Re: GAMSAT Section 2 Essay Writing
GAMSAT Section 2 Essay Writing
GAMSAT Section 2 Essay Writing – Part 1
Getting your head in the game: Understanding and approaching Section II of the GAMSAT
What is asked of me in Section II of the GAMSAT?
Section II of the GAMSAT asks students to compose two pieces of writing in response to two separate sets of stimuli (quotes). You must complete your two pieces of writing within 60 minutes (you also have 5 minutes of reading time). Theoretically, the pieces of writing can be anything (including argumentative essays or creative pieces such as a short stories, poems, or journal entries) so long as they are written in response to one or more of the given GAMSAT quotes and deal effectively with the themes raised in the quote.
This post covers some of the most common themes for section 2 of the GAMSAT.
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Why does this section of the GAMSAT exist?
The precise answer to this question is of course impossible to know! However, if we are to put ourselves in the shoes of those composing the test, there are a few possible explanations for the inclusion of Section II in the GAMSAT. Possible explanations include:
- The need to examine students’ written communication skills, thought processes and ability to synthesise various points of view;
- The importance of strong written communication, logical thinking and self-reflective skills in the context of being a medical student/ doctor; and
- The importance of being able to think under pressure and perform a complex task within a limited amount of time, and prioritise aspects of that task, in the context of being a medical student/ doctor.
By putting yourself in the shoes of those who have designed and written the GAMSAT, and considering why certain elements have been included, you will be better positioned to streamline your preparation and achieve the best possible score in Section II.
What kinds of critical thinking and/or reflective skills should I attempt to demonstrate in Section II of the GAMSAT?
As a follow on from the above points, it pays to think carefully (and critically!) about what kinds of skills you should endeavour to demonstrate in Section II of the GAMSAT. Understanding the kinds of thinking skills required of you before you begin your preparation will not only help you to focus your study, but it will also assist you in feeling calmer as these are skills that you already have (well, pretty much!).
So, what kinds of skills do they want candidates to demonstrate? Section II of the GAMSAT is basically asking you to read and comprehend a number of quotes (these may be statements or questions) that often provide multiple points of view on a particular topic, and to then synthesise these disparate (different) views into an integrated piece of writing. This piece of writing should demonstrate critical and reflective thinking skills (more on the balance of each of these for either ‘type A’ or ‘type B’ essays later). This means that you must be able to understand not only your own perspective on a topic and why you hold that perspective, but also demonstrate comprehension of the multitude of possible opinions others may hold on a particular topic and why they feel this way.
In preparing for Section II, it is important to be able to distinguish between critical thinking and reflective thinking skills.
- Critical thinking is (in very basic terms) simply the ability to look at an idea objectively and consider it from multiple angles (including its strengths and weaknesses, how it interacts with other things and the kinds of conclusions that can be drawn from it).
- Reflective thinking (also in very basic terms) is also a form of critical thinking, and is the process of asking yourself why you have arrived at a certain conclusion or how certain experiences you have had might have shaped or informed your opinions and attitudes.
Keeping the goals of critical and reflective thinking in mind at all times as you prepare and practice for Section II will help you develop a clear vision of what you are trying to demonstrate via your essays and help you visualise your overall goals for Section II.
This post covers some important steps to take for your GAMSAT essay preparation.
Where should I start in my GAMSAT Section II preparation?
With this article of course! This guide is a great way to structure you preparation for GAMSAT Section II, and we hope that we have broken the task down into bite-sized chunks that are easy to achieve! In preparing for GAMSAT Section II, we suggest the following approach (please note that this is just an overall suggestion, and that you are of course free to jump ahead to sections of the book that you feel will be most beneficial to you depending on your current level of preparation and confidence).
How should I allocate my time for Section II of the GAMSAT?
When preparing for the GAMSAT itt may seem that you have hundreds of tasks to achieve and no time to achieve them! Given that you have another two sections to prepare for, it is important that you ask yourself how much of your total GAMSAT study time you should put into preparing for Section II. Are you a confident writer who usually finds expressing your ideas under pressure to be quite easy? Perhaps spend more time on other sections of the test that you think you might find more challenging. However, if you are pretty much freaking out about Section II but have your sciences sorted to a tee, it makes sense to make Section II a priority.
Remember that while you want to maximise your score in each section, most universities require you to pass all sections in order to be eligible to apply. It is also important to remember that Section II of the GAMSAT is often a very effective way of boosting your overall GAMSAT score; while you cannot control what questions you get in Sections I or III, you can ensure that you have a structured, reliable and effective approach to Section II, meaning that no matter what the topics are, you will perform excellently.
And, like the old and slightly musty saying goes, failing to plan is planning to fail. It sounds a little doomsday, but a little bit of planning can go a long way, especially in terms of managing your stress and ensuring that your study targets are reasonable. Remember the principles of SMART (Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely) goal setting, and that more study does not necessarily equal better study.
In case you were thinking of not making a study plan, ways to make a study plan include using:
- your phone/ tablet/ email calendar;
- a time-management app (there a lots of free ones);
- an Excel Spreadsheet;
- a large piece of card with some gridlines drawn on/ sticky notes representing each day/ week;
- an A4 piece of paper with sticky notes with goals that you can move around/ update; or
- some kind of random piece of paper/ wrapping paper/ something eaten and regurgitated by a dog/ literally anything you can write on (you get the picture).
Below is a sample week by week GAMSAT planner that you might want to use to plan your Section II study alongside your study for Sections I and II. Note that you might obviously have more objectives (e.g. more individual topics that you would like to revise per week for Section III) and you might like to set out your table to include, say, all of the days of the week. There is a blank version of this table (template 1) contained in the ‘templates’ section at the back of this guide for you to utilise in planning your GAMSAT study.
Note: For professional feedback on your essays we offer a professional GAMSAT essay marking service.
GAMSAT Section 2 Essay Writing – Part 2
Approaching the quotes: Making sense of the stimuli in GAMSAT Section II
What stimuli do I get in Section II of the GAMSAT?
As noted above, you will receive a number of quotes (these might be statements or questions) that all relate to a particular topic and will all (usually!) address a variety of views on that particular topic. You are then instructed to compose a piece of writing in response to one or more of these quotes.
Perhaps the first major point to make about the two sets of quotes provided is that they are (usually!) slightly different in terms of the kinds of topics that they revolve around. ‘Type A’ quotes (these may be the first or the second set of quotes) usually relate to an issue that is perhaps more ‘objective’ in that it affects society as a whole and is usually something political (if such a broad and arguably unhelpful term as ‘political’ may be used!). Examples of type A themes include the environment, political frameworks (e.g. democracy, utilitarianism etc.), war/ conflict, terrorism, diplomacy, healthcare and asylum seeking (to name just a few).
Type B quotes on the other hand, trend to refer to an issue that is perhaps more subjective, and operates on more of an individual level. This is not to say that the issue does not have societal implications, but that individuals (rather than groups of indivipeduals) often have highly diverse views regarding these issues. Examples of Type B topics include love, trust, relationships, optimism, faith, imagination and childhood (again, just to name a few examples).
From this distinction, it is possible to say that historically at least, type A quotes tend to lend themselves to more of an argumentative style of writing (i.e. perhaps the most straightforward and widely adopted approach is that of an argumentative essay), while type B quotes are better explored using a more reflective and/or creative writing style. Of course this distinction is by no means a rule! Theoretically, you can write any style of piece in response to either set of quotes.
To get access to hundreds of free GAMSAT section 2 sample quotes, visit our free gamsat essay quote generator
Ok, got that. But why should I spend time thinking about the GAMSAT quotes rather than just getting on with writing my essay?
It is extremely tempting to glance fairly briefly at the quotes, think of a couple of ideas, and then jump straight into writing. This is only natural as you know that you have only a limited amount of time, and understandably want to get on to writing your essays as quickly as possible. Indeed, this is what a large number of candidates will do.
If you would like to maximise your chances of performing excellently in Section II however, it is critical that you train yourself during your preparation time to slow things down and allow yourself sufficient time to comprehend the quotes. This means having enough time to read them, explain them to yourself as though you were deconstructing them for someone else, and generate ideas that emerge from each quote. This may seem like a lot of work to do within just a few minutes, but this is what you are training yourself to do by studying for Section II. Over time you will become quicker at deconstructing the quotes and identifying ideas contained in them for use in your essays.
Great. Can you give me a step-by-step approach to reading the GAMSAT quotes?
Yes! The following is a step-by-step approach to reading and deconstructing the quotes contained in each set of stimuli.
- #1: Read the quotes individually and attempt to explain each one back to yourself in everyday language. Be specific here and be honest with yourself! Do not just pick out buzzwords (“oh this is about democracy and it being bad”), but instead force yourself to really explain the quote to yourself as though you were explaining it to a friend or family member (“this quote is saying that while democracy has strengths, it also has many weaknesses”). If you do not understand a quote, do not panic! You do not have to write about anything that you do not understand. Do your best however to get hints from who said the quote and when they might have said it in order to create some context and perhaps understand what is being said.
- #2: Identify what the overarching theme is. Try to summarise the topic in just one word (e.g. government, leadership, memory or sacrifice). This is a critical step, because it allows you to step back and put a label on the overall topic that is being featured in the quotes.
- #3: Identify sub-themes. Once you have taken note of what the overall theme is, ask yourself whether there are sub-themes that relate to the overall theme, and whether these might feature in more than one of the quotes. For example, if the overarching theme is government, a sub-theme might be corruption; if the overarching theme is memory, a sub-theme might be painful experiences. Identifying sub-themes is a way of putting your brain on track to start considering how you might construct a thesis and sub-arguments to go with it.
- #4: Identify whether you are dealing with type A or type B quotes. Now that you know what the theme and sub-themes are, ask yourself whether this represents more of a type A or type B theme. Protip: some themes seem to exhibit characteristics of both type A and B themes! If this is the case, do not panic! Just try to decide whether the topic would lend itself to more of an argumentative or reflective approach and go from there.
Here is a short post covering an easy way to structure your GAMSAT essays.
Linking what you know to the theme (how to create a ‘toolbox’ of ideas)
So, you have worked out what kinds of quotes you are dealing with and the themes they contain. The next step is to link what you already know (from your life experiences, education, profession etc.) to the theme. Many students feel that in preparing for Section II of the GAMSAT they need to attain more knowledge and that they will really struggle with a theme that is political because they are not really interested in politics. From the outset, it is important to acknowledge that you already have an extremely unique and engaging perspective, simply because you are you and nobody else has the same set of experiences that you have had!
While educating yourself and reading widely is always good, and may come in handy depending on the topics you encounter on exam day, realise that you already have a lot of wisdom and understanding simply from experiencing life as a human being! Do not overlook the unique perspective that your ethnicity/ culture/ choice of profession/ life experiences etc. empower you with, and remember that your perspective is valid and intriguing.
That being said, the more you have given thought to various things (be these issues/concepts/ events), the easier you will find tapping into your ideas and presenting them in a coherent piece of writing within a limited amount of time. You can also experiment with writing about the same or similar topics/ examples in response to various sets of quotes, to practice applying what you know to a different set of ideas. If there is something that you are routinely interested in (e.g. feminism, technology, the law etc.), feel free to write about it. You do not (and should not) write about anything that does not interest or make sense to you. In doing so you will set yourself up for an uphill battle, rather than writing about something that honestly interests you. A word of caution here, however, about writing about topics that you may have written essays on before (e.g. for high school or university): While this is often a great idea (as you already have an understanding of a topic), avoid trying to make the thing you want to write about ‘fit’ within the theme that has been given. It is often very evident that a candidate has tried to do this, and has not effectively integrated their topic/ examples into the theme. You want to ensure that your thesis is somewhat original but that it goes to the heart of the topic (rather than skirting around the edges focusing on a finer aspect of a bigger topic…more about this later though!).
A great way of keeping track of topics that you have thought about/ enjoy writing about is to keep a ‘toolbox’ of ideas. This might just be a piece of card that you write a list of topics on, or it could be constructed more elaborately as a mind map linking various themes and examples to show how various ideas may be applied in a variety of settings.
You can check out our short blog post about how to supercharge your GAMSAT essay
GAMSAT Section 2 Essay Writing – Part 3
Generating a thesis: Getting from the GAMSAT quotes to a rip-roaring argument
This section will cover the basics of thesis composition, as well as more advanced concepts relating to fine-tuning your thesis statement and questions that you can ask yourself in order to evaluate the strength of a thesis statement before you start writing. Ok, let’s get started!
What is a thesis?
A thesis is simply a statement or question that your essay will address. Think of your thesis as the one sentence that the reader could highlight and know immediately what your essay is going to be about. A thesis (for the purposes of Section II) should ideally be contained in a single sentence, and convey a contention or idea that you will attempt to resolve, prove or explore in the course of your essay.
Your thesis not only acts as a guide for the reader, but also acts as a guide for you as you are writing your essay; you can constantly refer back to your thesis to ensure that you are on track in terms of what you are writing about. Forcing yourself to contain your thesis in a single sentence also challenges you to consolidate in your own mind what you are going to be writing about and why you are writing about it. Generating a thesis statement can be tricky, meaning that by doing so, you are demonstrating a level of thought and clarity that can significantly elevate your essay in the reader’s eyes.
How do I come up with a thesis for Section II of the GAMSAT?
Formulating coherent and intriguing thesis statements takes practice! Do not despair if you find expressing the entire idea behind your essay in a single sentence to be challenging. Many students find that while thinking of a thesis statement is difficult at first, it becomes easier with time and a skill that significantly enhances the overall persuasiveness and clarity of their essays. Read this blog post to learn about 9 tips for persuasive GAMSAT essay writing.
This post also covers a few short tips for GAMSAT section II.
While some people may find that a sentence summarising their argument pops conveniently into their head seconds after they have read the quotes and thought of some examples, others may find that this is not the case. Those who struggle to automatically generate a thesis statement may find that all they have is a variety of ideas and nothing really stringing them together. The trick is to become good at various ways of phrasing a thesis, and substituting out elements of the statement (or question) in order to ‘supercharge’ your thesis and elevate it above the very first thing that popped into your head.
So, what are some examples of how a thesis may be phrased in Section II of the GAMSAT?
A thesis may be phrased as a statement, a concessional statement (contains an ‘admission’ that something is true, but then suggests that a contrary perspective is still stronger despite this truth), or as a question. There are of course many more kinds of thesis statement, but these are the types that will be largely focused on in this book.
|Type of thesis||
|Statement||Apples are a significantly better fruit than oranges.
Trust is more important than initial attraction in forming effective and enduring human relationships.
|Concessional statement||While oranges are a nutritious and delicious fruit, apples are a superior choice for many reasons.
While initial attraction plays an important role in strengthening human interaction, trust is perhaps more important in forming enduring relationships.
|Question||Are apples really better than oranges when it comes to school lunches?
Is trust really more important than initial attraction when it comes to forming successful and enduring human relationships?
Once you have an understanding of possible ways that you can phrase your thesis, you can then envisage in your mind the kind of statement that you might want to generate. In trying to come up with a thesis, there are a variety of questions that you can ask yourself, including:
- do I want to say something positive, negative or neutral about topic x;
- do I want to compare topic x to topic y;
- do I want to ‘admit’ a fact and then state that a contrary perspective is still superior (concessional thesis); and/or
- is there a subtheme that I would particularly like to focus on/ explore?
By answering these questions, you can assist your brain in developing a thesis statement.
The following is a worked example of how this process could occur mentally using some of the questions above.
You could go through such a process multiple times (using a variety of different questions) in order to create multiple thesis options which you can then evaluate and ‘supercharge’ before you start writing (see below!).
This still seems really hard! How can I become better at generating a thesis statement if the above questions don’t help?
If asking yourself questions similar to the ones above does not assist you, there are plenty more strategies to try!
Mind mapping for the GAMSAT
While it may seem as though there is not enough time in the exam to be constructing elaborate diagrams, there is plenty of time to do this while you are studying for Section II. One of the ideas behind mind mapping is that the process of creating the maps will over time assist your neural pathways to the extent that you will be able to create maps without actually writing them out. There are lots of different ways to mind map, and it is important to find a method that works well for you. The basics, however, are quite straightforward, in that you are trying to use some kind of visual representation to help your mind consider novel aspects of an idea, topic or concept, and move past mental ‘roadblocks’ that you might have. You can look online or elsewhere for mind mapping resources, but you can try the simple approach below to get started.
- Write the overall topic contained in the quotes in the centre of your page and draw a shape around it (there is a theory that our brains like smooth, flowing connectors, but use whatever works for you to link your ideas and track your thought processes).
- Ask yourself whether you know of some general ideas that relate to trust. These ideas might be taken directly from the quotes, or they might be ideas that occur to you when you think of the theme. Write these around the central theme.
3. Add in ideas/ examples that may be used to expand upon these general ideas relating to trust.
- Use your mind-mapped ideas to form a thesis. You may want to achieve this by grouping positive/ negative ideas on a topic, or grouping ideas that would work well together under the same thesis.
(A thesis that strings together the highlighted ideas might be, for example, Trust is essential to individual fulfillment in terms of forming successful relationships, enhancing self-confidence and the ability to take risks and seek new opportunities.)
‘Idea flipping’ for the GAMSAT
Another way of generating a thesis statement is to implement ‘idea flipping’. This is basically a way of flipping or reversing your current perspective on a topic to free up more possible angles. Some examples of idea flipping include:
- Devil’s advocate (What if I argue the complete opposite perspective to what I am thinking/ would I actually agree with the conflicting perspective more?);
- Removal (What if the concept didn’t exist/ thing wasn’t there? What would happen if the thing wasn’t even there? Would a thing’s absence illustrate its purpose?); and
- Necessary-unnecessary (Could I view something that is commonly seen as essential as unimportant? Could I look at a perspective that is completely novel compared to how most people view something?).
Ok. I have a thesis. How do I know it’s a good one before I start writing?
Once you have a thesis in mind, it may be extremely tempting to start writing straight away. And who can blame you! You finally have a sense of direction and the clock is ticking!
One thing that students who write excellent Section II essays often have in common, however, is the ability to evaluate their thesis before they actually use it as the basis of an essay. This allows them to look at their chosen direction objectively, and consider whether a different thesis would serve them better in terms of the essay that it facilitates and the marks that they are going to get for ingenuity, creativity etc. A key part of your preparation for Section II is practicing strategies that allow you decide whether a thesis is worth your time and effort before you get halfway through your essay and realise that it perhaps could have been different or better.
In terms of evaluating your thesis, ask yourself the following questions:
- Does the thesis allow me to explore the ‘heart’ of the topic? (I.e. is this thesis centered on key ideas/ issues that relate directly to the major theme of the quotes, or is it obscure and thus only addressing finer details of the overall theme?)
- Does the thesis allow me to explore novel aspects of the overall theme? (This is not to say that your thesis cannot explore major, obvious issues that are at the heart of the theme, but rather that your thesis in some way allows you to address the issue from a more unique perspective.)
- Does my thesis allow me to talk about the ideas and examples that I would like to discuss? (It is important to ensure that your thesis can actually act as a scaffold for the ideas and examples that you would like to cover; if it does not, then you should consider rewording it.)
- Does my thesis actually contain a contention? (I.e. a statement/question etc. that you can attempt to resolve in the course of your essay. If it doesn’t really present a contention, consider changing your wording or language so that your thesis represents something that can be ‘proven’ during the course of your essay with examples and explanations.)
- If you read your thesis, would you be interested enough to read the rest of the essay? (It is important that your thesis actually intrigues the reader to the point that they are interested in reading the rest of your essay.)
- Do I actually agree with my thesis? (Obviously you can adopt a perspective in an essay that you do not personally agree with, and at times this may be necessary! However, if you can write a thesis that you actually agree with, the tone of the essay is often more convincing and you will not be ‘pushing the cart up the hill’ so to speak!)
How can I link my thesis to specific ideas contained in the GAMSAT quotes?
It is somewhat artificial for this guide to have included how to link specific ideas contained in the quotes to your thesis after having talked about how to generate a thesis. This is because your thesis should reflect the ideas contained in the quotes that you would like to discuss (and vice versa). However, a book needs an order and most people like to think of a thesis and then decide upon the subject matter of each body paragraph afterwards, so we have gone with this order!
The ‘reversible reaction’ model for the GAMSAT
A useful way of visualising the relationship between the ideas contained in the quotes and your thesis is to see the two as involved in a reversible reaction. On the one side, you have your thesis, but it will change if the ideas contained in the quotes that you would like to discuss change, as it will no longer effectively support those ideas; Similarly, if your thesis changes, it may no longer be an appropriate scaffold for ideas in the quotes that you had previously gravitated towards.
Thesis ↔ Ideas contained in the quotes
V1: Apples are better than oranges ↔ Portable, less acidic, associated with health
V2: Apples are no better than oranges ↔ both are nutritious, need variety, individual preference
VI: Trust is necessary to human relationships ↔ Allows for longevity, individual confidence, resilience
V2: Trust is just one ingredient to successful relationships ↔ Multiple factors needed for successful relationships, can have trust but relationship still fails, trust is complimented by attraction
Explanation: In Example 1 above, two versions (V1 and V2) of a thesis and corresponding ideas that they support are given. In V2, the thesis had to be changed slightly to support the different ideas (and corresponding perspective) that have been included. Example 2 gives a slightly more serious demonstration of the same process of altering your thesis depending on what ideas you would like to discuss.
The Grid Method for the GAMSAT
Another strategy that you can use to pair the ideas and examples that you would like to explore with a thesis and check that they line up is the grid method. This basically just involves a simple 6 square grid that allows you to visualise the ideas (topic sentences) and corresponding examples that you would like to use, and see how these line up with your thesis.
- Start by drawing up a quick, 6 square grid.
- Write your thesis above the grid.
- In the left hand side of the table, write down the key ideas (either stemming from the quotes or your own mind) that you would like to explore in ‘proving’ your thesis. These will form the topic sentence (TS) of each body paragraph.
- Now fill in the right hand side of the grid with the examples that you would like to use to explore/ illustrate each topic sentence.
You can also fill out the left and right columns of the grid out of order, and then fill in each ‘gap’ as you think of it. Once everything is written out, you can check whether your thesis facilitates an effective exploration of the ideas and examples that you would like to include (i.e. if I read my thesis, would I begin to think about the kinds of topics that I plan to talk about and not be shocked/ surprised by anything that was listed as a discussion point in the intro or that came up later?).
*Note that in the templates section at the back of this guide, the 6 square grid is upgraded to a 9 square grid that you can use to map out your rebuttals, in addition to your topic sentences and examples (template 2).
The idea behind the grid method is that while you may need to write it out in full when you first start planning and writing your essays, as you develop you will be able to perform effectively the same process faster and in your head. Some students like to jot down a very simple grid on the first page of their exam booklet, as they find it invaluable in saving them stress and time in the planning phase of writing their essay on exam day. Either way, it is about finding what works for you and ensuring that you have a mental process for conceptualising specifically what you are going to write about and how you are going to do that before you start your essay. The grid method is also a great way of efficiently practicing responding to a variety of quotes without writing out full essays, especially as you get closer to exam day.
For parts 4-10 of this guide, please download our free gamsat essay strategy guide below:
The GAMSAT Advanced Essay Bible