As mentioned in one of our previous posts, Chloe and I are studying graduate entry medicine (GEM) here in UCD. We did not enter medicine via the traditional leaving cert route therefore we often get asked for our tips on how to get into GEM so we decided to put together a little information on GEM entry and also some (hopefully!) helpful tips.
There are two entry requirements for European students to apply for graduate Entry Medicine (GEM) in Ireland. You must have a minimum 2:1 honours bachelor degree (NFQ Level 8) from a third level institute (this can be in any field) and you also must sit the GAMSAT exam.
The GAMSAT exam takes place twice a year, once in Ireland (in March), and once in the UK (in September). If you sit the exam in the UK you can use your score to apply for GEM in Ireland, and vice-versa. Many applicants will sit the exam more than once so don’t worry if you are not happy with your initial score. Your GAMSAT score is valid for two years.
So what’s involved in the exam?
The exam itself consists of three parts. The first section concerns reasoning in humanities and social sciences. This section will have passages from English Comprehensions, plays and poems. These will often have 4 or 5 questions attached, which are of a multiple choice format, with four alternative answers. There are also visual stimuli such as short cartoons and thought provoking images. There are also transcripts from consultations between doctors and patients. There are 75 questions in this section and you have 100 minutes to complete it, as well as 10 minutes reading time at the start where you are not permitted to write.
The second section is the essay section where you have 1 hour to write two essays, with 5 minutes reading time. For each essay you will be given 6 quotes which cover a general idea and you must respond to one or more of them. The first essay is argumentative while the second is more personal.
The third section is the science section which covers Biology, Chemistry and Physics. There are 110 multiple choice questions (MCQ). Physics makes up 20% of this section, while Biology and Chemistry account for 40% each. Both Biology and Chemistry correspond to 1st year university level, while the Physics questions are of Leaving Certificate Standard. You will have 170 minutes to complete this section and there is 10 minutes reading time at the start.
The exam itself is long and tough so we thought we’d help you out and share some tips for studying and sitting the exam. Our classmates are from a variety of undergraduate backgrounds and we’ve included some of their tips too.
First Tip: You need to study for this exam! Unlike the HPAT exam used for Undergraduate entry, factual recall is required, especially for sections 2 and 3.
Second Tip: Do practice exams! Timing is everything in this exam and if you are not prepared you will miss out on some questions. Also check your answers at the end and try to work out where you went wrong. Similar questions to those in the practice tests will come up on the exam. The GAMSAT Gold channel on YouTube is a great free resource that works through the answers for the Acer practice question books.
If you only pay attention to two tips in this post make sure it’s these two!!
The main way that we would advise to study for section 1 is to do as many practice questions as possible to get used to the style of prose and the type of questions.
It’s also a good idea to learn the meaning of some literary terms such as simile, metaphor, allegory and hyperbole, so you are not caught out by them on the day.
Section 2 is a great place to pick up marks. You will need to practice your timing for these essays as they are each worth the same amount of marks so having a great argumentative essay is no good if you only leave yourself 15 minutes to do your second essay!
Know how to structure argumentative and personal essays. There are some great free online resources and templates to help you with this. The GAMSAT website also gives a guide on what they are looking for in these essays.
Become familiar with quotes and how to interpret them. There is a very broad range of topics that can come up and there is no real way to predict what will come up on this years paper. The first paper tends to be somewhat related to current affairs so it’s a good idea to watch the news and read papers in the weeks before the exam.
What our classmates say!
- Don’t underestimate these essays and forget to study for them. You can up your score if you do well in them.
- TEDtalks are a great resource for topics for essays and you can find loads of these online. They are also an interesting and enjoyable way to study!
- Get “The Meaning of Things” by AC Grayling. It covers lots of different essay topics and also has lots of quotes that are useful to learn and reproduce in your essays.
- Set your browser homepage to The Irish Times, or RTE, or BBC or whatever news source you prefer so that you can find useful articles. You can also follow their pages on Facebook or Twitter so you are getting updates on a regular basis.
Section 3 is the one that people worry most about, particularly if they are not coming from a science background but it is important that you don’t focus all your time and energy on it and forget about the other two sections. Section 3 is worth 50% of the exam so it is important but if you don’t do exceptionally well you can still bring up your score with sections 1 and 2.
Some people spend a lot of money on resources but can find lots of free information online. You can also get some great books second hand, such as physics or chemistry for dummies.
I found the ChemGuy videos really useful and these are on youtube. They aren’t in order though but you can make a small donation ($5 or $10) to his website and he will email you the ordered list of videos. These cover both organic and inorganic chemistry.
What our classmates say!
- Don’t stress out too much if you don’t have a science background. It is possible to study for this section and do really well.
- You don’t need to spend a lot of money on resources, look around in second hand shops and online for books like “Physics for Dummies”.
- Look for GAMSAT pages on facebook. They will sometimes run webinars on the different sections and go through and explain some of the questions. This is particularly helpful for physics and chemistry if you’re not sure why a particular answer is the correct one
They also had some general tips on studying, and for the exam itself.
- If you are sitting the exam while in your final year, don’t focus all your attention on it. A great GAMSAT is no use to you if you don’t get a 2.1. You can repeat the GAMSAT but you can’t repeat your degree.
- If you have to do GAMSAT in final year try and do it in the UK September rather than March in Ireland. You will be less stressed and will have more time to study for your final exams at the end of the college year.
(That said, many people in our class sat GAMSAT in March of final year and did really well in both their degree and GAMSAT. When and where you opt to sit the exam is a personal choice but maybe bear this in mind when you are making your decision!)
- Don’t worry if you are not happy with your first score. You can sit the GAMSAT more than once and only your best score is counted.
- No more than with any other exam, make sure you look after yourself in the run up to it. Eat well and get plenty of sleep as the day of the exam is long and you won’t want to burn out halfway through.
- If you are sitting the exam somewhere you are unfamiliar with get there the night before and plan how you will get to the venue the next morning. You will be stressed enough on the morning without having to worry about being late or getting lost.
- Feed yourself!! We’ve mentioned it once or twice already but it bears repeating – the exam (and the day itself) is long and tough. Bring a good lunch with you and sneak snacks into the exam! I ate about three packs of polos. Caffeine tablets are also great as you will find your energy waning.
- It is a good tip to live by ‘GAMSAT time’ if you can for the week beforehand i.e. Try to get up at the time you’ll have to on the day of the exam and only to eat when you’re going to get a break. It’s a long day and the last thing you want is to be a zombie because of a wake-up time that you’re not accustomed to, or having your stomach rumbling and distracting you because you’re used to eating elevenses or a mid-afternoon snack.
- Don’t talk to anyone!! Listening to how other people answered their essays or how they interpreted certain questions is not going to help you out at all so steer clear during the breaks.
- Don’t waste time on questions you don’t know the answer to. Pick any answer and move on.
- The exam is graded on a bell curve and some questions carry more weight than others. So a question that very few people get right will be worth more marks than one that a lot of people get right.
- Don’t feel like you have to start at question one and work your way through. From practice tests I found that I did best on the questions based on excerpts from novels so I did these questions first. In the science section I answered all the biology questions as they were the ones I was most confident on and the ones that I knew would take me the least time.
- Utilise your reading time. You’re not allowed to write anything but that doesn’t mean you can’t have the answers ready to mark down once you are permitted to pick up your pencil. I used the time to flick through the booklet and mark the corners of pages with questions I found I did best on in practice tests. This only took a minute or two and then I had time to read through a couple of the comprehensions so when reading time was finished I had about 6 answers ready to mark down straight away.
- The physics section is quite small so if you can’t wrap your head around the questions don’t worry too much. Have a look at them and try to work them out but if it’s not making sense just mark an answer and move on.
Hopefully some of these tips will be useful! Best of Luck!!
More information on the GAMSAT exam itself can be found at http://www.gamsat-ie.org.
Further information on GEM programme at UCD can be found at http://www.ucd.ie/medicine/studywithus/undergraduatecourses/graduateentrymedicine/