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Past GAMSAT Exam vs New GAMSAT Format

Published on
May 13, 2024

This article aims to provide a structured breakdown of the origin of the GAMSAT and shed light on the modifications in the GAMSAT format over the years. Finally, we will briefly discuss the old GAMSAT papers and previous GAMSAT questions to improve your understanding of the GAMSAT exam format today.

What Is The GAMSAT?

The GAMSAT is a highly competitive psychometric exam. The term 'psychometric' refers to the measurement of your mental traits. The GAMSAT exam, combined with the GPA, are the most important factors that medical schools use to rank potential applicants for postgraduate medicine.

The Australian Council For Educational Research or ACER developed the GAMSAT exam in conjunction with GEMSAS and non-GEMSAS medical schools (USyd and Flinders University) in Australia to streamline the admission process for entry into the Doctor of Medicine program. 

The GAMSAT exam is conducted twice annually, and tests an applicant's calibre to draw inferences from poetry and cartoons, write well-structured essays, and make scientific inferences.


The GAMSAT is recognised as a cognitive exam launched in 1995 by ACER in conjunction with postgraduate Australian medical schools. In addition to medicine, GAMSAT scores play a substantial role in the selection process for graduate-entry Dentistry, Pharmacy, Optometry and Podiatry programs.

Most Australian medical schools utilise the GAMSAT as an academic indicator in combination with the Grade Point Average (GPA scores) to invite students for medical interviews. In contrast to the GAMSAT, the MCAT is of utmost significance for international students to pursue postgraduate medicine in Australia. However, the MCAT is primarily an entry criterion adopted by North American medical schools.

As of 1999, most UK Medical schools adopted the GAMSAT format as a reliable factor to evaluate a student's potential to pursue medicine. It gradually expanded to nine medical schools across the United Kingdom. At this time, the GAMSAT psychometric exam is recognised across Australia, New Zealand, UK, Ireland, the United States, and Singapore. 

How Has The GAMSAT Changed?

ACER has advocated for online examinations for a considerable amount of time, believing that it is a reliable way to test applicants. In addition, the objective of the GAMSAT assessment in a digital format offers easier data tracking, and is more eco-friendly - if you’ve seen the mountains of paper used in each GAMSAT sitting. However, COVID forced GAMSAT to be online, which created a few teething problems along the way.

Online GAMSAT In March 2020

Let us first state the obvious. The online GAMSAT has become the new norm!

The online GAMSAT came into play in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and had to be significantly altered in 2020 to match the necessities of social distancing measures, while not giving anyone an unfair advantage. The online GAMSAT, also referred to as the March 2020 GAMSAT, will go down in history as a dramatically awful sitting.

The March 2020 GAMSAT Sitting

The March 2020 GAMSAT was allegedly cancelled by ACER a week before the examination and then rescheduled to occur in person at the end of March. However, this announcement was soon condemned by administrators, and the GAMSAT was delayed to surface online in May 2020 worldwide.

The GAMSAT traditionally occurs on the same day across different countries. However, considering the unforeseen circumstances and the duration of the exam, ACER made a quick decision to split the GAMSAT sections to have a smooth transition to a virtual test. 

Thus, the March 2020 GAMSAT exam was conducted in early June 2020. Undoubtedly, this was one of the biggest changes witnessed in the GAMSAT exam since it was always delivered on paper.

The Online GAMSAT meant students needed to be vigilant of the computerised test and quickly adapt themselves to the technicalities of sitting a highly-intellectual exam on a virtual platform. Moreover, as the GAMSAT was habitually in a written format, a sudden shift in the structure affected the student's preparation in a big way.

Online GAMSAT In September 2020

Students were compelled to undertake the March GAMSAT 2020 from their homes. However, this triggered some confusion followed by an array of vague questions put forward by students about webcam specifications, the number of extra sheets allowed during the exam and the terms and conditions for disqualifications among others.

To resolve this issue once and for all, ACER chose the mode of delivery for the September GAMSAT 2020 to remain online, but conducted in supervised test centres. 

This way, ACER could succinctly answer all nitty-gritty questions around the online GAMSAT, while conducting a fair exam for everyone.

How Did The Structure And Content of GAMSAT Change?

The Graduate Australian Medical School Admissions Test or the GAMSAT was initially paper-based. Students across the globe undertook the GAMSAT exam on the same day with no difference in the time zone. However, it is irrefutable that the past GAMSAT papers differed significantly in question themes within the same test centres, so some minor question variations are consistent between the and online GAMSATs.

Now let us shift our focus to interpret the change in GAMSAT format pre and post-Covid. 

Timing Of The Test

The previous GAMSAT papers had 75 questions in Section 1, significantly dropping to 39 questions during the online GAMSAT. In addition, Section 1 and Section 3 were never consistent in question themes and varied across test papers.

Section 1 reduced the test time to 60 minutes online instead of the typical 100 minutes to complete the conventional 75-questions. Similarly, GAMSAT Section 3 witnessed a slight deviation in the content itself. The question themes were abstract and described to be vague in their online format.

ACER scrapped the traditional 110 questions over 170 minutes to incorporate only 60 questions over 120 minutes. Section 3 incorporated more stimulus to read for fewer questions than the usual, where the number of questions per stem was higher, making this section incredibly tedious. 

Currently, the GAMSAT format for March 2021 and the upcoming September 2021 goes as follows:

  1. Section 1 - Reasoning in Humanities and Social Sciences - 47 questions over 64 minutes writing time.
  2. Section 2 - Written Communication - 2 questions over 60 minutes writing time.
  3. Section 3 - Reasoning in Biological and Physical Sciences - 75 questions over 142 minutes of writing time.

GAMSAT Section 1: Change in Exam Format

GAMSAT Section 1 is the first hurdle that students encounter in the GAMSAT exam. It is a unique test segment that uses multiple-choice questions to evaluate a student's interpretation of qualitative knowledge on various themes like cartoon, prose and poetry, and reading comprehension.

Most students divert their time and resources to solve scientific theories and become nervous about Section 3, compared to Section 1 humanities. However, Section 1 preparation is often confusing and is the key differentiating section for many students. Moreover, it would help if you were not complacent about Section 1, considering it as mere reading comprehension, because it is also one of the easiest sections to make meaningful improvements in - provided you give it the time it demands.

In March 2020, Section 1 witnessed a minor tweak, mainly in the question themes, which allocated more time per question to accommodate the online setting. However, before we infer the current Section 1 format changes, it is worth considering that the September 2019 format had poetry as a presiding theme.

In a contradiction, the online GAMSAT had technical texts and diagrams as dominant themes, hence scrutinising each applicant's logical reasoning and vocabulary skills. Many students actively argued that this incorporation of paragraph-oriented analysis, as opposed to the traditional English language assessment, was a real shocker, throwing their preparation out the window. In the former, ACER provided questions based on concrete evidence, and the latter resorted to a comprehensive characteristic, typical of the older-style GAMSAT papers.

However, in the next September sitting, the question styles differed markedly, and each student received a different exam paper, which was heavily influenced by one particular theme. This exam-style included plenty of variations in the question themes.

The main challenge was that the number of questions dropped from the traditional 75-question format to 47 questions in total, which meant students had no room for error and had to make each question count to their aggregate score.

The reasons mentioned above were critical changes in the Section 1 format and pushed students to a win-or-bust situation; however, its evaluation of lateral thinking skills remains intangible even to this day.

GAMSAT Section 2 Format

GAMSAT Section 2 was relatively tricky compared to previous GAMSATs as it required students to answer a range of questions online. Many students found the online GAMSAT S2 complicated, mainly due to the virtual format.

However, the multiple thematic responses are not dissimilar to what we have seen in the days of the hand-written GAMSAT. Therefore, obtaining a high score in this section depended on students' abilities to build a structured essay by typing under pressure.

Previously, students had focused more on being presentable and legible on paper in Section 2 essays, whereas this preparation is not required in the online format. This new type of exam favours students who can type quickly, without requiring the aid of spell checker and autocorrect functions.

GAMSAT Section 3 Format: How Has It Changed?

It is worth pointing out that students have attributed GAMSAT Section 3 questions to be a succinct measure of contextual knowledge in the physical and biological sciences. Hence, a student from a science background was assumed to have a distinct advantage to score in Section 3 as they had a great deal of prerequisite knowledge required for this section. However, this pertains to the old GAMSAT format, which focused on your degree of information recall.  

In recent years, the Section 3 question format has evolved considerably and has been reconstructed into a problem-solving, skill-based assessment. As such, this has decreased the old advantage that science background students once had from their pre-existent knowledge. This also changed the pre existing notion that students from non-science backgrounds such as Arts and social sciences would without doubt face difficulties in Section 3. This section, now skill-based, can favour science and arts-based students that have strong deductive reasoning skills.

The new GAMSAT question themes require you to be proactive with preparation. A genuine interest in understanding Section 3 topics translates to a good GAMSAT score. Another key requirement to succeed in the fresh Section 3 format incorporates you to build your high-order thinking ability. Especially since the foundation of the questions were altered to evaluate logical reasoning, pattern recognition and ability to problem-solve. It is therefore important to adopt a streamlined approach towards preparation to make it count in the exam.

How Were the GAMSAT Scores Affected?

Currently, the GAMSAT question format across the sections has changed drastically to accommodate a more skill-based assessment. This brings us to another factor that needs to be considered in this comparison. GAMSAT scores. If you take a look at our article, 'GAMSAT Scores 2021', you will notice in our clearly illustrated graphs that the GAMSAT scores are decreasing in the recent years. 

One of the primary reasons that caused this significant drop in GAMSAT scores was Section 3. Since GAMSAT shifted online, students have struggled to cope with Section 3’s scientific concepts. Hence there is a noticeable drop in higher S3 scores as Section 3 is weighed twice during GAMSAT calculation for medical school ranking.

GAMSAT scores across different sittings are comparable because the focus in the GAMSAT is how well you demonstrate your skill and competency in responding to different question types. Often students complain about one year being harder than the other. However, this is purely a misconception as ACER does not give a high score to an applicant if the GAMSAT in a particular sitting was easier. 

GAMSAT scores are achieved based on a student's merit, so if a given section is more complex than the previous sitting, it does not imply that students may perform poorly. Therefore, this indicates that the GAMSAT over the years has remained fair and accommodating to all students.

What Are The Best Strategies For Upcoming GAMSAT Exams?

GAMSAT is intended to remain online indefinitely. However, having mentioned that, it is essential to be flexible and accustomed to the virtual format of examinations. Medical interviews have transitioned to a virtual MMI or panel interview format, depending on the medical school's requirements. So it is important that you stay on top of the ever-evolving medical school admission criteria. 

We offer online GAMSAT preparation courses at Fraser's to accommodate students who are currently under stress or are facing last-minute hurdles in their GAMSAT preparation. We at Fraser's are used to handling unforeseen circumstances that may arise in the GAMSAT space. 

Remember that the GAMSAT exam is typically an assessment-based test that runs for 4.5 hours, excluding the break time. Hence, it all boils down to how you tailor your ability to comprehend diverse concepts and achieve a competitive GAMSAT score.

We hope that this article provided you with the right knowledge to draw inferences between the old GAMSAT and the GAMSAT format that is today.

The best way to achieve a GAMSAT score that is acceptable in medical schools is if you possess a calm demeanor and persevere through this exam. As the GAMSAT is a competitive and challenging exam, only the strongest of minds excel in this entrance exam.