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Performing well in the GAMSAT is not an impossible task, however it requires a targeted and well-informed approach to preparation. A major downfall for many students that have spent years attempting to improve their score on the GAMSAT without success is the inability to break down their performance into their component parts that are actually holding them back.
The difficulty to visualise the problems in one’s performance arises from how the GAMSAT is structured. The GAMSAT is attempting to work out how we, as problem-solving individuals, go about finding solutions to problems. In order to do that, the GAMSAT exploits flaws in our thinking abilities, preying on cognitive biases that are obvious, not obvious, or are intrinsically interrelated with many other aspects of our thinking.
It is for this reason that performing well in the GAMSAT is not a one-size fits all approach, but rather requires an iterative process. We believe this iterative process is the best way to prepare for the GAMSAT. We will now take a look into this in further detail.
How do you prepare for the GAMSAT – Iterative Process of Improvement
The iterative process of preparation for the GAMSAT respects the need to not become stagnant as we go about our preparation. While at times it may feel like we must find a way that works and then stick to it through and through, this approach very quickly becomes obsolete and drains vital time and resources. The reason for this is due to the GAMSAT inherently testing how well we adapt to ideas that are novel, and how quickly we can respond to a changing environment. The questions are not constant in background knowledge, style, nor cognitive demands. As such, as we begin to become robotic in our preparation, we begin to refine old tactics, as opposed to challenging our ability to try and execute new tactics in the moment.
When we are able to challenge how we think, and not just fix up simple errors, we begin to properly prepare for the GAMSAT. The difference between these two approaches is what sets apart those that actually improve between sittings, and those that go through many GAMSAT cycles not able to see noticeable improvements, while also failing to notice what is actually going awry.
We will now break down exactly how the iterative process works when preparing for the GAMSAT, regardless of how much or how little time we have left.
1. Initial Planning
In the initial planning phase, we must fully comprehend the GAMSAT as an exam and the requirements it is demanding. We will touch on this later in the article in more detail, however for now let us accept that before launching into the preparation process, it is wise to understand the exam in its entirety before we even consider the intricacies of our approach.
It is through the initial planning stage are we capable of preventing wasted time on an plan of attack that failed to address the core requirements of the GAMSAT. We must begin to appreciate exactly what it means when we say ‘rote learned knowledge is not rewarded’, or ‘problem-solving capabilities are assessed through Item Response Theory’. If we do not fully appreciate these types of statements, then we do not understand the exam well enough to adequately prepare, or generate our preparation approach.
2. Generating a Study Approach to GAMSAT
Once we have understood the exam and have a rough idea of what we need to improve on, this is when we can begin to generate our own GAMSAT preparation or GAMSAT study guide. What we must do is design tasks for ourselves that we think will develop our thinking to perform at a higher calibre. If you are undertaking a preparation course, step 2 does not replace the pedagogy of the course, but must work with and alongside it. A preparation course, or preparation material, is nothing but a tool that must work for you, not the other way around.
In reality, our approach that we create in the iterative process will never be perfect, because once we have completed the cycle, we will learn more about ourselves and our mind that will ensure that step 2, the next time around, is even more tailored and specific to our needs.
Things we may need to incorporate in our approach include: spending certain blocks of time refining key background concepts, practicing on specific styles of GAMSAT questions we know we struggle with, or even creating specific tactics, approaches, frameworks or mnemonics to overcome areas of extreme cognitive weakness. This is precisely where we must work with a preparation course if we are doing one, and not against it. We must factor in the classes and resources available to us and develop truly creative, yet impactful, approaches to our pitfalls.
While extremely important to have a solid approach, we cannot get too caught up over this step, as it will never be perfect. Instead, we must focus on going through the iterative process quite a number of times in order to refine how we go about it. Each iteration will involve an execution phase that will ensure the planning process is more impactful the next time around.
3. Study Plan Execution + Minor Reflections
Now that the needs have been identified and the approach has been developed, we can begin to study hard. This is where we execute the plan of attack we generated within the previous step. It can obviously take many forms and depends on the skillset we are trying to improve. We may be completing 50 questions every second day specific to logical reasoning within stems that are a mix of physics and biology, or maybe it is to write three Section 2 pieces that take a specific format we are traditionally not comfortable with. Regardless of what the execution task is, this is probably where most applicants feel as though they are making the most progress as they are accustomed to working hard and really knuckling down to study.
It is here, however, the important aspect to be mindful of is the Minor Revision. Unlike traditional iterative methods where we run an iteration and reflect after the fact, preparation for the GAMSAT requires constant ‘checking in’ with how we are progressing.
As we are performing the Minor Revisions, we may feel the need to alter our preparation when things don’t feel right, however this is not the purpose of the Minor Revisions. GAMSAT preparation is inherently uncomfortable, considering the primary intention is to purposely challenge our uncomfortable sides, and so even when we are performing great study, it may not feel like it.
Consequently, Minor Revision are not about changing our approach in real-time, but rather taking frequent pulse checks on how we are feeling throughout the process. Later, when we get to Global Review, it may become apparent that certain tasks that felt pointless during the execution phase were actually immensely beneficial, and hence we learn to recognise ‘high yield’ approaches even if we don’t feel like they are so during the execution phase.
Micro Reflections can take many forms, however it is best to document them in some format. When completing questions, it is wise to reflect through a question log, focussing on what went right when we got questions correct, and pinpointing exactly what went wrong when we got questions incorrect. However it does not stop there. If we are focussing on pattern recognition Chemistry questions, for example, then there are many other ways to take our mini pulse checks. If things are going better, what has caused this? Did you notice that learning concept X last week made the questions easier?
In summary, we must always ensure that Execution is intertwined with Micro Reflection. The insight we will gain from real time pulse checks will be immeasurable as we perform a much larger scale analysis on how we performed in this iteration.
4. Global Review of Study Preparation
However, before we begin to change our approach for the first time, we need to properly reflect on our first iteration and condense everything we have learnt into something usable. Often, as we prepare for the exam, we think we will remember certain findings about how we think and process information, however these often present as fleeting thoughts that make no impact. We must ensure to give our findings the time of day.
This is done during the Global Review phase. What we do here is properly analyse how the first iteration has performed, looking at the tidbits of information within our Micro Reflections, as well as the measurable outcomes within our Execution Phase. Questions of high impact may include: Were my goals met? Do I feel like I have improved in area XYZ? Was the improvement proportional to the time I invested, or was the improvement yield quite low considering the time and effort?
After we question every aspect of our recent performance, we must begin to question why we observed what we did, and pinpoint those into very clear reasons. Was it X that led to the outcome Y, or was it because I introduced Z?
Ultimately, we do not want our preparation to involve improvements (or missed opportunities) that we can’t explain. We do not want to be in the dark about any of our improvement findings. We need to boil down the exact reasons for why and how things occurred.
It is only through the Global Review are we able to learn more about the way in which we think, and the types of cognitive biases and traps we fall into. This is how we will actually adapt and properly give us an opportunity to raise our GAMSAT score, running away from a stagnant performance.
In summary, the Global Review phase is more than just a look at our percentage of correct answers. Doing so is the trap countless applicants fall into every application cycle and spend years repeating the GAMSAT without any improvements. Interestingly, such applicants are often the ones that believe you cannot actually study for the GAMSAT, whereas in reality this belief stems from the lack of appreciation for what the GAMSAT truly is, and how to go about improving the thinking styles that the exam is testing.
Through the iterative process, we are slowly but surely defining who we are and how we think, as well as how we learn best and how to overcome biases. This is where the focus should be as we attempt to better our performance, and not strictly around improving raw marks of random practice tests that we can get our hands on. There is a method to how ACER determine section scores for the GAMSAT, just as there is a method to improving the thinking styles that will award us marks.
Back to 2. Generating an Approach
Like the image above shows, now that we have a better appreciation of how our minds think, we can proceed to start this procedure again. In essence, it is like we are starting the process after having more information from step 1, the Initial Planning phase. We have more information, more guidance, and a greater appreciation of what we need to change and what we need to do for another impactful iteration.
Naturally, the next question that comes to mind is in regards to duration: How long should one iteration last? Well, there is no answer to this, and the duration of a single iteration is dependent on what skill we are targeting. In fact, the perfect duration of one iteration should also be determined through a process of iteration, which is surprisingly intricate, but raises a very important point: when preparing for the GAMSAT, the best approach is to not have just one iterative process, but instead have many different reflective processes going at once to ensure we are targeting every single aspect of our weakest areas.
Of course, we must keep in mind that the Iterative Process is the best approach to GAMSAT preparation, however it is nothing but a tool to improve and target the issues that are holding us back. We must fully comprehend exactly what we need to improve on. For that, we must understand the individual components of the GAMSAT and how the Iterative Process feeds into this. This is what we will now discuss further.
The Best Way to Improve on the GAMSAT
Now that we appreciate the iterative process required to see improvements in the GAMSAT, we can begin to take a look at the types of things we actually need to develop, and how this frames our planning and execution phases. Broadly speaking, there are three major components we must perfect: 1. Background Knowledge, 2. Problem Solving Skills, and 3. Online Format Practice.
We will now investigate these further. Keep in mind that these components do not replace the iterative process of improvement, but rather are three components that need to be factored into the improvement process. Ideally, we become a master of the following three GAMSAT components through the Iterative Process of Improvement:
1. GAMSAT background knowledge
The background knowledge we need for the GAMSAT is usually pooled into two different categories of thought: those that believe it is important to solely focus on it, and those that think it is redundant. Both trains of thought are incorrect and extremely stifling for a successful performance.
Often Section 3 is the only section that is perceived to be fuelled with background knowledge, and this is another deleterious assumption. Background knowledge is the foundation for each of the sections. In section 3, it is a little easier to comprehend, as we know ACER constructs the section through a 40 : 40 : 20 split between Biology : Chemistry : Physics, at a first year university level for the first two, and a final year high school level for Physics.
When it comes to Section 1 and 2, this is where lots of the misconception lies. For Section 1, this background knowledge is not just about knowing different styles of texts, but extends further into understanding the english language and how information can be conveyed through various media of english writing skills. An example of this is through a writer’s tone. Studying tone, how it can present itself, and the ways it can convey information is the type of Section 1 background knowledge we aim to understand, and should be framing the way we go about our initial study in Section 1.
Similarly, Section 2 has its own misconceptions that impacts preparation. There is a false idea that background knowledge for Section 2 starts and stops with knowing how to write an essay, and maybe extends into memorising specific facts that we can use as evidence. This is a terribly stifling view of Section 2 when we consider more deeply about what the task is requiring from us. This section is not only about writing an essay, it is about conveying creative ideas in an informative and engaging way. As such, background knowledge in Section 2 comes not only in the form of learning and pondering creative ideas, but also understanding how the different writing styles can be used to make different degrees and styles of impact on the reader. Section 2 is two-fold, and as such we must treat the preparation like so.
We will now look to the next stage of GAMSAT preparation, developing problem-solving skills.
2. GAMSAT Problem Solving Skills
Once we have the background knowledge, we must then progress to the stage of developing our logical reasoning skills. As we discussed earlier, it is the cognitive problem solving skills that ACER uses to measure one’s scores for the Sections 1 and 3. As such, we must ensure that we understand the types of skills that are required, and practice/reflect through appropriate material.
When considering what we need to improve on, an applicant must reflect on all the ways they imagine problem solving could be tested. In the beginning of the journey, this can be done easily by pooling the types of thinking styles usually associated with the field of interest, such as tone in poems, inference in proverbs, pattern recognition in organic chemistry, and many, many others. Doing so is a valuable way to frame study in the beginning as it ensures our planning and execution phase has been stratified into palatable chunks.
As we continue our iterations, we begin to realise there is much more to the exam than solely the above skills. We begin to notice more and more biases about our thinking that impedes us from thinking logically. For example, we may perform well at interpolation within a transcript stem in a normal setting, yet fail to exercise the skills of interpolation in a transcript stem if it follows a cartoon. This means there is something about the type of thinking called upon within a cartoon question which impacts our ability to exercise the interpolation thereafter. Therein lies a bias we must learn about, understand, reflect upon, and devise/practice ways to overcome it.
It goes without saying that developing the problem solving skills and reflecting to such a high calibre requires resources that are equally at such a high calibre. The more iterations we use to improve, the more we realise it can only be done if we have material that is designed with the strict intention of exploiting flaws in our logical reasoning, just as ACER will do. The very same goes for when we are preparing for the actual exam itself.
3. GAMSAT Online Format Practice
The GAMSAT moving to an online exam format is nothing to overlook. We spend considerable time in the problem solving skill phase, however it will fall short unless we translate it into the context of the exam.
This has two components. Firstly, the online format of the exam. By this, we refer to the overall structure of the exam. These are the general tactics we normally develop at any level of exam preparation, such as queues to look out for if we are spending too much time on one question, tactics to use when we have narrowed the question down to 50/50 but don’t know what to do from there, or ways to quickly identify that we are losing focus in a specific type of problem solving skill, like pattern recognition, and how to briskly overcome it.
The above skills are immensely important and can only be developed by appropriately simulating the exam experience multiple times, in the same platform of the actual exam. We do not understand the extent of GAMSAT performance difficulties until we face them head on, and indeed having the best quality exams and platforms to do them on is paramount.
Now we will shift to the second element of being exam ready, and that refers to the overall ability to utilise our problem solving skills. This skill related to what we discussed in the previous section, however goes a little deeper to test whether there are any biases in our thinking that impeded our ability within the exam as a whole. For example, it is quite common for applicants to lose focus mid way through Section 3 if they are tackling maths questions. Often this presents at an awkward time where applicants feel there is enough time left to work out questions at a slower pace, but in reality the applicant almost doubles their time to work out the questions in an inefficient manner that goes down mathematical rabbit holes and eventually leads to the incorrect response.
Analytics in practice exams really becomes important at this stage. With quality exam preparation, one is able to notice the trends above and hence opportunities arise to tackle a bias that may not have been presented purely by spending a full day going through practice GAMSAT materials. Once the bias has been identified, it allows us to not only mitigate the bias by avoiding it, but also tackle the bias head on to diminish the impact of the bias; a two-fold attack on our weakness. Thanks to the Iterative Process, this presents as a manageable task.
The 3 GAMSAT Components in Summary
To summarise, there are three immensely important components of the GAMSAT that we cannot think of as completely separate, but instead as different elements that work together to build up our competence and fight against ACER. By regularly reflecting and improving these elements through the iterative process, we then make the most of the short time we have before our exam. The next thing we must consider is how long we need to make this meaningful.
How Much Time Do I Need to Prepare for GAMSAT?
No matter how many months we have until the GAMSAT, it never feels like we have enough time. This is because there is no limit to how much we can improve our problem solving skills, if we are indeed going about it the right way. We will now shift our discussion to how we can meaningfully utilise the time we have.
Normal GAMSAT preparation Time (2 – 4 months)
As every applicant begins their journey at a different level of GAMSAT competence, the answer to how long we must prepare for the exam varies. Nevertheless, the recommended time is 2-4 months, and there are very specific reasons why this is the case.
The roughly 3 month time frame allows for applicants to successfully incorporate all three elements of GAMSAT preparation: Background Knowledge, Problem Solving Skills, and Exam Practice. By spending roughly one month per component with appropriate use of the Iterative Process of Improvement, we indeed begin to see meaningful iterative progression. This time frame allows for a little wriggle room, as we have the time to truly be creative and open minded about our plans of attack and execution phases, and yet still have the time to knuckle down with quality preparation.
Of course, there are times where this length of preparation is not enough, and is usually either because the applicant does not actually spend their time preparing by reflecting on the correct elements of the exam that will favour improvement, or because their entry level skill and their desired score was too large of a gap given the effort that was put in.
Last minute GAMSAT preparation (less than 2 months)
Sometimes, for reasons beyond our control, we just plainly don’t have the 2-4 months recommended to prepare for the GAMSAT. This does not mean we will not succeed in the GAMSAT, however it means now more than ever we must exercise focus, and jump straight into preparation with the best materials. In essence, we are playing catch up and we have lost the wriggle room those have that started a couple of months prior.
Quite often, it is tempting to purchase large books such as the Des O’neill, or any other PDF available on Amazon or the likes. Many sources believe that these resources are out of date and should be avoided. As with every GAMSAT material, this type of advice should be taken with caution. While the aforementioned books have not been updated in quite some time, their issue is not that they are ‘out of date’, but instead that they are not extensive. There may be a place for said material, provided you indeed have a range of material that can effectively cover each element of the exam, and not just questions that rely a little more heavily on background knowledge.
If you find yourself with limited preparation time, then there must be fast action: Learn your theory, and jump right into the problem solving process of preparation with material that extensively covers the component as described in this article. Iterations must begin right away, with a focus on improving issues in the quickest time possible.
At this point, we are able to move into the exam ready preparation phase, and this cannot be taken lightly. Prepare with material that appropriately prepares you for the presentation of the exam, from the platform right down to the cognitive biases it is testing.
What to Read Next
Now that you have an approach to the way you study for GAMSAT, get one of our free question logs for Section 1 or Section 3 so that you can reflect on the types of questions that you need to improve on.
Alternatively you may want to read a section specific article or try one of our many great free resources here.
A Bit About Us At Fraser’s
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.
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