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Oxford Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA) Guide

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

WHAT IS THE TSA?

The TSA is a critical component of the Oxford University selection process for various degree programmes, designed to evaluate a candidate's critical thinking, problem-solving, and analytical skills—essential qualities for thriving in the rigorous academic environment of Oxford. Irrespective of the subject they are applying for, candidates taking the TSA need to demonstrate their ability to analyse complex information, formulate logical arguments, and make sound judgments.

WHO NEEDS TO SIT THE TSA?

The Oxford TSA is set by Oxford University for students applying to a variety of subjects: Experimental Psychology, Human Sciences, Philosophy and Linguistics, PPE (Philosophy, Politics and Economics), Psychology and Linguistics, and Psychology and Philosophy.

HOW IS THE TSA STRUCTURED?

The TSA is not subject-specific, which makes sense given that it is used on a number of courses at Oxford so you will not be required to demonstrate any specific knowledge as such. Instead, the test is designed to measure, as the name suggests, your thinking abilities and reasoning skills. The TSA is made up of two sections. The test is 90-minutes long and is made up of 50 multiple choice questions in total. 25 of these are focused on problem solving, including spatial reasoning, numerical skills, and logical thinking, whilst the other 25 are critical thinking questions, including understanding an argument, reasoning and deduction, and use of language. The second section lasts 30 minutes and candidates are asked to answer one essay question from a choice of four non-subject specific questions. This section tests the student’s ability to organise their ideas in a clear and concise manner, and their ability to put this down clearly in writing.

CAN I CHOOSE WHICH QUESTIONS I ANSWER IN THE TSA?

In the second section of the exam, applicants are required to select one essay question from four options to respond to.

HOW IS MY SCORE IN THE TSA USED?

Oxford University uses the TSA as a standardised format for assessing and benchmarking their applicants. The exam rewards critical thinking and analysis skills, employing abilities learned elsewhere in your studies to new materials. It does not require specific content knowledge, meaning students taking different qualifications at school can access the syllabus.

Oxford uses students’ marks in the TSA 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 TSA 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 TSA SCORE?

Naturally, the best applicants to Oxford score highly, but there is no specific benchmark that can be reliably stated to assure you an invitation to interview. In the first section of the paper, scores range from 0 to roughly 100, with scores over 70 considered to be a comparatively high score. According to Cambridge Assessment Admissions Testing, a score around 60 is would be the average score of an applicant to the most highly selective courses in the UK.

DO I NEED TO KNOW SPECIFIC CONTENT?

The TSA is a test of skills, such as critical thinking, problem solving, and essay writing, rather than of any specific content.

Although the content is not specific to any school syllabus, the skills that you will be using to take the test will be those taught and practised in A-level (or equivalent) courses such as History, Classics, Psychology, and others. We therefore recommend using your school studies as an example from which to practise the relevant skills. It can be difficult to identify tasks and exercises to practise these skills; our 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 TSA

WHEN IS THE TSA IN 2023?

The test date for the TSA 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 TSA, 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 TSA 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 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 TSA?

Oxford University does not charge applicants a registration fee. However, independent test centres do sometimes charge an administration fee for candidates to cover costs such as room hire and invigilation. Get in touch with your chosen test centre to clarify if this cost will apply to you.

Tips from a Successful Student

HOW CAN I PREPARE FOR THE TSA?

  1. Familiarise Yourself with TSA Format: Understand the format and structure of the TSA by reviewing past papers or official preparation materials.
  2. Develop Critical Thinking Skills: Engage in activities that promote critical thinking, such as reading diverse materials, engaging in debates, and analysing complex problems.
  3. Practice Problem-Solving: Regularly work on problems that require analytical and creative problem-solving skills.
  4. Time Management: Practise answering questions under timed conditions to improve your ability to manage time effectively during the TSA. 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.
  5. Seek Feedback: Consider seeking guidance from teachers or mentors experienced in TSA preparation to receive valuable feedback and insights. Previous Oxford graduates who have taken the TSA, 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 Oxford student.

TSA PREPARATION MATERIALS

In addition to official TSA specimen papers on the Official Website, we at Oxbridge Applications have written a series of additional mock papers. Our students have 33% more questions to practise with. Our mock TSA papers can be found here and are included with our admissions test tuition. All of our TSA 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.

WHAT IS THE BEST STUD GUIDE FOR THE TSA? 

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 TSA?

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

Most students who don’t get through the TSA 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

Since no specific subject knowledge is required for the TSA, challenge yourself to begin working through past papers and familiarising yourself with the questions as soon as possible.

REFLECTION

Reflect on your personal strengths and weaknesses. No two students should have the same revision strategy for the TSA, since you all have varying abilities. Try to identify which parts of the paper you find easier and which you find more difficult; this should help you strategically plan your preparation.

DON'T RESTRICT YOUR PRACTICE MATERIALS

Don’t restrict your practice materials: Once you have tried all of the sample papers from the university, and have moved on to additional materials like our bespoke TSA papers, you should then look wider at similar materials. For example, check out long-response essay questions for exam subject such as philosophy or history; this could offer you a wider array of practice material and help train your flexibility to unseen materials.

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 TSA 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.

TSA 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.

TSA 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 TSA test papers

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