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Thinking Skills Assessment. Three little words that put the fear into Oxbridge applicants. The admissions test is used to test your ability to think under pressure and is useful for colleges in being able to separate natural ability from coachable interview ability. The TSA has different elements designed to test your problem solving and ability to think critically. There are some differences between the Oxford and Cambridge TSA – the Oxford TSA includes an essay section and is taken in November. The Cambridge TSA is taken on the day of the interview and does not include the essay section.

The good news is that it is possible to practice for the test and to increase your chances of performing well on the day. The test itself only requires GCSE level maths so you do not need to study complex maths equations but the complication arises from the limited time and the fact that you may need to use several concepts in one question.

How to do well in the TSA:

  • Revisit GCSE maths. The TSA becomes a lot easier if you can remember formulae for calculating volumes and areas of simple shapes as a lot of the questions are spacial and require you to calculate border sizes or volume. As the questions are under time pressure, you will help yourself if you can do long division and multiplication as well as percentage conversions. The BBC bitesize mental maths section is a helpful tool for practicing.  
  • Practice logical questions. A lot of questions are based on step by step calculations or logical reasoning. Get used to writing out stages of what you know to be true or false or what rules you can ascertain so that by the time of your test, your brain is used to thinking in logical steps.
  • Read newspaper stories and practice identifying the premise of an argument and the conclusion of it as this will strengthen your critical thinking. Identify what could strengthen the argument in the article and what could weaken it as well as what the assumptions are as this often comes up in the TSA and is something students aren’t expected to do explicitly at school.
  • Read questions carefully as many of the questions are not overly difficult but require you to pay attention to detail and to handle several pieces of information as well as determining which pieces are relevant and which are not.
  • Guess the answer (once you’ve eliminated any definitely wrong answers). The TSA is not negatively marked which means there is no penalty for a wrong answer. If you cannot work out an answer, do not waste too much time on a question. Mark it as one to come back to and make an educated guess by cancelling out any answers you know are wrong.
  • Keep an eye on the time as the TSA allows less than two minutes per question. Each question is equally weighted so you would be better off moving on than spending more than two minutes on a question.

There are online tests that you can practice so try one and see what type of questions you are weak on and need to practice. The average result of a successful applicant is around 65% (although this does fluctuate) so do not worry if you are not getting very high marks. If you are taking the Oxford TSA, practice essay writing but keep it concise. Choose two or three points to make and ensure you can do a solid introduction, body and conclusion in half an hour without waffling. Most of all, when you do your TSA, keep your workings out tidy so that you can come back to them if necessary and stay calm!

All views and ideas represented in this blog post are exclusive to Resham, and do not represent those of any other third party.

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