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Preparing for the TSA

27th August 2019

The Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA) is being used more widely in Oxford and Cambridge admissions processes to help universities narrow down candidates based on their score.

It is important that you know whether you will need to sit it, so that you can prepare for the test to give yourself the best chance of success in the admissions process.

Below is the latest information for 2019 applicants.
 

What is the TSA? 

The TSA is an admissions test used by Oxford, Cambridge, and UCL in its European Social and Political Studies. It is a 50 question multiple-choice test designed to test your critical thinking and problem solving skills.

In practice, this means you may need to interpret passages, visualise shapes, or make mathematical calculations. The TSA tests a wide range of skills, which is why it is used for both humanities and science admissions, so do not worry if you feel that you are weaker on one type of question.  

Who has to sit the TSA and where do they have to sit it?

Applicants for these Oxford courses will need to set the TSA, and all except History and Economics and Chemistry applicants will need to complete a 30 minute essay (Section 2).

• Chemistry
• Economics and Management
• Experimental Psychology
• Geography
• History and Economics
• Human Sciences
• Philosophy and Linguistics
• Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE)  
• Psychology and Linguistics
• Psychology and Philosophy

Applications to Cambridge are a little more complex, as some colleges require the admissions test while others don’t.

The courses for which you may need to sit the TSA are:

• Geography
• Land Economy
• Psychological and Behavioural Sciences

You can find the full details of which colleges ask candidates to sit the TSA on the Cambridge Pre-interview assessments website. Simply select which course you are applying for a list of the colleges that require the test.

You should also note that the Cambridge TSA is sat by applicants at the interview stage, whereas Oxford applicants take them at examination centres in October.

We advise that you also look at the TSA website to ensure you are up to date with the latest information.
 

So what exactly does the TSA involve?

The first section of the TSA must be completed in 90 minutes, and there are 50 questions to answer. It aims to assess problem solving skills, including numerical and spatial reasoning, critical thinking skills, including the ability to understand an argument, and the ability to reason using everyday language. The questions not only test your ability to interpret new information, but test how well you can do this under time pressure.

The second section is a writing task and must be completed in 30 minutes. Admissions tutors are looking to evaluate your ability to organise ideas in a clear and concise manner, and communicate them effectively in writing. Candidates can choose from a choice of four questions, where each will explore a different area (one tends to be psychology related, while another may be political or philosophical).  

THINGS TO REMEMBER

There is no pass or fail threshold for the TSA, and you should simply aim to do as well as you can. The difficult nature of the questions and the time pressure means that typical applicants are expected to score around 60, with 70 being a very high score. This will feel very different from your A Levels or GCSEs where you may be used to score 80% or even 90%.

It is important to remember that the test is designed to feel tough, so you may still be doing very well in spite of it feeling difficult.  

How to prepare

To best prepare to sit the TSA you should:

• Understand the different aspects of the assessment, including the essay section if you need to take it.
• Learn to recognise the different question types within section 1
• Come up with strategies for tackling each question type, as well as the test as a whole
• Practise TSA style questions, using the strategies you’ve learned

Typical strategies may include underlining words in paragraphs, crossing out choices that you feel are wrong in order to narrow down your selection, or not spending too long on difficult questions. Ultimately, you should think about what strategy may be most effective for different types of question given the time pressure. However, there is no single best approach to sitting this assessment.

Our online TSA preparation course covers all the points above, taking you through the key question types in the TSA. It uses a combination of guided lessons and quizzes, including worked solutions. At the end you will take a timed full length test to see how much progress you have made. You are then able to identify further areas for improvement that you may develop when completing past papers.