Update: In 2017, the GAMSAT costs $490 to sit.
What is this GAMSAT business, and why all the fuss about it?
As a science student, I hear a lot of grumble and mumbles from friends about the GAMSAT all year round. And I was curious – what is it like to sit the GAMSAT? So in this blog post, I did a bit of digging around and asked a number of people about their GAMSAT experience.
To kick things off…
What is the GAMSAT? Why do it? Who sits the test?
GAMSAT stands for Graduate Medical School Admissions Test. Anyone who wants to go into medicine, dentistry or any area of studies down that alley needs to sit this test. So it’s kinda a big deal.
A lot of students from Unimelb science and biomed sit the GAMSAT. Not all of them sit the test to apply for medicine, although I would think that the majority does. It’s also required for courses such as Dentistry and Physiotherapy. There are also a few who sit the test just to keep post-graduate options open. So you can imagine how many people end up sitting the test – at least as many who sat the UMAT. Probably more actually. Some older applicants also sit the test – people who already are in full-time work and perhaps are trying to switch to a health-science course. I have heard stories of people from Arts, Commerce and Law backgrounds sitting the test and still doing rather well.
The GAMSAT is made up of three sections; Section I Reasoning in Humanities and Social Sciences, Section II Written Communication and Section III Reasoning in Biological and Physical Sciences. All the sections were tricky in some respects, but Section I and Section II were the most difficult I found.
Section 1, which deals with ‘reasoning in the humanities and the social sciences’, was certainly not a highlight. It was very GATish: read texts and then answer completely ambiguous questions about the intricate details of that text. Not my cup of tea and I expect that to show.
Section 2 is about essay writing. This is fine if you’re a good writer and have a good day, unlike me who managed to successfully argue against what I argued in my introduction—they’ll think I’ve gone nuts!
Section 3 is science, though despite all the study everyone did, to me the science appeared pretty simple; it was more or less about applying those principles and reasoning in the sciences, not just proving how good your memory is.
The GAMSAT isn’t cheap
I just looked on the website, and it says that it’s $440 to sit the test (I can buy 110 cups of coffee!). Plus, other people also invest in a bit to help prepare for the test.
To prepare, I bought Des’ MCQ books + Examkrackers + official ACER resources + a USB containing a whole lot of other material. In total it cost around $700, which was very cheap in comparison to other prices. The Des MCQ books themselves normally sell for $700-900.
On the day
It was initially rather unnerving arriving, through amazing traffic that literally only surrounded the Flemington Showgrounds where the GAMSAT was held, to see 2500 people waiting to enter the GAMSAT examination centre.
The cold weather in the morning appeared to prove difficult to predict what to wear for most people (myself included), to make sure you weren’t on either extreme of hot or cold for this moment that so many people had spent months dreading. So dressed like onions (not parfait like Donkey from Shrek thinks) with multiple layers, the swarm of anxious pre-med hopefuls crowded around the doors, fidgeting and becoming increasingly stressed.
Once we were let in, everything became a lot calmer and it rather became a waiting game, like much of the day, for everyone to be processed and seated and for the large amount of administration to be completed.
Is the GAMSAT hard?
I’ve never sat a GAMSAT before (and I don’t plan to), so I have no idea how difficult the test is. And I generally assume that it’s hard. Here’s what people said about the difficulty of the test.
The test itself is designed to stretch you to your limit, but I guess that it can be more easily prepared for than the UMAT. It’s thought to be more ‘hardcore’ because the test goes for almost six hours and is of a high academic standard. The passages are more wordy and syntactically complex, so a background in literature does help to an extent. You also get 30 mins to write each essay, which is difficult because it’s tough to produce a well thought-out, sophisticated and coherent argument under such short time constraints…so yes, in a sense it’s more academically demanding.
I did the GAMSAT quite a few years ago now, but remember finishing the final section and being so stressed I had to go to the convenors and ask where first aid was. Turns out there was no one there for first aid, ironic.
Overall, the GAMSAT wasn’t too bad…It is quite a tough exam, but unlike the UMAT and the GAT, more of it feels achievable. It feels like there’s less, well bullshit (although section 1 is still chock-a-block with esotericism and shittiness). The GAMSAT itself is nowhere near the nightmare that is depicted; it’s just the stress of thinking that you’ve done poorly that gets people.
The GAMSAT sounds like a very long day
Many people have commented that the test was realllllllly long. I mean, I can barely sit still for 3 hours straight in a lecture let alone doing tests all day.
Don’t believe what they say about it being an 8 hour day. The testing time is 5.5 hours long, but you don’t get out til 6:30 after having to be there at 8am.
It’s probably 9:30 when you start section one which is 100 minutes. Then you stay seated for like 30 minutes for them to take back that one then give out section 2, which lasts an hour. So lunch was just after 1, then everyone starts going back in after the hour is over, which in itself is about an hour. So at 3 they prepared for section 3, which we started at 3:15 ish and that section goes for 3 hours. So you are finally out the door by 6:30. Hopefully!
The day was pretty exhausting in all honesty. This was my first time sitting the GAMSAT. I’ve been adjusting my sleep pattern throughout the course of the week so that I wouldn’t begin the test feeling like a sleep-deprived zombie.
I did the test in Melbourne Showgrounds which was quite far from where I live, so I needed to train myself to get up at 5.30am. I went to bed at ~9.30pm the night before the test, so I felt pretty good with 8 hours of sleep.
As expected, traffic at the showgrounds was horrendous. I arrived to the centre at 8am but we didn’t start until 9.40.
Section I and II (humanities + essay writing) go for around 3 hours, and then you get a one hour lunch break, and then everybody has to be readmitted back into the centre to start the science section. We didn’t start the science section until around 3.20 and so the test went until 6.20 – I swear my stomach digested my lunch ultra-fast and shrank in size by the time the test was finished. Prepare for a VERY long day…I only got back home at 8.30pm-ish, totally exhausted and feeling pretty down from the whole ordeal.”
Getting to a testing centre (particularly for a rural student like myself) at 8am is ridiculous, and the day was far too long (finished at 6.30pm!!).
If you’re planning to do the GAMSAT, some of your fellow-GAMSAT-sitter-ers have offered some advice.
I think one of the most important aspect of GAMSAT prep is starting early. This is definitely not your usual uni subject exam where you can cram and get H1s. Start early and revise consistently. Starting 3-4 months early is really helpful to cement your understanding and knowledge.
To those sitting the GAMSAT next year, I highly recommend getting the ACER practise tests and doing them under exam conditions. One of the most pressing issues of the GAMSAT is the time constraint – you have less than 2 minutes to answer each MCQ. What I did to keep track of my timing was to set my watch to 12 at the start of each section, since it’s easy to lose track of time when the test starts at something like 8.47. For section I, I would allocate 20 questions per 25 mins and for section III, I would allocate 20 questions per 30 mins. I think this really helped my timing during the test.
AND WRITE LOTS OF ESSAYS. Yes they can be really frustrating to prepare for but they are really helpful. Also learn to self-critique and be harsh on your writing. Having other people critique your essay is also very helpful – in this case a private tutor may help you.
Last but not least, do not be afraid of failing. Many people find themselves sitting the GAMSAT multiple times. This is a difficult test don’t put too much pressure on yourself to do really well on your first sitting. Give it your best shot by all means, but if you fail, just try again.
Don’t be discouraged by your results. If medicine is for you, there is always a way to achieve your dreams :)
So there we have it, GAMSAT in a nutshell. To those who sat the GAMSAT, all the best with your results!
I have to say a big thank you to those who shared their GAMSAT experience with us:
- Tara Grayson
- Cassie Williams
- Shenzor (ATAR notes)
- Jinny 1 (ATAR notes)
- Travis Lines
- Tegan Seitz