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Physics Aptitude Test (PAT) Guide

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

WHAT IS THE PAT?

The Physics Aptitude Test is an admissions test used by Oxford University for physics-related undergraduate courses. The PAT is an essential component of the selection process, designed to assess a candidate's problem-solving skills, mathematical abilities, and physics knowledge—key attributes for success in the dynamic field of physics. By incorporating the PAT into the selection process, Oxford University identifies students who not only possess a passion for physics but also exhibit the intellectual acumen required to excel in their physics programs.

WHO NEEDS TO SIT THE PAT?

The PAT is set by Oxford University for students applying to study all physics-related subjects, including joint honours courses involving Physics. This includes Physics, Physics and Philosophy, Engineering, and Materials Science.

HOW IS THE PAT STRUCTURED?

The PAT is a two-hour long exam which tests general skills and abilities relating to mathematics and physics at the level learned in school through your GCSE and A-level or equivalent courses. The paper itself only consists of one large section, meaning that the maths and physics questions are mixed in together, with both disciplines often being tested at once in the same question. The PAT includes multiple choice questions, stand-alone written questions, and questions with answers in multiple stages. There is no set number of questions year-on-year in the PAT, but it is generally somewhere in the mid-twenties; for example, the Physics Aptitude Test 2021 had 24 questions, whilst the 2020 test had 26 questions. Calculators are allowed in the PAT, but no formula sheet or tables are permitted.

CAN I CHOOSE WHICH QUESTIONS I ANSWER IN THE PAT?

Students do not generally have a choice of question in the PAT.

HOW IS MY SCORE IN THE PAT USED?

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

Cambridge uses students’ marks in the PAT 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 PAT 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 PAT SCORE?

PAT scores range from 0 to 100, with the majority of applicants scoring between 40 and 60. Scoring over 60 therefore gives you a very competitive application, since few applicants score this mark, whilst scoring below 40 may make it quite unlikely that you will receive an invitation to interview.

DO I NEED TO KNOW SPECIFIC CONTENT

The PAT 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 physics and mathematics syllabuses. We recommend that students cross-reference their syllabus with past PAT 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 PAT

WHEN IS THE PAT IN 2023?

The test date for the PAT in 2023 is the 20th 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 PAT, 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 PAT 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 PAT?

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 Oxford Physics Student

HOW CAN I PREPARE FOR THE PAT?

  1. Review Core Physics Concepts: Thoroughly revise fundamental physics concepts, focusing on topics typically covered in the PAT.
  2. Practice Problem-Solving: Regularly work on physics problems that require analytical thinking and application of scientific principles.
  3. Mathematical Proficiency: Strengthen your mathematical skills, as they are essential for solving physics problems accurately and efficiently.
  4. Time Management: Practise answering questions under timed conditions to improve your ability to manage time effectively during the PAT. 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 Guidance: Consider seeking guidance from teachers or mentors experienced in PAT preparation to receive valuable feedback and insights. Previous Oxford physics 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 Oxford physicist.

PAT PREPARATION MATERIALS

In addition to official PAT past papers on the Oxford Website, we at Oxbridge Applications have written a series of additional mock papers. Our students have 33% more questions to practise with. Our mock PAT papers can be found here and are included with our admissions test tuition. All of our PAT tutors are highly-trained Oxford Physics 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.

How to Pass the PAT?

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

Most students who don’t get through the PAT 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 PAT 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 PAT, 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 PAT 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 PAT 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.

PAT 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.

PAT 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 PAT test papers

Prepare for your admissions test with our mock papers.

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