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GAMSAT Chemistry

By now it should come as no surprise to anybody that, according to ACER, GAMSAT chemistry constitutes approximately 40% of the content within Section 3. Nonetheless, while learning this may seem like a golden-ticket to GAMSAT glory, the information really isn’t all that useful unless we can understand how ACER assesses chemistry as a broad topic. 

Firstly, while ‘40% of Section 3’ may make you think that 44 questions (40% of the 110) will be strictly chemistry related, this is not exactly the case. This is due to the fact that the GAMSAT will never reward applicants for any knowledge they have potentially have rote learned from their studies, considering this section is about our ability to ‘problem solve/reason’ within the space of biological and physical sciences. Consequently, it makes perfect sense that, in reality, there are approximately 44 questions in Section 3 that can be answered through problem solving skills that go hand in hand with chemistry-related topics. It’s a subtle, yet important distinction, one that has implications for how you should approach your study.

What this means for your chemistry preparation is that the section is less about what you know, and more about how you know that you understand the content. Only with the latter mindset are we able to understand the rationale of topics, such as orbital hybridisation and why it is actually necessary for matter to bond in the ways that it does. 

At the end of the day, ACER will not ask for the electron configuration of a given element – that’s for high school and university. What they will do is present a topic similar to orbital hybridisation. This means that you will be forced to rely on your critical and lateral thinking to find similarities with what you already know, and to use this overlap to solve the problem in a way that makes sense.

Therefore, while familiarising yourself with numerous chemistry topic is necessary so that you can have the understanding to follow the scientific information present in section 3, the real test is whether you can develop logically sound rationales for these topics that will allow you to actually solve the often obscurely presented problems.

Think of it like this:

Let’s say you want to learn French for the first time. Learning the language will enable you to understand foreign sentences and translate them back into your native tongue while also allowing you the ability to present information in a way that a French person can tangibly grapple. What won’t learning French do? It won’t tell you what to say. When a Parisian waiter asks in French what you would like to eat, you have learned ways to understand what they are asking, but learning French does not tell you that you are craving a croissant and an espresso. You have to work out, on your own, what type of food you fancy. All knowing French will do is enable you to comprehend what has been asked, and then convey what you have worked out for yourself.

This is exactly how chemistry works in the GAMSAT, only there are fewer croissants and likely much stronger coffees. When you understand chemistry, you are able to understand the question and can convey a response, but getting to that response … well, it’s all about being able to problem solve within the general realm of chemistry.

GAMSAT Chemistry Topics

At this point, you’re probably thinking, ‘okay well that’s all well and good, but how do we study this?’. Well …

The first step is purely to increase chemistry fluency in all avenues related to the GAMSAT. However, you want to do this with an aim of understanding the reasons for what you are learning. This ensures that when you look at GAMSAT chemistry topics, you don’t just treat them as a checklist of what you need to be familiar with. Rather, the topics represent an opportunity to exercise your ability to understand why, how, and where everything fits.

Revising REDOX? Fantastic. Make sure to ponder with out of the box questions, such as:

  • What the Eo actually means
  • What the implications are for making Eo relative to the hydrogen half cell?
  • Why we have to go in a diagonal direction when looking for a spontaneous reaction within the electrochemical series?
  • How the above point relates to the Gibb’s free energy change of the universe?
  • How a change in the universe’s entropy relates to changes in the system’s entropy, and how each of these relate to spontaneity of the combined half equations?

As you can see, there’s a whole lot more than simply knowing which direction to read the electrochemical series, balancing half equations, and memorising Q=nF.

For convenience, below is a list of topics for chemistry in the GAMSAT. Just make sure to study them in the ways explained above, and never be content with treating this as a checklist for familiarisation. Remember, the GAMSAT will force you to think critically about how to solve problems. This means that no chemistry knowledge will act in isolation, and no one topic will be hinted to by ACER as the way you must go about solving the problem. It is up to you to determine where a given GAMSAT question sits within your repertoire of rationale-based knowledge.

Fundamental Chemistry

Atomic structure

Periodic table

Electronic configuration

Intramolecular bonding

Intermolecular bonding

Stoichiometry & conservation

Organic Chemistry

Molecules and shape

Families of molecules

The main functional groups

Naming and IUPAC

Physical Chemistry

Gas behaviour

Liquid behaviour

Solid behaviour

Colligative properties of phases

Thermodynamics & Kinetics

Modes / types of energy

Internal energy, heat and work 

The laws of thermodynamics

Enthalpy

Entropy

Gibb’s free energy

Reaction rate

Rate constant

Rate expression

Equilibrium and REDOX

Equilibrium expression 

K vs Q

Le Chatelier’s Principle 

Kc, Kp, Ksp

Determining REDOX

Half Equations and the ECS

Acid/Base Chemistry

Definitions

Strength

Indicators / titration

Applications of Equilibrium & Acid/Base

Electrochemistry, K & Gibbs 

Henderson Hasselbach

Isomerism & Equivalent Structures

Structural

Geometric

Stereochemistry

Inorganic Isomerism and Prochirality

Benzene

Affects of Functional groups on Benzene

Common Chemical Reactions

Functional groups and reactions 

Basic reactions

Reactions of Benzene

Obscure Chemical Reactions

Modifying functionality 

Rearrangements

Non-standard naming

Biochemistry and Analytical Chemistry

Biochemistry 101

Reactions in Biology

Rates of reaction

Basic Spectroscopy

Advanced Spectroscopy & separations science

GAMSAT Chemistry Formulas

As you learn/revise the topics stipulated in the previous section, it is handy to have a list of formulas to fall back on. Simply seeing formulas should eventually become a reminder of all the things you know, allowing them to act like cue cards that prompt your understanding and rationales. In this way, knowing formulas is less about rote-learned memorisation, and more about prompting the deeper understanding you have of the content.

For convenience, a comprehensive list of formulas is below:

GAMSAT Chemistry Question Log (how to use the S3 question log for chemistry)

Hopefully, you can see the importance of ensuring that you study chemistry with the aim of obtaining rationales. If you can do this, you will be setting yourself up very well for future question answering. 

However, you also need to ensure that you are tracking your progress in the most efficient way possible. There are a number of things you need to decypher when marking which questions you have completed. For example, whether you got a question incorrect because you were lacking some vital piece of background chemistry knowledge, or due to cognitive skills and reasoning types that require further developing and refining, such as visual analysis or information interpolation and inference.

Breaking down your shortfalls (and also your strengths) into digestible and helpful feedback will ensure that you can target your issues head on, and not spend months and months ‘studying’, only to realise come GAMSAT time that you were not hitting the issues in the most practical way.

It becomes apparent that reflection is one of the greatest tools in your arsenal when studying chemistry for the GAMSAT.

Taking the opportunity to reflect, note down, and track your performance on a Section 3 question log can be helpful in monitoring performance as you continue to correct questions. The question log is an excel spreadsheet that allows you to note down weak points and then automatically relay that information in graph format to seamlessly track how your cognitive reasoning types are faring. It also pinpoints which concepts in the Section 3 space you commonly get wrong, allowing targeted revision of the background content (as opposed to many hours spent trolling through a textbook or Youtube courses in the hope that your scientific fluency increases).

The GAMSAT is often prepared for well in advance, ensuring that it truly is a marathon. This marathon, however, is terribly demoralising when we feel like we haven’t progressed, which arises partly because we don’t know where to look for improvements, and partly because we haven’t tried to improve in the right places. Start using the question log from the beginning of your study to ensure you’re not in the dark, but instead know exactly where to refine your knowledge and cognitive reasoning types.

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