1) Read The Questions First – Sometimes
Sometimes it’s appropriate to read the questions first, other times it’s not.
Short Poems, Songs and Units that don’t require very little reading: Questions first.
Poems and songs can often be interpreted in many ways and will always require multiple readings. The material is ambiguous, but the questions are not. Therefore allow the questions to guide your interpretation. Read one question, then look for the answer. Read another question, look for the answer. Each question frames your interpretation of the ambiguous material and informs the meaning you will attribute to it.
In the case of units that require interpretation of charts or diagrams, most of the reading is in the questions anyway. Posters too. You might spend a minute reading the text of a poster, only to discover that there’s only one question – and it asks about the image!
Stories, articles, essays and multiple-part passages: Read the passages first.
If you start by reading the questions, then by the time you will have read the lengthy passage the questions will be long gone from your mind. Trying to retain a general idea of what the question was is unhelpful. It’s distracting from your reading of the difficult material, and it’s unhelpful because your memory of the questions is unlikely to be 100% accurate. GAMSAT questions are incredibly specific in their wording. Misreading a single word in either the question or the answers can result in a drastically different interpretation of what you think the answer should be.
Read the long passages first, then look at the questions.. Feel free to go back and consult the text again for specific details.
2) Use The First 10 Minutes Effectively
Each exam begins with 10 minutes in which you are able to read the paper. During this time you’re not allowed to mark the question paper or answer sheet – but that doesn’t matter. Start the test right away.
If the first unit is a big essay, get stuck into reading it. If you finish reading it, start on the questions. You don’t need your pen to mark the answers down in your head. Make a mental note of which answer is correct and get as far as you can in the first ten minutes. As soon as the exam officially begins, grab your pen and mark the answers down physically so you are no longer under the stress of trying to remember them.
Don’t waste this time casually skimming through the paper to get a general idea of the material on it. Use it to get more marks.
3) Fill In The Answer Sheet Later
It feels so rewarding to fill in those little circles, but try to resist the urge to do it after every question. Otherwise you will find yourself hopping back and forth between answer sheet and question paper, wasting time. 15 seconds here, 10 seconds there. Pretty soon you’ve lost a few minutes.
Instead, circle the answers on the paper and come back to the answer sheet later, in the last few minutes of the exam.
I personally find it helpful to circle the answers I’m certain of, and put a little dash beside answers I think are right, but am not sure of. If I have time left over at the end I go back and spend this extra time re-evaluating the questions I was uncertain about. I regularly use this same tactic on medical school multiple-choice exams.
4) Do The Questions In The Order They Appear On The Paper
Don’t skip whole units of questions because they look ‘too hard’. You’re going to come up against them all sooner or later and you will only waste time ruffling back and forth through the pages trying to find your place.
It’s also risky to mark multiple-choice answer sheets this way. It’s far too easy to skip a question or two and then – when it comes to filling in the next answer – accidentally fill in the wrong circle. Like if you skip question 45 and 46 – then you go to mark in answer 47 and… WUPS… You filled in 45! It’s a very very common mistake and wastes time because now you have to rub it out and fix the answer sheet.
There is an exception to this rule:
You have encountered a series of very hard questions. You have absolutely no idea how to solve them and you’re starting to feel overwhelmed. Flustered. You feel the urge to skip these questions and move onto the next passage. But wait – DO NOT DO THIS. If you skip these questions only to discover the following questions are equally confounding you will set yourself on a downward anxiety spiral that is difficult to recover from.
Instead, when you are feeling overwhelmed – stop for a moment. Take deep breaths. Slow your breathing down as much as you can. Now, thinking clearly, ask yourself:
- Have I read the questions correctly?
- Do the questions themselves contain any hints?
- Can I rule-out any of these answers?
Try to make at least some progress on the questions before moving on from them. Mark them down as ones to come back to later. These are the questions you will spend your ‘saved time’ on.
5) Formally Limit The Time You Spend On Each Unit Of Questions
Time is a resource, and poor time management is a GAMSAT student’s worst enemy.
Worst case scenario is you find yourself staring at a really difficult question and thinking “I’ll just spend one more minute on this one…. one more… I nearly have it now… I think…” but after all that time you’re still not sure of the answer, and you’ve spent far too much time on that question.
There are 75 questions on the paper and 110 minutes in which to answer them. That’s just under 1.5 minutes per question.
1.5 minutes-per-question is a guide, not a rule. Some questions will be very easy and others will be very hard. The important thing is that you are aware of the time you are spending on the hard ones.
Measure the time you spend on questions to avoid getting carried away on an emotional whim.