To prepare or not to prepare, that is the question.
Admissions Tests are a curious feature in the admissions process. They’ve become an increasingly important part of applying to university – particularly for Oxford and Cambridge and for Medicine and Law (so if you’re an Oxbridge lawyer or medic you have double the trouble!) – to the point that whether or not you are invited to interview can depend on your mark, and yet everywhere you look, people are telling you that you ‘don’t really need to revise for them’.
My first recommendation would be not to listen to that rather woolly advice. You know all those people – heck, you might even be one of them! – who rock up to an exam and say with a cheery wink that they haven’t done any revision and then go on to get an A*? Yes? Well, ask their mum and you’ll find out that most likely they are fibbing. It’s a bravado thing – and as you may well imagine, some of the people applying to Oxbridge have a lot of bravado. Don’t be the one who takes them on face value and feels stupid because they get invited to interview and you don’t . You’re not stupid, you just didn’t prepare! For lawyers and medics, who have been doing Admissions Tests since the dawn of time, the whole ‘you don’t need to prepare’ line is taken with a fairly liberal pinch of salt. But with the introduction of lots more tests by Oxford and Cambridge, there are a lot of innocent, untested applicants who aren’t really sure what they should and shouldn’t be doing. Don’t forget that it is no longer just Physicists, Historians, Economists, PPEists, Psychologists, English students, Mathematicians, Medics, Lawyers, Sociologists and Natural Scientists (to name but a few) who have to take these tests, but now Modern Linguists, Classicists and Engineers have been invited to join in too!
You’ll often hear that these tests are examine your ‘innate ability’ – but what does that actually mean? Ask any anthropologist and they will assure you that there is nothing ‘innate’ about sitting in silence for two hours frantically trying to scribble down as much relevant skill and knowledge as you can. You will always do much better in a test if you know what the format is, what is expected of you and what you need to do and how you need to do it. Oxford and Cambridge publish sample test papers for this very reason – being familiar with the test is not giving yourself an unfair advantage, it’s not cheating the system, it’s just plain good sense. The second thing that you can do is to take a look at model responses written by those in the know. We tasked some of our Oxbridge tutors to write questions and answers and then analyse those very same questions and answers so that you can see exactly how to approach a particularly fiendish question! Have a look at what they have to say and take their advice on board. The admissions process has become rather like a many-headed sea monster – the Hydra to those Classicists among us – with so many sharp teeth to worry about that you often forget which is the priority. Your Admissions Test is one of the most important aspects – arguably more important than choosing a college or even writing your personal statement – so make sure you give this everything you’ve got!