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Reasoning in Humanities and Social Sciences, and its relevance to medical education

Amongst the medical school aptitude tests, the GAMSAT is often slated as the 'worst' or 'most difficult'. While it can certainly feel like an overwhelming task, and there's often a lot of conflicting information available, there are clear and definable ways to do well in each individual section. There are 3 sections to the exam:

For an in-depth overview of the 3 sections and the administrative components of the exam, you can read our step-by-step guide to GAMSAT.

Section 1 Layout

The first section of the GAMSAT is titled 'reasoning in humanities and social sciences', you might wonder what role this plays in a test to get into medical school, but considering some aspects of the job it becomes clearer. As both a medical student and a doctor you will be given a lot of information in the form of patient histories, clinic letters, research papers and audits. You have to be able to decipher these things, written by multiple different people in multiple different ways, in order to find the core information that will help you understand what's going on with your patient. Considering this, it becomes clearer why testing your ability to read and understand various texts is important!

The section consists of 62 multiple choice questions answered in 100 minutes, this works out as roughly 1 and a half minutes per question. You'll find that some questions will take longer than others, a few being answered in less than 30 seconds while others will require up to 3 minutes. Any longer than this it can be better to cut your losses and move on to the next question.

The questions for Section 1 are split into various 'stems' which are various forms of written information that can be as diverse as paragraphs of text, extracts from studies or books, poems, cartoons, diagrams and graphs. Each stem is associated with one or more questions, you must only use the information contained within the stem to answer the questions associated with it! There isn't a set number of stems, but there will always be 62 questions. Some stems may only have 1 question associated with them, others may have 10 questions.


Section 1 tends to be the tightest section in regard to timing, sort of like the verbal reasoning part of the UCAT. As above, don't be fooled into thinking every question will take 1.5 minutes as some will require less or indeed more effort to solve. It's important to remember however that if you spend 5 minutes on any single question, you may or may not get it right, but it could cost you several questions off the end of the paper which you will have to guess without reading because you've run out of time.

Practice S1 questions initially without a time pressure, as you want to focus on getting the questions correct and becoming familiar with the skills associated with them. Once you're reaching 70-75% of these questions correct, move to a timed model but scale it up gradually from using twice as much time as you'd be allocated in the exam, to 1 and a half times as much, to 1 and a quarter, until you are using only the time you would be allocated in the exam. This scaled timing increase allows you to hopefully retain the skill-based interpretation of language you have gained and makes for a less overwhelming jump from untimed to timed questions.


You will quickly discover while practicing S1 questions that vocabulary is an essential start of not only understanding what the stems are about, but also how you can interpret them in order to answer the questions. Attempting to widen your vocabulary will linearly increase your score, so this is important to work on from the very beginning of your revision for S1. You can make use of the questions to find new words, as well as any reading you do to improve your essay writing for Section 2.

Another important aspect of vocabulary is being aware of some key literary devices that might be used in poetry or prose questions. Things like alliteration, metaphor, pathetic fallacy etc. are important and having at least a basic understanding of these types of literary devices will be beneficial in the exam.

It is really important not to treat the S1 questions in the same way you might treat VR questions from the UCAT as the skills they are testing are very different! True comprehension and critical thinking is needed for S1, not just key word searching as in the UCAT. You really need to read and understand the stem in order to answer the questions so don't be tricked into spotting key words in the stem and in the answer options and picking those, as they are often there as red herrings.

Data Interpretation

Whilst there are several examples of long-text style questions, an increasingly common theme in S1 is the use of graphic media (such as cartoons and diagrams) as well as graphs and other forms of data which require significant interpretation skills. It's important to give these questions just as much thought as the ones that come with large paragraphs of text, as they are often 'quicker' questions to answer.

It's important to make use of everything available in these types of questions e.g. is there a title or axes on the graph that helps you, is the person in the cartoon wearing a name badge that is relevant, is this diagram simpler to interpret if I break it down into separate parts etc. Only once you've got a clear understanding of what you're looking at, can you get rid of the excess information and identify what you need to answer the questions.

Remember that there could be a degree of inference required to answer some questions, just because you have a data set don't image that the answer will be available to read off straight away. You might need to apply what you've been shown to extrapolate or estimate further ideas based on the information you already have. This type of 'third order reasoning' is commonly tested in data interpretation questions in both S1 and S3.

Example Question

Unit 6

For the following questions, please select which of the answer options available are closest in meaning to the given proverb.

  1. There is no cure for love other than marriage

A Love isn't a sickness

B Marriage can deepen love

C Love is a long road

D Love is best when new and uncomplicated

Answer = D

There is no cure for love other than marriage; implying that when people are young and in love and want to be together, they often have an idealistic impression that it will remain so forever. When they are married and have to spend time together in harsh realities it may put an end to this idealistic love. Closest to D.

Section 1 Tips

  1. Remember to balance your time effectively throughout the paper
  2. Make sure you are understanding and interpreting the text, not just memorising it
  3. When practicing questions, ensure to look up unfamiliar vocabulary and literary devices
  4. Really examine both correct and incorrect answers to boost reasoning skills
  5. Use logic and negative answering (i.e. ruling out incorrect answers) to assist difficulty questions
  6. Don't be intimidated by poems and graphs – ensure to practice data interpretation in tandem with S3 question practice


In summary, S1 questions are often time-pressured so it's important to practice getting the basics of reading, analysing and understanding different styles of text in early untimed practice. Polishing up on words or phrases you are unfamiliar with can really help bump up your score, as can becoming comfortable with data interpretation style questions.

Further information and support can be found within FutureDoc's GAMSAT course as part of our 1-1 mentoring programme, written and delivered by graduate entry medical students who all secured places after succeeding in their GAMSAT.

Written by Charlie Bailie