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GAMSAT Section 3: Reasoning in Biological and Physical Sciences
Finally, we are at the stage where we consider how on earth to approach the section that takes up over one half of the actual writing time on the big day. As with the other two, GAMSAT section 3 has its fair share of misconceptions, enigmas, but most importantly, workable strategies. By first understanding GAMSAT section 3 in its fundamental entirety, we can begin to look at the plausible ways to get on top of this enormous task.
GAMSAT Section 3 Composition
The first thing students learn about GAMSAT section 3 is the standard percentage breakdown listed by ACER: 1st year university-level Biology (40%), 1st year university-level Chemistry (40%) and year 12 level Physics (20%).
Then, the first thing students learn about section 3 on test day is that the way you interpret this breakdown during the months leading up to the exam can indeed be make or break.
Without intending to give any spoilers about the myths for each component (trust me, this article is worth the read), the biggest myth surrounding section 3 is that it’s as easy as treating its components like any other high school science or university subject. Students see the percentage breakdown on ACER’s guide and understandably think months of textbook questions and pages of summaries will fill the gaps necessary to smash section 3 out the park. Then the day hits and we realise the background knowledge only provided us with solid sprinting blocks…then the race starts and we quickly recognise we never practiced how to sprint through, how to approach, or how to comprehend the questions.
Section 3 has 110 questions to be done in 170 minutes, with each stem of information relating to approximately 1 to 6 questions. This article will deep dive into many of the nuances necessary to unpack the dreaded section.
How to Study for GAMSAT Section 3
The GAMSAT is constantly evolving, however, just like recent sitters of the test frequently preach, this test really is where background science knowledge meets abstract critical reasoning. This means that although we might not always see it, background knowledge has its virtue. Quite often in the exam when we cannot see the relevance of the background knowledge we have learnt, it either means we have been successfully blinded and thrown off by ACER’s tactics to skew our understanding of the information provided and the questions asked, or it means the way we learnt our background knowledge was not respecting the logic and reasoning aspect of the exam. Our free resources at Fraser’s pinpoints the science topics required, however we must always be wise with how we learn and refine our understanding.
GAMSAT Section 3 – Biology
I. How Do I Study for GAMSAT Biology?
The major trick here is to start trivial and progressively broaden our knowledge. Biology, as a study, has no information in isolation from the rest. Consequentially, every bit of study we do for biology needs to have context. Think of the famous tumour suppressor gene, p53. The university way of learning would be a random lecture in a genetics or oncology class, focussed on memorising end-of-semester, exam-specific facts, such as its location on chromosome 17p13.1, translated into 393 amino acids, targeting receptors such as TRAF4 and the TIGAR protein. Great knowledge for that H1, terrible biology knowledge for the GAMSAT. Instead, context is key. Start with the cell, learn its organelles, learn how genes work and how pedigrees are used to analyse genetic inheritance, learn how DNA controls the cell, learn how mutations impact an organism on both a cellular and phenotypic level, learn what cancer is, learn how a cell protects itself from cancer through cell cycle arrest, direct DNA repair and apoptosis, then finally, appreciate (not rote learn) how p53 plays a role with the latter. This is how we study for all things biology in the GAMSAT. People of science background must beware of this biology trap.
Not of a science background? Even better. The biology trap many science students fall into doesn’t apply as easily to you, as everything you learn must be done with context.
II. What Are the Common Topics for GAMSAT Biology?
The common biology themes and concepts we consistently see in the GAMSAT are:
Biological focussed Biochemistry
III. What are the Most Important Cognitive Skills for GAMSAT Biology?
In regards to biology theory, one of the most important cognitive skills in the GAMSAT is the ability to be presented new information in a foreign field of knowledge (like the gall bladder of a frog) and peel away the information to boil it down to its fundamental principles and areas of basic biology. How do we develop that skill? We cannot rely solely on perfect biological knowledge, but instead constantly perfect our ability to view small packets of information as one part of a massive bigger picture. We need to be able to see its place and understand it from many different, yet related angles. Think of this type of cognitive skill as like the healthcare worker’s necessity to hear the idiosyncratic and distinctive complaints of a patient, and still be able to boil down the fundamentals to known information, in order to appropriately target the disease. Call it lateral thinking, critical analysis or even abstract reasoning; whatever you identify it as…you need it.
IV. GAMSAT Biology Myths:
“I’m of a science background, I don’t need to study biology for the GAMSAT.”
Definitely a terrible misconception. Make sure to take note of above and reconsider your thinking if you fall into this category.
“Biology in the GAMSAT is too weird and abstract to make study worthwhile.”
Yep, biology in the GAMSAT is definitely odd. However, if you think background knowledge doesn’t help, then you haven’t approached the fundamental principles in a systemised way that develops your critical analysis of all the sum of parts.
“I’m not of a science background and so I can’t improve.”
When it comes to biology, your inquisitive mind, not marred by the minute nuances of previous studies focused on facts, will actually prove to be a virtue. Find a love for learning biology concepts and yearn to know more.
“I’ll go well by finding all the biology questions and doing them first.”
This was definitely an acceptable approach a few years ago when the test was strictly first year university content, however the GAMSAT has evolved in such a way that it isn’t actually easy to spot a biology question, as it is intertwined with chemistry and physics. In order to tap into any strength of yours in the GAMSAT, you need to improve your weaknesses, considering your weaknesses may prevent you from accessing your strengths.
GAMSAT Section 3 – Chemistry
I. How Do I Study for GAMSAT Chemistry
Once upon a time, the GAMSAT only tested chemistry in a way that can be likened to the year 12 chemistry exam. Then, the exam shifted to pattern recognition in known concepts. Now, its evolved into questions firstly providing information on a new concept, and then testing you on pattern recognition skills. As a result, every question in the GAMSAT that has chemistry elements is focussed on one thing: to see if you can quickly learn a foreign concept somehow related to past knowledge (you must work out how), and then apply the nuances of that new concept to different yet somehow related scenarios (again, you must work out how). This is what we refer to as pattern recognition; the ability to use recently digested information and boil it down to its components, only to identify those components in another setting and applying that recently digested information to deduce the answer.
What does this mean for studying chemistry for the GAMSAT? The first step is to make sure you understand 1st year university level chemistry (we can’t shortcut this one). This must be well known, but shouldn’t be rote learned (like in the biology trap), but instead understood for its rationale.
For example, memorising that an acid-base indictor is often a weak acid or base, and then memorising bromophenol blue turns from yellow to blue from about 6 to 7 pH is handy information, but not at all ideal on its own. Instead, understand WHY the indicator must be a weak acid or base and learn what happens to the indicator when the pH changes within its colour change window. When you approach GAMSAT chemistry study, don’t simply learn all the maths, formulas and rules, but do so whilst also asking yourself, ‘WHY is this what it is’. At the end of the day, you are almost guaranteed to never be asked a chemistry question in the GAMSAT in a way you’ve seen it be asked before. So, learn the content, but also learn the content’s context. Only then can we use pattern recognition.
II. What are Common Topics for GAMSAT Chemistry?
Another nice list is below, however make sure to check out here what each of them entail in more detail:
Common Chemical Reactions
Obscure Chemical Reactions
Chemistry focussed Biochemistry
III. What are the Most Important Cognitive Skills for GAMSAT Chemistry?
As you can probably tell by now, pattern recognition is key here. To recap, it’s a three-step process:
Understand new information by first stripping it down to its fundamental components (thank you background knowledge).
Work out what part of those components form the make-up of the new information (e.g. “What part of these molecules were actually required for this reaction to proceed, and why were they necessary?”)
Identify these components in a foreign setting in order to work out what will most likely eventuate.
Theory of pattern recognition skills is the first step in the right direction. However, it means not much unless we practice, practice, practice.
IV. GAMSAT Chemistry Myths:
“The ACER practice papers are a good indicator of how I’ll go with all things chemistry in the GAMSAT”
Please don’t become another victim to this one. At best, the papers provide a taster of the knowledge required, however almost all questions are asked in the typical year 12 memorisation way. Sitting the GAMSAT makes so many chemistry experts feel lost, out of touch and downright thoughtless. Pattern recognition is the key; not as a theory, but as a well-practiced and refined strength.
“The GAMSAT always provides background knowledge in questions, so I’m sure to work out what to do on the day”
Sadly, no it doesn’t. It either bridges things we already know that won’t help, or it’ll bridge background knowledge that is incomplete, hence requiring us to fill in the blanks with our own understanding and inductive reasoning of the stimulus provided.
“I’ll do lots of UMAT practice and brain training apps to perfect my pattern recognition skills”
Ok look I’ll keep it real, it’s not like at Fraser’s we’ve completed a perfectly double-blind study to know for certain, however anecdotally speaking, this approach really does not work.
“All I have to do is count the carbons and I’ll be fine”
Geez, if only.
Watch a Video: The Best Approach to Chemistry Explained by Dr. Tom Kelly
GAMSAT Section 3 Physics
I. How Do I Study for GAMSAT Physics?
Alright, this definitely is the big one. The first thing to do is be mindful of the many other resources out there. Quite often, physics tactics for GAMSAT are written many years ago, or by those who haven’t watched the trends as closely as we have, and as a result they provide outdated information that indeed was once golden, but is now hugely detrimental. Your study for physics should be quite similar to that of chemistry, but the rationale is without a doubt so heavily emphasised it almost hurts. Facts and formulas are almost (I stress, almost) completely redundant. The GAMSAT has evolved so drastically that now only a handful of formulas are considered worthwhile to memorise, however the ones that don’t need memorising are replaced by the need to have in depth understandings of how the concept works. So, really, in many ways physics in the GAMSAT has become even harder to tackle.
What do we do? Perfect your skill in seeking reasons as you study. Don’t be content until you perfectly grapple with the justification of concepts, such as the reasons why a satellite orbiting earth is actually in free fall, and yet its distance to the earth’s surface remains the same.
Then, when you’re practicing GAMSAT questions, accept and respect that an exclusive physics question in the GAMSAT is almost impossible to find. Physics concepts will be intertwined with biology and chemistry, making separation super difficult. This is why rationale is our main priority, because quite often it is physics rationale the question is after.
II. What are Common Topics for GAMSAT Physics?
You know the drill, here’s a brief version:
Forces and motion
Equilibrium vs. statics
Medical analysis through physics
Formula manipulation, algebra and unit circle understandings
III. What are the Most Important Cognitive Skills for GAMSAT Physics?
Problem solving is number one for physics. This isn’t your typical problem solving in the sense of working out the answer to a contrived high school question. This type of problem solving calls for using scientific reasoning and a touch of creativity to literally find a new way to solve an issue. We can’t be creative without having the rationale. Yet again, this requires knowing your physics, and then practicing your problem-solving skills.
IV. GAMSAT Physics Myths:
“I need to remember every physics formula”
As you’ve hopefully read (and were calmed by knowing), this is certainly not the case. Again, knowing a concept for its actual reasons is what we are after.
“I don’t need to remember any physics formula”
Wrong again. We definitely need to know some of them, such as the constant acceleration formulas, circular motion, etc.
“GAMSAT physics is really only maths. I’m good at maths so I’ll be fine”
Either you got this idea from doing the terribly uninformative ACER practice papers, or are going off very outdated knowledge.
“I hate physics. I’m not good at physics. I don’t understand physics. I may as well save my time and energy by forgetting physics and focussing on biology and chemistry”
To quote an earlier part of this article: ‘In order to tap into any strength of yours in the GAMSAT, you need to improve your weaknesses, considering your weaknesses may prevent you from accessing your strengths.’ This shouldn’t be read lightly. Physics really is meshed so seamlessly into the rest of the questions in a way that prevents someone weak in physics to get to the point where they can actually comprehend the rest of the biology or chemistry. There is no loss to improving your fluency in the rationale of physics concepts.
Watch a Video: The Best Approach to Physics Explained by Dr. Tom Kelly
How to Manage Time in GAMSAT Section 3
With one of the greatest complaints in GAMSAT section 3 being not able to finish on average 30 to 40 questions, it’s no wonder we all want to ensure time is not a burden.
Step 1: Perfect your background knowledge by reading through this article if you’ve skipped through it, focussing on what we want to get out of the background knowledge.
Step 2: Practice many questions while constantly keeping in mind the cognitive skills we need perfecting. Focus on perfecting your skill of being able to recognise what background knowledge a question is asking for, and the type of thinking style it is demanding.
Step 3: Simulate the GAMSAT. Why is this necessary? Practice questions are definitely not within the same context on the day. Section 3 is tiresome. It is after two other burdensome questions, with painful hours of waiting in between. It is after the lunch break and after needing more waiting to sign in. Then, section 3 begins around 2pm (after getting to the venue somewhere around 8am) and needing to complete the section over almost three hours. What this tells us is that while practice questions are necessary, they are constrained by not being within the appropriate test setting. Instead, in order to perfect our time management skills, we need to perfect our tactics in a real and tiringly representative setting.
But, what are the tactics we need to help our time issue?
First, let’s appreciate the power of doing the test out of order. Section 3 is not random in the questions. It will place a long-worded stem right after four stems of graphs and diagrams, preying on the involuntary human inertia of changing thinking styles. It will target some physics concepts right after fairly accessible biology questions. Why? Because it takes us time to shift our thinking patterns, wasting that precious resource ticking away.
By doing questions out of order, what we do is group questions that are similar. The way we group questions changes based off what is most comfortable for us. Maybe it’s to do all biochemistry questions after inorganic chemistry. Maybe it’s as simple as first doing all question we consider ‘easy’ and then leaving all the ‘hard’ ones for last. However, this out-of-order approach is only accessible if we know what works for us, and we know how to recognise these questions. To do this, we need to simulate the exam under the same conditions, because even if biology might be our strength that we think it’s what we should do first thing in the exam, we don’t want to wait until exam day to realise we just can’t grapple with biology-heavy questions right after lunch. Doing more and more of what the day demands ensures we generate tactics that we trial, reflect on, refine, and then implement with confidence on exam day. Time becomes less of an issue when we know exactly what works.
Secondly, we need to ensure we know how to reflect throughout our entire study process. Before exam simulation, this involves reflecting on concepts we don’t quite understand and questions we can’t seem to get right, to really hone in on the reasons why these are proving difficult. When it comes to exam simulation, reflection needs to be the same, however extended into time management. An easy tactic is to breakdown the exam into 15 minute intervals, and at the end of the interval marking how many questions we completed. At the end of the exam, this breakdown will tell us two major things:
Which point in time we consistently slow down
When it is most appropriate to do certain questions.
For example, let’s say between 1 hour and 1 hour 30 minutes into the exam we did only 5 biochemistry questions. 5 questions in 30 minutes is certainly not ideal (but happens more often than we think, and often recognised much too late). At this point, we should be recognising this interval as a tough time for us, and one in which biochemistry probably shouldn’t be performed. Next time around, we trial doing physics questions 1 hour into the exam. Maybe that fails. Then we trial genetics. By the end of it, we hopefully know what to do and when to do it, all in the goal of maximising every single 15 minute interval in the exam.
Finally, do not underestimate the power of meditation, especially within the GAMSAT. The test requires constant shifting in ways of thinking, both between and during sections. This is done more effectively with a mind at peace and thinking clearly.
I have no science background. Can I improve on GAMSAT Section 3?
Certainly. The way to do this is actually very simple. The first thing would be to build up your fluency in all the sciences. This is probably the roughest time for you, as there is indeed some rote learning required in order to get to an understanding that corresponds to roughly year 11 biology, chemistry and physics level. From here, your tactics should be the same as that listed throughout this article. This may sound daunting, however, we have one piece of good news: non-science background students that perform well on GAMSAT section 3 actually perform REALLY well. Why? You should have realised by now that the GAMSAT questions are assessing how quickly you can digest new information and recreate it in a new setting. If you are serious in developing your science fluency, you will be doing this months and months in advance. Do not lose hope.
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