Saturday, December 10, 2011

Why we don't offer a Section I Course

The answer to this one is pretty simple - I can't think of a strategy for it!

My motivation for establishing GAMSAT Strategies is really because I feel that Section II and III can be 'gamed'.

For example, create a system by which you can create non-obvious insights for Section II and you can score 70+. ACER says they will test first year organic chemistry in Section III but if you study to to second year standard, you can score 70+ due to the simplistic structure of their questions. For Section I - I can't think of anything unique - and I guess that points to what we are all about. We are here to tell you something different. Something you haven't heard before. From the users point of view. If we can't, we don't run a course.

Other GAMSAT training providers give generic advice. Frankly, if you want to go to medical school and you can't figure out that you need to finish all of the questions to give yourself a good shot at scoring highly, well,  maybe you shouldn't be a doctor. Same goes for things like "read the question carefully", "narrow down to two options", "this is how you name an organic compoud" etc etc - I honestly can't believe people get away with charging for material like that.  That's why I started this business.

What do I mean by 'gaming' GAMSAT? Please don't think that I am saying that it is easy to do well - it really isn't. I'm just saying that if you are reasonably intelligent, you shouldn't have too much of an issue provided that you prepare properly  - and by that I mean in accordance with the specific and unique nature of the test (ie employ our strategies) - not the way you studied to do well at high school.

Anyway, enough of the 'we are so different' speal. If you are struggling with Section I, the best advice I can give you is that often the right answer is not clear so just pick one. This enables you to finish the test and hopefully the 50/50 rule will assist you over the entire bank of questions. The main problem arises when students spend enormous amounts of time agonising over a 50/50 decsion (when more time is not going to make it any clearer) and as a result, they don't finish the paper. Do the maths - not finishing is a very bad idea.

If you're not convinced about the maths argument, take my scenario - I finished with 30 minutes to spare, scored 70 and employed the 50/50 rule the whole way through. I'm no genius, I'm just good at 'letting go' of the question when I know that no further clarity is going to be gained by spending more time on the question. Redefine the goal of Section I from "let's get every question right" to just "let's get an answer down for every question" and things should work out in your favour.

Key point for Section I: leave that OCD personality at home. Save it for med school! (You can go back to your high school study methods there!)

Best of luck with the study! :)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

GAMSAT is a game

Though I promised that the next post I would write would be on whether to write a discursive or argumentative essay, something interesting has come up which I believe is worthy of sharing.

I received an email from a course participant from early this year and she told me that she received a score of 100 on the science section. This is a phenomenal achievement and worthy of hearty congratulations. That said, it also points to a crucial thing about GAMSAT - it's just a game!

For a long time, I have had a suspicion that having 2nd year university chemistry under your hat was the key to the science section. All of my friends at university who did well on the science section had completed up to the end of 2nd year organic chemistry. The course participant that received a 100 also was a chemistry major who had completed all of the 2nd year chemistry subjects.

Obviously, she is very bright and talented. However, I have met too many people who have done well on the section (70+) who have had the same academic background for it to be a coincidence.

All of these people reported the same thing - being able to look at the options, hardly read the question and select the correct answer. GAMSAT is clearly a game. In fact, I made the comment to a friend today that I find it fascinating that the market of students interested in getting into med (and it is a market that communicates aggressively) has not cottoned on to this method of preparation earlier. It is by no means commonplace knowledge in the marketplace that 2nd year organic chemistry is the key.

So what does this mean for a training provider like myself? Should we start teaching 2nd year organic chemistry? To be honest, I'm not sure - the key is whether it can be taught in a limited period of time and whether it is feasible to construct useful and innovative pedagogical materials.

I am confident in our offering for Section II in that I believe our course can teach those who are average to score well by virtue of a process in a relatively short period of time. It will be interesting to see whether a pedagogical process can be worked out for the science section. Frankly, I'm not that confident, (there is probably no substitute for 2 years of university level study in the subject) but stay tuned! A revolution may be near!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Why the 'model essays' in the marketplace are too long

Most students upon reviewing the 'model essays' by a popular GAMSAT training provider react by saying that the essays seem to be too long. That is because they are. Let me explain.

When I sat GAMSAT, I wrote 3 paragraphs: an introduction, first body paragraph and a second body paragraph for my first essay, and an introduction, first body paragraph and 3/4 of a second body paragraph for my second essay. I did not finish either of my essays. At most I would have written 500 words per essay. I achieved a score of 76.

So why are the 'model essays' too long? Well my gut feeling is as follows. I'm reasonably certain that the model essays are selected from the numerous practice essays that are submitted to the provider. These essays are often written by students who do not write their essay under exam conditions. That is, they take extra time, use a computer etc, all of which enhance the length of the essay. The provider then makes the mistake of upholding their essay as an example of what students should try to achieve.

So what is the moral of the story here? There is an inherent limitation as to how much you can write in Section II. Don't get distracted by so called 'model essays'. The key is to focus on quality not quantity.

The topic of the next post will be "What type of essay should I write - discursive or argumentative?"

Best of luck with the study!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Uncertainty, Our point of difference & The value of a systematic approach

Whenever I speak to candidates about Section II, the most common complaint relates to uncertainty.  Writing two essays in 1 hour on two sets of unseen stimuli is capable of stunning even accomplished students into a numb anxiety, where time marches on with increasing speed but the speed of your thought proportionally slows in keeping with some sort of sick, self-destructive, "I'm never going to make it to medical school" type relationship.

On analysis, there are a number of factual reasons why the above scenario is commonplace (more on this later) but there is a single conceptual reason why this occurs - let me explain. Most candidates, inspired by the current popular training materials, believe that repeatedly writing essays in response to stimuli is the best method of bettering their score. This belief is understandable because a lot of human endeavour, take for example running, posits the prospect of improvement on practicing and repeating the action in which improvement is sought. If I want to run faster, I should do more running. If I want to become a better piano player, I should play more piano. And so on, it goes.

So why, you ask, is this approach not appropriate for Section II? Well, the answer, in a nutshell, is that Section II is not a writing task, but a response task. The very first step in writing, is to have an idea about what one wishes to write about. Unless you can generate an idea of what to write about in response to the stimulus and have a process by which to perform that action, there is little point in having good sentence structure and a mastery of active and passive voices. The section tests your ability to respond - your ability to write is merely the vehicle upon which the former hitches a ride to the ACER office so you can receive your mark. Put another way, the inability to identify this conceptual pressure point is why I have seen A+ students in high school English and avid readers receive a mid 50's score for this section of the test - much to their own bemusement .

Enter GAMSAT Strategies and our systematic approach to developing your ability to respond to stimuli. At the top of this piece, I mentioned that the chief complaint about Section II revolved around uncertainty as to the stimuli on the day. Well, uncertainty as to stimuli does not imply uncertainty as to response. By teaching candidates how to use repeatable processes to generate an idea about what to write in response to stimuli, the candidate can take control over a section that was previously uncontrollable.

The value of a repeatable process has its origin in risk management. A critical tenant of managing out risk is the use of procedure (e.g. checklists) to mitigate uncertainty. Cue the airline pilot and accompanying clipboard saying "check" prior to your 747 departing on its transatlantic journey. In the instance of Section II, the risk is that you won't know what to write in response to the stimulus. However, if you have a procedure to follow that assists you to generate a response, the risk is removed. All that is left at this point, is to execute and write the essay.

Our procedures cover general knowledge preparation and theme identification, idea generation, alternative idea selection (if you need to decide which idea to pick in responding to the stimulus), essay planning, essay execution and sentence structure. Our course aims to reduce Section II to a repeatable process which by its own virtue delivers you a response to the stimulus.

I will write future posts on each of these areas as they are each worthy of further exploration. But for the meantime, I believe it would be worthwhile to engage in some deep thought on the true nature of Section II and whether your preparation aligns with intent of the test. After all, working hard is hard enough without working hard in the wrong way.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


This blog is the love child of two experiences. First, it was created out of frustration with the current offering of training materials for Section II of the GAMSAT. When I sat the test, I attained a score of 76 on Section II, and of all of the training materials I have reviewed, candidates I have tutored or people I have spoken to since, nobody or no training material has been able to identify a systematic approach to this section. Indeed, many of them are downright deceptive. This brings me to my second experience. About half-way through my science degree, I realised that entrepreneurship was something that fascinated me. I was and still am attracted to the egalitarian nature of it -  at the heart of being an entrepreneur is the ability to have an idea, and anyone can have an idea!  Therefore, I've decided that I should answer the call and do something regarding Section II of the GAMSAT. I've decided to do three things: 1) write my own guide on the section based on my personal experience of sitting the test; 2) run a 2 day training course on 26 and 27 November with follow up testing (more details to follow) and 3) engage in private tutoring. This blog will serve as a medium by which I can communicate to anyone interested in Section II of the test. If you are going to sit GAMSAT, my hope is that this blog will assist you to formulate a strategy that will work for you on the day.