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History Aptitude Test (HAT) Guide

Everything you should know before taking the HAT test and how to be successful!

WHAT IS THE HAT?

The History Aptitude Test (HAT) is a 60-minute examination designed to benchmark applicants to History courses at the University of Oxford.

Source analysis
There is just one section for the HAT: an unseen source analysis. You will be given a documentary source from a period or region you probably won’t have studied before, with some explanatory notes, and a general question for you to respond to.

Quick Tip
The HAT is a test of historical skill not historical knowledge. The sources used in the HAT are deliberately obscure so you should you read, read, and read again to make sure you’ve understood the source and what the question is asking!

HOW CAN I PREPARE FOR THE HAT?

Training for the HAT successfully requires student to begin early, practise often and work smart. By the time of the real HAT, students should have covered as many practice papers as they can to familiarise themselves with the test. Our students begin with a 33% advantage over their competitors, by using real past papers as well as our specially-written mock papers. Our HAT tutors then guide them through additional sources to hone their skills. Since the HAT is cleverly designed to test historical skill rather than historical knowledge, there is no way to cram or memorise your way to a good score – rather, you have to practise and develop your analytical prowess.

IS THIS THE BEST STUDY GUIDE FOR THE HAT?

We certainly hope so! At Oxbridge Applications, we pride ourselves in providing up-to-date advice and unrivalled expertise. As well as collating information from publicly available sources, we also conduct our own research into the application process; for example, by surveying the thousands of students we support each year.

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How to register for the HAT Test

WHEN IS THE MAT TEST IN 2023?

The test date for the MAT in 2023 is the 19th of October, meaning that all applicants will have to sit the test on this exact day. This may be during half term, but with plenty of advanced notice this hopefully shouldn’t prevent your school or college from holding the test. Be aware that if you miss this date for whatever reason you will not be able to take the test on another day and your application will not be considered.

HOW DO I REGISTER FOR THE HAT EXAM AND WHERE WILL I SIT THE TEST?

Students usually register to sit the HAT exam at their school or college. If your school is not already registered as a test centre, you can register at an alternative local test centre. You can find a local test centre here.

WHEN IS THE DEADLINE FOR REGISTRATION?

The MAT, like many Oxford Admissions Tests, requires applicants to register in advance of sitting the test. 2023 applicants will have to register between the 1st and 29th of September to be able to sit the test.

An applicant cannot register themselves for the test, but must be registered through an official test centre. For most candidates this will be their school or college, but if not it can be done through an open test centre. We recommend reading the Oxford University MAT page for more details on how to register. However you register, make sure that you have submitted all your details to the test centre and have received your candidate entry number as proof of entry by midnight on the 29th of September. If you have extenuating circumstances (i.e. a situation beyond your control) that prevented you from registering on time, get in touch with the Oxford college you applied to immediately and alert them of your situation.

If you’re struggling to keep on top of dates and deadlines, head to our website to download our complimentary University Application Calendar, which features registration deadlines and test dates for all major UK admissions tests, as well as other key dates such as UCAS deadlines, interview dates, open days, and more.

HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO TAKE THE HAT EXAM?

There is no official fee for students to take the HAT but some test centres may charge candidates for costs such as invigilation and room hire.

HOW DO I FIND OUT MY HAT SCORE?

Students do not automatically find out their HAT test result but you can ask for your score as part of the usual feedback process. Oxford start releasing feedback after the admissions process is complete in the January after you sat your HAT exam.

Tips from a successful Oxford History applicant

HOW CAN I PREPARE FOR THE HAT?

The best way to prepare for the HAT exam is to do lots and lots of practice. There is no set syllabus that you need to know, no list of kings and queens that you need to memorise. The key skills are insight and imagination. What is the source saying? How do its provenance, form, tone, and audience inform how we understand it? What other sources would be useful? What is left unsaid? Practice will reduce the amount of time you naturally spend being puzzled by the source and will mean you can start asking these questions and finding the answers more readily. Students should build their repertoire of tackling such unfamiliar sources using past HAT papers, materials such as our specially-written HAT papers, or setting yourself sources that you find online.

A SAMPLE HAT QUESTION 

To illustrate what we mean, the HAT exam in 2020 was based on an extract from Juvaynī’s History of the World-Conqueror, begun in 1251, about the rise to power of Genghis Khan. The question was:


“What can we learn from this document about the expectations and realities of rulership in the Mongol empire?”


As you can see, the question is not: ‘Explain the expectations and realities of rulership in the Mongol empire.’ You are not required to have any knowledge of the history of the Mongol empire at all. Rather, the question is ‘what can we learn from this document’. You are provided with some notes explaining who the author is and what the context for his history was. Your task is then to draw out some salient features of rulership in the Mongol empire with your analysis focused on how this document shows that. You’ll want to consider both what the author says about rulership, implicitly and explicitly, and possibly what is left unsaid. You’ll also want to think about why the author might be making the points he does. For example, is he trying to impress a current ruler or denigrate a past one? These questions can be answered both with reference to the text, including its tone, and by using a bit of historical imagination. For example, in a diary or a letter to a confidant you are likely to be more candid than in a speech where you might avoid offending your host. The explanatory notes will give you information about what sort of source it is.

HAT PREPARATION MATERIALS

In addition to the past HAT papers, we have written a series of additional mock papers. Our students have 33% more questions to practise with. Our mock HAT papers can be found here and are included with our admissions test tuition. All of our HAT tutors are highly-trained Oxbridge graduates who can share their personally insights of having sat the test. You can contact our Oxbridge-graduate Consultants on +44 (0) 20 7499 2394 or email [email protected] to discuss which of our test training would suit you best. We also have an online testing portal for students who want to sit the exam in timed, test conditions.

HAT TIPS

The best advice we can offer is to begin preparation early and practise often. Most students who don’t get through the HAT to be invited to interview tell us that they didn’t spend enough time familiarising themselves with the type of questions that can arise. They typically say that they were caught off guard by the unfamiliarity of the source and it put their timings off for writing their answer.

Start early: The more practice you can do the better to banish your fear of weird and puzzling sources. To fit in all this practice, it is better to start sooner rather than later. Don’t leave it to the last minute but start looking at past papers and our practice materials now to give yourself enough time to hone your skills to access the highest marks. Remember that your answer should have an argument. With practice you will get better at reading the source, noticing what is useful and what is not, and then planning your answer. To use the example above, what is the most important thing the document teaches us about the Mongol empire and how does it do that? Analyse, don’t just describe.
Don’t restrict your practice materials: Once you have tried all of the real past papers, and have moved on to additional materials like our HAT papers, you should then look wider at similar materials. It’s easy to find collections of primary sources online. Pick an unfamiliar period at random and have a go. The questions are always broadly similar: ‘what does this source tell us about the culture that produced it?’ Work with a friend of teacher to discuss questions and identify your own personal revision goals. Working with others can be a huge motivation and keep you on track in the weeks and months leading up to the test. We have specialist HAT tutors who can work with you one-to-one to refine your test technique.

HAT FAQs

WHAT IS THE HAT?

The History Aptitude Test (HAT) is a 60-minute examination designed to rank applicants to History courses at the University of Oxford, as part of the admissions process.

WHO NEEDS TO SIT THE HAT exam?

The HAT test is a mandatory part of the application process for everyone applying to Oxford for the following subjects:

- History
- History (Ancient and Modern)
- History and Economics
- History and English
- History and Modern Languages
- History and Politics

HOW IS THE HAT STRUCTURED?

The HAT has a very simple structure: one source, one question. The source will be a documentary source from a period or region that most candidates will be unfamiliar with. They are deliberately chosen such that the majority of syllabuses won’t cover the material in question. To help you understand the source, it will be accompanied by some notes explaining its provenance (when was it written or created, where, and by whom.) There will then be one general question inviting you to consider what the source can tell us about the culture that produced it.

CAN I CHOOSE WHICH QUESTIONS I ANSWER IN THE HAT?

No, there is just one question that all candidates answer.

HOW IS MY SCORE IN THE HAT TEST USED?

Oxford University uses the HAT as a standardised format for assessing and benchmarking their applicants. The exam rewards problem solving rather than historical knowledge, so that students are not advantaged by having studied the period in school.

Oxford University uses students’ marks in the HAT to make decisions about which applicants they should invite to interview. Oxford invites around 70% of applicants to interview for the single honours History course. The HAT is used as an important piece of evidence when shortlisting, and for deciding between interviewed candidates. It is especially important for applicants to joint schools which require another test (MLAT, ELAT, or TSA) to demonstrate aptitude on both sides of the course.

WHAT IS A GOOD HAT SCORE?

Previously the HAT was marked out of 40 with marks over 33 making it into the top band of applicants. The HAT is now marked out of 90 with various criteria being weighted more heavily than others: historical insight, comprehension, and the use of evidence are all relatively more important than prose style and presentation. The mean score in 2020 was 56 and the mode was 60. The highest mark was 87.
Since the HAT test is used as an assessment tool among a wider context of factors, such as your academic grades and teacher reference, there is no fixed pass mark or automatic threshold. However, ranking highly correlates heavily with being awarded an offer.

Before interview, your HAT score and your contextualised GCSE scores count equally for deciding who to invite to interview. After interview, your HAT score still makes up 30% of the overall mark for your application alongside the interview itself, your GCSEs, and your written work. This shows how important it is to ace the HAT.

DO I NEED TO KNOW A LEVEL HISTORY?

There is no set syllabus for the HAT exam. It is designed in such a way that all candidates have an equal chance of showing their historical skill. Of course, plenty of practice will make any candidate better equipped to tackle the challenging sources that you can expect to encounter in the HAT test. If you do happen to recognise the source, or know a bit about the period in question, you should avoid bringing in your own knowledge. Stay tightly focused on the text in front of you and remember that candidates who know nothing about the period may well do better by staying close to the source and using their skills of analysis. The best thing to do is practise, practise, practise!

Strategic Guidance

Unsure about your Oxbridge application? In our one-hour consultation, our experts strategise your application, assess your potential, and resolve queries to maximise your success. Contact us at [email protected] or +44 (0) 20 7499 2394.

HAT Admission Private Tuition x4

Available all year-round and includes 4 private admissions test tuition sessions and four test papers, which are marked by expert Oxbridge-graduate tutors.

HAT Admission Private Tuition x6

Available: Year-Round and includes 6 private admissions test tuition sessions and six test papers which are marked by expert Oxbridge-graduate tutors.

Past HAT test papers

Prepare for your admissions test with our mock papers.

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