A hackers guide to the GAMSAT essay question
GAMSAT is basically designed to narrow down graduate applicants for medical school. It does this rather ruthlessly but serves medical schools well, in reducing the applicants they must consider for a place.
The most discerning part of the test is probably the essay question. There are a few reasons why this is deemed difficult by most graduates.
- Many graduates today, particularly those from a science background, have little experience in essay writing.
- Many graduates are not as well read as they would like to be and so lack confidence in writing about current issues with confidence.
- For the not so well read, trying to get the required level of knowledge over such a wide range of topics could take over a year of careful reading of selected books and articles. (see last section of this article)
Key points for your GAMSAT essay strategy
1.Your essay is an argument
This is obvious to seasoned essay writers, but actually a key point that never quite gets explained properly to the rest of us.
Any essay has to have a central point of view that its writer is seeking to convince the reader about. Each point made in the essay will contribute to the formation of an often multi-faceted argument.
As an essay writer you can and should include arguments made by ‘the other side’ that you disagree with and then explain why you think they are invalid or at least why they fail to disprove your central argument.
The conclusion should tie the argument together and give a final parting shot for your side.
Don’t worry about the over-reliance on figures and data but do get an idea of the way the argument builds up sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph.
Key point: His point of view is so clear to the reader that you can literally scan the article and miss some points and pick up on others and regardless of this, the central thrust of the argument is always clear.
2. Writing the essay plan should take longer than writing the essay.
This is controversial, but it is something I was told at an early age and it has always served me well.
The steps to writing a plan are as follows:
- Decide on the overall thrust of your argument. (Hackers tip: If your knowledge in this area is really sketchy and you’re in a tight corner come back to this step once you have listed your points and can defend at least ONE viewpoint adequately)
- Use a whole sheet and place rough headings for
- As quickly as you can, add points to each section in whichever order they come to your into head. If the conclusion is clear, get that down first. Personally, I often put my main argument and counter arguments down first. Scribble them down. Hurry up.
- Number the points in the order you want them to appear in the essay. This is unlikely to be the order in which you’ve written them down. They should flow easily from one point to the next, making the essay easy to read and the argument easy to grasp. Remember, your examiner will probably not read every word but skim. The better it flows, the quicker that lazy, cheating, skim reading examiner, can score you well and move on to the next paper!
- Write the essay. Twenty minutes of planning followed by 10 minutes of writing takes guts but is the an ideal formula. (Ammend this if you feel it doesn’t work for you. It does take nerves of steel in an exam setting) This ensures your plan is perfectly tuned and all your points are clear. Writing the essay should simply be a case of transferring your plan into a neater form with all the points in the correct order.
3. Keep it simple
Keep your argument simple and easy to understand. Use lots of simple individual points for your argument rather than a convoluted or complex point that requires careful reading to digest. This is easy for most science graduates, but if you’ve spent your undergrad years writing sophisticated essays for politics or English literature, now is the time to dumb things down. Ask yourself, will this essay score lots of points in quick succession, or will it be better appreciated by an academic with a keen interest in this area?
You definitely want the quick, successive point scoring style for your GAMSAT essay.
4. Sound like an authority
- Make your points concisely and confidently to sound like you know what you’re talking about.
- Use correct grammar, spelling and style.
- Use correct terminology including technical terms.
- Quote statistics, surveys, and other forms of ‘evidence’ to back up your points wherever possible. (Although fabricated surveys showing X or Y to be true are not easily verifiable by your examiner, they can cause you to lose badly if you get found out. You simply don’t need to do this for GAMSAT – yes, you know who you are!)
- Sound like you actually care a lot about the topic. Again this will lend credibility to your argument.
- Use up to date examples from the mainstream media (ie broadsheet newspapers). In this day and age you are considered well read if you read a newspaper regularly. (If you think this is ridiculous, I agree.)
These are all techniques used by most modern day journalists, almost all of whom are not specialists (or even knowledgeable) in any area at all.
5. So how can I think of good points to make when my brain is actually empty!
If you have more than six months before you sit the GAMSAT, it is definitely worth having some sort of reading regime that will help you feel confident constructing arguments that are pitched at the correct level for the GAMSAT essay. Ideally you also want to read things that will make you sound well rounded and intelligent at your future interview and kill two birds with one reading regime. You might have been told that there are no shortcuts to this but in fact there are:
- Read a newspaper every day. If you want to follow my advice, this means a quick look through the guardian headlines each day (currently free online), skimming through any useful news and reading through the editorials and the opinion pieces a little more carefully. This chap writes about anything well and will save you much thinking. Have a quick look through the reader comments below each article too for any useful points. I’ve found that over 90% of GAMSAT essay questions can be dealt with perfectly with just the material available on the Guardian comment is free section of the website. What could be easier?
- For those with more time, read the latest key texts on various current topics.For a complete critique on the media, this cannot be bettered.
- For a lowdown on ethics in current political life try this.
- Book reviews in the LRB are an amazing way to digest the key arguments contained in a book without going to the trouble of reading the whole book. The essays are always written by experts in the field. They are often good material for interview practice too. Not all are free, but subscription isn’t too expensive and you get a paper copy posted to you each fortnight. I would particularly recommend David Runcimans pieces.
- For other sources of free, online, high quality writing on current affairs, try the following:
a) Arts and letters
b) The New yorker
c) The Huffington Post
d) Spiked online -plenty of simple arguments to emulate
Do not overestimate the competition. If you do the simple things mentioned above, you will kill off the competition with ease. Most people read advice but never act on it. Do a little reading each day, do a few practice questions (not too many) just to get the timing and technique right, and then concentrate on other areas of the GAMSAT and your med school application.
Best of luck!
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