The Physics Aptitude Test (PAT) is fast approaching. Before you sit the test next week, here are what I hope are some helpful pointers to bear in mind as you’re preparing very hard.
With good revision of your A-level material, and enough exam practice of past PAT papers, you are in a very good position to give your best to the test. Remember, there are some standard questions that you have had practice with, in both the Maths and Physics sections.
The PAT, much like the rest of the application process will be a mixture of things you know well and can attempt easily enough, and some questions or parts of the questions that will be unfamiliar and new. Don’t let that throw you – know to expect it. Attempt as much of as many questions as possible.
This applies to exams in general, but just as a reminder, here are 2 golden rules for answering most exam and test papers:
(i) Check how many marks each question is worth. That will generally give you a guide as to how long you can afford to spend on it, and how complex or simple the solution might be. The caveat to that for the PAT in particular is that, it is, in general, a rather non-standard paper. So, you may find yourself having to work harder for 3 marks here, than other papers in the past. Your PAT past papers experience should hopefully help you gauge this better.
(ii) Often, in the longer questions that are made up of multi-level parts, the subsequent parts of a question will utilise the answers you came up with in the earlier parts of the same question.
The multiple choice questions are, for the large part, based on a formula or concept that you would either be very familiar with, or in the rare occasion, either not have covered in your studies, or just have no idea what might be a relevant starting point.
If you’re familiar with it, usually they are quick and straightforward to answer (though please read the question carefully to check exactly what they are answering for. You may have the right thinking, but may have concentrated on the wrong part of the calculation.
If, you think you really have no way to start because it is an unfamiliar topic, you may want to consider skipping that question and coming back to it later, if you have time. It may that, to think through the question, you would need to spend a lot of time working it out, and may decide that the amount of marks is not worth the time spent.
Remember, that you can answer the 3 sections in any order that you feel best for you. You may want to go through the multiple choice questions first to get them done and out of the way. You may want to start with the Maths, if you feel you are more comfortable with that, and get that completed. You may want to start with the Physics long answers, if, by looking through the questions, you feel you could answer all the way to the end, you might want to dedicate time to that. Generally, give yourself a guideline of time per section. And choose a way that feels comfortable for you.
Some questions will pertain to a certain topic in Physics or Maths, and be relatively self-contained to that topic. So be prepared to think in depth, and pay attention to the detail. Some questions may involve linking concepts across a variety of topics that you have studied individually in the past. So, be prepared to think laterally.
A particular question may test you on logic, or a concept – for example Dimensional Analysis. Some questions require bringing to the forefront some of the simpler concepts you may have even studied in secondary school, or GCSEs (e.g. Archimedes principle, Similar triangles). So, as I have said once before, think of the material know as being your mental toolbox. The question you’re answering may require you to club together various concepts you may not have done before!
There are plenty of things you can do to prepare for the PAT, but remember, this is meant to be a challenge. Expect to be asked questions that are difficult! But, do not be put off by a tough paper! Embrace the challenge, and give it all your best thinking!
I wish you all the best!