We partnered with the start-up Active Notebooks to create the first ever notebook in preparing for the GAMSAT. In this article we breakdown why we created it and how to use it to prepare for the exam.
I remember when preparing for GAMSAT Section 3 I had written hundreds of pages of notes that I would review regularly.
My note-taking approach involved summarising information directly from textbooks, and re-reading my notes regularly for retention. I would also highlight (or underline) important bits of texts that I felt were more important for the GAMSAT test. Although these are popular note-taking methods, in hindsight, they were ineffective – I spent a lot of time making notes and it took ages before I fully retained concepts.
The reason being that they are passive learning techniques.
There is a lot of scientific research that prove that popular note-making methods such as writing directly from textbook, re-reading, highlighting or Summarising are significantly ineffective. Most notably, Dunloskly et al in 2013 reviewed ten learning techniques in detail and offered recommendations about their relative utility, the following five techniques received the lowest utility assessment: summarization, highlighting, the keyword mnemonic, imagery use for text learning ans rereading.
There are numerous papers dating back a century that show that these passive approaches aren’t effective, and that active learning techniques significantly improve test performance. Despite the overwhelming amount of evidence, students still use these ineffective techniques when preparing for GAMSAT section 3.
This common issue inspired us to create the GAMSAT notebook. We hope it encourages future candidates to engage in active GAMSAT study.
Took 12 months
Reflected on GAMSAT experience
Reviewed Studies and Scientific papers
Reviewed by Successful GAMSAT Candidates
The idea of the GAMSAT notebook came to one of the co-founders of the MEDIC BLOG, Raman Bhangle, who was tutoring a student last year in Biology for the GAMSAT test. The student mentioned she struggles to remember key concepts and goes blank when doing practice questions. Raman offered to review her GAMSAT notes to see if he could offer any advice. To his surprise, her notes were well organised and very detailed. He then asked her about her study approach, she had be copying directly from textbooks, thus adopting passive learning.
Raman recommended she stopped copying directly from textbook. Instead she should read a topic, close the textbook, and write out everything she can remember then do some practice questions afterwards, before going back to the textbook.
This was a active method of learning because the student is forced to retrieve information from memory (active recall) and use it to attempt practice questions (practice testing method). Over time, the student saw a significant improvement in her performance. In addition, Raman suggested she use a free program called Anki Flash cards to help with remembering difficult concepts.
Anki Flash cards utilises the principle of spaced repetition to help with learning, this combined with active recall and the practice testing method, saw the student adopt an active based approach to preparing for the exam.
Due to the students success (she went on to score 78), we began thinking of a way to encourage an Active GAMSAT study. Rather than just share the techniques on blog, we wanted to create a tool that would essentially ‘force’ students to engage in active learning.
It took a few months but we came up with the GAMSAT notebook, we ran it past a few colleagues at medical school , as well as the medics that contributed to the GAMSAT Study guide.
The feedback was overwhelmingly positive.
During the production of the GAMSAT notebook, we realised there was already a start-up company called Active Notebooks that had adopted a similar approach to our idea, we reached out to them and partnered to create this final product.
How it Works
Instead of writing long paragraphs of texts the GAMSAT notebooks uses note cards, these are essentially flash cards, where you fill in with a question on one side and the corresponding answer on the other side. You learn and repeat piece of questions by trying to recall the answer. You can check if your answer was correct by turning over the page (see image below).
This approach is scientifically proven to more effective in learning through the process of active recall. The GAMSAT notebook has over 4,000 note cards, more than enough to help with Section 3 and Section 2 preparation.
If for example you read on Acids and Bases (Organic Chemistry) for section 3. Rather than writing 2-4 pages of information you could create a deck of note cards.
e.g a note card saying “describe how an acid dissolves in a solution?”
You would write “A proton (hydrogen ion) is transferred to water to produce a hydronium ion and a negative ion, depending on the acid” on the back side.
This also works the other way round. You can look at the answer and try to recall the associated question.
However, we have included a quick guide in the notebook to advise on how to make effective GAMSAT note cards. Some of the mistakes the beta group made when making GAMSAT note cards include:
- Making them in a way that leverages only rote memorization
- Creating note cards that don’t force true recall – which leads people to mistake recognition for actual knowledge.
- Over-using note cards, or using them when a different study method would be more effective.
The GAMSAT notebook includes proven tips to help with avoiding those mistakes so you learn key concepts very quickly.
Additionally, the GAMSAT notebook encourages spaced repetition with the inclusion of a bar on the top of each page to track the number of times you have gone over the note cards on a particular page (see image below).
We have also included a quick guide on how to incorporate spaced repetition into GAMSAT preparation, so that you are further improving learning.
How to Use it
The GAMSAT notebook is a great study tool to prepare for the exam. However, we recommend using it in conjunction with other active learning methods to get the most out of it. The following are other proven study methods that encourage active GAMSAT study:
1. Retrieval Method of Note-taking
This is the method where after reading a topic, close the textbook, and write out everything you can remember or try explaining what you read to some one else. This is an effective way to refine your thought process and effectively identify any gaps in understanding. Avoid writing notes directly from textbooks at all cost!
2. Active Writing with Note Cards
The GAMSAT notebook promotes studying through active recall with the use of note cards. Furthermore, writing out your own note cards will serve your brain better through active writing.
3. Spaced Repetition
Spaced repetition is the learning technique that incorporates increasing intervals of time between subsequent review of note cards in order to exploit the spacing effect, i.e the phenomenon whereby learning is greater when studying is spread out over time, as opposed to studying the same content in a single session.
4. Problem Solving Practice tests
The GAMSAT is a reasoning test not a knowledge-based test. It is not enough to recall key information you need to APPLY it to solving problems. We recommend at the end of each study session to attempt practice tests, by actively retrieving information from the brain to solve problems. This will help further consolidate understanding.
5. Question-Log Method
It is worth keeping a questions log for all the questions you answer incorrectly to spot trends. This does two things. first you are adopting an evidence-based approach to studying and secondly, it encourages the use of reflective learning to improve skills. Make sure to include a column where you comment on why you selected the incorrect answer and another column for how you plan to reduce the likelihood of answering incorrectly in the future.
We created a GAMSAT Worksheet that you can use to plan GAMSAT study and log questions for each section of the exam. It also includes a study journal and GAMSAT score calculator. Download your Worksheet today and get 25% OFF. Voucher: MEDICBLOG25