At some point during your GAMSAT prep it might feel like you’re spending countless hours “studying” without getting much productive work done. This can be incredibly frustrating, and a drain on time and energy.
It’s not easy preparing for the GAMSAT, and the truth of the matter is that for most students they will never ever feel “fully ready” to take the actual test. Nonetheless, imagine if you could accomplish 3 months worth of “studying” within a month? It sounds too good to be true but think about it for a second. Is it possible to design an efficient study plan where you spend less time studying but still get more done? that’s where the 80/20 principle comes in.
What’s the 80/20 Principle?
The 80/20 principle, also known as the Pareto principle, states that 80% of an output results from 20% of the input. The principle is named after Vilfredo Pareto, an economist, who in 1906 noticed that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population. The mathematical formula he used to demonstrate this distribution also applied to almost everything. Eighty percent of Pareto’s garden peas were produced by 20% of the peapods he had planted, for example. This distribution became popular because it occurred over and over again in numerous scenarios, and it is still widely applied worldwide by companies, economists and governments, for example:
- About 20% of the world’s population controls about 80% of the world’s income
- You would wear about 20% of the clothes in your wardrobe about 80% of the time.
- About 20% of a business’s customers account for 80% of complaints
- About 20% of a business’s customers account for 80% of their profits
The list is infinitely long and diverse. Imagine applying this to GAMSAT prep, structuring your entire GAMSAT preparation through the lens of a single question:
What 20% of my GAMSAT prep caused 80% of my desired GAMSAT result?
That’s an entirely different mindset that will give your GAMSAT preparation a significant edge over other competing students. Let’s zoom in further:
- What 20% of my science prep caused 80% of my desired result in Section 3?
- What 20% of my essay prep caused 80% of my desired result in section 2?
- What 20% of my practice caused 80% of my desired GAMSAT result?
- What 20% of exam tactics caused 80% of my desired result in each section?
It’s important to note that this 80/20 principle isn’t a law for nature, it isn’t as clean cut, but simply a principle of distribution. Sometimes, people will get 90% of results from 15% of their efforts. Or, they’ll get 65% of results from 25% of efforts. But even then, the underlying logic of the principle — the minority of input responsible for the majority of results — applies. So as long as you are able to identify an area where such a distribution exists, there’s room to apply the principle and design a more effective study plan.
Finding the Optimal 20% Input during GAMSAT prep
Seek to focus on the 20% of work that results to 80% of your desired GAMSAT outcome. This will vary with every candidate, but as long as you keep an eye on key performance indicators (KPIs) essential for GAMSAT success and have a feedback loop you should be able to find that optimal 20% of effort that results to a majority of desired output via trial and error. We cover the GAMSAT KPIs in another article (Read), they are essentially measurements to help evaluate progress over time. By setting KPIs you make smarter decisions about the direction of your revision and can recognise the optimal 20% more effectively.
A feedback loop is an effect where the level produced by an input, increases or decreases the output produced by the same input at a later time. During GAMSAT prep, it is important to set this and use the results to improve your accuracy and pace in the exam. Inputs could be exam tips, tactics or strategies you’ve learned, or preparation techniques to improve your study efficacy etc. Outputs would be performance-based e.g. mock results or error rate in answering a specific type of GAMSAT question etc.
Great Feedback systems: full practice tests, mini-tests or tests for a specific question-type.
How to maximise that productive 20%
The Pareto principle can also apply to studying in a different way. Students can find that 80% of the time they spend studying goes on just 20% of the tasks they need to finish. And if they’d zoom it in, they can look for the same distribution within the tasks themselves.
In both cases, you can apply the principle to figure out which activities are taking up the most of your time or causing the most trouble. Then, figure out how to deal with them. If the activity in question is very time-consuming but not too important, then they should simply avoid it. But if there’s no way to avoid the most time-consuming tasks, students can find ways to make them easier, or less time-intensive. Here are are others ways to ensure you maximise productivity:
1. Pomodoro technique
The Pomodoro Technique can help you power through distractions and get things done in short bursts, while taking frequent breaks. Research shows that studying is more effective in small short chunks rather than long sessions. For example, rather than doing 5 hours straight do 25 minutes chunks with five-minute rest in between. It is much more effective to break it down this way because your brain is better at encoding information into the synapses in short repeated sessions as opposed to one large one. Furthermore, studies show that after prolonged study sessions, reasoning and memory may be negatively affected for up to FOUR WHOLE DAYS!
The pomodoro studying technique is a great way to get over this problem and improve productivity. The technique involves uses a timer to break down work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short 5 minutes breaks.
Step 1: Choose your task(s)
Step 2: Set timer for 25 minutes
Step 3: Work – Limit distractions for the entire 25 minutes. Do not be checking Facebook or your phone. Avoid all distractions at all cost!
Step 4: When timer goes off take 5 minutes break away from study area
Step 5: After 4 cycles take a longer break of 20 minutes.
You can modify the technique according to what works for you. I personally use 50/10 cycle where I work for 50 minutes straight and then rest for 10 minutes and repeat three to four times.
2. Minimse distractions
Use apps to minimise distractions during studying. A good recommendation is Stay focused, a Google Chrome extension, that allows you to restrict the amount of time you spend on time wasting website. Similarly, Forest occupies your phone screen with a growing tree seedling for half an hour, which will die if you swipe off the app before your work time is complete!
3. Have a designated work space
Consistently studying in the same place will help you to condition yourself to concentrate more readily when you sit down to work. Find a location with plenty of natural light, a large work surface, and as few distractions as possible. Why not try your dining table, a spot near a window in a library, or your bedroom desk?
4. Set goals and targets
Before each Pomodoro begins, have clearly in mind what work you want to get done in the next 25 minutes. Write a list of the tasks you need to complete this week, and break each one into small steps of around 25 minutes in length to be used as Pomodoros. Cross these off as you go.
The main goal of using the 80/20 principle during GAMSAT prep is to study more efficiently and spend more time honing exam strategies that significantly improve your result. Whether the principle is used to determine and eliminate distractions or find troubling concepts that need focus, it can be a powerful tool that can improve the efficacy of your GAMSAT prep, and improve the overall experience preparing for the test.