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. 


  1. Hi,

    I live in Sydney and I think I can benefit from your section II course.

    Would there be any way of attending the course without having to travel to Brisbane or Melbourne?

    I really do think it would be good if you can have webinars or at least a manual/online podcasts that you can use to cater for students in other states.

    1. Hi Anonymous!

      Sorry for the late reply. I couldn't agree more with your idea - this is something that we would love to do. At the moment however, we don't have the resources to ensure that any online portal would be secure and/or reliable. I know this is frustrating but we need to be careful about managing our exposure so we aim to 'grow slow'. Last year, we only offered the course in Brisbane. This year, we are going to be in Brisbane and Melbourne and hopefully next year we will be able to branch out to Sydney.

      Thanks for commenting! :)