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Tutorial: Understanding Irony on the GAMSAT

Trying out a new format today. It would be great to get your feedback if you find this helpful, or if you’d rather just be doing straight-up gamsat questions. You can get in touch on Twitter, in the comments below, by email, or by taking this survey (hint: do the survey!)


What is irony?

Irony can come in many forms depending on the medium of communication. The three most likely forms of irony you might encounter on GAMSAT Section 1 are Verbal, Situational and Dramatic irony.

Verbal Irony is the use of words to convey the opposite of their literal or actual meaning. For example, when somebody describes the Eurovision as “Amazing” when what they really mean is “hilariously bad”.

Some literary-types will say that sarcasm is a special type of verbal irony, others will say it isn’t. ACER take great care in constructing questions for GAMSAT Section 1 to ensure that their answers are not debateable. For this reason it is unlikely that a question will actively refer to both sarcasm and irony. That said, if a question specifically asks for an example of verbal irony, then there is a good chance the answer will be something sarcastic a character in the narrative said.

Situational irony arises due to a complete reversal of what was expected to happen. Dramatic irony is a subset of situational irony. It occurs as a result of the audience having more information than a character in a story. For example, a character may have a plan that will enable her make millions of pounds. The audience knows, however, that due to other events in the narrative unknown to herself, this plan will actually result in her losing all of her money and becoming poor. Before it even happens it is ironic, because the audience can forsee an ironic situation ahead. The audience understands the significance of the upcoming events, but the character does not.


What irony isn’t:

“A traffic jam when you’re already late… good advice that you just didn’t take… ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife” – Alanis Morissette, ‘Ironic’.

This song, written by a woman who later admitted that she didn’t understand irony, has confused generations. Refer to it at your own peril.


“So it seems the cat burglar was caught by the very man who was trying to catch him! How ironic…” – Homer Simpson

Homer’s statement is very helpful because it describes the exact opposite of what situational irony actually is. It would have been ironic if the cat burglar was caught by the person who was trying to help him get away!



The passage below has been adapted from Allen Foster’s Even Odder Irish Oddities. Read and answer the question which follows.

In times past it was customary for prisoners to pay rent for their lodging and upkeep in some Irish jails. This was certainly the case in the ‘Black Dog’, adjacent to the Newgate Prison in Dublin, which as used to detain debtors and those awaiting trial. It comprised 12 rooms containing beds. Each prisoner had to pay the keeper one shilling a night, even though there were four or five sharing the same bed! Those who were unable to pay this fee were thrown into a dungeon known as the ‘Nunnery’, because prostitutes arrested by the watch were confined there. Its only window opened into the side of a common sewer, which frequently flooded the floor of the cell. It is recorded that when Edmond Donnelly, a city merchant, was committed there for debt, the water often rose to the level of his bed, which rotted under him.


Which of the following, from the passage above, is an example of irony?

  • A Each prisoner had to pay the keeper one shilling a night, even though there were four or five sharing the same bed.
  • B Forcing debtors to pay rent in prison.
  • C The dungeon known as the Nunnery in which prostitutes were held.
  • D The window which caused flooding in the dungeon.
  • Answer: C
    ‘The Nunnery’ is ironic because nuns are celibate, law abiding and morally disciplined, and prostitutes are none of those things. It is an example of verbal irony. The Nunnery is an inversion of what you would expect the dungeon to be nicknamed e.g. The Brothel

    Gamsat Sample Questions

    June 28, 2012

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