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Depending on the college you apply to, there is a strong chance that you will have to sit the TSA (Thinking Skills Assessment). The TSA is rigorous and is a way for admissions tutors to see how your brain works through a test that is difficult (but not impossible!) to prepare for. The aim of the TSA is to test spatial and numerical reasoning, critical thinking skills and an understanding of arguments and reasons.

Both TSAs consist of 50 multiple choice questions and involve 25 problem solving questions and 25 critical thinking questions. The Cambridge TSA is 90 minutes long whilst the Oxford TSA has an additional essay section for 30 minutes. The multiple choice section of the TSA gives 1 mark per question and is not negatively marked – so ensure that you put down an answer for every question if you are unsure of the answer. You have roughly a minute and a half to do each question and that will leave you fifteen minutes to go over any questions that you struggled with the first time around.

The TSA requires you to have a GCSE level understanding of maths so do ensure you go back over your maths skills from then – particularly useful are formulae for areas and volumes. Strong mental maths skills will also help you given the short amount of time you have to do each question. Practise converting pounds into other currencies, calculating percentages (e.g. I bought a Television and now it is 23% cheaper) and ensure you can read graphs and charts quickly and effectively.

The critical thinking questions require you to be able to recognise assumptions that are made in arguments, to be able to follow patterns of reasoning and and to summarise an argument so take newspaper articles and practise on each paragraph. Think about what assumption could weaken the argument, what could summarise the argument of each paragraph and how to replicate a line of argument with an example of your own.

There are plenty of papers online with which you can test your skills and practise your skills so ensure you do these. Work through the papers timed so as to gain a sense of the timing but go back and make sure you can do each question in your own time so that you can make sure you can work through the methodology of each question.

If you’re taking the Oxford TSA, you need to practise your essay writing skills. The essay only gives you half an hour so ensure that you choose three key points and expand on those. Students often make the mistake of trying to cram in as much as they can which leads to the problem of quantity rather than quality. Ensure you define things – if the questions ask “Should we raise taxes” explain which taxes you are referring to – Is your answer referring to income tax, corporation tax or VAT? Are you proposing raising income tax for all earners or high earners? There are lots of examples of TSA essay questions online so try and do lots of essay plans and do a few essays timed so as to get into the habit of writing an essay in 30 minutes.

With the TSA, you can certainly practise so make sure you do and give yourself the best possible chance of doing well!

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