Why the GAT matters and how to perform well WITHOUT STUDY!

Lisa Tran

May 28, 2014

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Part 1: Why the GAT matters and how to use it to your advantage

The General Achievement Test (GAT) is a 3 hour assessment based on your general knowledge ranging from English, mathematics and humanity topics. The general vibe seen from majority of VCE students is that they aren’t really too sure why they have to take part in this ‘exam’ and as a result, most have little care for it. However, the GAT is an important component in the VCE assessment process. Let’s see why:

1. Standardising how teachers grade your SACs between different schools

Have you ever talked to your friend from another school and realised how unfair it was that their SAC length for the same assessment was twice the amount of time you had for your SAC? or that perhaps they received the English prompt a week prior to the SAC, rather than during the SAC like you did? Well, this type of this discrepancy can be compensated by the GAT as it helps to eliminate any biases school to school. This means that ultimately, when SAC marks contribute to your overall study score, you can be sure that your grades have been fairly compared to all other VCE students across the state. This also means that as a whole cohort, the students undertaking VCE at your school should all try to do their best because a better outcome will reflect better on the school’s grading system.

2. Ensuring that your exam marks at the end of year reflect your level and skills

All end-of-year papers are checked twice by two different assessors who independently give you a score for your exam. Now if they both give you a similar score then great, your exam has been marked. If not, a third assessor will then look at your exam in order to reach an agreement. Then, there is a last check against your GAT mark. If it so happens that your exam mark is much lower than what your GAT mark anticipated you to obtain – in other words, if you received a high GAT mark which demonstrates your strong skills in English, mathematics, science or humanities depending on the subject in question, then the paper will be reassessed again. So if you do well in the GAT and receive an excellent score, if for some reason you under-perform in the exam, then the GAT mark can help lift up your score. If your GAT mark is relatively low, then it probably can’t help you, despite you receiving an unexpected low exam grade. Thus, the GAT mark will only ever help you, it can never bring your mark down. That’s another reason why you should try to do well.

3. Derived Examination Score (DES)

Some students apply for a DES when they experience hardship during their VCE exam period such as personal trauma or an accident. In such situations, the GAT is compared with their exam mark to see whether or not the student demonstrated their full potential or if they under-performed because of their current situation. Again, if the student received a lower exam mark but has a high GAT score, it can mean that perhaps the student didn’t do as well as they could have, and thus, their grade may be boosted upwards. Many students believe that they are immune to anything happening to them before or during the exams, but you never know. You may as well take advantage of what VCAA is offering you – basically a ticket to a better ATAR if you’re ever in need.

Now knowing all this, it is often said that there is no preparation required for the GAT. Of course, if you are the type who would like to fit in some practice before the real thing, then have a look at the GAT archive available on the VCAA website. While you may not need to ‘study’ for the GAT, it is definitely worth knowing how you can best approach the examination in order to maximise your score outcome – so have a read of Part 2 of our GAT series: How to perform well in GAT Writing Tasks!

Part 2: How to perform well in the GAT (without study)

In Part 1 we discussed why it’s important to aim for the best in the General Achievement Test (GAT), so now we’ll discuss how you can actually go about doing this. As you know, there are two writing components in the GAT – Writing Task 1 and 2, as well as 70 multiple choice questions (MCQ). This post will break down both the writing components and offer you handy tips on how you should approach these tasks in order to maximise your GAT score and potentially increase your overall ATAR.

Organising your time:

VCAA suggests 30 minutes for both Writing Task 1 and 2 leaving the remainder of your time for 70 multiple choice questions. If you are happy with this approach then by all means go for it. However, considering that English is definitely in your top 4 subjects that contribute significantly to your ATAR, it is worth investing more of your time on the Writing Tasks. Generally, most students spend around 1 minute per multiple choice question which should therefore, only take around 70 minutes to complete the MCQ section. If we bear in mind that some MCQs will be more complex than others, say we dedicate an extra 20 minutes for MCQ, meaning that you should complete the whole MCQ section around the 90 minutes mark. This means that you can spare an extra 45 minutes for both Writing Tasks, which is definitely worth the investment since you’ll have the chance to write a more thoughtful and lengthy pieces. Strategically, this is a good approach for any student studying an English subject – which is well, everyone.

Writing Task 1: 

What is it?

Writing Task 1 usually presents you with one or several images along with an abundance of information about a particular topic – don’t be surprised if you don’t know much or anything in regards to the topic chosen either. Over the past few years contents that have popped up on the GAT include Mt. Everest, wolves, the ocean and more. Below is an image of what you should expect (click on the image for a more detailed look):

‍Image source: VCAA GAT examination 2013

Instructions for Writing Task 1:

Consider the information on these two pages. Develop a piece of writing presenting the main information in the material. You should not present an argument. Your piece will be judged on:

• how well you organise and present your understanding of the material,

• your ability to communicate the information effectively, and

• how clearly you express yourself.”

What is it really asking you?

To write a creative piece utilising the information available in Writing Task 1. When students read the instructions, they find that it is rather vague and therefore, aren’t too sure on how to tackle the writing piece. The worst thing to do, which unfortunately a lot of students fall into the trap of doing, is to simply write a long-winded essay literally regurgitating the information from the GAT sheet. Instead, in order to demonstrate fantastic organisational skills and ‘communicate the information effectively’, you should aim to create something unique and interesting – for example, for the 2013 GAT on the topic of radios, you could take on a radio host persona or perhaps as someone working behind the scenes at the radio station. This will an excellent way of executing your writing piece.

Want to watch this advice? See this video below:


Writing task 2:

What is it?

Writing task 2 consists of 4 statements on a contentious issue. Some of the issues raised in the past have included: are the elderly wiser than the young?, whether or not material possessions leads to happiness?, who are our heroes? and more. Below is an example from the 2013 GAT:

‍Image source: VCAA GAT examination 2013

Instructions from Writing Task 2:

“Consider the statements below. Based on one or more of the statements, develop a piece of writing presenting your point of view. Your piece of writing will be judged on:

• the extent to which you develop your point of view in a reasonable and convincing way, and

• how effectively you express yourself.”

What is it really asking you?

To write a persuasive piece debating the topic using one or more of the statements to support your opinion. This means that you can either choose to focus on one of the statements and base your entire contention on that one statement, or alternatively, choose two or more statements as a basis for different arguments (if you wanted to write from a more balanced point of view). Options on how to present the piece include: opinion article, speech, blog post etc. Remember to include language techniques such as rhetorical questions, inclusive language, and more as this is expected in a persuasive piece. It’s also a good idea to include examples from current affairs, events or people in history, or even your own personal experiences to add some extra flavour to your piece.

Remember that the GAT can only help you improve your VCE mark, it can never bring you down – so make the effort and try your best! Good luck!

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