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Announcing the Merged Rank, Forgetting the combined score
There is a lot of misinformation out there regarding the process for medical interview offers, as well as gaining entry into an MD programme. This article aims to address the misinformation and correct the record. Every year we see applicants making ill-informed decisions surrounding the medical admissions process – things such as effort needed for improving GPAs, whether to re-sit the GAMSAT, whether to do an honours year, how to preference universities in order to maximise a chance for an offer, and the list goes on.
In order to help applicants understand the process better, this article will analyse the complex Merged Rank system used by GEMSAS when looking at applicant university preferences. This will allow us to dispel myths and misinformation surrounding the Combined Score proposed originally here.
The unnecessary lack of transparency is not economical, and applicants’ ill-informed choices do two things:
1) First, they waste copious amounts of applicant’s time and money in pursuing avenues that needn’t be pursued. If you’re at the stage of applications for postgraduate study, you’ve already sacrificed many years becoming an amazing student, dedicated and focussed on making your dream a true and fulfilling reality. This often comes with forfeiting opportunities for well-paying jobs and developing other interests in your life. To be a costly victim to misinformation at this late stage of your journey is abysmal and should not be tolerated.
2) Second, not understanding the process of post-graduate entry makes applications weaker than they truly are, diminishing possibilities of acceptance. Due to the GEMSAS-consortium, applications are not as easy as merely trying your best in your studies. The preferences ensure that we have to be targeted in how we improve our chances. We don’t know where we need to improve if we aren’t informed.
Misinformation breeds inequity. At no point should we accept that the knowledge is restricted to ‘those in the know’.
In this article, we will correctly explain from the ground up how the application process works, and its relevance and implications. It is a long article, but indeed something that must be disseminated to all.
Components for a medical Interview offer
As a whole, there are three components: the GPA, the GAMSAT, and for some universities, the portfolio.
How is the GPA calculated?
The first measure for applications is the GPA. This figure is a representation of an applicant’s performance throughout their undergraduate degree. It is generated by taking a university subject score’s percentage and converting that into a number – for most Australian universities this is on a seven-point scale, with seven being the highest possible grade. Scores around 80-85% are usually the minimum requirement for a seven. If the percentage drops below certain bands, the GPA also drops. The conversion depends on the university, with Flinders, USyd and the GEMSAS universities each converting percentage scores differently. This information is readily available as tables within the admissions guides.
At the end of an university year, all subject results are averaged to give a GPA for that year. The process of averaging the GPA for a given year is consistent amongst all the universities, with a focus on taking into consideration if subjects conducted were ‘double-point’ subjects or not. The main difference thus far is how each of the universities converted subject percentage scores into a subject-specific GPA. Consequently, the GPAs for a given year will indeed differ between the universities listed above.
When it comes to applications, universities need a GPA that represents the entire degree, not just the given years. This is where they need to convert the year-by-year GPA scores into one degree-complete GPA. It is at this point we see the major differences, as how each GEMSAS university does it is different from the other. Some universities double the weighting associated with third year, some triple it, while others keep weighting consistent throughout the years. Across all the universities, there are 10 different ways to calculate the complete GPA for the entire degree, with added complexity for factors such as Masters, PhDs, ATSI, etc.
For those that are in their third year of their undergraduate degree, there are also rules surrounding calculations. The number of units of study completed in the penultimate semester determine whether that semester is included in the GPA calculations at point of application.
Why is this so relevant?
Questions of GPA actually introduce the first point of misinformation surrounding admissions, that is:
‘My GPA score doesn’t influence which university I should be applying for’
Due to the fact that each university will calculate the GPA differently, there is an entirely different spectrum of scores between the universities. This has severe impacts on what is deemed a ‘competitive score’, or more importantly, how to achieve a competitive score for a given university. A blanket statement such as – ‘You can only afford to miss out on one to two HDs’, is misleading advice that is not consistent across the board.
Let us briefly imagine that at the end of year 12, universities turned around and said they will not count our English score when calculating our ATAR. Think of how this would impact scores statewide. Those that performed well in English, relative to their other subjects, will be at a disadvantage. Those that did not care for English throughout the year and instead focus on improving other subjects will be at a clear accidental and unjust advantage.
This is precisely the implication we are faced with when applicants aren’t aware of how their GPA is calculated differently across all the post-graduate entry programs. A GPA is not simply transferable between universities. Applicants must always understand this so they may have an accurate expectation of how their GPA sits with each university.
Calculate Your GPA Accurately: Fraser’s New GEMSAS GPA Calculator
How is the GAMSAT calculated?
The GAMSAT is a lot easier to deal with for applicants because there are only two scores.
The first is the overall score. This is the one that is presented on the ACER score sheet, and is calculated by weighing section 3 as follows:
The Overall Score is the one that ACER generates their percentile curve from. As we have seen in the GAMSAT Scores article, percentiles do not strictly matter for admissions. However, they provide a good indicator for where we sit compared to the rest of the applicants, offering information on how ‘competitive’ our GAMSAT mark is. Most universities use the overall score.
Nevertheless, a few universities, such as the University of Melbourne and the University of Sydney, use the Average Score. This is calculated as follows:
This brings in the next point of misinformation surrounding admissions. When one converts their individual section scores into the Average Score seen above, we can no longer look at the percentile curve provided by ACER. This is due to the fact that we are truly dealing with an entirely different score that is part of its own different distribution.
This has severe implications on whether our score can now be considered ‘competitive’ or not. We will explain with examples from two students:
Student 1: ‘The Science Person’
This fictitious person scored:
– 57 for Section 1
– 59 for Section 2
– 78 for Section 3
According to the score provided by ACER (the overall score), The Science Person has a result of 68 (no decimals). This puts The Science Person in a nicely competitive range for universities that use the overall score.
The Science Person hears that this is the rough score needed to meet the cut off for the University of Sydney, and spends the next year planning to get into USyd. USyd only need a cut off GPA of 5/7, so The Science Person starts to neglect their university performance because they are well in the clear, and instead focuses on preparing well in advance for the next interview season.
However, The Science Person does not realise the score USyd use is the average score, which, for them, is 65 (no decimals). This does not meet the cut-off GAMSAT score for USyd, and The Science Person does not receive an interview offer for USyd. Furthermore, their drop in their GPA has now left them even less competitive for all the GEMSAS universities. They have the skills for an interview, but didn’t get one. Not good.
Student 2: ‘The Literature Major’
This fictitious person scored:
– 75 for Section 1
– 79 for Section 2
– 51 for Section 3
ACER’s Overall Score for The Lit Major is 64. With their less-competitive GPA, The Lit Major is disheartened and does not think they will qualify for their dream course, The Australian National University’s MChD. Their next goal would’ve been The University of Melbourne, however not being competitive for ANU means UoM is off the table, right?
So, The Lit Major spends months trying to perfect their portfolio. The Lit Major has nothing against the portfolio unis, they merely don’t like their locations. However, having a strong portfolio might be the only way to scrape through into an MD course, so they dedicate many hours volunteering and working in the healthcare setting in an attempt to become a strong candidate. Lots of money and time spent on something not actually in their heart to do.
Meanwhile, The Lit Major doesn’t realise that UoM use the average score, giving them a GAMSAT score of 68 (no decimals). Turns out The Lit Major was actually very competitive for the University of Melbourne all along. Damn.
You may also want to read this article: How is the GAMSAT Scored?
How is the portfolio calculated?
At the University of Notre Dame (UND) and the University of Wollongong (UoW), all medical-student aspirants must submit portfolios in order for their application to be considered.
Portfolios at UND and UoW constitute a significant proportion of the criteria required for interview selection. For UND, the portfolio contributes a third of weightings when being considered for an interview, equal with the GPA and GAMSAT. For UoW – GAMSAT, GPA and the portfolio are weighted 30%, 30% and 40%, respectively, making the portfolio the single-most-important component in their admission process.
Portfolios allow applicants to submit details of personal and community experiences that may support their application to study medicine. UND and UoW will use your portfolios to ‘rank’ your eligibility as an interviewee; thus, you should spend an adequate amount of time preparing, writing, and finalising your portfolio.
You can download our free rubric below to help guide your portfolio writing:
Fraser’s Portfolio Rubric
Unfortunately, many graduate applicants who use the exact same portfolio for UND and UoW medical programmes are often unsuccessful, insofar that these applicants neglect the distinctions between these two universities. So, what are these differences?
First-and-foremost, alongside the UND portfolio submission, applicants must also submit a personal statement outlining their motivation for pursuing medicine at Notre Dame. Please note that this a two-part requirement: applicants must outline their motivation for pursuing medicine and also their motivation for studying at the University of Notre Dame. We recommend reviewing their curriculum and the university’s mission to guide you in answering this question.
Alternatively, UoW does not require a personal statement. UoW applicants should try to incorporate their motives for studying medicine within their portfolio without detracting from their answers.
In both UND and UoW portfolios, you will need to outline any leadership, community or other academic/life achievements and experiences as a part of your application. You should note that regardless of the university, they will look for a justification as to why this specifically makes you a better medical student from this experience.
The enigma of the ‘Combined Score (Combination Score)’
Before we go on, just know this score is false, misleading and dangerous.
Okay, let’s continue.
What is the Combined Score?
The Combined Score is a fictitious score that has attempted to make sense of GAMSAT and GPA scores when determining our chances for an interview offer.
It equals GAMSAT/100 + GPA/7.
In theory, it sounds great. You take your scores and combine them together easily. After all, the admission guides always say that GAMSAT + GPA contribute into a 50:50 split for working out interviews (or, a third, a third, a third if UND with a portfolio).
Where did the Combined Score come from?
Someone bad at maths.
Upon looking at the admissions guide regarding gaining an interview offer, non-GPA hurdle universities (i.e. all universities except USyd and UQ, as well as Flinders to some extent) state that interviews will be offered based on a 50:50 split between GAMSAT and GPA scores. The Combined Score therefore tries to generate a conveniently calculated score that splits the GAMSAT and GPA scores as such.
Again, it is GAMSAT/100 + GPA/7.
Historically, applicants have used this score to try and determine if they will receive an interview offer, by checking if their Combined Score meets some ‘university cut-off’. In theory, this process sounds excellent. At the end of the day, all we are really after is a rough idea of where we sit and if we will obtain an interview. However, the Combined Score will only work if is indeed is a good indicator.
Is the Combined Score correct?
No, the Combined Score is not correct.
Why not? Because both the GPA and the GAMSAT scores are part of a bell curve.
Once the threshold cut-off scores are finalised (for example, a GPA of >5/7 and a GAMSAT >50), there remains a new set of scores. Now, the bell curve changes.
Removing all scorers with a GAMSAT of less than 50 acts to remove the bottom ~10% of sitters.
Removing all scorers with a GPA of less than 5/7 does not remove the bottom ~10% of sitters.
The result? Two different distributions that have a different centre, different relative variances, and completely different shapes. This prevents the possibility of simply merging the two raw scores as part of some magical formula.
OK, the Combined Score is false. Is it still a good indicator?
Certainly not. Trying to compare your results to others’ using the Combined Score is highly detrimental to how you prepare for the application season. The Combined Score will tell us that a 1 mark increase in one’s GAMSAT is equivalent to increasing your GPA by 0.07, regardless of your existing score.
This falsely tells applicants the following: increasing your GPA from 6 to 7 increases your chances of getting into medicine by the same degree as someone increasing their GAMSAT by ~14 points, regardless of what score they currently have.
Going from a GPA of 6 to 7 is a major jump. Going from 6 to 7 will increase your chances much more than an improvement of your GAMSAT from 70 to 84, but much less than an improvement of your GAMSAT from 50 to 64. Why? Because GPA and GAMSAT scores are not linear. Consequently, we cannot add them in a linear fashion.
Additionally, reading the article from the beginning, we can see very, very clearly that each university has their own distribution of competitive to not-so-competitive GPAs, owing to the fact that there are different ways of calculating them. This therefore alters what GAMSAT a given person’s GPA needs in order to become competitive.
Moral of the story: do not use the Combined Score. It looks good, it is easy to use, and it is handy to compare. The issue? It is not comparing the right things. It is a poor indicator. It is a type of misinformation perpetuating the confusing and seemingly unfair MD entry process.
Is there a way of finding out if our scores are competitive? Yes – but before we look into that, we must understand what universities do when looking at scores.
The ‘Merged Rank’ system
What do universities do then? Every year, universities get a different cohort of applicants. The procedure utilised to fairly determine the number of interview places involves the Merged Rank (‘MR’) process.
We will keep this part of the article extremely transparent so there is no more confusion. Please take the time to understand it in its entirety.
How does the Merged Rank system work?
- Step 1: All the GAMSAT scores of applicants are ranked from highest to lowest
- Step 2: All applicant GPAs are ranked from highest to lowest, in a separate rank.
- Step 3: [If part of a portfolio university] All of the portfolio scores of applicants are ranked from highest to lowest, in a separate rank.
- Step 4: Merged Rank – this is where the rankings are combined to create the master rank, called Merged Rank (MR).
How is this done?
Let’s say someone is ranked 40th for the GAMSAT and 30th for the GPA, in a non-portfolio university.
Their MR will be (40+30)/2 = 35th
The applicant’s MR of 35th will be what is used when determining if they have made the cut-off for gaining an interview place. Let’s say the top 600 people in the MR will qualify for an interview offer. An MR of 35 ensures this person will get an interview offer.
This is what universities mean when they say the ‘scores are combined in a 50:50 split’. They don’t mean the maths utilised in the Combined Rank.
How does the Merged Rank (MR) system work for the portfolio universities?
As stated earlier, UND generate a merged rank from equal weightings for the GAMSAT, GPA and portfolio ranks.
Consequently, if someone applying for UND is ranked 40th for the GAMSAT, 30th for the GPA, and 20th for the portfolio, their MR will simply be (40+30+20)/3 = 30th
In contrast, UoW weights the GAMSAT, GPA and portfolio as 30%, 30% and 40%, respectively, in the merged rank.
If someone is therefore applying for UoW with a GAMSAT rank of 40th, GPA rank of 30th and portfolio rank of 20th, their MR will be calculated as follows:
MR = (3×40 + 3×30 + 4×20)/10 = 29th
What are the implications the Merged Rank (MR) system has on changing GAMSAT/GPA scores?
As we can see from the above chapters, changing one’s GAMSAT or GPA would clearly not affect chances in the same way for EVERY score, as this is not a linear process. Instead, the MR system revolves around generating the one final rank from two or more individual ranks, each with their own distribution and sensitivities.
But, what do the changes in sensitivities mean?
As we increase, say, our GAMSAT score, we move higher and higher up the bell curve. However, as the bell curve actually tapers off, increasing one’s position (compared to all other applicants) becomes increasingly harder with higher scores. This means that the higher up someone is on the GAMSAT rank, the harder it becomes to improve said rank (as a greater GAMSAT score is necessary to shift upwards).
In other words, the higher our GAMSAT score is, the less sensitive an improved GAMSAT will be to our rank. In contrast, less competitive GAMSAT scores will benefit to a greater degree from GAMSAT improvements.
What does this mean for achieving a competitive GAMSAT?
What is most interesting with the MR system is the implication on the final merged rank, itself. The final MR has its own bell curve. This bell curve is comprised of two or more individual scores (depending on if it is a portfolio university, or not), meaning that there is more than one sensitivity to changes (as listed above with the GAMSAT changes).
This, therefore, means that each GPA comes its very own corresponding GAMSAT that is deemed ‘competitive’.
To explain further, we need to distinguish another common misconception.
When people ask for the ‘cut-off GAMSAT’ scores, they either mean two things:
1) A “genuine cut-off”: This refers to cut off scores stipulated in the university admission guide handbooks. This is the score that must be met in order to be considered as an applicant. Making the genuine cut-off does not mean the GAMSAT score is competitive, considering the genuine cut-off scores are normally at 50 (unless it is USyd or Flinders that have an actual genuine cut-off for interview offers, as GPA is a hurdle).
2) A “competitive cut-off”: This refers to a cut-off score which applicants consider necessary in order to be ‘guaranteed’ an interview/offer for medicine.
It is due to the bell curve of a merged rank that there is no such thing as a competitive cut-off GAMSAT that applies for everyone. This leaves ‘across-the-board GAMSAT cut-off’ tables obsolete. Instead, each person’s GPA will have its own corresponding competitive cut-off GAMSAT.
Why is this such a big deal?
…because almost all applicants do not understand the MR system and its implications on their scores. This leaves applicants taking generalist advice on scores and improvements required that aren’t actually related to their own scores, wasting valuable time and money on tactics that offer negligible improvement to their MR. There is a reason why medical interview offers take so long to be released and this is it. This process takes time and effort from the universities.
However, this is no excuse to not understand the process and plan effectively. Entering medicine requires targeted changes, not generalist advice.
How to understand the Merged Rank (MR) system for our own chances of medical interview offers
Put simply, we need to simulate the ranking process. Fortunately, we’re in a position where we have approximately 40% of all applicants using our resources and we know which of them received interview offers. We have reversed engineered ACER’s Merged Ranking Algorithm for applicants applying in 2019 for 2020 entry.
How did we reverse engineer the algorithms?
To do this, we need to take the data on 40% of the applicants and run a logistic regression. A logistic regression uses a simple dummy dependent variable: a value of 1 means an applicant received an interview and a 0 means they did not. From here, we choose what independent variables we need. Obviously that means we need a GAMSAT, GPA and portfolio score (for portfolio universities).
The logistic regression will sort all the scores for successful interview applicants, and similarly sort the scores for unsuccessful interview applicants. These scores will be separated by a linear boundary which is modelled by the logistic regression.
From here, all we need to do is input the independent variables; our own GAMSAT and GPA (and portfolio scores for UND/UoW, only if we are applying for them). What the regression will do is provide us with the probability of joining the side of successful interview applicants for a specific university.
Fraser’s Medical Interview Offer Calculator
To run a solid logistic regression, we require solid data. At Fraser’s, we have perfected the prediction method to provide the most accurate indicator. We are not afraid to disseminate how we did it because at the end of the day, we have more data than any other organisation, and this is precisely what sets this calculator apart and makes it so robust. As just over one third of applicants have prepared through us along their journey, we are able to generate a regression from the largest sample size feasible, making the predictor as accurate as humanly possible.
What we’ve done is this:
One third of 2019 applicants for 2020 MD/MChD entry have provided us with their scores, order of preferences, whether they were successful in receiving an interview offer, and which university they received an interview for.
This allowed us to generate lists of applicants that did/did not receive an interview for specific universities, and the scores associated with their application.
These lists were used in a university-specific, large scale logistic regression, mimicking the Merged Rank process used by each and every university, GEMSAS or independent.
The outcome? Fraser’s Medical Interview Calculator for 2021 entry… the most accurate indicator possible, built from the relevant 2020 data.
This new calculator respects and uses the fact that universities generate a final Merged Rank from two or more individual ranks, taking into consideration the merged effect of GPA, GAMSAT and portfolio scores (for UND and UoW). The calculator then determines which rank you would have received if you applied in this cohort, and thus what MR you would have been given. If you would’ve made the cut-off for an interview for 2020 entry at a given university, then you have very high chances of receiving an interview for 2021 entry with such scores.
The calculator finds our weak points and shows us how we can improve our chances for the upcoming application season in a tangible and targeted way, maximising our likelihoods by showing us exactly where improvement is needed that is of the highest yield.
No combined score is able to do this.
Understand the MR system and you are on your way to intelligent and targeted improvements.
Predict Your Medical Interview Chances: Fraser’s Medical Interview Offer Calculator
Admissions do not need to be an enigma. We do not need to be fighting our way through this battle of mixed information and repetitive EoDs due to misguided tactics that cyclically fail to improve our chances. We need to collectively identify our weak ranks and hone in on them to maximise our MR.
Once this is achieved, our next task will be to understand the medical interview and destroy its fair share of misinformation.
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