The March sitting of GAMSAT has been and gone and whilst results are not due to be released until the middle of next month, it’s given me some time to reflect on how it went.
Things you need to know:
March was my first sitting of GAMSAT.
I have read many horror stories about this exam, full blown excruciating pain-worthy stories.
I spent a lot of time procrastinating and felt rather underprepared.
Despite having some science background, I felt awfully underprepared for section 3.
The Decision to Take GAMSAT:
I booked my GAMSAT registration on New Years Day, 1st January 2019. A little New Years resolution to myself and the kick I needed. If I didn’t book it now, when would I?
I plan on applying for Graduate Entry Medicine in September for 2020 entry. After hearing all about GAMSAT and how grueling it could/ would be, I was determined to have a ‘trial’ run with the exam for the experience and general know-how. I’m currently in the North of England and so I booked for Liverpool as my test center.
I wish I could say that I spent weeks of hard work and determination spent on the run up to GAMSAT. In reality, I did what any other person does, procrastinate, put off and prioritized topics that I liked or got the hang of. I kept countdowns and a calendar view of the days running up to the exam date. I found the biggest flaw for materials and prep are the overly expensive courses and books. I unfortunately do not have the money to join numerous prep courses or online seminars, nor do I have the time to spare when working a full-time job, Mon-Fri, along with all the other necessary volunteering and general social life that I have (or lack of).. My local library was a huge help for getting books and materials that I could never have afforded.
A-Level text books – Biology, Chemistry and Physics.
Books – for reading, wide varieties and topics.
Gold Standard – I bought this a while ago and so use it every now and again.
AC Grayling – The Meaning of Things – Good prep for section 2.
Hebe’s Notes – A webpage designed by Hebe who sat the GAMSAT herself and she now shares her notes openly (if you find them useful then please donate.)
Des O’Neil, Acer – Past papers.
The Day Before:
I worked my day as usual. I hadn’t felt stressed until I suddenly realized that this was it. There was no more time for cramming, or anything that would be useful that is. By the time I left work and made my train it was just gone 18:00. In 24 hours this would all be over.
I made it into Liverpool by 21:00. I had already looked into what was near that I could grab food from before heading to the hotel (I stayed in the new Premiere Inn at Liverpool Lime Street). There was a handy McDonald’s down the road (healthy, I know) so I picked up some food before checking in for the night. Ideally, I would have gone for a wander to have scoped out the venue and where it was before tomorrow morning but by this time I was tired and just wanted to shower and get an early night.
I watched some TV and tried to do some light revision but I guarantee it did not go in.
I woke up just before 05:00. I had dreamt that I was due to take GAMSAT and was running late and was going to miss it. I remember it being such a vivid dream and waking up panicked! I tried to doze off again but with no luck.
By the time I got everything sorted for the day and packed up, checked out, It was just before 08:00. I used Google Maps to track where I was going and managed the quick dash to the venue. It was easily spotted by everyone lurking outside and looking equally as nervous. I tried to distance myself away from everyone as I didn’t want to fall into the trap of overhearing conversations and getting anymore put off. There was a girl there with her parents and her dad was anything but supportive, my idea of the nightmare pre-exam scenario to have a parent telling you how badly you’ll do if you don’t know X and Y by now.
We were let into the building and started to queue down to the registration desks. They were organizing candidates by last name groupings. ID and tickets were checked and you were ‘ticked off’ as attending the first session. We were given seat numbers and told to report into the hall. After dumping bags in a separate room, I found my seat. It was gone 09:00 before everyone was registered and seated to begin. There was easily 300 candidates sitting in Liverpool and I had heard that candidates wanting to sit in London couldn’t due to the London venue being fully booked.
Then the exam invigilator said those dreaded words “Welcome to GAMSAT“.
I didn’t really know how I was going to get on with section 1 but the passages didn’t seem too bad, no long winded passages, over and over. Some even had medical themes so were genuinely interesting. There were texts that were more ‘wordy’ and required more reading time. Overall, I actually found it not too bad and definitely a good ease in to GAMSAT.
Section 2 followed section 1, there were no breaks in between and you could not leave to go to the toilet. The two topics were actually quite good, I was able to find one topic that I felt would be manageable and that I could write about for each. Reading time was really useful here for picking my choices and deciding my arguments for and against. I found that I could have built a better structure and made it sound a bit more articulated but overall again, it was relatively painless.
There was then an hour lunch break and luckily there was a Tesco round the corner to grab some food. I hadn’t eaten breakfast but hardly do and now I felt more at ease, was starting to feel a little hungry. I knew section 3 would be a large push to the end so I needed all the help I could get in the nutrition side of things.
After coming back from lunch, we all queued again and were registered in for the afternoon session. I couldn’t help feeling nervous. Out of all the sections, I knew that section 3 would be my downfall. Reading time came and went and all I saw was a blur of graphs.
If you have read anything about the March sitting, you’ll probably have already noticed that it was far from your usual and predictive GAMSAT syllabus. Whilst I won’t go into specific questions, I will say that there was a large amount of graphs, Maths, Physics and interpretation. The general feeling was that Acer were trying a new approach with section 3 and that it was very much a curve ball. I don’t think any amount of my preparation made me ready for section 3. Everyone was thrown in the deep end and we were all hazarding guesses.
After it Was Over:
When we had finished up, everyone darted off on their separate paths. No-one was coming away bragging that it was easy, no-one was trying to put people down, everyone really did feel in the same boat. The same boat without a paddle, heading for waterfalls very, very quickly. A lot of talk about guess work and a lot of talk about September…
What Did I learn?
GAMSAT is absolutely a tough exam. I came away feeling drained, my back and neck hurt from being hunched over an exam desk and writing all day, followed by the hours it took to journey back. It was a long day and GAMSAT is a worthy adversary.
The experience was priceless. At the end of the day, GAMSAT is an exam, a test, just like any other. The rules are the same. The format is similar in terms of marking results on a piece of paper. It is so easy to get worked up and feel passionately about the exam and that’s okay! The reality of it is that you can only do what you can on the day.
Sitting the exam, in itself is a big achievement. I hadn’t fully believed it when I was told by a now-GP trainee, that sitting the GAMSAT is an achievement in itself. As the room was filling with candidates and papers began to get handed out, I couldn’t help but notice empty chairs. These chairs were for people, just like me, who had paid a lot of money to sit an exam that could potentially get them into Medicine. The difference? For whatever reason, these people did not turn up to take the test at all. Already, you are better off than these people.
The wait for results seems like ages. Here we are in the middle of April (just) and there’s still probably a month to go. Take this time as a blessing. Remember what it felt like to be cramming and stressing over one day? Appreciate that you have time to self-care and regenerate while you can. Whilst I want to spend this time cramming and getting ahead again with revision, there’s plenty of time to pick it back up in May.
It’s absolutely okay to not know what to do or to fail! Every step is a step in the right direction. It’s not easy to decide to take on GAMSAT or to even decide on Medicine. It’s not a straightforward line of travel, we can go off and do different things, come back again or even decide that this isn’t for us. For the time being, I’m happy to be taking some time away from GAMSAT until a few more weeks have passed. I also have UCAT to book and prepare for. I’m working on my work experience and volunteering and generally living life. I fully expect to have to retake GAMSAT in September but without a doubt, I’ll be far more prepared.