Monday, November 5, 2012

We love positive feedback from happy candidates!

When we set up this blog, we decided that we would be honest. That meant reporting the good and the bad but thankfully today we get to report some good news. It's so great reading emails from happy students just like this one - it makes everything feel worthwhile - congrats Kirk!

Hi Saf,

I am writing today with the good news that I have received an offer for a position at Deakin University starting in 2013. I would like to thank Jo and yourself for the special role you have played in my journey to get to this point. I really appreciate what you are trying to do, and hope it is paying off for you in all the ways you hoped. 

Kindest Regards,


Friday, October 26, 2012

Video Blog - Who we are and what we do - Part 1

Last month we held a free seminar at Melbourne University and it was really great to see about 30 people or so turn out on their mid-semester holidays!

Here is a recording of the first part of the session where we introduced ourselves and our GAMSAT philosophy. This is the first of a 3 part series which we will share with you in the coming days.

Thank you to the Science Students' Society for their support in organising this event.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Section II - Who is our ideal student?

Yesterday I received an email from a student who achieved a 71 on Section II and she wanted to know whether she would gain any value from the course.

I responded by saying that if she wrote her essay off the top of her head, that is, she did not use a systematic approach, then there would be value in her attending. There is no guarantee that she would achieve the same result if the topics were to change. Much of our course tries to deal with the risk of topic changes and how to manage them and to allow for a consistent and methodical approach. 

The second part of her email asked whether the course was useful for native English speakers. To be honest this question scared the living daylights out of me as it made me fear that we are perceived as being a provider that assists people with poor English skills or ESL students. I have no idea where this perception could have come from but again it is reflective of commonplace thinking that Section II providers assist people who are bad at English.. My argument is that Section II is not about being good at English, it's about what you write about and the thought processes that you demonstrate. Your score has very little to do with the mechanics of your writing (presuming it is sufficient) and everything to do with the content. We want people who are good at English to come to our course because they have the most to gain from our strategic approach!

Don't get me wrong, we can assist students with poor English skills, but these individuals will hardly ever be able to score in the 70+ range for GAMSAT. Interestingly, the logic does not work in reverse, people who score in the 70+ range for Section II are not necessarily great at English - they are great at thinking! Being proficient at English is a necessary condition, not a determinative one.

Sometimes we can get good results. For example, last year we took someone from a 32 to a 50 which then allowed them to apply interviews as their marks on the other sections were great but without passing Section II they would have been prohibited to apply. (For those who don't know, 50 is the pass mark for all the sections and you can't apply to most medical schools unless you pass all of the sections.) That said, I am not a miracle worker and I do not like giving people a false sense of hope. I want to encourage people to overcome obstacles but at the same time it's important to be realistic about what I can do. For example, as much as I'd like to be of assistance, I can't help people with learning disabilities because I do not have the required training. 

My job as I see it is to take the student that achieves a score greater than or equal to 55 and convert it to a 70+ plus score. Of these people, some will have the intellect to grasp the macro strategies to allow them to make a big jump in score and others will gain smaller incremental increases in score as they adopt our micro strategies for improvement. For reference, a macro strategy is something that is a fundamental determinant of your end score like "how do I determine what I write my essay on" and a micro strategy is something like "how to vary your sentence length to have a punchy introduction", "the use of semicolons" or "improving your vocabulary".  The course is difficult but that is indicative of its value. If everyone could do it, there would be no value in it. 

In essence, the better your English skills, the more time we can spend on adjusting your content. It is important to divorce the mechanics of writing and the content of your writing from one another. The latter is the key to improving your score in Section II. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Is GAMSAT an IQ Test?

Last night I received a phone call from an anxious father stressed about his daughter's GAMSAT preparation. Whenever I receive a phone call like this I always ask for background: what course is his daughter studying, how many times has she sat GAMSAT, which sections did she perform well/poorly in, what preparation has she undertaken to date?

It was the answer to that last question regarding preparation that stunned me last night. The answer was "no preparation". The reason. She believes that GAMSAT is an IQ test.

The belief that GAMSAT is an IQ test is seductive. On one hand it feeds into the widely held belief that doctors are smart; a cut above the rest. It satisfies the 'some make it, some don't' feeling that pervades the university selection process. It engenders a convenient belief that a candidate just needs to turn up on the day without thought to preparation or approach.

Indeed, the conversation I had last night brought back vivid memories of a pharmacology course I took at UQ in my last year of my science degree. In the week leading up to the test, the lecturer cast his gaze across the room and declared, like a priest from the pulpit, that GAMSAT was an IQ test. That our fates were pre-determined -  incapable of being influenced, cast in stone by a mythical intelligence fairy to be unveiled in a few months when Australia Post came-a knockin'.

You could feel the sense of unease that descended upon the room. Bums squirming on seats, sweat on the palms, sympathetic nervous systems on alert for the upcoming IQ race to the trainee stethoscope, green scrubs and photographic ID. The latter to be dangled from the belt holding up my designer but yet- to- be purchased imaginary 'hospital pants'.

Obviously, I don't believe that GAMSAT is an IQ test. I believe that strategic preparation assists and that as long as you have a reasonable level of intelligence then it is worth having a go. If it doesn't work out so be it, but as a matter of philosophy, we want to encourage candidates to have a go! We prefer to enable rather than disable.

Being afraid never got anyone anywhere!

My reasons are as follows:

First, there is extensive debate as to whether IQ can be measured.

Second, we have seen large variations in scores from year to year for candidates - the biggest was 18 points!.

Third, GAMSAT contains content based knowledge. This means that study has to be relevant. You cannot divine knowledge about organic chemistry or a social issue on the day. You need to have studied it before. Preparation does count and it can influence your mark.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

2012-2013 Launch - Why we are running in December instead of January

So GAMSAT season is almost upon us and this year, GAMSAT Strategies will be running courses in December (see below) in both Brisbane and Melbourne as opposed to January.

A number of people have asked us why we are doing this so we thought we would outline the basic reasoning here so that everyone can understand where we are coming from.

How things used to be

Generally speaking, the GAMSAT 'season' as we have come to call it, began in earnest at the start of Semester 1 of the year that the candidate wished to sit the test. This meant that a candidate generally had about month or two prior to the test to try to prepare.

Last year, because we were still relatively new to the GAMSAT training scene, we kept with this trend and offered our courses in early January for fear of running too early. However, our firm view is that candidates need to start planning much earlier for the GAMSAT and as such, we have decided to run in December.

The benefits of running in December

The benefits of doing so are as follows:

  1. Avoid cramming
  2. It allows for time to develop adequate strategies and to adjust the candidates mental approach to the different dynamic of the test
  3. Learning to work under pressure is a skill learnt over time - especially when you are trying to implement our systems. There are three stages to this preparation: learn the content, learn to apply it using the system and finally, learn how to do it under pressure. When you start in February, generally we have seen that candidates leave out the last stage
  4. Sometimes we learn by watching: I had a Korean student (ESL student) who went from a 32  in Section II to a 50 in 5 months of tutoring. By his own reports, he under performed on the day but still a magnificent result. The key was the lead up time that we had. While it may not always be possible to start 5 months in advance, starting in December is a lot better than starting in February - 2 months is a long time. 
  5. Some things like learning organic chemistry or improving your general knowledge simply take time - we want candidates to give themselves a fair chance so we feel that we need to set the agenda on this front.
  6. If you wish to see a performance psychologist, it's hard to make a change in 1 month - lead up time is crucial to get prepared for the burden of the test and to adjust your mental approach accordingly
Negatives of running in December

Most of the negatives are simply commercial concerns for us:

  1. Some people go away on Christmas trips so may not be able to attend
  2. People may perceive that studying in December is 'ruining' their holiday. My attitude is that you have to treat yourself like an elite athlete - they often boast about training on Christmas day and if you are serious, you should probably at least start in December - you can have Christmas day off! :)
  3. Most commercial organisations slow down in December so it makes it harder for us to get things done - delays in printing etc all need to be planned for to avoid unexpected problems
  4. A shorter marketing period

Our hope for the future

By running in December, our hope is that people will shift their mentality regarding preparation time for GAMSAT and such will achieve better results. 

Course details

Everything is on our website but I have attached the posters below - sorry that they are so big but otherwise you can't read them!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Why biomedical science students limp through the GAMSAT

In Queensland, the traditional pre-med degree is biomedical science. In my opinion, this is a tradition without any real logical foundation. This is the case for a couple of reasons.

First, a biomedical science degree does not adequately prepare you for GAMSAT - it prepares you for medical school (and even this it does poorly - see later). These are two different things. Most people miss this. A biomedical science degree does not give you adequate opportunity to develop your writing skills for Section II and emphasises rote learning which does not develop your decision making ability in a  pressured scenario based environment like Section I. Further, the course structure only covers basic first year organic chemistry which is insufficient to do well on Section III.

Second, though a biomedical science degree covers anatomy, physiology and pharmacology, other, more reputable courses such as pharmacy perform the same task while actually providing an opportunity for proper employment at the completion of the degree. The level of clinical knowledge of pharmacy students is also far superior to that of biomedical science students who know enough to 'sound' competent but not enough to be useful in a clinical setting. Admittedly, it is difficult to find work as a pharmacist but if your end goal is to become a doctor, the knowledge you gain as a pharmacy student will far exceed anything you will ever gain as a biomedical science student. In my view, it is definitely worth the hard slog.

So what should you do if you are a biomedical science student? I would structure my course so that I could complete organic chemistry to 2nd year university standard. I would then also use my electives to complete a few arts subjects so that I could develop my writing ability. Another alternative would be to enrol in a dual program such as commerce/science so that you have a good fall back option should the medical school path not work out. This has the added benefit of widening your field of knowledge, providing scope for employment both prior to and during medical school and exposing you to non-rote learning based assessment methods and essay writing which will only serve to assist you in Section I and Section II.

If you can't structure your course appropriately (maybe you are too far into your program etc), look to other opportunities to develop your writing skills. Do a writing course or enrol in a second degree and cherry pick the subjects you want (you don't have to finish the whole degree). Join the debating club!

Entry to medical schools is getting more competitive and the cost of being a student for so long is becoming prohibitively expensive. Do your best to read between the lines of the university course guides and make your selections based on practical considerations.

It's a sad indictment upon our university system that the liberalisation of education (you can get a piece of paper for just about anything these days) has meant that there a number of meaningless degrees out there. Most of these degrees do not prepare you for what they indicate they will and do not lead to useful employment opportunities. We are definitely in the age of the educated unemployed. Look for the underlying value - "what is the practical outcome of all of this" is what you should be saying to yourself. Don't get me wrong, I've got a BSc, I learnt things, but there are better options out there! :)

Best of luck with the study!