All applicants for admission to an Oxford degree course involving History must sit the History Aptitude Test (HAT), which is designed to assess a broad range of skills. Students can often feel a little uneasy about the test at first, as it is very different from A level examinations. To help make the HAT a less daunting prospect, I have compiled the following introductory guide to what the test entails and how best to prepare for it.
How is the HAT structured?
The present structure of the HAT is as follows:
Question 1: candidates read an extract of c. 400 words from a historical work.
Q1a (10 marks) asks them to summarise, in one sentence, an aspect of the author’s argument.
Q1b (20 marks) requires them to summarise, in no more than 15 lines, another aspect of the argument.
Question 2 (30 marks): candidates (other than those applying for History and Economics) are required to write an essay evaluating a historical issue related to the extract.
I would recommend aiming for one and a half to two and a quarter sides, with three sides as an absolute maximum.
Question 3 (40 marks): candidates read a primary source of c. 500-600 words and explain what it reveals about a particular topic.
The high number of marks allocated to this particular question reflects the importance that the examiners attach to the ‘historical imagination’ required for this task.
Question 4 (30 marks): this task is for History and Economics candidates only, in place of Question 2. Candidates are required to use mathematical problem-solving skills to answer a series of questions on hypothetical scenarios.
The Oxford History site at http://www.history.ox.ac.uk/history-aptitude-test-hat contains an archive of past papers for further reference.
How long should I spend on each HAT question?
The test lasts two hours, i.e. 120 minutes, and there are 100 marks available.
I suggest adopting one of the following two approaches:
- Use the ‘mark a minute’ method, and add on the spare minutes proportionally to each question: Q1a 10 minutes; Q1b 25 minutes; Q2 or Q4 35 minutes; Q3 50 minutes.
- Use the ‘mark a minute’ method, and allocate the remaining time to both reading and checking: five minutes to read the historical extract; Q1a 10 minutes; Q1b 20 minutes; Q2 or Q4 30 minutes; five minutes to read the primary source; Q3 40 minutes; and 10 minutes to check the completed script.
How should I prepare for the HAT?
- Candidates should look at past papers and mark schemes to familiarise themselves with the nature of the HAT. It is advisable to sit at least one past paper under timed examination conditions to get a feel for the pace required.
- Although the essay element of the HAT (Q2) is not supposed to require special preparation, it would be sensible for candidates to spend some time reviewing their Year 12 and Year 13 History topics. Before doing this, they should note the issues that have typically been raised for evaluation in past papers, such as the role of ideas as causes of historical change.
- The examiners are at pains to stress that no additional study is necessary for the HAT. Some candidates feel, however, that their historical knowledge is not broad enough for them to understand some of the terms used in the reading passages. In such instances, a reputable summary of world history such as one of the books listed below would provide a helpful historical overview in an accessible form:
- Richard Bulliet et al., The Earth and its Peoples (Wadsworth)
- DK, The History Book (DK Big Ideas)
- Adam Hart-Davis (ed.), History (DK)
- Philip Parker, World History (DK Eyewitness Companions)
Please do get in touch with Keystone Tutors if you are looking for a HAT tutor to support your preparations for the Oxford HAT. We have a number of tutors with extensive experience of the test, many of whom have successfully sat it themselves.
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