A Beginner’s Guide to GAMSAT Section 2

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Prepping well for Section 2 is arguably the best and easiest way to boost your overall GAMSAT score. But there are a number of pitfalls people fall into.

Experienced writers can be overconfident and be caught out by the restrictive time limit.

Inexperienced writers can neglect this section in favour of prep for the more intimidating Section 3.

But if you want a nice score boost, I recommend you get serious about Section 2!

A common recommendation is to write at least 20 practice essays.




Essential Info

Section 2 is the “Written Communication” section for which you need to write two essays in response to two “tasks”. ACER want to see what kinds of ideas you can come up with on the fly and how well you can express them in writing.

Each task will consist of 4 “comments” or quotes (in the past it was 5) from which you can ascertain a common, general theme. Feel free to respond to one quote, 2-3 of the quotes or the whole general theme.

It isn’t necessary to give your essays titles. But it might help YOU to do so! More on this below…

Timing info

Number of essays: 2

Reading time: 5 mins

Writing time: 60 mins

Writing time per essay: 30* mins

*You can actually spend more time writing one essay than another because you have a total of 60 minutes to write both.

Themes

Task A (socio-cultural issues)

Writing style: argumentative, academic

Example topics:

  • War
  • Government
  • Technology
  • Crime
  • Art

Task B (personal and social issues)

Writing style: emotional response, reflective

Example topics:

  • Ageing
  • Beauty
  • Forgiveness
  • Happiness
  • Intelligence

To learn more about the unique 2020 exam arrangements, read this article >>> GAMSAT, UCAT & BMAT 2020 Updates

Official advice from ACER

Each essay will require you to “produce and develop ideas in writing” meaning they’re testing your ability to come up with ideas off the cuff and express them effectively.

ACER warns that “pre-prepared responses and responses that do not relate to the topic will receive a low score.”

It might be comforting to know that you will not be assessed on the “correctness” of your point of view. So whether you’ll be expressing right-wing, left-wing or middle-ground views, in theory it should not impact on your score.

Unlike what you may have come across in your academic journey so far, you will not be asked to respond to a specific question or be given a title. Instead, you will need to ascertain a common theme FIRST from the comments/quotes provided and respond to that.

You will be marked on the “organisation and expression” plus “thought and content” of your essays.

Thought and content (quality of what is said)

  • “What is made of and developed from the task” (e.g. depth provided for each idea you present, shown you can understand both the explicit and implicit meaning in the quotes, backed your ideas with evidence and examples)
  • “The kinds of thoughts and feelings offered in response to the task” (e.g. considered both sides of an argument, provided original and unexpected ideas)

Organisation and expression (the quality of the structure developed and the language used)

  • “Shape and form of the piece” (e.g. paragraphs, linking of paragraphs, logical order of ideas)
  • “Effectiveness and fluency of the language” (e.g. grammar & spelling, jargon-free and appropriate wording, varying length of sentences)

Unfortunately, that’s all the detail you can get out of ACER about how exactly they will assess you!

You will notice, though, that knowledge per se (e.g. regurgitating political/historical facts) is not credited.

How to prepare

Firstly, read around gathering ideas and build an ideas bank. Many people are a fan of the book The Meaning of Things by AC Grayling because each chapter is essentially a little essay in response to a likely Section 2 theme!

In supplement to AC Grayling’s book, read widely and make sure to consider opinions that may not align with your personal beliefs.

Seek to develop an understanding of different viewpoints and reflect on insightful or surprising ideas you come across. This is far more useful than memorising facts to regurgitate.

Free sources of Section 2 ideas include TED Talks, The Guardian: Opinion and The Conversation.

Secondly, decide on the structure you’re going to use (including if you’re going to use one at all!) and the phrases and language you’ll use as part of that structure. For advice on structure, take a look at the next section of this blog post – scroll down!

Thirdly, PRACTICE. I recommend at least 20 practice essays, at least 16 of those timed (5-10 mins planning, 20-25 mins writing).

YOU CANNOT GET BETTER AT WRITING IF YOU DO NOT WRITE.

Do not underappreciate the value of using 5-10 mins to plan your essays. This will help ensure quality over quantity.

Naturally you’ll want feedback on your essays but, as I mentioned earlier, ACER (who administer the test) aren’t very open about their marking criteria. However, you can get your essays marked by ACER’s official marking system if you have some spare cash. Link: https://gamsat.acer.org/prepare/preparation-materials

You could also form an essay exchange group with some study buddies. How does it work? Well…

You take turns setting the quotes each week using a quote generator. Every week you all write an essay in response and have your best go at marking each other’s work. I did this and it was a great help for me (plus I was able to steal some excellent ideas from other people!)

On my FREE GAMSAT Resources Master List page I link to free quote generators and practice essays that you may find helpful.




My approach to Task A

This is your chance to show you can generate interesting, original (i.e. unexpected) ideas and arguments on the fly. This is the step-by-step approach I used to score 67 in section 2.

1. Ascertain the theme

Read all 4 comments/quotes. Look for keywords, sentiments and topics that are in common between them, as well as contrasts and paradoxes. It may not always be obvious, but a common general theme is always in there e.g. democracy, technology.

2. Create an essay title / question to answer

Once you have determined the theme (see above), you can choose to either respond to one comment/quote, or create your own essay title or question to answer based on that theme. Pick a title or question that you could imagine two people disagreeing over.

3. Pick a side

Now you have a self-made essay question to answer, or a title to respond to, decide which side of the argument you sit on. It doesn’t matter if it genuinely aligns with your actual views. No one is going to check!

4. Brainstorm

Come up with 3-4 supporting ideas for the side you have picked PLUS supporting evidence (e.g. recent news piece, historical fact, research finding or a quote from a notable person) for the assertions you will use. You may only find time to include 2-3 main ideas, but that’s fine. Lastly, come up with at least 1 idea that supports the opposing side of the argument to show you can foresee and understand different opinions.

5. Plan around a structure

The structure I used is below. Feel free to use it or a variation of it.

INTRO PARAGRAPH
Statement introducing the topic e.g. XYZ is a contentious issue… (1 sentence)
State one side of the argument e.g. some say A (2-3 sentences)
State the other side of the argument e.g. whereas others say B (2-3 sentences)
State your position e.g. upon consideration I believe A (1 sentence)
BODY
Supporting idea 1 (1 paragraph; 4-7 sentences)
Supporting idea 2 (1 paragraph; 4-7 sentences)
Supporting idea 3 (1 paragraph; 4-7 sentences)
One idea that supports the other side of the argument (1 paragraph; 4-7 sentences)
CONCLUSION
Summary (2-3 sentences)

 

6. Write!


Style tips:

  • Your idea bank should have breadth. But your essays should have depth!
  • Link your paragraphs together.
  • Vary the length of your sentences. Use both short and long ones.
  • Use active words instead of having a passive voice e.g. “Teachers believe that…” vs “It is thought that teachers believe…”
  • Aim for 300-500 words maximum. Depending on your handwriting, this could be the equivalent of 2-3 sides of A4 paper.
  • It’s a myth that you need to memorise quotes and regurgitate them.
  • It’s a myth that you can’t use “I”. Feel free to if it suits your writing style.
  • Aim to be clear and persuasive. Stick to clear, plain language that gets your point across. There are no bonus points for sounding pompous!

Phrases you may find handy:

Starting argumentative paragraphs: firstly, one reason for this, first of all, secondly, thirdly, finally, another reason is

Contrasting: however, in contrast, despite, nonetheless, nevertheless, yet, on the one hand, on the other hand, on the contrary, in spite of this

Emphasis: clearly, indeed, in fact, most importantly

Providing examples: moreover, similarly, furthermore, in addition, besides, also

Concluding: consequently, in conclusion

 

7. Proof-read & edit

Leave a few mins at the end of each essay to read through your essays. Check writing is legible, there are no missing or duplicate words, and that is generally makes sense.

My approach to Task B

Task B is your chance to show you understand emotions and can learn reflect on experiences. This is the step-by-step approach I used to score 67 in section 2.

1. Ascertain the theme:

Read all 4 quotes. Look for keywords, sentiments and topics that are in common between them, as well as contrasts and paradoxes. It may not always be obvious, but a common theme is always in there e.g. democracy, technology.

2. Create an essay title / question to answer:

Once you have determined the theme (see above), you can choose to either respond to one comment/quote, or fashion an essay title or question to answer based on that theme.

3. Think of a relevant personal experience you learnt from:

This does not have to be a genuine experience of yours. You could adopt the experience of a friend, family member or even a character of a TV show or movie!

4. What did you learn from this experience? How could this relate to society as a whole?

Include a paragraph before your conclusion explaining an implication for society.

5. Plan around a structure.

The structure I used is below. Feel free to use it or a variation of it.

INTRO PARAGRAPH
Statement introducing the topic e.g. XYZ is a contentious issue… (1 sentence)
State one side of the argument e.g. some say A (2-3 sentences)
State the other side of the argument e.g. whereas others say B (2-3 sentences)
State your position e.g. as a result of my personal experiences, I believe A (1 sentence)
BODY
Describe a personal experience that relates to the theme (1-2 paragraphs)
Share a societal implication for what you learnt from your experience (1 paragraph)
CONCLUSION
Summary (2-3 sentences)

 

6. Write!

Style tips:

Because this a reflective, more personal essay than Task A, definitely feel free to use “I” and delve into what you have felt and learnt. Analytical, argumentative writing is not as suitable for this task.

Otherwise, similar to Task A…

  • Vary the length of your sentences. Use both short and long ones.
  • Aim for 300-500 words maximum. Depending on your handwriting, this could be the equivalent of 2-3 sides of A4 paper.
  • Use active words instead of having a passive voice e.g. “Teachers believe that…” vs “It is thought that teachers believe…”
  • Aim to be clear and persuasive. Stick to clear, plain language that gets your point across. There are no bonus points for sounding pompous!

7. Proof-read and edit

Leave a few mins at the end of each essay to read through your essays. Check writing is legible, there are no missing or duplicate words, and that is generally makes sense.

 

Final Tips

  • DO NOT MEMORISE TEMPLATE ESSAYS AND REGURGITATE THEM IN THE EXAM. You are setting yourself up for a bad score. ACER warn against this in their official advice! Develop the skill and confidence to respond effectively to whatever is thrown at you on test day instead.
  • Your idea bank should have breadth. But your essays should have depth!
  • Back up every point you make with evidence.
  • Consider an unexpected approach to the theme and individual quotes.
  • Aim to come across as an expert (even if you’re not!). You must write with confidence.
  • Read your practice essays out loud. This will help you spot awkward grammar and phrasing.
  • It’s fine to write as if you are talking to the examiner for both tasks e.g. part-way through the essay you could share that you’ve changed your mind! “It now occurs to me…”
  • Feel free to share how much you agree or disagree with certain comments/quotes.
  • Don’t take comments/quotes at face value. Consider intended meanings i.e. read between the lines!
  • Some people don’t recommend using a structure at all! Instead they suggest writing as if you are arguing a point in an email/text message/forum post. It’s important to find what works best for YOU and YOUR writing style.
  • Keep your writing LEGIBLE. You won’t get any marks for writing that can’t be read!
  • TheMedicBlog has produced a free essay marking guide. I didn’t use it myself but as it’s free might be worth checking out.

TL;DR

  • Gather a wide range of ideas e.g. via The Meaning of Things by AC Grayling and TED Talks.
  • When writing the essays, provide depth to a few ideas, rather than lots of ideas that you barely explain.
  • Decide on the essay structure you’ll use (if you’ll use one at all).
  • Practice either alone or with an essay exchange group of study buddies.
  • Mark your own or study buddies’ essays to help improve your ability to critique writing, and in turn improve your awareness to improve your own writing.
  • The only way to improve writing is… by writing! So write!!

Further reading:

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You might also be interested in my article 6 Books to Read Before Your Medical School Interview.

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