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Sitting the GAMSAT? 5 reasons why you should embrace winter.

Today is the first day of winter. Where I am at least, it is sunny with not a sign of rain.

But no matter what the weather, the 1st of June in the southern hemisphere is a reminder that there are officially three months of (more often than not), rainy and cold days ahead in most places.

The sun gets up later to chilly mornings and it’s dark by the time we get home. We don’t really feel that inspired to venture out at night, opting instead for a night in with a movie in front of the fire.

In other words, it’s a perfect time to get started with GAMSAT study!

Winter Study

Here are my top 5 reasons why you should make the most of this winter:

1. It’s cold and dark outside.
No one really feels like getting out when it’s pouring down and blowing a gale. There’s something about sitting down at a desk with a hot drink and some cheeky snacks (read: chocolate!) while the rain runs down the window that make study just that much more appealing!

2. Your social calendar slows down.
Unless you’re one of the Kardashians, chances are your calendar is a little more empty over winter. Take advantage by getting a study plan mapped out for the next three months. Whether you’re sitting the UK GAMSAT in September, or Australian edition in March 2016, there really is no time to waste (so don’t bother watching the Kardashians on TV either!)

3. There is more time to really cement difficult concepts.
It takes time to learn something new, especially when more difficult concepts are built from basic ideas as is the case with science. I like teaching the cbsquared Chemistry for GAMSAT Winter course as no only does it get me out of the house on those cold nights, but it gives students that bit of extra time to really master those tricky concepts before the March GAMSAT rolls around.

4. It’s a mood booster.
There’s actually science behind the fact that the shorter days of the winter months aren’t really that good for your mood. I really enjoy interacting with, and getting to know the students in the Winter class, and I can tell that their moods are lifted even when it’s dreary outside – because they feel like they are doing something productive. Students also really benefit from meeting others in the same boat and bouncing experiences and ideas off of each other, and many start new study groups too.

5. In summer there’s things you’d rather be doing and places you’d rather be.
The summer months and the festive season can be quite a busy time, so getting some learning under the belt now, before the days start to warm up, you get caught up in the silly season or go away on holidays – really is invaluable and can get you on the right track with your GAMSAT study.

So bite the bullet, and check out the cbsquared courses on offer over winter. There is an online version for Chemistry for those unable to attend, or perhaps you want to think about your approach to start with, this post “learning how to learn for GAMSAT” that I shared earlier this year may be of help.



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Back to basics: turning GAMSAT maths into child’s play

Around half of the topics in the Chemistry for GAMSAT course rely on a number of mathematical skills.

Despite what you might initially think, the level of maths required in the GAMSAT is not difficult, but it may require a concerted effort to make sure your skills are up to scratch, especially with the no calculator rule.

So with a bit of practice, you really can turn that maths into child’s play 🙂

Below are a list of linked resources to get “back to basics” with your maths knowledge, and ensure you have the basic skills down-pat so that you can apply them while answering your chemistry questions. Many include examples and practice questions.

Rearranging & manipulating equations

Transposition of formulae (rearranging equations)
Fractions: Fear and loathing in mathematics
Dimensional Analysis
Simultaneous Equations


Conversion of natural logs to base 10 logs

Graphing and graphical analysis

Graphs and Proportion
Graphs and Functions

I’ll continue to add to this list as I find targeted and relevant resources. Follow us on our social media channels or join our mailing list to be alerted about updates.

For more information about cbsquared GAMSAT preparation courses, please visit:

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The 7 days of GAMSAT

Everyone has their own ideas about the best way to prepare for GAMSAT, but one thing is certain, you can’t do it in a week.

So what do we at cbsquared feel you should be doing in that final week leading up to possibly the most nerve-wracking day of your life?

Here are our recommendations-but please note-we understand that everyone is different and different approaches work for different people. So if you already have your game plan sorted, don’t let us ruffle your feathers.

Above all, don’t take this advice as gospel. Pick and choose these suggestions as they fit into your life, your personality and what has been working for you so far.

Above all, be positive and good luck!

7 days ’till GAMSAT

Ideally this should be the very latest that you complete a practice test. You need to allow time to check it through fully in the days ahead – but also rest and wind down before the big day. If you haven’t already – draw up a plan for study to complete in the week leading up to the exam, and stick to it, to avoid feeling overwhelmed and stressed.

Remember, you’ve done all you can up until this point, and cramming will not help you or your stress & energy levels leading up to the big day.

6 days ’till GAMSAT

Today you’re beginning your wind-down mode. You should have completed a full day practice test by now, and perhaps today you are doing something much less taxing on the study front, such as working through your answers.

Read through the ACER info booklet and cross check to make sure you understand all the rules and procedures for GAMSAT day. Do a practice commute to the GAMSAT test location if you’ve never been there before, or work out how you are getting there if you’re travelling interstate.

studente medicina
Study burnout: Avoid any of this during the next week!


5 days ’till GAMSAT

Work through some last questions in your weak areas to tidy up your knowledge. Watch Q&A or other current affairs programs to get up to speed on what’s happening around the country and the world and consider various viewpoints on those issues. We suggest only a half days or study (if at all). No late nights up cramming from now to exam day. It’s more important to rest and relax.

4 days ’till GAMSAT

Perhaps write a practice essay and a few more science questions according to your plan. Take a walk and focus on eating healthily and keeping hydrated over the next few days. Work out your strengths and weaknesses and decide on a strategy to stick to once you walk into exam room. It can be really calming to have a plan, and it can help keep you focussed.

  • Will you read through and answer as many questions as possible (in your head) the during reading time? Or will you read through some of the longest stimulus passages?
  • Will you work through the questions in order, or will you attempt all of the Chemistry questions first?
  • Will you fill in the multiple choice answer sheet as you go (recommended that you do this to avoid running out of time at the end-but this is your choice to make) or will you fill it out at the end?
  • Will you do an “equation dump” (write down a bunch of equations that you think might be important to remember) on the paper somewhere the minute you’re allowed to put pen to paper?

Whatever you do-have these questions about your approach resolved now-don’t leave it till the morning of the big day!

3 days ’till GAMSAT

Ideally your last day of study, and only a very light day at that. Avoid panicking or getting overwhelmed with things you don’t know or haven’t had time to study for. There’s nothing you can do about it now, the best thing is to preserve your sense of zen.

Do some exercise to raise your heart rate, make you sweat and boost your endorphins. Imagine you are sweating out all the stress and mental tension that you’ve been accruing over the last few months or more.

2 days ’till GAMSAT

Ideally no study today. If you really want to – limit it to just going over a few questions you’ve already done. Don’t start on anything new. You don’t want to interrupt that calm frame of mind you’re building before the big day. Go for a walk and do some yoga or stretching, especially if you’re feeling a bit sore after the work out from yesterday.

Take some time to reflect on how far you’ve come in the journey to March GAMSAT. The fact that you even launched into this path to give it a go when so many others have thrown it in the “too hard basket”- that deserves recognition and respect.

1 day ’till GAMSAT

Time to really make an effort to relax. If you are itching to keep studying or stressing over the test-go over your strategy and how you plan to travel to your exam location. Eat nutritious and balanced meals and stay hydrated. Take a yoga class (check out, there are plenty of ready made workouts to suit your mood, time frame and yoga ability) read a light novel, meditate and make a big effort to calm your mind.

If you’re at work today – have your lunch outside under a tree. Read a book before bed. Have a chamomile tea. Stay away from screens in the evening. Think positive thoughts and use visualisation to prepare yourself for the big day.

Time for zen.



No turning back now! Take a deep breath, stay focused and positive. You can do this!

For more information about how cbsquared GAMSAT courses can help you achieve your GAMSAT and medical school goals, or just for some guidance and advice about how to kick start your study, please feel free to get in touch.

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Acids & Bases: a Guide to Tutorial 9 (Part 1)

Acids and Bases is quite a conceptual topic, but you don’t have to end up in the trenches over it.

Listed here is a summary of the focus areas of each question from Topic 9 of the cbsquared Chemistry for GAMSAT course. With some hints and tips to hopefully steer you on the right track and away from danger.

enemy bases

HINTS & TIPS (and things you should know)

Questions 9.1, 9.2, 9.6
Acid and base equations

  • Use the concepts learned in the earlier stoichiometry topic regarding chemical equations.
  • You might need to brush up on balancing equations (check out the practice worksheet in the resources folder).
  • Remember that the generic ACID + BASE –> SALT + WATER only applies in certain cases (namely when hydroxide bases are involved), and is not a blanket statement for ALL acid and base reactions. Now that you’ve learnt about Bronsted and Lewis acids and bases, you need to use these rules to work out which species is the acid and which is the base and what products they are likely to form.
  • A funny video into to Acids & Bases can be found at the Crash Course YouTube page.

Questions 9.3, 9.4, 9.5, 9.6
Bronsted & Lewis acids and bases

  • Write down and understand the definitions of these two ways to categorise acids and bases.
  • Write down reactions with water for each of the species in Q9.3 and 9.4 to find the correct answers

Questions 9.7, 9.8, 9.9
Conjugate acids and bases

Questions 9.10 – 9.11
Solution Stoichiometry

  • Use concepts from earlier stoichiometry topic
  • Extract and write down all the values you have been given in the question in a list to help to work out what equations to use
  • Understand the meaning of the term “equivalence point” or “neutralisation point”

Questions 9.12, 9.13, 9.14, 9.15 9.16
pH scale, logs, strong vs weak acids & bases, pH calculations

  • Understand the definition of pH, the log scale & rules of logs (check out the post “Logs in less than 5 minutes” for some help with logs)
  • Know the difference between strong vs weak acids and bases (find a list of the 6 strong acids here)
  • KNOW and be able to use the equation: pH = -log[H+] to calculate the pH from the hydrogen ion concentration, [H+] and;
  • be able to rearrange that equation into [H+] = 10-pH in order to calculate the hydrogen ion concentration, [H+] from the pH
  • The following “cheat table might help when starting out as you can’t use your calculator to calculate logs, so you have to be able to approximate.
pH H+ H+
1 1 x 10-1 0.1
2 1 x 10-2 0.01
3 1 x 10 0.001
3.5 3.16 x 10-4 0.000316
4 1 x 10-4 0.0001

Notice that the pH of 3.5 comes to a value somewhere between 0.001 and 0.0001. There is no need to be as accurate as the number shown in the table (you wont have a calculator!), so just approximate.

  • Understand what pOH is
  • Know or be able to derive the following equations:

pOH = -log[OH] and rearrange to:
[OH] = 10-pOH
[H+][OH] = 1 x 10-14 and rearrange to:
pH + pOH = 14

  • Metal hydroxides will generally dissociate completely in solution,
    eg Ca(OH)2(s) > Ca+(aq)+ 2OH(aq)

Hints and tips for the remaining questions can be found in the post “Acids & Bases: a Guide to Tutorial 9 Part 2”.

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Using Simultaneous Equations and the Arrhenius Equation

The relationship between the activation energy for a reaction, Ea, temperature and the rate constant is shown by the Arrhenius equation:

(A derivation of this equation pops up in ACER Practice Test 1, Questions 49-51)

The Arrhenius Equation looks pretty nasty…after all it has a FRACTION raised to the power…with base “e”…eeeee indeed!

Also, dragons:

Image source: Chemorphesis


But we must remember that the rules for manipulation of NATURAL LOGS (ln) are the SAME as LOGS to the BASE 10.

If you need to refresh these rules, please see my previous post “Logs in less than 5 minutes” which has a great video explanation of the rules. The resources section of the cbsquared Chemistry for GAMSAT online course also contains some practice drills for using logs, and also manipulating scientific notation which may be helpful.)

Ok. Now that we have that sorted, we might have the activation energy levels high enough to launch into the next video (don’t worry it’s only a little more than THREE MINUTES!) which demonstrates how we can use simultaneous equations to use the relationship between temperature and rate constant to solve for Ea, Activation Energy.

For a more indepth discussion of the Arrhenius equation and the forms it takes, the Khan Academy also has a really great resource (this link also includes some other kinetics concepts such as rate laws and reaction mechanisms).

Also, for a detailed explanation of the pre-exponential factor, A, check out this chemwiki resource.

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Lewis structures sending you looney?

Drawing Lewis Dot Structures is an important skill that underpins your understanding of how atoms are connected, and paves the way for understanding of more complex concepts like intermolecular forces, resonance and retrosynthetic analysis, which are key testing areas for the GAMSAT.

Many struggle with Lewis dot structures at first because you really have to dive in head first and give it a go. Trial and error and loads of scribble of pen on paper is the best way to learn when starting out drawing Lewis dot structures.

However we all need a bit of extra help at first, if not for anything else other than to boost our confidence a bit before making a real mess of that notebook, or perhaps even…(shock horror) making a mistake!

So read on for resources on the following:

  • drawing Lewis dot structures
  • list of more than 70 Lewis dot structures with instructive videos
  • determining shape of molecules
  • hybridisation
  • bond angles
  • formal charge
  • resonance

First up, try this Bozeman Science video for some great tips on drawing Lewis structures.

Then check out the Kent Chemistry Lewis dot structures page, which contains some step-by-step videos on determining shape, hybridization, bond angles and formal charge, to really help iron out any confusion over these concepts.

This page also has a list of 70 Lewis dot structures of common molecules and ions, (including a video of how to draw them) so chances are, the one you’ve been pulling your hair out over is there!

Lastly, there’s a good explanation of how the resonance structure of molecules relates to their corresponding Lewis structures.

Get around it!

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Take the Pressure Down: Understand Equilibrium!

Understanding the concepts behind equilibrium can really pay off in the GAMSAT. This is because if you are asked a straight out equilibrium question, such as “what is the equilibrium expression for the following equation…” it can be relatively easy marks.

But also because understanding equilibrium is a must if you want to nail some more tricky topics that involve equilibrium concepts, such as acids and bases and solubility product questions.

One of the key understandings when it comes to the concepts that underpin the basics of equilibrium, is knowing how the following will effect the position of the equilibrium and the actual value of the equilibrium constant:

  • concentration changes
  • pressure
  • temperature
  • addition of a catalyst

The following videos from the Virtual School are really great visuals to help you really nail those basic concepts of equilibrium. They both use Le Chatelier’s principle to explain the effects of the above factors on a system at equilibrium.

The first video explains how changes in concentration and pressure affect equilibrium:

The second video explains how changes in temperature or addition of a catalyst affect equilibrium:

In summary:

  • Concentration and pressure changes will shift the position of the equilibrium, and Le Chatelier’s principle says that the equilibrium will move to oppose that change, in order to re-establish equilibrium and maintain the same value of the equilibrium constant, K.
  • An increase or decrease in temperature will favour one side of the reaction over the other. The actual value of the equilibrium K will change.
  • Addition of a catalyst does not affect the position of the equilibrium OR the value of the equilibrium constant, K. It merely increases the rate of both the forward and back reactions, hence equilibrium is reached faster.

To determine the direction that the equilibrium will shift, you’ll need to know the following about the chemical reaction:

  • Concentration changes: identify if the reagent is experiencing an increase or decrease in concentration and if it is a reactant or product
  • Pressure changes: identify the number of moles of gas on each side of the equation
  • Temperature: identify the energetics of the reaction, is it an exothermic or endothermic reaction?

For a more indepth explanation, you can always check out this comprehensive explanation on

If you’re still feeling overwhelmed because the GAMSAT is just getting closer and closer…perhaps it’s time to breathe and sing a little song to yourself:

“Take the pressure down
Cause I can feel it, It’s rising like a storm
Take hold of the wheels and turn them around
Take the pressure down…”

Good luck 😉

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Learning How to Learn for GAMSAT

So you’ve decided to give the GAMSAT a go. You’ve downloaded your ACER practice test and some science materials, but the more you delve into it, the more you realise just how much you’ll need to prepare for the GAMSAT.

You begin to feel overwhelmed. You’re not really sure where to start, or if you’re even up for the challenge anymore. You’ve got limited science and maths background after all, and there just seems like so much to learn!

Surely there is some other tool that could help, some strategic approach to learning? Some way to “jump start” your brain into the problem solving gear that you’ll need for GAMSAT?

I often hear these questions from students with feelings of despair and overwhelm. So I was glad this week to have stumbled across a really useful tool that I want to share with my students and other GAMSAT candidates.

It’s a free course entitled “Learning How to Learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects” available via Coursera. (It really is free, just click “enrol” and choose to complete the course without a certificate)

It’s being offered by The University of California San Diego, and was created by Barbara Oakley. In the TEDx video below, Barbara explains how she “fell off the maths bandwagon” and flunked her way through primary and high school maths and science. But at the age of 26, she decided to “change her brain” and is now a Professor of Engineering.

I saw it on, one of my favourite websites (it’s a knowledge forum of sorts, and would make a great inspiration resource for Section II of the GAMSAT, you should check it out!).

This free (it really is free, just click “enrol” and choose to complete the course without a certificate) “Learning How to Learn” course would be a great addition to your GAMSAT study approach. But please keep in mind that you’ll need a whole lot more than this and strategy (currently offered as the main part of a lot of GAMSAT prep courses that have popped up over the last few years).

I personally would be wary of spending a lot of time and money on a solely “strategic” approach, especially if you have limited science and maths background. Unfortunately there is no “silver bullet” to GAMSAT and those with limited background in science and maths will need to dedicate a reasonable amount of time getting familiar with the language of science and the basic functions of algebra and logarithms, as well as a lot of practice with problem solving to be able to do well in Biology, Physics and Chemistry aspects of GAMSAT section III.

The good news is, with a good plan and a positive attitude there’s no reason why you can’t give the GAMSAT as good a go as anyone else!

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Molecular orbitals don’t have to send you into orbit!

One of the first topics that I’ve found students really being to freak at is hybridisation and orbitals. We tackle it early on in the Chemistry course, because an understanding of hybridisation and orbitals makes a lot of more tricky chemistry that we cover later, a lot easier.

Hybridisation is important as it explains the polarity of molecules, and gives a good understanding of why some molecules are more reactive than others and how certain reactions take place. It can also explain things like stereoselective reactions, and why some molecules are coloured or undergo resonance stabilisation as a result of conjugation.

Students can find this topic tricky to get their head around because it is hard to visualise. Molecules don’t look like balls on sticks and bonds don’t form in neat little lines…they form from overlapping electron clouds, or shells, flowing around the bonded nuclei.

What they actually look like is based on quantum mechanical, three dimensional, wave function probabilistic distributions of electrons in space. Hang on whaaa? Don’t worry-read on.

The following video by Hank Green from crash course provides lots of images so that you can actually see what happens in hybridisation, and you will also start to understand the meaning of “quantum mechanical, three dimensional, wave function probabilistic distributions of electrons in space”. No really, you will! Why not give it a try?

My advice is to pay particular attention to the section about s and p orbitals, how the periodic table is like a “map of orbitals” and hybridisation.

We’ll cover these concepts in more detail in lectures and tutorials in the cbsquared Chemistry for GAMSAT online and attendance courses.


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Top 5 tips on how to blitz your GAMSAT essays

Be familiar with your texts, whether novels, poems, histories, films or photographs.


1. Keep up with your reading and assessments over the course of the whole year. For some of you, it might already be too late, but for those of you who have been keeping up, I hope this is reassuring, because it really is the most important advice of all.

Humanities subjects are best studied through a prolonged and deep engagement with the texts you have been assigned (whether novels, poems, histories, films or photographs); it’s not something susceptible to cramming at the last minute.

You need to read methodically, ask lots of questions and discuss them with your classmates, teachers, friends and family. Often the books we set for exams are difficult and elusive, but also, with some effort, richly rewarding – that’s why we’re still reading them, sometimes hundreds of years after they have been written.

If you’ve skived off for most of the year and only skimmed the material and relied entirely on Sparknotes and Wikepedia to get through the assessments, then it’s time to play catch-up and get reading now.

2. Don’t prepare by pre-writing all of your essays and memorising them in full, hoping to guess correctly about the questions on the exam. This has unfortunately become something of a common strategy among many high school students today. But the examiners are onto it. You run the risk of guessing incorrectly, with potentially disastrous consequences.

Don’t go memorising full essays

You’re also cheating yourself out of genuinely learning from the material you’re reading and writing about. There is a freshness and incisiveness about an examination answer that a student has tackled when thinking on their feet in the exam room. And you will feel much better – certainly less anxious – walking into that examination room having taken this approach, rather then hoping you’ve memorised the right practice essay.

3. Have some useful quotes in mind for each of your subject areas, but be selective and strategic. Many students worry about having enough quotes to weave into their essays. Here, some memorisation does come in handy – but choose carefully and don’t overdo it. You want to demonstrate your grasp of the text and maximise the impact of your quotations for the sake of your argument.

I’ve heard some pretty amazing stories about how to ensure you can remember them – sniffing rosemary oil as you study and then taking a twig into the exam room; or pasting extracts all over the house, including in the shower, on your bedroom wall and next to the kitchen sink. But here’s my secret tip: go for a walk.

Philosophers have known for millennia that walking and thinking go extremely well together. Why do you think Socrates spent most of his time wandering around the Greek agora? Stuff tends to stick in your mind when you think and walk at the same time – but pay attention to where you’re going!

You wouldn’t run a marathon without training, so don’t sit your exam without writing practice.

4. Exercise your writing skills: By all means practise writing essays, but not for the sake of memorising them. Rather, writing practice essays helps to organise your thoughts and limber up your writing “muscles”.

Here is another tip that you might have already figured out for yourself: writing is like physical exercise. You need to train up your writing skills as you would your body for a big race. So get training. And get inspired by reading some great writing before you start each day.

5. Embrace the open-endedness, ambiguity and richness of literature, history and language studies. This is probably the biggest challenge of all – and not everyone can or wants to do this – but perhaps the most rewarding too. Not everything has been said about Othello, though it might feel that way.

The reasons for the decline of Rome seem almost too well known, but the resonance of Roman ideals still matters today in countless ways. The intricacies of ancient Greek, the complexity of French verbs and elusiveness of German syntax require the mastery of seemingly endless rules, but their application still requires flair and creativity. The humanities are, after all, ultimately about what it means to live, feel and think as a human being.

Plan to do your best in your exams and train accordingly. But don’t miss out on the extraordinary journey of ideas, concepts and stories you’ve been on. It will keep you fresh for examination day.

More importantly, it’s what will stay with you long after you’ve finished the exam and much longer than whatever marks you ultimately receive on the day.


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