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Sixth Term Examination Paper (STEP) Guide

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

WHAT IS STEP?

The Sixth Term Examination Paper (STEP) is a prestigious and challenging admissions test designed to assess a candidate's mathematical aptitude and problem-solving abilities. Cambridge University, in particular, employs the STEP as an essential part of its Mathematics admissions process, ensuring that prospective students possess the necessary skills and readiness for their demanding mathematics programs.

WHO NEEDS TO SIT STEP?

STEP is used as standard by the University of Cambridge, the University of Warwick and Imperial College London. Other Universities sometimes ask candidates to take STEP as part of their offer, or offer reduced A-level (or equivalent) grade offers based on high STEP results if taken. The UK Universities that incorporate STEP are as follows:

Imperial College London (requires STEP if you missed the MAT deadline or received a borderline MAT result)
King’s College London (reduced A-level offer for students with STEP Grade 1)
Lancaster University (reduced A-level offer for students with Further Maths and STEP Grade 3)
University College London (reduced A-level offer for students with STEP Grade 1)
University of Bath (STEP recommended, with alternative offers given for students with STEP)
University of Bristol (reduced A-level offer with STEP)
University of Cambridge (STEP required for applicants)
University of Warwick (reduced A-level offer for students with Grade 1 in any STEP paper)

We recommend that you check the course web page for the particular university you’re interested in applying to to ensure that all the information you have to hand is up to date!

HOW IS STEP STRUCTURED?

The STEP typically consists of several papers, each with challenging mathematical problems that assess a candidate's problem-solving capabilities. The STEP exam was previously formed of three papers (STEP I, STEP II, and STEP III), but as of 2021, only STEP II and STEP III are used for UK university admissions.

STEP II and STEP II are both three hour papers consisting of 12 questions, from which candidates select 6 questions to answer. All questions in the paper carry equal marks, and applicants will receive the marks from their 6 highest scoring questions.

STEP II is based on A Level Mathematics and AS Level Further Mathematics. The paper has 12 questions across three sections: the first contains 8 pure questions, the second contains 2 mechanics questions, and the third contains 2 probability/statistics questions.

STEP III is based on A Level Mathematics and A Level Further Mathematics. The paper has 12 questions across three sections: the first contains 8 pure questions, the second contains 2 mechanics questions, and the third contains 2 probability/statistics questions.

CAN I CHOOSE WHICH QUESTIONS I ANSWER IN STEP?

Yes. In both STEP II and STEP III, candidates are marked on their highest scoring 6 answers out of 12 possible questions (per paper). This gives candidates flexibility in choosing questions that suit their skills and interests.

HOW IS MY SCORE IN STEP USED?

Cambridge University uses STEP as a standardised format for assessing and benchmarking their applicants. Because STEP is sat in the summer before university admission (at roughly the same time as A-level and equivalent exams), STEP is not used to shortlist for interview, or as part of the interview process, like other Cambridge admissions tests. Instead, STEP is used as part of the conditional offer issued to students. That is to say that, much like with your A-level exams, even if you make it through the interview process and receive your offer from Cambridge, if you don’t do as well as your offer demands in STEP, then you risk missing your offer and losing your place.

For most other universities, STEP is used as part of a matrix that makes up your offer rather than being a mandatory element. For example, if you’ve applied to the University of Bristol, the standard A-level offer is A*A*A, including A* in mathematics (or A*AA if including Further Maths). However, if STEP is achieved by the applicant, this offer tends to be lowered by one or two grade boundaries in a subject other than Maths. For a comprehensive list of the universities that use STEP as part of their offer, check out the list above.

WHAT IS A GOOD STEP SCORE?

STEP is marked out of 120 in each paper, with each paper given a different score. The grade boundaries for each paper are then outlined as (from highest to lowest) S, 1, 2, 3, and U. For Cambridge applicants, STEP scores as part of an offer vary based on college, but offers usually ask for at least grade 1 in two STEP papers.

Requirements for STEP grades for other top UK universities differ based on their entry requirements and the A-level (or equivalent) scores achieved by the student. As per usual, check the university website for definitive information ahead of applying.

DO I NEED TO KNOW SPECIFIC CONTENT FOR THE EXAM?

STEP papers II and III are based on the syllabus of the A-Level Maths/AS-level Maths and A-Level Maths/A-Level Further Maths courses respectively. The questions are more creative than your typical A-Level maths exam, meaning students are expected to work with an interdisciplinary approach, bringing in elements of different parts of the syllabus and topics into different questions as part of their answers. This means that, although the paper is aimed at being the level of A-Level Maths/Further Maths, the questions are often more wide-ranging and therefore require preparation outside of strict A-level syllabus boundaries. We recommend that students cross-reference their syllabus and knowledge with past STEP 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 STEP

WHEN IS THE NEXT STEP ?

STEP dates for summer 2024 have not been released yet. To give an indication of the timings, 2023 test dates were 8th June for STEP II and 21st June for STEP III.

WHEN IS THE DEADLINE FOR REGISTRATION?

Much like other UK university admissions tests, STEP must be registered for in advance 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 page for more details on how to register.

However, unlike many other UK admissions tests, STEP is taken in the summer before the applicant plans to attend university (i.e. around the same time as A-Level exams). This is because STEP is considered a very challenging admissions test, requiring students to have studied the entirety of their Maths and further Maths A-level (or equivalent) in full before sitting the test itself. The key dates for STEP registration and testing for 2023 were as follows:

1st March 2023: STEP registration opens
20th April 2023: Last date to request modified STEP papers
4th May 2023: STEP registration closes
8th June 2023: STEP II test date
21st June 2023: STEP III test date
17th August 2023: STEP test results released

Be aware that if the registration deadline falls on a public holiday, there will not be any extension of the registration period, so be sure to register in plenty of time. For test dates, UK centres will hold the test in the morning. International test centre times may vary - consult your local test centre for specific details.

HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO TAKE STEP?

The registration fee per STEP paper for UK entrants is £93, and £129 / €151 / $177 for applicants outside of the UK. Some independent test centres also charge an additional 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 Cambridge Mathematics Student 

HOW CAN I PREPARE FOR STEP?

  1. Understand the Format: Familiarise yourself with the structure and types of questions in the STEP to better prepare for the test.
  2. Review Core Mathematical Concepts: Thoroughly revise fundamental mathematical concepts, focusing on topics typically covered in the STEP.
  3. Practice Regularly: Regularly work on challenging mathematical problems to enhance your problem-solving skills.
  4. Time Management: Practise answering questions under timed conditions to improve your time management during the STEP. 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 Support: Consider seeking guidance from teachers or mentors experienced in STEP preparation to receive valuable feedback and insights. Previous Cambridge Maths students who sat the STEP themselves, 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 Mathematician.

STEP PREPARATION MATERIALS

In addition to STEP past papers on the Cambridge Assessment Admissions Testing website, we at Oxbridge Applications have written a series of additional mock papers. Our students have 33% more questions to practise with. Our mock STEP papers can be found here and are included with our admissions test tuition. All of our STEP tutors are highly-trained Cambridge Mathematics 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 STEP Test?

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

Most students who don’t get through the STEP and miss their offer 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 will require content from the entirety of your Maths and Further Maths A-levels, challenge yourself to get ahead of the syllabus so you can begin practising STEP questions. Some students also find it necessary to build up their mental arithmetic and speed doing calculations, since time can often be tight during the STEP test and extra time spent remembering formulae and using the calculator can be a hindrance.

REFLECTION

Reflect on your personal strengths and weaknesses. No two students should have the same revision strategy for the STEP, since you all have varying abilities. Try to identify which part of the syllabus you find easiest or whether you often lose marks on a certain kind of question or topic; this could help you streamline your preparation!

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 STEP papers, you should then look wider at similar materials. For example, review Maths Olympiad problems, which are of a slightly different format but still develop your problem solving skills.

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 STEP tutors who can work with you one-to-one to refine your test technique.

Contact Us

For specialist Oxbridge advice or any aspect of your application, get in touch with our expert consultants on + 44 (0) 20 7499 2394 or send us your query at [email protected]

STEP 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.

STEP 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.

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