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Author Topic: GAT preparation - a beginner's guide  (Read 11739 times)

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GAT preparation - a beginner's guide
« on: May 28, 2019, 10:08:31 am »
With the GAT upcoming, you might be interested in this article here, containing some tips for the GAT.

Directly taken from the article:

Look, I get it. I know it’s hard to care about the GAT. Chances are, it won’t impact your scores at all, and it’s nowhere near as demanding or important as your SACs and exams.

But here’s why you should put the effort in.

1. The GAT is your safety net!
Picture this: it’s the morning of your English exam, and you’re SO HYPED to get to school and write three hours’ worth of essays. (Or maybe you’re just thrilled that you’ll finally be done with English in just a couple of hours… whatever, just roll with it, okay?) But then, suddenly, there’s a traffic jam on the road to school. You’re stuck in a gridlock. There’s no way you’ll be able to get there on time. Then, hitting the dashboard in frustration, you jar your arm. Now you won’t even be able to write your essays, even if you could get to school. Then your neighbour calls your mum to tell her that your house has just burned down. You’re in no state to complete your exam. What a terrible-horrible-no-good-very-bad morning it’s been.

That’s where the GAT comes in.

The GAT (or General Achievement Test) is a three hour exam you complete at the start of June that is used for score moderation. What this means is that if something goes disastrously wrong for you and you’re unable to attend or complete your exam(s), VCAA will use your GAT scores in the process of creating a DES for you.

A DES (or Derived Examination Score) is like a replacement study score for students whose exam results are compromised by unforeseen circumstances. If you can’t complete an exam (or you can, but there are physical or psychological factors affecting your performance,) you will be eligible for a DES.

But derived scores aren’t just based on GAT results! VCAA also take into consideration your SAC results, and your indicative grade (which is an estimated study score that your teacher submits to VCAA towards the end of Term 3).

So if you do bomb out in the GAT, and you end up missing one or more of your exams, there’s a chance you may still be okay. Getting a 4/60 for the Written Communication doesn’t mean your English score will automatically be in the single digits too. But if your GAT results are low, and your SAC results/ indicative grade aren’t much better, then it’s highly likely your score will suffer.

Note that you can also apply for a derived score even if you do sit the exam. If you experience some kind of trauma in the lead up to your end-of-year assessment, contact your school coordinators or call VCAA directly, and you can apply for a DES.

IMPORTANT: If your actual exam result is higher than your DES, then VCAA will ignore your DES. But if your DES is higher than your actual exam result, then that’s the score you’ll be given. They just choose the highest score; your DES doesn’t automatically override your actual result. Basically, applying for a DES will not disadvantage you, so don’t hesitate to contact someone if you’re in this situation.

2. Wibbly wobbly scaley waley stuff
But what about the students who don’t end up needing the GAT? Does the GAT actually serve a purpose if you complete your exam and don’t apply for a DES?

Well… kinda… possibly…

VCAA have stated that the GAT contributes to “statistical moderation of school-based assessment results” and to “checking the accuracy of external assessment marking.” Unfortunately, they don’t go into much more detail than that.

All we know is that the VCAA Maths wizards do use the GAT to judge how fairly your school marked your SACs, and how easy or difficult certain exams were for that year.

For instance, if a school hands out nothing but A++’s in Maths Methods this year, but those students get really low scores on the Maths section of the GAT and on their exams, then it throws up a big red flag to VCAA saying “HEY! THIS SCHOOL ISN’T MARKING SACs PROPERLY!” Or, if your English teacher is super strict, and you’ve been struggling to hit B+ territory all year, but you ace the GAT and blitz the end of year exams, then your SACs are more likely to scale up.

And in terms of exam difficulty, if the majority of students who scored really highly on the humanities section of the GAT struggle with their Legal Studies or Health exam, then VCAA will brand that exam as being fairly tricky. As such, those subjects might scale up by more (or, for the humanities, they at least won’t scale down quite so much!) for that year.

Overall, the GAT is just one piece of the big mathematical puzzle that is VCAA’s scaling processes.

3. What does the GAT involve?
There are three main components for the GAT: two writing tasks, and a multi-choice section. And, as VCAA’s website notes: “These areas are very broad.”

The writing tasks are just based on some general, unseen stimulus material, and the multi-choice questions can be based on all manner of things. Most of them could be broadly defined as ‘logic puzzles,’ though there are some that involve understanding graphs and formulae whilst others are about interpreting reading comprehension material and cartoons.

But, most importantly, the GAT is designed to test your general knowledge. Whether it’s actually successful in this endeavour is a rant for another day, but what’s good about this is that all the information you need will be provided! There’ll never be a multi-choice question asking you about the Laws of Thermodynamics or the writings of Edgar Allan Poe because that would require too much prior knowledge. Instead, each question will give you

There are some exceptions, of course. You do still need to know how to do basic numeracy (i.e. adding, multiplying, following formulae, but nothing that you’d need a calculator for) and there are questions that require you to draw upon your vocabulary (e.g. ‘Would you describe the figure in this cartoon as a) pensive? b) elated? c) reticent or d) morose?’) Beyond that, you don’t have to do any pre-reading to do well in the GAT.

(Also, you’re allowed to bring in a dictionary, so even those vocab questions won’t be too much of a challenge!)

VCAA advise that you spend thirty minutes on each writing task, and then the remaining 120 minutes on the multiple choice section.

You may find you can afford to spend 40 or 50 minutes on each writing task if you want to, but I’d definitely recommend leaving the multi-choice questions till last anyway. It’s easier to spend the last two minutes making educated guesses or shading in random bubbles than trying to churn out a whole paragraph  for Task 1 or 2, so get those essays out of the way first!

Tips for Writing Task 1
This is one of the simplest tasks you’ll ever do, but unfortunately, the instructions often aren’t explained very clearly.

Here’s what happens: you’re given two pages worth of information about a certain topic. This information could include graphs, maps, statistics, quotes, photographs, or prose (i.e. written stuff). And the topic could be anything from ‘diamonds’ to ‘chocolate.’ Each year, they pick a key word, and throw a whole bunch of information at you. It’s your job to sort it out!

Let’s pretend this year’s Task 1 was about ‘buses.’ Now imagine you had to explain to an alien what a ‘bus’ was. Would you chuck a bunch of random charts, words, and figures at them in no particular order? No; that’d confuse the poor alien. Now let’s say you were given three pieces of information: one was a sample bus schedule, one was the first paragraph of a wikipedia page about the invention of buses, and one was an excerpt from a short story about a bus being late one day.If you had to assemble these in a reasonable order, where would you start?

Clearly our first priority should be to explain what buses are and where they come from, so that paragraph on their invention would be a good place to begin. Then, we could bring up the sample schedule as an example of how buses operate in the modern world, and follow that up by mentioning the story.

The actual task will be more complicated than this (since you get two pages of info, not just three things) but the core task remains the same.

Note that you don’t have to use all the information, but it’s usually best to use everything at least once. So if you’re given a bar graph of the top 10 countries with the most efficient buses, you don’t have to talk about all ten. But you could bring up two or three of them and then move on to other information.

As a bit of a cheat-code, there’ll often be a pattern to the kind of material you’re given. For instance, there’ll usually be some info pertaining to the beginning or the history of the topic (e.g. ‘the invention of the radio’ or ‘the history of chess’) which is the best place to start. And if you’re given any kind of timeline, that’ll provide a neat way of getting through the material in an orderly fashion. If there is any comparative material (e.g. ‘consumption of chocolate in Australia in 1970 vs. the present day,’) then that stuff should be dealt with in one go – don’t separate it into different paragraphs if you can avoid it. And if you’re given some kind of visual diagram, imagine you have to describe it to someone who can’t see it. That’ll ensure you’re giving enough information instead of jumping in too suddenly and confusing the assessor.

In terms of what you’re actually meant to write, most people just go for a simple essay format. A brief introduction and conclusion, plus however many body paragraphs you need – that’s definitely sufficient.

You are allowed to be more creative if you want. For instance, our school did a practice GAT task on ‘archeology’ and I wrote a piece from the perspective of a museum tour guide showing a bunch of people around an exhibit. Just go for whatever you find easiest to write. You’re being assessed on clarity here, meaning that your ability to write clearly is the most important thing! Don’t feel you need to jazz it up with an imaginative context; just go with whatever will let you convey the information as plainly as possible.

Tips for Writing Task 2
This one’s a little different – where Task 1 is trying to *overwhelm* you with information that you need to include in your piece, Task 2 is more minimalist. All you get is a few little sentences that act as prompts about a certain topic (e.g. ‘age,’ ‘ceremony,’ ‘cities’ etc.) and then you have to write something based on one or more of those statements.

A good trick to use here is to pick one prompt, and treat that as the ‘moral of the story.’ Then, construct a piece that centres on that idea so that if someone were to read it, they’d get to the end and agree with that general statement. You don’t actually have to use the exact words of the prompt; you just have to try and use that as the basis for your writing.

Again, you want to play to your strengths. If you like creative writing, then you can formulate a story (or more accurately, come into the GAT with a prepared response that you mould to fit the prompts), whereas if you like persuasive pieces, then you can write a speech or something along those lines. You have lots of freedom here, and so long as you’re focusing on the prompts and writing something interesting, you should do very well.

Whilst I’m a registered skeptic when it comes to regurgitating stuff in the English exam (and I think it’s pretty hard to do well if you’re just recycling the same old material for Context pieces,) even I’ll admit that you can quite easily come into the GAT with a couple of frameworks or two for this Writing Task. Even a really general outline of a short story or an idea for a speech can be a decent starting point.

Just focus on developing your contention by unpacking the prompt(s) you’ve chosen, and don’t spend too much time here. Remember, you’ve got 70 multiple choice questions to get to!

Tips for the Multi-choice Questions
As someone who kind of likes logic puzzles, I actually sort of enjoy some of these GAT questions. It can be a fun challenge to see how you can put your problem solving skills to the test, but there are some things that I remember finding a tad frustrating too.

For starters, often you’re having to find the most correct answer, and because you don’t get a chance to explain yourself, this can get a bit annoying. For instance, if you have to read a brief excerpt about a mother describing her child’s first day of school, and the question asks you whether she’s feeling “sad” or “unhappy,” it’s understandably tough. A lot of these questions will provide you with some misleading wrong answers, and discerning the right one can take some practice.

Reading comprehension and dealing with visuals
For questions that require you to read a passage or look at a cartoon and then describe what the author is saying, there are some easy tricks you can use to maximise efficiency. For starters, do a quick skim of the material, and then read the questions! Then, go back, and take a closer look at the material. This will ensure that you’re on the lookout for the relevant information, rather than having to keep rereading sections until you work out what you’re meant to be doing.

Don’t be too quick to select an answer, either. Read them all, and don’t jump for one that seems ‘close enough’ on a first reading. You’re looking for the most correct option, and it may take a couple of rereadings before you find it.

Maths and data interpretation
If you’re not doing Maths in VCE, you’re still require to answer these questions, but they won’t have a big impact on the potential standardisation of your scores. But it pays to think of these kinds of questions as being ‘logic-based’ rather than ‘maths-based.’ They may involve ‘x’s and ‘y’s and ‘(n-1) x (n-2)’s, but you should quite easily be able to work out what’s going on.

And, as always, be sure to read the question carefully. There’s a big difference between ‘which of these statements is true,’ ‘which of these statements is the most true,’ and ‘which of these statements is not true.’

Also, just based on personal experience, DON’T SHADE IN THE WRONG BUBBLES! Your answers for the multi-choice section have to go on one of those scan-a-tron sheets, and you haven’t known true panic until you realise with fifteen minutes to go that you accidentally skipped the third question and your next 67 answers are all out of order. Just thinking about it gives me heart palpitations…

But if don’t make dumb mistakes like me and end up finishing with some time to spare (which is quite likely given the generous three hour time limit) then go over your multi-choice answers and perhaps proofread your writing pieces.  It may not make much of a difference, but this is a great opportunity to practice your test-taking skills. Finding some of those silly errors for multi-choice questions might come in handy for your Maths exams, and proofreading your work is a skill that you’ll almost definitely need for any English or humanities subjects.

In the end, don’t lose sleep over the GAT, and just treat it like a practice run to get develop some exam-style skills.

If nothing else, it’ll be an experience in sitting still and focussing for a three hour stint, which is a good simulation of your English exam in October. Beyond that, the GAT may not matter much, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn some important lessons from it anyway.

Oxford comma, Garamond, Avett Brothers, Orla Gartland enthusiast.