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GAMSAT Section 2: Written Communication
Section 2 of the GAMSAT provides a much-needed break for its candidates. This section escapes the uncertainty of Section 1 and the sure chaos to ensue in Section 3. Although Section 2 isn’t necessarily intimidating, contrast to its counterparts, it is still a challenging section. So, what is Section 2 really about?
What is Section 2 of the GAMSAT
Section 2, otherwise known as the Written Communication section, tests your ability to develop two pieces of writing. Candidates are granted five minutes reading time, before beginning the 60-minute exam comprised of two writing tasks (Task A and Task B). Many candidates will use this reading time to strategically select the comment (or comments) that they plan to respond to, allowing themselves an opportunity to identify the common theme throughout the prompts, as well as developing ideas, plans or discussion points for their essays. Most individuals will spend approximately 20 – 25 minutes writing each task, with the remaining 5 – 10 minutes to essentially edit and perfect their work.
What are the themes in GAMSAT Section 2?
ACER reveals that both Task A and Task B have overarching themes, where Task A focuses on socio-cultural issues addressing the ‘trans-personal’ aspects of humanity (e.g. law, religions, economy, social narratives) and the ‘interpersonal’. The interpersonal relates to how we interact with others, extending to communication, conduct, behaviour, courtesy and empathy amongst many other like-wise terms. Task B, however, is centralised on personal and social issues, combining the ideas of the interpersonal and the ‘intra-personal’. The intra-personal focuses on personal aspects of humanity, such as cognitive states, emotions, feelings and, fundamentally, the lived experience.
The themes of Section 2 are generally predictable: for example Task A can have a political, economic or cultural focus whereas Task B may be centred on ideas of love, hate, war or family. As a general note, GAMSAT candidates have the propensity to see things in either descriptive and objective terms. That is, they often fail to explore the human experience of what the topics prompt them to discuss. To this end, ensure that you are discussing the both the theme and the comment(‘s) throughout your essays.
How do I respond to GAMSAT Section 2 prompts
Ultimately, there’s more than one way to respond to Section 2. Argumentative is, of course, the safest format to write in. It involves writing a contention, two body paragraphs with individual arguments and of course finalising it with a nice, punchy conclusion. Though, this isn’t to say that writing an argumentative-style essay is gospel and thus maximises your score, rather it is a format that everyone has experience writing in. Ultimately, you should be writing in a way that suits you best. If you consider yourself to be an artisan in the creative writing field, try experimenting with monologues, narratives or even poetry (ensuring that you complement it with a thorough discussion of your point or argument – not to be confused with an analysis of the poem you wrote). If you find yourself struggling to attain structure or even beginning to write, PEEEL is an easy framework to refer to (see below).
Regardless which writing style you employ, you should endeavour to explore positive values (such as fairness, equality or hopefulness) of the future, especially if you’re discussing the bleaker aspects of humanity. Essentially, having polarity within your argument conveys a worldly perspective and in some ways adds depth and character to your essay. To this end, Matt Keyter, a lead humanities tutor at Fraser’s advises that, “being bleak about the human species and misanthropic about the future doesn’t bode well in any essay rhetoric.”
Haven’t heard of PEEEL?
No problem! Here’s a quick guide to the framework:
P (point): What is the point or topic of this paragraph?
E (explain): Explain the topic further. What causes this? Who believes in this? Where did this come from?
E (evidence): A theory or example to complement with your explanation above.
E (evaluate): Evaluate your evidence in relation to the topic. Is it negative or positive? What are the implications of the evidence?
L (link): Link back to your topic and how it relates to your thesis.
Not a fan of PEEEL? That’s okay. As a guide, make sure that you:
- Always have a topic sentence that outlines your paragraph discussion in a single sentence
- Provide evidence or supporting information about your discussion and how it is relevant to your thesis
- Analyse the discussion point you’ve presented, how it proves or disproves something
- Relate everything to the theme and your elected comment throughout the essay
If so far you’re thinking, “great, that doesn’t sound too hard!” – you’re probably right. Here are some fundamental flaws that candidates face during Section 2:
It can be extremely difficult to begin writing, especially when you know that there’s so much riding on it. Many people find that they struggle with getting started, usually because they’re unsure if their idea is authentic or complex enough. We suggest planning exactly what you want to say before putting pen-to-paper. It’s better to spend a little longer in the planning-phase so that you can write freely, without any self-doubt or hesitation.
Staying on topic is often the pitfall of many candidate’s essays. You may find that you get caught up in your examples and lose the direction of your essay, or simply you forget what your core argument is. This is an easy fix, with a bit of practice. If you have a strong contention, or thesis, it will become easier to focus your writing and develop strong discussion points.
Creating depth and complexity within your GAMSAT essay
Most candidates, regardless of their literary-prowess, struggle to add complexity to their essay in such a short period of time. Combining theories, such as the idea of neoliberalism and complementing it with the theory of structural violence, creates a thorough argument that explores many unique discussion points of your essay. Furthermore, expanding on your arguments and explaining the significance of the argument itself can help you to dive further into your essay. A simple way to achieve this is by using the PEEEL paragraph framework. This writing framework, although incredibly basic, hits all the major discussion points that will allow you to truly explore the depth of the essay, whilst being able to strongly relate it back to your contention or essay thesis.
Watching the clock
Regardless of your English language skills, the ticking clock in Section 2 is everyone’s enemy. Many candidates can become infatuated with perfecting Task A, to the point where Task B runs the risk of being neglected with only a measly 10 minutes dedicated to its completion. Planning is by-far the best way to make sure you not only keep to time, but also sharing that time equally in both Tasks. Taking the time to plan your essay in advance will allow you to develop a time-efficient, cohesive discussion in your essay.
How is GAMSAT Section 2 scored and how do I prepare for it?
ACER give us this somewhat cryptic, somewhat straightforward, rubric to guide our preparation. Let’s break it down into the elements of ideas, structure and language.
We can see the relative weighting given to ‘thought and content’ (i.e. ideas). The first thing to say about ‘thought and content’ is “don’t let examples speak for you.” That is, discuss the theme—contextualise and define it for your purposes. Following this, articulate the perspective, scope and position that your essay is adopting relative to the theme. Maybe you want to speak about the theme in a medical, political, moral or historical fashion. In such an instance you would need to set forth a proposition or two that clearly conveys this. We call these propositions a framework. Having stipulated the manner of your approach to theme, and having set forth your framework, you are now in a position to synthesise these two aspects by drawing a conclusion. Or, in other words, you will be justified in asserting that your framework and how it relates to your interpretation of theme is valid. Remember, what pops into your head is not going to be as obvious to the perfect stranger reading your essay as it is to you when thinking and writing the essay. Give yourself the chance to be clear and concise.
Explaining and describing and telling the marker what is going on inside your head is what we call being explicit. Too often GAMSAT essays are all about implicit relationship between the constitutive elements. When we ask students “what do you mean by this?”, we are often met with “I was actually trying to say x, y, z…” Of course, this is a major issue within the exam. To avoid this, take the time to ask yourself:
“Am I actually explaining what I want to say?”
Many candidates leave their thought process within their head (what we call ‘causal stuff’), only giving the audience the downstream manifestations of the thought process (‘effects stuff’). Being transparent in your thought and reasoning on the paper is paramount in argument development. Leave no room for ambiguity – the marker needs to know what you’re thinking and why you think this way through your writing.
As previously elucidated, ACER assesses inter-, trans- and intra-personal aspects of humanity. This plays a crucial role in how essays are scored, where Task A is based on socio-cultural elements of humanity contrast to Task B which focuses on the more personal and social relationships of society. To this, GAMSAT candidates will often treat emotional or psychology-based themes as if it were a rock on the seashore, or rather some blasé approach. This means that, candidates will not inspect the theme, explore the interiority of human subjectivities, grasp that experiences and lived conditions are crucial in how humans go about their daily lives. For example, the interaction between a medical practitioner and a patient. The patient describes feelings of tiredness, sadness and general lethargy. As a caring and empathetic practitioner, you would ask this patient what is meant by their statements, such as: “what is the qualitative experience that they are undergoing relative to these words?”, or simply “what is being said here?”. It should be quite obvious. If the theme, in this case, was depression and all you wrote surrounded the prevalence of depression within the past calendar year, it could appear as though you are focussing on the statistical and empirical (otherwise objective) dimension of the task, rather the human, inner and/or subjective facets of the theme.
All of the above leads us to a discussion of structure and language. Below is a rough schematic order what is ideal as far as presenting content goes:
- What is the theme?
- How do various segments i.e. communities in our society understand the theme i.e. differing or common attitudes and expectations that the theme represents as a social fact in 21stcentury Australia
- What element will you select from this complexity as the aspect you will explore or argue for
- What framework or insight will you be using to explore the theme you have just defined
- Set forth your contention or statement of exploration
- Justify how theme and framework make sense. This is an opportunity to use a syllogism.
- Highlight factors and contexts that further support this conjunction
- Explicitly state how this is—if not necessary—at least an important way to see how this works in our socio-cultural milieu today.
- All of this offers a conceptual account that your essay is taking
- It is time to get more granular
- Explicitly introduce an example
- This example exemplifies the conceptual account you have given above
- Your job is to present, discuss and evaluate the example in terms of the conceptual details of paragraph 1
- Draw conclusions from the foregoing insofar as this illuminates something specific about contemporary affairs
- Why does all of this matter? Why should we care?
- The point is not to be negative
- Highlight a hope for the future, that humanity is resilient
- That fairness and justice and opportunity should be available to all
Now, this is only one possible means of structuring content. The point here is to be explicit and to be direct. There is no benefit in being cryptic, or implying, or in inferring what it is you want to say. The essays that score the best are the one’s that don’t let ‘examples’ speak for the author, nor are they the one’s that let the reader ‘fill in the gaps’ because they are forced to read between the lines. The essays that are clear, concise, humane; that take into account lived experience and higher order things like cultural context, are the Section 2 submissions that standout!
Want some more tips? Click here for our free essay guide.
Related article: The GAMSAT Scoring System “Merged Rank” Explained
The Best Approach to Section 2 Essays
I’m an ESL student, how can I improve my GAMSAT Section 2 score?
Keep things simple. I would suggest following GAMSAT Essay framework and build upon it. That is –
- Introduce your thesis (idea) in relation to the comment (or comments)
- Explain what your position is on the comment
- Explain, briefly, why this is your position and what your essay will discuss
BODY PARAGRAPH ONE AND TWO
- POINT What is the point (topic) of this paragraph
- EXPLAIN Explain the topic further. This might be a theory. What causes this? Who believes in this? Where did this come from?
- EVIDENCE A theory or example to substantiate your explanation. Make sure you include: who (who is involved in your evidence), what (what is happening/what is the problem or situation), where (which country is this happening in?), when (in what year did this happen? Was it recent?) and why (why did this happen?)
- EVALUATE Evaluate your evidence in relation to the topic. Is it good or bad? What are the implications of the evidence?
- LINK Link back to your topic and how it relates to your thesis
- Re-state your thesis (idea) and your position
- Briefly explain how you have come to this conclusion/position
If you find yourself struggling with vocabulary, grammar and punctuation, I would strongly suggest:
- Using a tool like Grammarly, that checks your grammar in writing and suggests changes.
- Watching YouTube tutorials in your native tongue to help your understanding of the English language and how to structure sentences. KhanAcademy is a particularly useful resource to develop your grammar.
- Develop vocabulary lists based on words you encounter on a daily basis or checking out vocabulary.com to expand your vocabulary
While we’re here, let’s dispel some GAMSAT Section 2 myths!
It better to have ‘unique’ essays in Section 2.
Every GAMSAT candidate will have a different approach to the exam, that’s the nature of the exam. Most candidates will become fixated on the idea of authenticity despite, logistically with more than 5,000 exam candidates nation-wide with the exact same instructions, there will be an overlap of ideas and essay content regardless of depth or how abstract your thoughts are. Don’t strive to be unique, strive to have a well-thought out, fluent essay that responds to both the theme and the comment.
In March 2019, we found that students who reported failing to write a response to the comment(‘s) and suffered massively in their Section 2 scores compared to other students that were similarly positioned based on our internal rankings. Sometimes in striving for uniqueness, students ended up writing on topics that were irrelevant or incorrect. It is better to stand out at the point of your ideas, examples, language and structure, but not the theme you write on, as your scores will suffer.
Can I just memorise an essay and rewrite it to different themes?
The answer is no. A marker can smell a ‘template’ a mile away. And a randomly memorised—hail mary—essay, gosh, don’t even get us started—they stink worse than templates do! How? Well, the focus won’t be centred on the theme, the ideas that relate to theme, and the way in which the concrete instantiations deployed in your essay examples won’t harmonise so well with theme and ideas framework. That is, the focus will always be on the template, and thematic relevance will be an afterthought. It simply stands out. Memorising the essay is more likely to result in failure as they are inherently flawed approaches—if not fraudulent. Let your honesty, integrity and humility shine through by being organic, responsive, quick witted and insightful.
The more ideas the essay has, the better score I will get!
Most students will become trapped by the idea that the more ideas the essay incorporates, the higher your score will be. This is entirely unfounded. In fact, candidates will score higher in Section 2 by favouring quality over quantity. This means that, writing a three-page essay examining five individual evidence points at a very baseline level with little-to-no extrapolation of deeper meanings will score less compared to an essay that uses one or two pieces of supporting evidence. Moreover, the supporting evidence should vary between a theory and actual examples to substantiate your claims, flowing into deeper exploration of meanings and implications behind the evidence.
Task A has to be argumentative, and Task B has to be reflective
All too often, students hear that Task A should be approached in an argumentative manner and that Task B should be written as a reflective piece. This is pure heresy. You should be authentic in your approach no matter which writing style you choose to use – whether you elect to write a narrative, monologue, poetry, commentary, exposition, feature article or an amalgamation of multiple writing styles. If it has fluency, structure and responds to the task, you’re good to go.
With what little ACER reveals, in consideration of this, candidates are assessed on:
- The quality of thought and content in your essay
- The shape and form of your essay
- The effectiveness and fluency of the English language
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