How should I study for GAMSAT?
Often members of the Academic Faculty of the METC Institute are asked, how should I study for the GAMSAT?
In order to answer this question, one has to first consider the nature and rationale of the exam. This article will focus on Section 3 of the GAMSAT as typically students reference this section when making such queries. Unlike university examinations which are designed to assess acquisition of knowledge, Section 3 of GAMSAT is written to test for competencies in problem solving via the application of knowledge. This often involves novel contexts that students have never seen. While the context is often new, the principles underpinning the assessment item should be familiar to students who have studied for the exam.
The rationale for the style of assessment in GAMSAT is three-fold:
- Need to assess for prerequisite knowledge: Graduate medical programs are four years in length. Traditionally, the initial two years of a graduate medical program are spent covering theory while the final two years are spent gaining experience in various clinical rotations. From day one, medical programs require students to be ready to study clinical medicine and there is not time to learn basic scientific concepts. Knowledge therefore is a definite pre-requisite for the examination, however high performance requires a more in-depth and intuitive understanding of concepts not typically acquired through tertiary studies.
- The nature of medicine: Medicine is the process of problem-solving informed via specific knowledge acquired in training. While medical schools teach students about diseases, patients present with undifferentiated complaints. It is then up to the clinician to bridge the gap between their training, and the unique problem reported by the patient. This requires critical thinking. Section 3 of the GAMSAT is very similar in that it requires students to take their scientific knowledge and apply it to a unique problem. In order for the GAMSAT candidate to solve the problem, they must refer back to the core principles acquired during their study and experience reflecting on principles and apply knowledge swiftly and accurately. The role of the clinician is fundamentally the same, and Section 3 of the GAMSAT is written in order to select for students who demonstrate such skills.
- Efficacy as a selection tool: As the demand for medical school training positions outweighs supply by approximately 10-to-1, a process of selection is necessary. The tools used in this process of selection need to determine both acquisition of a prior body of knowledge and the ability to critically reason through problems. Furthermore, the selection tool needs to be of sufficient difficulty that many candidates cannot achieve maximal results as this would preclude discrimination of the relative quality of such candidates. The GAMSAT is the result of all of these selection requirements.
What then is the implication of such considerations?
It is vital to develop methods of study that develop deeper comprehension of the basic sciences. The only way to solve the problems presented in Section 3 of GAMSAT in a timely manner is to develop an intuition for the scientific concepts. This means developing an understanding of concepts along with their applications, contexts, and inter-relationships with other concepts already understood. It also means gaining experience considering and applying such concepts in differing contexts via completion of practice exercises. Concepts understood on a superficial level or not understood at all need to be re-evaluated and modelled to fit within the candidate’s cognitive set. Sometimes this will involve re-modelling of the existing cognitive set which may require significant work.
How is an intuitive understanding of scientific concepts achieved?
The simple answer is active methods of study. Active study is task-directed study that involves students seeking out information in order to close knowledge gaps, and answer questions regarding gaps or inconsistencies in knowledge. The aim is to create an innate understanding of the laws underpinning the sciences (the rules of the game).
In next week’s GAMSAT webinar, active study techniques will be discussed in detail. For those reading this article at a later date, the webinar should be available with this article.