Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Uncertainty, Our point of difference & The value of a systematic approach

Whenever I speak to candidates about Section II, the most common complaint relates to uncertainty.  Writing two essays in 1 hour on two sets of unseen stimuli is capable of stunning even accomplished students into a numb anxiety, where time marches on with increasing speed but the speed of your thought proportionally slows in keeping with some sort of sick, self-destructive, "I'm never going to make it to medical school" type relationship.

On analysis, there are a number of factual reasons why the above scenario is commonplace (more on this later) but there is a single conceptual reason why this occurs - let me explain. Most candidates, inspired by the current popular training materials, believe that repeatedly writing essays in response to stimuli is the best method of bettering their score. This belief is understandable because a lot of human endeavour, take for example running, posits the prospect of improvement on practicing and repeating the action in which improvement is sought. If I want to run faster, I should do more running. If I want to become a better piano player, I should play more piano. And so on, it goes.

So why, you ask, is this approach not appropriate for Section II? Well, the answer, in a nutshell, is that Section II is not a writing task, but a response task. The very first step in writing, is to have an idea about what one wishes to write about. Unless you can generate an idea of what to write about in response to the stimulus and have a process by which to perform that action, there is little point in having good sentence structure and a mastery of active and passive voices. The section tests your ability to respond - your ability to write is merely the vehicle upon which the former hitches a ride to the ACER office so you can receive your mark. Put another way, the inability to identify this conceptual pressure point is why I have seen A+ students in high school English and avid readers receive a mid 50's score for this section of the test - much to their own bemusement .

Enter GAMSAT Strategies and our systematic approach to developing your ability to respond to stimuli. At the top of this piece, I mentioned that the chief complaint about Section II revolved around uncertainty as to the stimuli on the day. Well, uncertainty as to stimuli does not imply uncertainty as to response. By teaching candidates how to use repeatable processes to generate an idea about what to write in response to stimuli, the candidate can take control over a section that was previously uncontrollable.

The value of a repeatable process has its origin in risk management. A critical tenant of managing out risk is the use of procedure (e.g. checklists) to mitigate uncertainty. Cue the airline pilot and accompanying clipboard saying "check" prior to your 747 departing on its transatlantic journey. In the instance of Section II, the risk is that you won't know what to write in response to the stimulus. However, if you have a procedure to follow that assists you to generate a response, the risk is removed. All that is left at this point, is to execute and write the essay.

Our procedures cover general knowledge preparation and theme identification, idea generation, alternative idea selection (if you need to decide which idea to pick in responding to the stimulus), essay planning, essay execution and sentence structure. Our course aims to reduce Section II to a repeatable process which by its own virtue delivers you a response to the stimulus.

I will write future posts on each of these areas as they are each worthy of further exploration. But for the meantime, I believe it would be worthwhile to engage in some deep thought on the true nature of Section II and whether your preparation aligns with intent of the test. After all, working hard is hard enough without working hard in the wrong way.

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