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Natural Sciences Admissions Assessment (NSAA) Guide

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

**Please be aware that from the 2024 application cycle onwards, the NSAA is no longer being run by Cambridge Assessment Admissions Testing (CAAT), the company which has previously administered it. We suspect that the test will remain unchanged under a new provider, but be sure to check back with us or with the relevant Cambridge University webpage for confirmation in due course.**

WHAT IS THE NSAA?

The Natural Sciences Admissions Assessment (NSAA) is an admissions test used by Cambridge university to help in the selection process for its undergraduate natural sciences degree courses. The NSAA, tailored specifically for science applicants, focuses on assessing candidates' scientific knowledge, analytical thinking, and ability to apply their understanding to real-world scenarios. By incorporating the NSAA into the selection process, Cambridge University can identify students who not only possess a passion for science but also exhibit the intellectual acumen required to excel in their scientific programs.

WHO NEEDS TO SIT THE NSAA?

The NSAA is set by Cambridge University for applicants to Natural Sciences and Veterinary Medicine courses.

HOW IS THE NSAA STRUCTURED?

The NSAA lasts two hours and is split into two sections. In the first section, you have to answer Part A, which covers mathematics, as well as picking one from Part B, C, or D, which cover Physics, Chemistry, and Biology respectively. Each of these parts consist of twenty multiple choice questions, meaning the first section of the test requires you to answer 40 questions in total. The second section is split into three parts, only one of which you are required to answer, and each of which involves twenty multiple choice questions. These parts are Part X (Physics), Y (Chemistry), and Z (Biology).

CAN I CHOOSE WHICH QUESTIONS I ANSWER IN THE NSAA?

Students will answer only one of the three parts offered in the second section of the paper. However, this will largely be determined by which subjects they are studying at school and they wish to study most at university (Physics, Chemistry, or Biology).

HOW IS MY SCORE IN THE NSAA USED?

Cambridge University uses the NSAA as a standardised format for assessing and benchmarking their applicants. The exam rewards problem solving over knowledge of particular scientific or mathematical knowledge, so that students taking different qualifications at school can access the syllabus.

Cambridge uses students’ marks in the NSAA to make decisions about which applicants they should invite to interview, giving them a further indicator in addition to predicted and achieved grades. Whilst the NSAA is important in their selection processes, it is always used as part of a matrix and considered alongside other factors submitted with the application, such as predicted grades and personal statement.

WHAT IS A GOOD NSAA SCORE?

There are 60 raw marks across the two sections of the NSAA, but students will not receive these as their final mark; instead, they will receive a score somewhere between 1.0 and 9.0 (with 9.0 being the highest grade). Roughly 10% of applicants in a given year achieve higher than 7.0, meaning that this is what you should be aiming for to present a very competitive application. However, the typical applicant scores a mark of around 4.0, so scoring above roughly this grade will give you a better chance than most.

DO I NEED TO KNOW SPECIFIC CONTENT?

The NSAA syllabus is designed so that students taking a wide variety of qualifications or have a background in international education systems can access the scientific content. However, it is more focused around the UK education system and the general concepts covered in A-Level and IB science and mathematics syllabuses. We recommend that students cross-reference their syllabus with past NSAA papers. We also have specialist tutors who have experience of advising students taking other qualifications and help them fill in knowledge gaps.

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How to register for the NSAA

WHEN IS THE NSAA IN 2023?

The test date for the NSAA in 2023 is the 18th 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.

WHEN IS THE DEADLINE FOR REGISTRATION?

The NSAA, like many UK university 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 (although the deadline for many access arrangements is the 15th September, so be sure to register early if you’re likely to need special arrangements of any kind!).

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 Cambridge Assessment Admissions Testing website 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 University or 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 free 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 NSAA?

There is no registration fee for applicants sitting the NSAA. However, if you register via an authorised centre, you may be asked by them to pay an administration fee. Speak directly with the centre administering your test to confirm the cost. It’s always best to check with your school or college first to see if they can administer the test, as this will likely avoid you incurring any costs.

Tips from a Successful Cambridge Natural Sciences Student

HOW CAN I PREPARE FOR THE NSAA?

  1. Review Core Scientific Concepts: Thoroughly revise fundamental scientific concepts, focusing on topics typically covered in the NSAA.
  2. Practice Problem-Solving: Regularly work on scientific problems and scenarios that require analytical thinking and application of scientific principles.
  3. Time Management: Practise answering questions under timed conditions to improve your ability to manage time effectively during the NSAA. For access to bespoke, true-to-life mock papers with which to practise your timing skills, head to our Admissions Test Resources hub and browse our exclusive collections.
  4. Seek Guidance: Consider seeking guidance from teachers or mentors experienced in NSAA preparation to receive valuable feedback and insights. Previous Cambridge Science graduates, such as our mentors here at Oxbridge Applications, are also a great source of knowledge to draw on, as they can give you an accurate picture of what it means to perform like a real Cambridge Scientist.
  5. Stay Confident and Calm: Approach the NSAA with confidence in your scientific knowledge and problem-solving abilities, knowing that your preparation has equipped you for success.

NSAA PREPARATION MATERIALS

In addition to official NSAA past papers and specifications, we at Oxbridge Applications have written a series of additional mock papers. Our students have 33% more questions to practise with. Our mock NSAA papers can be found here and are included with our admissions test tuition. All of our NSAA tutors are highly-trained Cambridge natural sciences 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.

WHAT IS THE BEST STUD GUIDE FOR THE NSAA? 

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. Speak to an Oxbridge Applications expert today for advice on your specific situation!

How to Pass the NSAA?

The best advice we can offer to pass the NSAA exam is to begin exam preparation early and practise often.

Most students who don’t get through the NSAA 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 a particular question and it put their timings off for the rest of the test.

START EARLY

Although you may require scientific or mathematical concepts studied later on in your school studies, challenge yourself to get ahead of the syllabus so you can begin practising NSAA questions, especially the skills-based questions. Some students find it important to build up their arithmetic skills, since calculators are not allowed on any part of the paper.

REFLECTION

Reflect on your personal strengths and weaknesses. No two students should have the same revision strategy for the NSAA, since you all have varying abilities. Try to identify which part of the syllabus you find easiest or more difficult in order to target your revision strategically.

DON'T RESTRICT YOUR PRACTICE MATERIALS

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 bespoke NSAA papers, you should then look wider at similar materials. For example, take a look at science papers from other exam boards or qualification systems for an idea of where questions could go.

COLLABORATION 

Work with a friend or 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 NSAA tutors who can work with you one-to-one to refine your test technique.

 

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.

NSAA 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.

NSAA 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 NSAA test papers

Prepare for your admissions test with our mock papers.

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