With the rollout of the new (and longer) GAT in 2022, it’s normal to have a lot of questions.
You might be thinking: Why should I care about the GAT? What even is the GAT? Is it an IQ test that tests natural ability, or am I supposed to study? How the heck do I prepare for it?
Don’t worry, this will help you get what it’s all about.
What is it?
The General Achievement Test (GAT) is a test of general knowledge and skills in the areas of English, Maths and Humanities. These include written communication, reading comprehension, interpretation of diagrams, inductive and deductive reasoning. The test is conducted state-wide in Victoria and usually takes place in the middle of the year, around June.
Who sits it?
If you are a student enrolled in at least 1 VCE ¾ subject or scored VCE VET Unit ¾ for the year, you will be required to sit the GAT. This means some students may sit the GAT multiple times (for example once in Year 11, again in Year 12). Senior VCAL students only sit Section A.
How is it structured?
The test is split into 2 sections, spanning a whopping total of 4 hrs! But no fear, you receive allocated break time between the sections.
This section tests literacy and numeracy. It runs for 2 hours + 15 minutes reading time (totalling 135 minutes). It contains:
- A 2-part writing task (VCAA recommends 30 mins)
You will be asked to complete a short answer question (10 mins) and a detailed response (20 mins) to display your informative communication skills. You must draw upon understanding of audience and purpose to pass information clearly and effectively, it is not persuasive and thus you do not need to form arguments. Don’t regurgitate the content presented to you: you should interpret in a relevant and synthesising manner.
Key skills you will need to demonstrate:
- Organising information in a logical structure
- Developing this in a cohesive piece of writing
- Demonstrating control over mechanical aspects of writing such as grammar, syntax and spelling
- 100 multiple choice questions
- 50 numeracy and 50 literacy. (Recommended 90 minutes, 45 minutes each part).
- Questions are based on a range of contexts including those you may encounter in daily life.
Tip: While VCAA recommends 30 minutes for writing and 90 minutes for the MCQ, it may be beneficial to spend more time on the writing component. You may need more time to ensure you structure your response well, even 5 more minutes can give you ample opportunity to elevate your writing!
This section tests General Knowledge and Skills applied in daily life, 1.5 hrs + 15 minutes reading time (totalling 105 minutes). It contains:
- 1 extended writing task (VCAA recommends 30 minutes, personal essay)
- You will be presented with 4 stimuli (visuals and statements), reflective and perhaps philosophical in nature.
- You must present a personal perspective in response to one or more prompts. Your piece can be more creative (eg. A poem, speech, blog, letter) though different forms may require more skill. You can use personal experiences and general knowledge to support your discussion.
- You will be judged for your ideas and expression, as well as structural organisation.
Tip 1: How to do well
Generally, high scoring responses address multiple prompts by identifying a common theme or idea (for example, individualism vs. desire to conform). They may also utilise more creative and idiosyncratic forms to stand out to markers. Vocabulary shouldn’t be a primary concern: just ensure you have a well-considered, insightful exploration that is layered but easy to follow. The best way to demonstrate this is through application in a real life situation, exploring all facets of the topics (as they may present opposing ideas).
Tip 2: How to approach visuals
Don’t be afraid, visual stimuli can actually allow for very varied and distinctive interpretation. Look beyond the obvious – consider abstract concepts. You can take an approach much like an argument analysis visual breakdown (if you do English).
- What is its form (caricature, photograph, image macro etc)? What might this imply about its purpose and message?
- What thoughts and feelings are evoked?
- How does this relate to other prompts? Is there a consistent theme?
- Can you link this to any personal experiences? What are your comments?
- How do these experiences reflect the struggles of humans/society?
- Why do you think we might care about this?
The stimuli are not intended to direct one straightforward line of thinking. You should acknowledge realistic conflicts to illustrate the complexities of the human experience.
- 50 multiple-choice questions – 60 minutes total
- 25 mathematics, science and technology multiple-choice questions
- 25 arts and humanities multiple-choice questions
- Questions cover areas of mathematics, science, technology, humanities, arts and social sciences.
- Questions may be grouped into units, each comes with one of more pieces of information (graphs, texts, tables, diagrams etc).
Tip: Similar to Section A, it may be more useful to spend more time constructing your written response. With MCQs, you have over a minute per question with VCAA’s recommendation and a 25% chance of answering correctly (probability can be increased if you make educated guesses); It is more difficult and more effort to score highly in the essay component.
How is it marked?
Students will receive a raw score and a standardised score for each area (Writing and written communication, Reading and humanities/arts/social sciences, Numeracy and mathematics/science/technology) with their final VCE results at the end of the year.
The raw score will tell you:
- The total number of questions you answered correctly for MCQ.
- The score you received in the written components (total out of 40, each piece is marked by two examiners out of 10).****
The standardised scores are similar to VCE subject study scores. They are calculated across a normal distribution and all students are ranked. The maximum is 50, most students score in the range of 23-37.
For example, a score of 28/40 (about 7/10 per essay mark) in the written component may actually convert to a standardised score of 40 (placing you in the top 9% of the state). A score of 30/35 in Maths/Science may convert to a standardised 43; An identical score of 30/35 in Human/Arts may convert to 46.
It is important to note that this conversion will vary each year depending on the performance of all test takers. Most students tend to do better in Maths/Science due to familiarity with concepts from VCE subjects, reading comprehension style questions are not tested as commonly so they may be more difficult (hence the trend of comparably higher scores when converted).
The GAT Statement of Results also indicates if the student has met the standard of literacy and numeracy skills, not met the standard, or met the standard and demonstrated a level of excellence.
What are GAT results used for?
Moderation of school assessments
Have you ever spoken to a friend from another school about SACs and found out that theirs was an open book, take home task while yours was closed book, timed and so much more difficult? Or maybe they wrote a similar quality essay for English which scored 90%, while your teacher was much harsher and you received 75%.
The GAT ensures that these scores are adjusted across schools to account for these differences. The scores in each school are compared and used to scale SAC marks up or down, which is why it’s great if other people in your school do well in the GAT!
External assessment results
If there is a significant difference between your final exam score and the score predicted by the GAT and school indicative grades, the external assessment will be reassessed by the chief assessor. This usually happens in cases where you receive a much lower score in your external assessment compared to what is suggested in your GAT. Scores will only go up or remain the same, they will not decrease.
Derived Exam Scores (DES)
If you are eligible for a DES, your GAT score will be used to determine it. If you are unable to sit the final exam, a combination of your SAC scores, GAT scores and other factors will be considered. That’s why you should still take it seriously, just in case something happens and it’s needed. You can’t apply for a DES for the GAT, you must sit it to receive a score.
The GAT does not directly affect your ATAR, but will impact it through standardisation and verification of your final results.
Now, onto the thing you probably care about most.
Do I need to study for it? How can I prepare effectively?
The GAT tests your ‘general knowledge and skills’, which might sound confusing and vague. Do they test your ability to file taxes, quiz you on current events, or ask you to break down the meaning of life in a 30 minute essay?
It’s actually pretty simple: you just need to demonstrate 3 core skills.
- Show that you can interpret stimulus (eg. Graphs, cartoons or texts) to identify relevant information.
- Show that you can apply that information to make logical conclusions.
- Show that you can communicate these insights in a structured and understandable way.
Your critical thinking skills are much more important that any knowledge about Le Chatelier’s Principle or the political and economic state of the world right now. Don’t worry if you’re a Humanities student who struggles with maths and detests chemistry: in terms of assumed knowledge, the GAT really only requires Year 8/9 level maths knowledge. It is important to revise some foundational concepts (basic algebra, percentages, reading pie charts/line graphs/frequency tables), but you won’t need to understand derivatives and calculus to score full marks. Questions may also aim to present niche scientific mechanisms that not many students know anyway, creating equal ground for all test takers regardless of their subject backgrounds.
There’s just 1 thing to do: Sit and review past papers.
There’s no need to do masses of practice exams, simply doing 1 or 2 will give you effective results. You will gain:
- Familiarity with exam format: You don’t want your actual sitting to be the first time you’ve ever laid eyes on a GAT paper. You’ll spend less time trying to understand the instructions, as well as feel less exam anxiety.
- Identification of knowledge gaps: If you’re someone who struggles with reading poems and interpreting cartoons, you’ll find out as you’re doing a practice run. If you’ve forgotten how to calculate ratios, you’ll also find out. This will help you work out what you might need to revise!
- Time management skills: Experience is the best advisor for strategy.
- Question patterns: GAT question types are pretty consistent, even with the new format. The past papers will give you accurate examples of what to expect. Similar questions tend to pop up every couple of years.
Exposure to the GAT will particularly aid in the writing sections, which will definitely be relevant to your results in VCE English/EAL/Literature/English Language. You can ask for feedback from your English teacher, friends, parents, or anyone who will read it! If they feel like your writing has a clear structure yet maintains depth and interesting discussion, there’s a good chance your markers will agree. Individual writing style is something that works in your favour, so don’t feel obligation to follow a formulaic structure for your writing. It is, however, important to have some sort of opening and conclusion.
Past papers have solutions for the MCQ sections, so make sure to understand the reasoning for each of these questions. It’s perfectly normal to struggle in your first sitting: it’s more important to ensure you know how to get to the right answer.
Of course, there’s no reason to worry too much about the GAT and it’s not worth dedicating ages of time studying if you have SACs looming upon you. It doesn’t hurt to be prepared though!
If you’re still feeling a little stressed out, you can check out the GATchphrase or the customary annual GAT memes (Facebook/Reddit).
This blog was written by our tutor, Catherine. You can find her tutor profile here.