In the interest of paying it forward, i decided to write this post on my experience in sitting the Gamsat for ye eager (and crazy) enough to give the silly archane thing a bash. It's probably a result of this post http://www.boards.ie/vbulletin/showt...p?t=2055681118
which i found incredible useful and read over and over, printed out and read some more during my contemplation phase of sitting the GAMSAT. It's also the reason why i am not going to delve too deeply into the exam composition (PhoenixIre does a more than sufficient job at this in the above post so i recommend you give it a read).
WHAT WAS MY EXPERIENCE:
I sat the GAMSAT twice, both in Dublin in 2011, and 2012 scoring 55 and 61 respectively. I was quite unexpectedly offered a place in UL in August 2011, but had never planned on taking it (mainly economic reasons, was due bonus, decided to save for an additional year). My prep for the GAMSAT was stressed, disorganised at times, hap hazard and always felt wildlly insufficient. I think now, this might be normal. I was (still am) working for a bank in NYC which takes up between 50 to 70 hours of my week (included a 2 hour daily commute) so study was primarily left to the weekends, with some early mornings / late evenings in the last 4-6 weeks, always taking a full week beforehand off. I add this because people often ask if its do-able with full time work. My answer is yes, but you have to be pretty committed. ie. leaving the party early on Saturday knowing you've to be studying by 10am on a Sunday, and saying no to pretty much all unnecessary social activities at the weekend, especially in the last 10wks or so. Remember it'll take you 7weeks (ie. weekends) to do what full time studiers can do in 2wks, so every study day counts.
I bought all the official papers from Acer (as above poster correctly states they are over priced, insufficient but completely necessary). I bought a number of Bio books (a mcat one, but any you find concise and engaging to read should be fine), i bought Organic Chemistry for dummies (on a posters recommendation) and the partnering workbook, Chemistry for dummies, a physis books (never gave the latter much attention to my own detriment).
I'll try outline my approach as i know there is an element of 'where the hell do I even start?!' when it comes to Gamsat.
WHAT I DID: (scores from 2011, 2012)
Its important to familiarize your self with the exam structure (see link above). In a nutshell there are three sections with the science section (Section three) holding double weighting.
Ie. Final Result = [S1 + SII + (SIII*2) ] / 4
SECTION ONE (SI): (63, 66)
(Verbal compositions made up of Passages / Poetry and other weird and wonderful brain-teasery things)
My entire study for SI was done through this book: ExamKrackers 101 Passages in MCAT Verbal Reasoning by Orsay which i bought twice (One for each year i took the GAMSAT). It encompasses 14 practice verbal composition exams, timed at one hour each. I found it really useful in getting into the right mindset for the exam (ie. MCQ style), not only for SI but SIII also. You learn how to skim passages, deduce answers quickly, how to eliminate the incorrect ones, all in a TIMED environment (timing is crucial). All sounds very 'common sense' but a couple of tests in, and producing very mediocre scores, you'll figure out you have potential for a lot of improvement. I tried to start my study with one of these because (i) thats when i was most fresh and most unlikely to get seduced into something more engaging like system bio (ii) that's the sequence of the exam and (iii) because in preppin for gamsat i was determined to take a holistic approach and not get sucked in the black hole that is the science prep. I felt that by dedicating one hour to SI i was ticking it off the list. Its still 25% at the end of the day. Although not a great improvement from 2011 to 2012, i was probably less committed (a general theme for me) to my studies in 2012. I'm not sure i even completed the book. Suffice to say, i was happy with my score.
SECTION TWO (SII): ( 68, 80)
(Essays, one argumentative, one personal to be completed in 60mins)
If you are not from a science background, i suggest you make this section your absolute bread and butter. You *MUST* perfect your skills in this section. It is vitally important to your success. It is 25% and i'd imagine has much greater variance in results then the other two sections. Had i scored 60 (a respectable score) and not 80 in my 2012 test i would be five points worse off and probably not readying for a place in Dublin. Please if you take nothing else away from this post, hear me when i say DO NOT OVERLOOK / UNDERESTIMATE this section!
I have always liked english, but there is something about sitting down at 3pm on a saturday afternoon to write an essay that makes you groan and mutter 'FML". Here are my practical tips:
- Tip one: get an opinion.
When i started trying to respond to practice exam questions i realized, unlike my 18 year old self sitting the LC, i had nothing to say. Didn't really have the same convictions of thought / strong opinions as i once did. ie. I knew that morally racism / war was wrong, but alas after three years of working in a bank i'd forgotten how to articulate myself. Cue tip two...
- Tip Two: if you can't find an opinion, steal one.
I bought the Economist / Times a couple of times, and read through them with a highlighter on the train in the mornings, marking (i) points of interest to me (isnt the way US healthcare is going mad?) and (ii) words / strings of words i found aurally appealing ("the country is completely tax incontinent" / "the whole system has become sclerotic"). No one marking your exam is going to realise you've been swatting up and a couple a sentences / phrases like that can really boost the quality of your piece. Also i would memorize engaging anecdotes throughout history that you can center a whole paragraph around in various different threads / themes and adds an enormous amount of weight to your arguments (ie. Einstein was a pretty medicore student, who's college application was initially rejected. Gandi wrote to the Jews during WWII asking them to appease Hitler, 90% of people on Death Row in the US are from minority groups - egalitarian? etc etc)
- Tip Three: Once you have an opinion, be outrageous in it:
Here is an intro to an essay I wrote on war being bad (i actually took the stance of being a proponent of war on the basis of its necessity in securing peace. Remember you are not being graded on your opinion but how well you can support your argument)
"I wholly disagree with the above statement. It is idealistic to assume that real peace comes from 'enlightenment' and 'enduring people to behave in a more divine manner'. What nonsense! War is an unfortunate but necessary prelude to peace. Yes, war is an ugly thing. But it is not the ugliest thing. Benjamin Franklin said that 'never has their been a good war, or a bad peace'. Yet I challenge him to give his opinion on a beautiful dictatorship? A pleasant suppression of human rights? A nice genocide? These are the consequences of failing to 'drop bombs' and these cannot be ignored, despite flowery ideals which boost the contrary."
For example, if you find yourself writing 'i think racism is bad' rewrite as 'Racism is obviously bad and this is frankly the only rational conclusion when one examines the evidence' It takes a bit of practice but it is a method i found highly effective in adding conviction to your argument.
- Tip Four: STRUCTURE!
For those of you who forget, here's how to structure a paragraph: Intro sentence, evidence, conclusion, hanging sentence which leads directly into... intro sentence of paragraph two, evidence, conclusion etc etc. Here's an example of third paragraph in the same essay:
"Yes, war is not good. But neither is the alternative. Nations that choose to be apathetic toward offenses on global citizens are violating their duty to protect the vulnerable citizens of this world. Recently at a UN Security Council gathering Russia and China vetoed interference into the Syria Crisis which is reaching boiling point, much to the ire of their western counterparts. American and European proponents of action accused the countries of giving Mr Assad, the Syrian President, a license to kill his own people. I wonder if the ideas put forth by the essay title has been proposed as a strategy to the UN in dealing with this murderer?;
“Dear Mr Assad, Can we please endure you to behave in a more divine manner toward your people? Thanks in advance, the United Nations.”
I, for one, am dubious of compliance. Countries that sit back and allow atrocities occur in our global community are not defenders liberty and I hasten to quote the axiom 'if your not part of the solution, you are part of the problem'."
I know i am being a bit crash, but feck it, you wanna get the markers attention, just make sure all of your statements are backed up with evidence. If you dont have evidence, see Tip Two
- Tip Five: Remember to practice BOTH styles!
This was my biggest take away after my first shot at GAMSAT. I had really prepped for the Argumentative essay, but felt like the personal essay would just 'come to me' on the day. Big mistake. My essay two on the day (On 'happiness') ended up being horrific - i painfully muddled through writing complete tripe, and ended up leaving it unfinished. If you've no idea where to start pick a title like 'Growing up in my family' or 'My favourite holiday' Basically the chessier the better. It should be of a reflective tone with a descriptive element.
- Tip Six: TIMING!
Make sure you get into the habit of writing your essays in a timed environment. I'm a bit of a perfectionist and like things to sound very well thought out and clever. You don't have that luxury in the GAMSAT - you have to be quick. My advice is after you have written a few strong essays, get out a blank sheet of paper ,your acer sample exams, and a stop watch. Its the only way to get you used to the process and is invaluable prep.
SECTION THREE (SIII): (44, 49)
(40% Bio, 40% Chem, 20% physics)
This is by far the most intimidating section of the Gamsat and i'm probably not at all qualified to advise anyone on it - but i'll let you know how i muddled through, having only done Chemistry for the LC. Being time poor and cash rich at the time prep, i enlisted the help of a tutor to help me started. Getting up to speed on the basics of science is the nearest 'study' like thing you will do, and even then DO NOT MEMORIZE ANYTHING. I worked from a couple of different books, and utilized Khan Academy (fantastic online resource) to clarify anything i didn't understand. Remember, Gamsat is not testing your Science Knowledge, its testing your Scientific reasoning
. In 2012, the science section had countless number of maths questions - you would've been better off with a prepping with a logic book, then a chemistry book. In the end, i just did as many science questions as i could. Ensured my stereochemistry was sharp, i understood how cell gradients work, could conceptualize circulation in the heart, and gas exchange in the lungs, feedback mechanism of hormones, ensure i was comfortable with scientific notation: all the basics you find outlined in the above post. I also bought the des o neil practice exams and did them in a timed environment to get a sense of the exam which helped, though are on perfect (they are easier, have mistakes and sometimes ask 'knowledge base' questions which simple don't appear on gamsats. I neglected Physis's in 2011, promised myself i would do better in 2012, but actually went into the exam AGAIN with very little knowedge. Physic questions are quite similar in nature every year so being astute with them, is obviously a massive plus.
I remember someone sitting in front of me in the exam hall said before we started SIII 'I just aiming to get 50% right'. I thought that was a great strategy! Its so easy to get completely disheartened because even when you know all about the heart (lets say) they manage to word the questions in such a way, you feel completely useless. Again, i'm not a pro, but can only say its do-able! Just do lots of science questions.
WHAT I LEARNT:
- The Gamsat is *NOT*
about studying. If you find yourself "studying" (ie. Memorizing a bone, or a formule) STOP! Put down the book and back away from your desk because you might aswell be watching an episode of ER. The GAMSAT is about PRACTICING. For every section. Which brings me to my next point...
- Do not underestimate SI and SII. They really can make or break you. Give the essay section the time and attention it deserves. Make it your business to really perfect your skills.
Keep your chin up and stay positive. I remember thinking, i can never ever do this and thinking about the perceived 'genius' i must be competing against. At the end of the day, its just people like you and I. Once you have prepared for the exam, it is very do-able and passable!
Wishing you all the best of luck