The Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA) is a form of assessment used to measure aptitude in critical thinking and problem solving. The TSA can be a requirement for gaining entry to top universities (including Oxford, Cambridge and UCL), as well as a handful of independent schools, who produce their own modified version of the exam (sometimes called a Critical Thinking test) for 16+.
These exams test a variety of skills, which help prepare you for higher learning. Success in the TSA is a reliable indicator that you are able to think quickly and accurately, and are adept in multiple disciplines. You will need to rapidly evaluate and interpret information, and come to logical conclusions.
Types of question include: verbal reasoning, numeric reasoning, spatial reasoning and deductive reasoning.
The format is usually multiple choice, although there are instances where an essay is also required (e.g. Oxford). Please double check this before you sit the exam relating to your course/institution.
What’s the broader value of the TSA?
For students, the test may seem like another frustrating barrier to entry to top institutions. However, the value of the TSA extends far beyond this. Preparation for the exam equips students with the ability to process vast amounts of information quickly, and also helps prepare them for future exams relating to their chosen career path.
For example, the TSA is remarkably similar in structure and style to the psychometric tests used by top employers. By having an edge at a younger age, students will be more able to manage the questions set by employers once they come to the application stage. It also helps with improving decision making – something we could all benefit from.
Do I need to take the TSA for Cambridge University?
If you are applying to study Land Economy at the University of Cambridge, you will need to take the TSA.
You will need to take Section 1 of the TSA only.
Section 1 is multiple choice (50 questions, 90 minutes)
Do I need to take the TSA for Oxford University?
If you are studying one of the following courses, you will need to take the TSA:
- Economics and Management
- Experimental Psychology
- Human Sciences
- Philosophy and Linguistics
- Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE)
- Psychology and Linguistics
- Psychology and Philosophy
The Oxford exam is comprised of 2 sections.
Section 1 is multiple choice (50 questions, 90 minutes)
Section 2 is a writing task (30 minutes).
The writing task usually offers a choice of interesting essay questions/statements for further discussion. There are typically four choices for the Oxford paper, and the questions tend to have a philosophical/ethical edge to them. Pick the one that stands out to you as soon as you can – you only have 30 minutes to write the essay.
Candidates applying to study the following courses will be required to take Section 1 of the TSA only (multiple choice, 50 questions, 90 minutes):
- F100 Chemistry
- LV11 History and Economics*
* Applicants for History and Economics also need to take the History Aptitude Test (HAT).
If you are doing a joint honours programme, you will need to abide by the entry requirements for the other subject(s) too. This may require you sitting further exams.
You can confirm which test(s) your course requires at on the Oxford University website.
Do I need to take the TSA for UCL?
You will need to take the TSA if you are applying to study either of the following courses:
- R990 European and International Social and Political Studies (EISPS)
- LV01 International Social and Political Studies (ISPS)
This is a multiple choice paper only (50 questions, 90 minutes)
Top Tips for the TSA
- The allotted time per question is brief (under 2 minutes per multiple choice question), so students will need to work through the problems with speed and accuracy.
- Calculate the number of minutes you have per question before the exam.
- While preparing, have a timer in front of you, so you can see how long you are spending on each question.
- Spending too long on one question could put your overall score in jeopardy. If you run out of time on a question, make an educated guess, and move on.
- The questions tend to increase in difficulty as you move through the paper. Do not get complacent about time if you find the early questions straightforward.
- If you are already strong in Maths, you may want to put more emphasis on the verbal reasoning/essay questions, and vice versa.
- Some of the questions contain lots of data that you will have to interpret quickly (e.g. statistics tables, graphs etc.) There are often red herrings intended to throw you off – be mindful of this.
- Similarly, statements and arguments put forward can force you to make assumptions early. Always question your assumptions, and try to read all of the possible multiple choice answers before committing.
- Read the question twice!
- Only complete your practice exams under timed conditions, once you have a complete understanding of the types of questions being asked. I would recommend doing at least one past paper untimed, slowly and methodically. Think accuracy first, then speed.
- For the essay question, thinking of it like a debate or a discussion can be helpful. Think of the major arguments, of course, but be sure to think critically, in order to tease out some of the more subtle aspects of the question. Even if you have a strong opinion, make sure to express how others with different viewpoints could respond the question.
A final point to be aware of
Please note that the exam papers for Cambridge, UCL and Oxford are all written by the Cambridge Assessment exam board. This can be somewhat misleading when looking at the Oxford practice tests, for example, which have ‘Cambridge Assessment’ plastered over the front page. It should go without saying, but always ensure you read all of the exam guidelines on the front page before starting. These guidelines will confirm which institution the test is for.
Recommended Reading about the TSA
John Butterworth and Geoff Thwaites, Thinking Skills: Critical Thinking and Problem Solving (Second Edition)
TSA - Useful Links
- TSA at the University of Oxford - student views (YouTube)
- Recommended Reading:
- Thinking Skills: Critical Thinking and Problem Solving: Amazon Link
- Ace the Thinking Skills Assessment: Amazon Link
- Think You Can Think: Amazon Link