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GAMSAT Section 1: Reasoning in Humanities

Whether you’re a seasoned GAMSAT veteran or if this is your very first sitting, you may already know that tips for Section 1 are, indeed, a scarce resource. That is, most people will advise you to delve into the world of vintage literature, study the works of Shakespeare or to become a philosophical powerhouse. But will this actually improve your Section 1 GAMSAT score? In some ways, familiarising yourself with different forms of writing and becoming a “worldly” person can give you a step-up in the exam. But mostly, it’s a waste of time – especially for Section 1, arguably the most challenging section to prepare for and improve upon. But what is Section 1?

What is GAMSAT Section 1?

Section 1 is designed to assess your reasoning and comprehension skills relating to humanities and social sciences through 75 multiple-choice questions.

Section 1 stimuli are multifaceted where they can include both personal and imaginative texts, and can even extend to expository and persuasive based writing. Though most stimuli are presented textually, they can also be presented visually in terms of images or even diagrams. Nevertheless, each stimulus is centralised around socio-cultural and interpersonal ideas of society, covering a variety of present and past day issues.

Each stimulus has approximately 2 – 6 questions, requiring you to use a range of reasoning skills to complete the 100-minute exam. With the additional 10-minute reading time, this leaves you with

Approximately 1 minute and 30 seconds per question in Section 1.  

What should I expect in GAMSAT Section 1?

Section 1 requires candidates to recognise explicit and implicit connotations relating to the stimulus. Some questions require you to interpret the stimulus within the realm of plausible reasoning, meaning that you should have some idea of present-day socio-cultural and perhaps large-scale political issues in our modern society. So, without becoming a historian, knowing a little bit about the world around you, both past and present, can help guide you towards the right answer. You will also need to demonstrate your ability to interrelate ideas, elaborate on stimulus undertones and ultimately extend concepts to draw appropriate conclusions.

So, what exact types of stimuli will you come across? Here’s a broken-down list of the question types you will encounter in Section 1.

Medical Texts

This is a new trend in Section 1. Many stems were focused on medical ethics, patient dialogues and excerpts taken from popular books written by doctors such as “When Breath Becomes Air” by Paul Kalanithi, “Do No Harm” by Henry Marsh” and “Complications” by Atul Gawande to name a few. We would reccomend reading these titles and others similar to them. The unique voice of each doctor can’t be understated, making it challenging to answer nuanced questions about the emotions and meaning in the various patient vignettes they create. It is hard to know what future GAMSATs will look like, we tried to project September GAMSAT 2020 reviewing the feedback from our students. It is clear that medical texts are here to stay, we’ve adjusted the way we teach Section 1 to include these texts throughout the course. Looking more globally at what ACER is trying to achieve, it makes sense to examine the emotional intelligence of students that ultimately want to get into Medicine.

Technical Text

Technical texts are possibly the best stimuli for trivia night. They’re non-specific in a sense where they can quite literally come from anywhere. You might find some random excerpts from your high-school textbook, car repair manuals or even the ‘For Dummies’ series you might find in your neighbourhood bookstore. 

Literary Prose

Literary proses exhibit a natural flow of speech or grammatical structure, generally they are categorised as “well-written texts.” In the context of Section 1, you might need to read an extensive dialogue during the exam. Literary proses tend to bear questions relating to tone or underlying messages, and often rely on your subjective interpretation of the prose.


Poetry in Section 1 tends to sway towards more “vintage” pieces – that is, you probably won’t find any Rupi Kaur in your exam. It comes in many different forms and is built upon a plethora of figurative language. It’s always best to annotate-as-you-go with poetry. We go into more depth on how to prepare for Poetry in Section 1 here.

Proverbs and Comments

Proverbs and comments are short, timeless pieces of advice. You will most likely be asked to interpret these short sentences, or perhaps compare similarities and differences between two or more comments.


Cartoons are the most common form of non-textual stimuli and are also the easiest to misinterpret. Here, you should pay attention to any symbolism and dialogue present in the image. Cartoons often serve as a commentary on socio-political issues in society, so it’s also a good idea to have a grasp on the world around you to answer this type of stimuli. 


Diagrams are the most time-consuming stimuli. They come in the form of maps, line graphs, bar charts, blueprints, tables and flow charts. Identifying patterns and annotating relationships between areas of interest often helps to get a grasp on the diagram itself. 

How to study for GAMSAT Section 1

Unfortunately, there is no checklist on what you need to know walking into the exam. However, we have listed the topics we cover in our Free GAMSAT Topic Book. To succeed in Section 1, you must rely on your cognitive thinking skills to get the right answer. These skills are developed through time and practice. These are the areas you need to focus on to improve your Section 1 score:


When you’re in the exam, focussing on the question seems obvious. Yet, many candidates are intimidated by the length and complexity of Section 1 stimuli, ultimately forgetting to process the words in front of them. Instead of understanding, they skim-read the entire passage without actually understanding the text. Don’t freak out – stop. Break it down. Annotate. Think. It’s essential that you stay in the right mindset for this exam, remembering that Section 1 is only the beginning of the storm to come.

Process of Thinking

Categorising questions and adopting specific, thought-out methods for each type of stimulus is the best way to identify your strengths and weaknesses. Ultimately, it also helps you to adapt and overcome your weaknesses by identifying them.

We’ve created a free resource for you to document and categorise your questions, you can check it out here.


Expose your mind to present and past-day sociocultural issues and political dramas. You can do this by downloading a News app on your phone, watching some topical documentaries on YouTube or Netflix, or even following a page on Insta that’s news-focused. My personal favourites are @world and @aljazeeraenglish – it’s the best way to feel pro-active about your GAMSAT study even when you’re procrastinating. With that being said, don’t forget to actually practice reading the text itself

Vocabulary Lists

Developing vocabulary lists while you read and familiarise yourself with different texts helps you to expand your vocabulary and general understanding of words. This is also, albeit blatantly, helpful for Section 2


Even though you can’t really study for Section 1, you should try to familiarise yourself with the different stimulus types. Knowing different forms of writing and the terminology used to describe such writing, especially for poetry, can make it easier to answer questions that relate to the stimulus architecture or figurative language employed throughout the passage.


And last but not least, reflect. Reflecting furthers your understanding of the stimulus, which is essential in Section 1 which focuses on assessing your reasoning and reading comprehension skills. Adding to this, a wise GAMSAT tutor once said, “if you extracted no useful lessons from a question set, you wasted your time.” A simple yet flawless reality of Section 1 – mainly because you’ll have to read the passage again… 

How to improve in GAMSAT Section 1

Another common problem students face is becoming stuck on a certain raw score or result over consecutive years. At Fraser’s, we think most of these students are living this quote, often falsely attributed to Einstein,

“Insanity Is Doing the Same Thing Over and Over Again and Expecting Different Results”.

There is a better way, you need to fundamentally change whatever your Section 1 process looks like, everything from reading to annotating to answer elimination and finally, picking the correct answer. Here is Tom, one of our lead tutors, discussing what he thinks is critical to improving:


Start by taking as much time as you like to do a Section 1 question. Analyse all the steps you’re taking, the different words, connotations and contexts that guide your understanding of the text. Try to focus on getting every question right in as much time as you need. Removing the time pressure allows you to find your perfect approach, leave the exam dynamics to a later point. Ie: build the perfect model, then decide how you’re going to down scale that into the allotted time and rules. That’s why for example we don’t have time as a restriction in our Free GAMSAT Practice Exam, because during the diagnostic phase of learning it is more important to focus on your thinking.


Take what you’ve learnt in the accuracy phase and practice with exam timing. We reccomend doing this gradually, slowly reducing the amount of time available until you’ve reached the required speed. You will need to make compromises and adjust your strategy to conform to these new restrictions. You mightn’t be able to do a third read over, or your annotating may have to be more simple. But you now know what a perfect approach looks like from step 1, so you can try to incorporate it here. Don’t do this over a whole exam, do it stem by stem.

Question Logging

The last critical step is logging your questions as you do them. This process allows you to identify general areas of weakness and trends in the way you’re getting things right/wrong over time. It helps clarify the clutter of doing one question at a time. Rather than spending time focused on why you got one question wrong, instead, focus on why you se3em to always get medical text questions that are specific to one or two lines wrong. Because if you improve in a whole question category, your results take a step forward. When you understand how one particular question went wrong you’re only hoping that an identical question appears on the GAMSAT Section 1.

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