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GAMSAT Section 1: Reasoning in Humanities

GAMSAT Section 1

How do I Study for GAMSAT Section 1?

In many ways, this is the most daunting of the GAMSAT sections given that most students tend to approach this exam with a biological sciences background. Often, GAMSAT section 1 tips do nothing to help students improve their section 1 score. These suggestions are often lifestyle changes that recommend reading classical novels or spending weeks immersing yourself in profound, yet utterly confusing philosophical videos online. While it is useful to be a worldly person when it comes to reasoning in the humanities, this is just the icing on the proverbial cake. A 70+ GAMSAT section 1 candidate is logical, and systematic in their approach to section 1 questions. So let’s start at the beginning – the most useful first step in improving your section 1 score, is understanding why this section exists in the first place.

What is the purpose of GAMSAT Section 1?

It is no coincidence that Section 1 is the very first section of the GAMSAT exam. After all, despite what many candidates like to believe, the GAMSAT is not an arbitrary hurdle to clear on the way to medical admission – quite the opposite, it is designed to test skills that you will explicitly use as a medical student on the hospital wards. So where does any hospital story begin? – at the bedside! You, as a medical student, will be listening to the social and medical history of a patient. As you are listening, you are quiet, focused, and considering the implications of every single detail. The punctuation and tone of their speech reveals their mood, and their wellbeing. The details of their symptoms reveal their disease. Their medical history hints at the possible causes. At its core – medicine is detective work. It is this exact scenario that GAMSAT section 1 questions are attempting to emulate.

What are the GAMSAT Section 1 Questions Like?

Here are the basic section 1 facts. As of 2021, the online GAMSAT section 1 consists of 47 multiple choice questions. Each question has four answer options ordered A through to D. ACER allows a total of 70 minutes for the completion of this section, this time being split between 6 minutes of reading time, and 64 minutes of writing time. As is the case with Section 3, GAMSAT section 1 questions are grouped around multiple ‘stems’. In other words, you will be given a text, and then one or more questions to answer associated with this text. The literature that the GAMSAT draws on is thoroughly reviewed and of high quality – meaning it is ripe for reasonable analysis. 

In responding to GAMSAT section 1 questions you will be asked to analyze the text of two levels – figurative and literal. Understanding the literal meaning of the text is a test of your vocabulary, and literary comprehension skills. Figurative meaning (on the other hand), will test your ability to understand human communication on a more implicit level – in other words, to read between the lines. At Fraser’s GAMSAT, we have long recognised that many students incorrectly consider comprehension of figurative meaning a mystical and unteachable skill. This could not be further from the truth. The great literature that the GAMSAT draws on is celebrated because it is accessible to everyone. It is simply a question of learning to balance your personal emotional response to a text with reason, and the literary context of the writing.

What are the GAMSAT Section 1 Question Types?

Technical Text

A technical text is a type of writing that is created by professionals, for professionals. For example, an extract of a scientific journal article, or a political analysis article (though markedly different) could both be found within this category. A hallmark of technical texts is that they are tricky to read and understand. If we were to give an analogue for reading this kind of text it would be that the experience is similar to ‘wading through jelly’. This is because technical writing is often laden with complex vocabulary, usually in the form of jargon related to the context of the passage. We at Fraser’s GAMSAT have been carefully analysing GAMSAT past papers, and it would appear that this type of text consistently forms a significant portion of the exam.

Many students often ask whether it is worthwhile adding similar scientific articles to their GAMSAT section 1 reading lists in the months leading up to the exam. The answer is a resounding no – you can never anticipate which field the exam technical text will draw on. The passage may relate to anything from equestrian sports technique all the way to Napoleonic history. The exercise here is not to fully understand the details of an article potentially written for a more specialised readership – the purpose of these questions is to test your capacity to construct rudimentary meaning in an unfamiliar context. In other words, it’s about stripping the convoluted writing down to brass tacks.

Literary Prose

In rudimentary terms – the word ‘prose’ can simply be understood as ‘not poetry’. Everything that is not poetry, is prose! If we wanted to be really pedantic, we could say that the ‘technical texts’ mentioned under the previous heading also fall under the umbrella of literary prose. But, we have separated out this category for a very good reason. What we are referring to as ‘literary prose’ are works of fiction, and non-fiction, that are written for a general audience, as opposed to the specialists. This means that the vocabulary for these passages will be more straightforward in that you will encounter fewer words describing complex ideas and processes that professionals often utilise. However, the absence of jargon also means that the text becomes less literal. You will start to notice the appearance of symbols, metaphors, and imagery, which would have been completely absent in a scientific technical text. The GAMSAT questions associated with literary prose are less focused on the broad strokes of the text, and more focused on the characters, their motivations and their behaviours. 

In terms of the best way to prepare for the GAMSAT Section 1 literary prose stems – the answer is complicated. It is certainly true that avid readers that have spent many years reflecting on the novels they have read would be at an advantage in this section. However, improving Section 1 is much more than simply putting together a GAMSAT Section 1 reading list. Improving this section is much more than picking up a book, much in the same way that improving Section 3 of the GAMSAT is much more than reading physics notes. It is important to discuss and reflect on both the passages, and the questions. This is best done together with your fellow GAMSAT candidates. This is also the reason why our Section 1 classes at Fraser’s GAMSAT focus heavily on tutor guided problem-based learning in small groups. For further information about the breadth of content you need for Section 1, refer to our GAMSAT Syllabus Guide.

Poetry

If you were to place all writing on a spectrum – on one hand you would find the completely literal technical texts. Moving a little further into figurative territory you would discover literary prose. Travelling on to the complete opposite end of the spectrum you enter the realm of poetry. To answer the question of how to improve GAMSAT Section 1 poetry – the most important point is to recognise the purpose of poetry. After all, Shakespeare did not write his sonnets simply to frustrate GAMSAT students – that’s just a bad business decision! Poetry’s purpose so to speak to everyone’s collective humanity – this means that great poetry attempts to address themes that are universally understood. This is also the reason why poetry so often discusses the themes of love, loss, and hardship. After all, almost everyone has experienced these emotions to some degree.

When engaging in poetry analysis it is critical to not overthink the writing. Begin by performing the poem in your head – consider the rhyme, the rhythms, ask yourself how an actor would emphasise various phrases if this poem was read in front of an audience. This exercise is useful because it allows you, the reader, to connect with the emotional appeal of the poetry. After you have allowed yourself to create an ‘impression’ or ‘gut feeling’ about the tone, and theme of the poem then consider how and why the poet has made you feel this way about the writing. This two step analytical process is one of the most effective GAMSAT Section 1 tips any candidate can incorporate into their logical framework. As with other text types, it goes without saying that discussions with friends, family, and colleagues is useful for refining your poetry interpretation ideas, as well as learning how to improve your Section 1 GAMSAT pattern recognition skills. For more information about poetry for GAMSAT, see our article about Tips on Poetry.

Proverbs and Comments

Proverbs and comments are stems that provide the GAMSAT Section 1 candidate with a series of one or more short quotes. These sayings are often commentaries on lifestyles, politics, or morality. The questions that follow these proverbs generally ask candidates to interpret the implications of the statements, as well as identify unifying or conflicting themes in their arguments. These stem types are common, but usually form the minority of GAMSAT Section 1. In many ways, the analysis you must engage in when responding to proverbs and comments is similar to Section 2 work. We will discuss the analysis of commentary further in our Section 2 article.

Cartoons

A cartoon is a deceptive complex text type. Where there are usually no more than one or two cartoons in the average GAMSAT Section 1, many candidates find these images just as perplexing as poetry. As is the case with poetry, a systematic approach to cartoon stems can significantly help you improve your performance with these questions. 

Dissecting a GAMSAT Section 1 cartoon based on GAMSAT past papers – these stems usually consist of two distinct parts. The first part is the drawing itself – this includes the characters, and the setting. Often the characters and setting can be further subdivided into characters performing an action, and characters respond to said action. The second part of any cartoon is the written commentary attached to the drawing – this includes the speech bubbles delivered by the characters, as well as any statements written directly above or below the cartoon image. The best way to prepare for GAMSAT cartoons is to analyse these components individually for meaning, asking yourself ‘why’ the cartoonist chose to draw these specific characters, and write this specific commentary. Having considered the importance of these elements separately, select the answer option that addresses all of these elements. In simple terms, if you select an answer to a cartoon stem that still makes sense if you were to erase one of the characters, or some of the writing, you have likely chosen an incorrect answer. As is the case with poetry, cartoons are full of meaning despite being compact – this means there is no room for redundant information for you to ignore. This is one of the major differences between the aforementioned texts, and technical writing, which is full of redundant, hyper-specific information!

Diagrams

The final major category of Section 1 GAMSAT questions is diagrams. These often take the form of flow charts, or visual logic puzzles. They are still grounded in reasoning in the humanities, so these stems are never abstract I.Q tests or pattern recognition exercises which are so familiar to UCAT students. Sometimes, the diagrams will also be supplemented with a short paragraph to contextualise the images provided. The diagram style GAMSAT Section 1 questions heavily rely on presenting simple information in a complex way. This means that flow charts will have convoluted, looping structures, and graphs will have excessive numbers of axes! Fortunately, based on our decade of experience at Fraser’s GAMSAT, students develop the visual thinking skills necessary to successfully navigate these Section 1 questions very quickly. Preparation for the diagram GAMSAT Section 1 questions is surprisingly straightforward. After a candidate has gained experience with these unusual graphic challenges, pattern recognition skills allow for students to complete them with high accuracy. This is the reason why Fraser’s GAMSAT dedicates an entire teaching unit to this component of Section 1.

How to Study for Section 1 of the GAMSAT?

As you can imagine, learning to ace GAMSAT Section 1 questions is a multistep approach. It simply is not enough to binge classical literature and philosophy podcasts in the summer holidays before the March GAMSAT. In order to help you get started, we have outlined a system of key ingredients necessary for Section 1 improvement.

Speed Reading

A major difficulty students encounter when sitting the GAMSAT exam is maintaining focus. It is difficult to sustain a concentrated state of mind when reading multiple consecutive texts which are very different in nature. Candidates often find themselves re-reading a text multiple times without gaining any further insight into the meaning of the writing. This, combined with the time pressure of exam conditions makes for a challenging Section 1 experience. The solution to these challenges is speed reading. Many people are under the impression that speed reading involves moving through the text as quickly as possible – but the reality is not quite so simple. A better definition of speed reading is moving through the text as efficiently as possible. After all – it is much more advantageous to read a text slowly with complete comprehension once, than to re-read a text quickly ten times and still ultimately be unclear about its meaning. When analysing texts during the problem based learning classes at Fraser’s GAMSAT, we focus on simple techniques which improve a student’s focus on the text, thereby improving their GAMSAT Section 1 timing. A few such techniques include following the text you read with a finger or cursor, simple annotation or pausing to summarize a chunk of the text before moving on which are all critical in sustaining your focus. These are without a doubt the best ways to improve your GAMSAT Section 1 performance. 

Logical Links

Occam’s razor, an old philosophical logic tool, states that the simplest answer is usually the best answer. This is a useful GAMSAT Section 1 tips.  When working with a Section 1 text, stay away from any reasoning which requires many steps to reach a given conclusion. If a justification for an answer option seems absurd or far-fetched, this will almost always be the case.

When working through different question types, it is good practice to note the styles of questions that are relatively difficult to tackle. To simplify this, use our Section 1 Question Log.

GAMSAT Practice Questions

There is no substitute for practicing as many Section 1 GAMSAT questions as possible. Not only will you be exposing yourself to the different styles of writing and reasoning that you will encounter in the exam, you will also have the opportunity to familiarise yourself with the format of the questions. Furthermore, accurate GAMSAT resources also allow you to benchmark your performance under timed conditions, and are the best measure of your progress. Evaluating student performance over the past decade of GAMSAT exam papers, Fraser’s GAMSAT has concluded that experience with questions, as well as completing GAMSAT practise tests, are the best indicators for success in the exam.

Reflection and Familiarisation

Studying for Section 1 of the GAMSAT is just as much about reading texts and doing questions, as it is discussing those questions with tutoReflection and Familiarisationrs and fellow students. Discussion allows for logic and interpretation to be challenged, and therefore tested for its validity. This allows for a more robust reflection, and evaluation of the logical links that you construct in responding to GAMSAT questions. But reflection as a GAMSAT practice technique should not be limited to the classroom. Reading widely – from novels, to newspapers, and podcasts, will allow you to develop your soft language skills. It will also serve to expand your vocabulary, and arm you with context for the contemporary issues discussed in GAMSAT Section 2 and 1. While general knowledge surrounding current events is not a hard prerequisite for the GAMSAT, world context makes Section 1 easier to decipher, in the same way that a science degree demystifies Section 3

Here is Tom, a doctor and one of our lead tutors, discussing the best way to prepare for GAMSAT Section 1.

 

Working on Section 1 GAMSAT Timing

You cannot learn to run before you can walk. Repeatedly attempting Section 1 questions under timed conditions, and pushing yourself to get through stems faster, is a very poor strategy for improving your GAMSAT timing. After all, if you found physics exams difficult, your strategy for improving them would not be to try and answer the questions faster! In fact, the correct approach to GAMSAT timing is the exact opposite. Rather than constantly pressuring yourself to think faster, develop approaches and skills to questions that allow you to work through them more quickly. This means spending a few weeks working through Section 1 GAMSAT questions slowly, and carefully, with extensive analysis and annotation for every line, and every answer option. It also makes sense to do practice exams stem by stem, rather than rushing through them as a whole. This preparation style emphasises technique over speed, with much better resulting outcomes. Ultimately, practice under timed conditions is only valuable towards the end of your preparation season. The main purpose of timed practice is to learn to remain calm under pressure, and to organise the order in which you attempt to answer GAMSAT questions efficiently. Working on GAMSAT timing has very little to do with improving your accuracy in answering questions.

Creating a Question Log

The last, yet critically important step in studying using GAMSAT practice questions is to create a question log. A question log is a document that consists of carefully selected GAMSAT questions that you find difficult. For every ten GAMSAT practice questions that you solve, you should aim to log at least two. Logging a GAMSAT practice question should involve a complete dissection of the stem. This means definitions of unknown words, and annotations of the text, and brief explanations of the questions and all answer options. The purpose of this log is to hone in on your areas of weakness, and convert them to areas of strength. It also allows you to develop patterns of logic, such that you can recognise question types in the GAMSAT exam, and apply the same thinking under timed conditions, rather than reinventing the wheel.

Where To From Here?

If you are interested in further improving Section 1, check out these free resources!

Approach to Section 1 Poetry

Question Log for Section 1

Free Online Practice Test

Check out the next articles in this series!

What is GAMSAT Section 2?

What is GAMSAT Section 3?

For general GAMSAT news and updates, check out the articles below!

GAMSAT – Latest News

How Hard is the GAMSAT?

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