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Pathways into medicine: my experiences with UCAT and GAMSAT


Living in our corner of the world and having a desire to pursue medicine will mean that at some point you will encounter either the UCAT or the GAMSAT. I experienced the former a multitude of times and the latter most recently, and have achieved success in both. This blog will guide you through both exams and pathways.


If you are a student pursuing medicine in New Zealand, the UCAT will be your only concern. It is not possible to directly enter medicine as a high school leaver at either Auckland or Otago, so the UCAT is a barrier you cannot escape. In applying at the end of first year and also as a graduate, the UCAT is used to rank you compared to other candidates. At Otago University you need a minimum UCAT score to be considered.


If you are an Australian student, both exams and pathways become a possibility. There are three main ways you can be accepted to an Australian medical school. The first and most relevant to high school leavers is the Undergraduate pathway. To find undergraduate medical schools in Australia, see MedEntry website. For each of these schools, the UCAT is very important, as there are certain threshold scores required to obtain entry. Independent of your ATAR or equivalent score, the UCAT will play a role in determining whether you get an interview and then admission.


There are some undergraduate medical schools which ONLY take students who are school leavers, which brings me to the second and narrowest pathway into medicine. Applying as a non-school leaver with an unfinished university degree reduces the number of universities who will consider you down to about four or five. Still mostly using UCAT (barring JCU), these universities often combine GPA and high school results for consideration. But the number of places at each university is often very limited.


Your last (but nonetheless significant) pathway is that of a graduate. There are about ten medical schools across Australia which have intake for a four year graduate medical degree. All of these use GAMSAT, your degree GPA and interviews to determine your entrance. Most universities have different ways of weighing these three components, but GAMSAT is a constant.


In terms of the two exams, there are similarities and differences. The UCAT with its five types of subtests assess your abillity to reason, make decisions and such generic skills. Outside knowledge is not needed to succeed in this exam. Some find this manageable, but some find it much harder as you can’t use standard methods to “study” for the UCAT. The GAMSAT on the other hand, a six hour behemoth of an exam, encompasses a MCQ section 1 (which is like an mix of Logical Reasoning and Problem Solving as well as Understanding People questions); figurative/ argumentative essays for section 2 and a MCQ section 3 for reasoning in sciences (which is worth half of the final mark). If you are doing a science degree, you will find section 3 of GAMSAT easier, as it tests first year university level science. Arts and commerce degree students often excel in the essay writing components and reasoning in section 1.


If you can, obviously try for the undergraduate route first but have solace in knowing the GAMSAT (whose results count for two years) can also provide you entry into medical school. 


Applying mid-way through your degree
Group versus individual study for UCAT

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