been needed. The journal-esque style caught people out for trying to read further into information that what was simply presented in the graphs and tables. There was also an increase in stems that tied this logical reasoning together with foundational knowledge in chemistry and biochemistry (from a first year level). This adds further credence to what was discussed about the March Section 3. Theoretical knowledge is not going to answer the question, but it will help you access the logic inherent in the question. For those of you who are afraid of “Big Bad Physics”, you’ll be happy to know that there has been a decrease in the types of stems that rely on application of physics formulae. Concurrently, these has been an increase in stems that actually use more complex notions like particle physics, however these are then only used as vehicles for delivering more of the same logic-based questions already discussed. Following in this vein, questions pertaining to physiology and biology continue to step away from standard human physiology towards veterinary physiology and biophysics as a way to abstractify what is commonly thought to be the ‘easier’ part of Section 3.

In a strange twist of events, 83% of our students reported encountering questions in Section 3 that they would describe as ‘incredibly easy’, where 76% of those students reported the overall difficulty of the section as a whole to be very high. 56% of students reported that they missed more than 15 questions in Section 3, confirming what we already know, it is still very hard to finish Section 3.

You may also want to read: What the GAMSAT questions look like?

What will the GAMSAT 2020 March look like?

So, having discussed the ins and outs of the past two GAMSATs, we now arrive at the perfect place to postulate what we think the GAMSAT March 2020 will look like!

What is it that we can expect for the GAMSAT 2020 March based on the trends that we’ve accounted for so far? Let’s break it down section by section based on what we’ve gone over so that we can build it back into a full prediction.

GAMSAT 2020 March Section I: Reasoning in Humanities

The biggest issues over the last two papers were the management of lengthy stems within the timeframe, difficulty tackling medical ethical texts (GAMSAT March 2019) and difficult poems (GAMSAT September 2019). As such, there is a strong likelihood that Section 1 stem length will continue to be a big factor in how students go on Section 1. In terms of the specific types of stems, it seems very likely that they will blend the past two papers. We should see a strong focus on texts that aren’t that difficult to comprehend but will challenge you in their length, alongside more abstract poetry. In doing this, ACER is able to assess a student’s reasoning as well as their emotional intelligence.

What to do? Make sure to practice reading and absorbing large amounts of text as quickly as possible. There is, unfortunately, no time to waste and your ability to answer questions in a timely matter is crucial. How you go about this will vary from person to person, however, it is important to get through the information in a stem as quickly as possible so that you don’t fall behind when you get to the questions.

GAMSAT 2020 March Section II: Written Communication

Where March GAMSAT 2019 saw two very specific themes, September GAMSAT 2019 saw a neat split with one theme being rather specific and the other broader. It is important to note here that when we say ‘broad’, we can no longer expect something as vast as “love”, rather a concept that is abstract in and of itself, but not incomprehensible in its scope of understanding e.g. ‘tolerance’. That being said, it is most likely that ACER keeps on the path of 1-and-1. As was mentioned earlier, it gives them the opportunity to analyse each student in more than one way.

What to do? Stay the path. Develop your ideas in such a way that you can feel comfortable adapting to any given theme. Remember that Section 2 is a test of one’s capacity to convey their reasoning through critical appraisal of a theme. It is about ideas and coherent arguments. It is not about evidence and breadth of knowledge in the humanities.

GAMSAT 2020 March Section III: Reasoning in Biological and Physical Sciences

Lucky last. Section 3 over the past two papers has really given us a good spin around. If you didn’t already know that it’s hard – it’s hard. The way in which it is hard though is very seemingly changing. It looks like Section 3 of GAMSAT March 2020 will very likely present stems that require a greater capacity for “quick maths” arithmetic, alongside lots of graphical interpretation and extrapolating information from tabulated data. These questions that require corroboration of information across different graphs of tables increase time pressure due to the need to go back and forth quite a lot. It would be reasonable to also assume that the stems will continue to follow the path of blurring the lines between biology, physics, and chemistry. Further to this, if we do come across a stem that has a distinct flavour of one specific science, it is likely that the stem and its ‘required knowledge’ will be a mode of asking a question that is less to do with that field of science and more to do with logic and reasoning. It is afterall, reasoning in the biological and physical sciences.

What to do? As always, if you don’t yet know the basics when it comes to biology, physics or chemistry, make sure to brush up. This will make accessing what the stem is actually asking of you much less overwhelming. Further to that, sharpen your cognitive toolkit and have it at the ready to ‘slice up’ some maths. Remember, ACER isn’t testing your ability to do maths, rather your capacity to work in logic and rational deduction. Beyond arithmetic, it could work in your favour to start practicing how to read graphs quickly – especially if there are more than one and each one has a different set of axes. These two tactics will assuredly save you an immense amount of time allowing you the opportunity to answer as many questions as you possibly can.

Final takeaways

As you should all know by now, gaming ACER and the GAMSAT system is nigh on impossible. This is not claiming that it can do that. Rather, the purpose of this piece is to help you make an informed approximation of what the coming GAMSAT 2020 March may look like based on the most recent ones. Nothing more, nothing less. You should, however, in your preparation, always expect the unexpected. GAMSAT makes its living off of catching people off guard.

As always, remember to study hard and study smart. Remember to keep your cool and look for how best to ‘logic’ your way through a question. Remember too, that we’re around should you ever need any help. We take both pride and pleasure in helping you succeed in this endeavour. So if you ever need anything, whether it be study tips or guidance through the GAMSAT quagmire, get in touch with us. We love to help!


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