Is it getting harder to win a place at the best universities in the UK? In 2020 ...
- Oxford received more than 23,000 undergraduate applications for 3,300 places.
- Cambridge received more than 20,000 undergraduate applications for around 4,500 places.
So, how do universities sort through so many top quality applicants?
Typically, students need to submit a UCAS application by 15th January in their last year of school consisting of a set of predicted grades, a personal statement and a teacher-written reference supporting a candidate’s academic credentials for degree level study. However, Oxford and Cambridge are exceptional when it comes to the application process, as their deadline for submission is 15th October each year. Candidates wishing to apply to Oxford or Cambridge need to begin to prepare much earlier, ideally before the summer break, to ensure the submit a strong application.
The personal statement (a 4,000 character one-page document) is often viewed as the key element of a candidate’s UCAS application; it is a chance for candidates to show admissions tutors that they’re ideally suited to study their chosen course at undergraduate level and is often the only differentiating factor - an opportunity to stand out from the crowd! Crucially, admissions tutors, particularly those at Oxford and Cambridge, want to see candidates demonstrate their enthusiasm and commitment for their preferred course. They must also convey how they have developed their subject interest beyond their studies at school.
We've written an article covering more detail on the importance of super curricular learning for Oxford and Cambridge University.
Unfortunately, a place at Oxford or Cambridge is not won merely on the strength of a UCAS application, as “many A-level applicants are predicted to achieve top grades and many also have excellent references” (Cambridge website). To date universities have considered A-level grades as a useful predictor of a candidate’s likelihood of being successful at undergraduate level. However, successive years of A-level grade inflation has also led to some universities, including Oxford and Cambridge, to question their true value. Over the years Cambridge and Oxford have sought to develop additional ways of assessing the academic profile of candidates during the admissions process, most notably through pre and at-interview admissions tests.
What admissions tests are required for Cambridge and Oxford University?
There are two types of test: those that are sat pre-interview and those that are sat at-interview. Oxford University has long-required the majority of its applicants to sit written assessments in advance of being invited to intreview (e.g. History Aptitude Test (HAT)) whereas Cambridge brought the majority of its admissions tests into force for the 2017 admissions cycle.
Those who sit assessments pre-interview are then shortlisted for interview based on their application and test performance. At-interview tests, which are predominantly set by Cambridge, are similar in form to pre-interview tests, however, admissions tutors may well refer to the test during the interview stage if sat before.
At-interview test results will be used alongside the UCAS application and interview performance to determine whether an offer is to be given.
What admissions test are there at Oxford University?
Listed below are the aptitude tests used by Oxford. Please note that if you are studying a combined subject, you may have to sit two tests and it is worth checking this on the Oxford University website.
- Biomedical Sciences: Biomedical Admissions Test (BMAT)
- Classics: Classics Admissions Test (CAT)
- Classics and English: Classics Admissions Test (CAT) & English Literature Admissions Test (ELAT)
- Classics and Modern Languages: Classics Admissions Test (CAT) & Modern Languages Admissions Test (MLAT)
- Classics and Oriental Studies: Classics Admissions Test (CAT) & Oriental Languages Aptitude Test (OLAT)
- Computer Science: Mathematics Admissions Test (MAT)
- Computer Science and Philosophy: Mathematics Admissions Test (MAT)
- Economics and Management: Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA)
- Engineering Science: Physics Aptitude Test (PAT)
- English and Modern Languages: English Literature Admissions Test (ELAT) & Modern Languages Admissions Test (MLAT)
- English Language and Literature: English Literature Admissions Test (ELAT)
- European and Middle Eastern Languages: English Literature Admissions Test (ELAT) & Oriental Languages Aptitude Test (OLAT)
- Fine Art: Fine Art Practical
- Geography: Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA)
- History: History Aptitude Test (HAT)
- History (Ancient & Modern): History Aptitude Test (HAT)
- History and Economics: History Aptitude Test (HAT) & Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA)
- History and English: History Aptitude Test (HAT)
- History and Modern Languages: History Aptitude Test (HAT) & Modern Languages Admissions Test (MLAT)
- History and Politics: History Aptitude Test (HAT)
- Human Sciences: Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA)
- Law: Law National Admissions Test (LNAT)
- Materials Science: Physics Aptitude Test (PAT)
- Maths: Mathematics Admissions Test (MAT)
- Maths and Computer Science: Mathematics Admissions Test (MAT)
- Maths and Philosophy: Mathematics Admissions Test (MAT)
- Maths and Statistics: Mathematics Admissions Test (MAT)
- Medicine: Biomedical Admissions Test (BMAT)
- Modern Languages: Modern Languages Admissions Test (MLAT)
- Modern Languages and Linguistics: Modern Languages Admissions Test (MLAT)
- Music: Music Performance Test
- Oriental Studies: Oriental Languages Aptitude Test (OLAT)
- Philosophy and Modern Languages: Modern Languages Admissions Test (MLAT)
- Philosophy and Theology: Philosophy Test
- Philosophy, Politics and Economics: Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA)
- Physics: Physics Aptitude Test (PAT)
- Physics and Philosophy: Physics Aptitude Test (PAT)
- Psychology (Experimental): Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA)
- Psychology, Philosophy and Linguistics: Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA)
- Religion and Oriental Studies: Oriental Languages Aptitude Test (OLAT)
The lucky souls who hope to read the following subjects currently do not need to sit aptitude tests at Oxford:
- Archaeology and Anthropology
- Classical Archaeology and Ancient History
- Earth Science
- History of Arts
- Theology and Religion
What admissions test are there at Cambridge University?
Cambridge operates both Pre-interview (called: Pre-Registration Tests) and At-interview (called: Cambrdige College Registered) assessments. In recent years courses have switched from offering a Pre-Registration to Cambridge College Registered assessment and vice versa, so please do check the university and college websites to confirm what type of test you will be required to sit. Below are listed the undergraduate courses that require a Pre-interview and At-interview assessments:
Subjects that require Pre-Registration assessment at Cambridge:
- Chemical Engineering: Natural Sciences Admissions Assessment (NSAA)
- Computer Science: Test of Mathematics for University Admission (TMUA)
- Economics: Test of Mathematics for University Admission (TMUA)
- Engineering: Engineering Admissions Assessment (ENGAA)
- Law: Law National Admissions Test (LNAT)
- Medicine: Biomedical Admissions Test (BMAT)
- Natural Sciences: Natural Sciences Admissions Assessment (NSAA)
- Veterinary Medicine: BioMedical Admissions Test (BMAT)
All Cambridge colleges require a Cambridge College Registered assessment in the following courses:
- Archaeology: Archaeology Admissions Assessment
- Architecture: Architecture Admissions Assessment
- Classics: Classics Admissions Assessment
- English: TBC
- History and Modern Languages: Modern and Medieval Languages Assessment
- History of Art: History of Art Admissions Assessment
- Linguistics: Linguistics Admissions Assessment
- Modern and Medieval Languages: Modern and Medieval Languages Admissions Assessment
- Philosophy: Philosophy Admissions Assessment Specification
- Theology, Religion, and Philosophy of Religion: Admissions Assessment
Some colleges require an at-interview assessment in the following courses:
- Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic
- Asian and Middle Eastern Studies
- History and Politics
- Human, Social, and Political Sciences
- Psychological and Behavioural Sciences
The assessments for these courses may vary by College. Please see individual College websites for details. You can also view details on the Cambridge website as to what the at-interview assessments entail.
There is no written assessment required by any college for Land Economy
How can I prepare for the Oxford and Cambridge admissions exams?
Pre- and At-interview tests are designed to test aptitude in areas such as comprehension and thinking skills, and, where appropriate, knowledge. Whereas A-levels often test factual recall, these written exams look for analytical and critical abilities. We recommend that candidates ensure that they:
- have strong course specific subject knowledge
- read – critically and beyond the syllabus requirements
- investigate the test format by doing practice papers, if possible
- appreciate that these tests are likely to stretch them in ways they may not have experienced at school
Our experienced Oxbridge tutors certainly tend to find that deeper subject knowledge and increased test practice can make the difference in these sorts of admissions assessments.
Where can I find past papers for the Oxford and Cambridge Admissions Tests?
Cambridge and Oxford share more information than you might think on their website including numerous past papers for almost every subject. As such applicants should be able to get a good idea of what they are getting themselves in for.
Most at-interview assessments last between 30 and 60 minutes. In contrast some of the pre-interview assessments can be up to 120 minutes. Cambridge have added a new section to their website - http://www.undergraduate.study.cam.ac.uk/applying/admission-assessments - which provides further information on the duration, content and format of each test.
What is a good pass mark for the Oxford and Cambridge Admissions Tests?
There is no one answer to this question given the breadth in admissions assessments. However, your performance in an admissions assessment will be reviewed alongside the other components of your application. For Pre-interview assessments your performance may well be the deciding factor as to whether or not you are invited to interview.
How hard are the Oxford and Cambridge entrance exams?
Admissions assessments, whether they be Pre-interview or At-interview, are designed to stretch applicants and therefore are challenging. However, to be a credible applicant to either Cambridge or Oxford you should be the type of student that welcomes such an academic challenge. Both Cambridge and Oxford share a wealth of information online on their admissions assessments including, specifications, past papers and sample papers with mark schemes.
Tutors for Oxbridge Admissions Test
Please do get in touch with Keystone Tutors if you are looking for an Oxford or Cambridge University entrance tutor. We offer University interview training, advisory support and we have a range of specialist tutors who can assist students approaching the admissions tests. Contact us to find out more.