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Will my Admissions Test Ask me for Any Specific Knowledge?

Admissions tests for Oxbridge and Cambridge applicants are designed to measure your aptitude or potential for studying a certain subject at university, rather than acting like a traditional exam in which you have a syllabus and specific content that you need to revise. This can make an Admissions Test quite difficult to prepare for, since there’s no clear scheme of knowledge from which you can revise or which you know that the examiners will ask you in the test itself. We get asked a lot whether, given that there isn’t a clear syllabus, an Admissions Test or Aptitude Test can ask you for specific knowledge at any point. Naturally, this differs between different subjects (generally split between STEM and Humanities subjects, which we’ll go into more detail later), but there are general rules which you can follow to help you structure your revision according to the information you’ll most likely need to know.




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Specific Knowledge is not the Aim of Admissions Tests

As we’ve mentioned before in our introduction and in various blogs previously, the main aim of an Admissions Test for Oxford or Cambridge is to test your general abilities or potential (sometimes referred to as ‘aptitude’) on a certain course at University. This is particularly the case if you’re applying for a course that you may not have studied directly at school, such as Biomedicine, Law, or Asian and Middle Eastern Studies. With this in mind then, Admissions Tests tend not to ask you direct A-level style questions asking you to exhibit a specific piece of knowledge, since this isn’t really that good a use of admissions tutors’ time and effort (considering the fact that they already have you A-level or equivalent predicted grades to tell them how good you are at school exams) and because a lot of the knowledge you will be gaining in this subject will be taught to you for the first time at University. Whilst Oxford or Cambridge may expect you to have done plenty of wider reading (as shown in your personal statement) and to have a broad general understanding of the subject you’re applying for, in many cases they do not require prior specific knowledge, so do not test for this in the Admissions Tests. Instead, the tests are mostly set up to help tutors understand the way you think and approach new issues within the field of study you’re applying to. For example, the HAT (History Aptitude Test) provides a primary source extract and asks you two write an essay on your interpretations of said source, rather than asking for any specific knowledge of a time period or area of history.

It is, however, worth noting here that STEM subjects tend to have more questions relying on prior knowledge from your GCSE and A-Level courses than do humanities subjects, but both use the principles and techniques you will have learned in class. Therefore, for all Admissions Tests, in particular STEM subjects, it is definitely best practice to make sure that you have the fundamentals of your subject down (think about the main formulae or methodological practices you covered in GCSE and A-level) and ensure that you can carry them out in different situations, since this is what the test is really designed to examine.

Make sure you’re Solid on you’re A-Level (or equivalent) Syllabus

As we said before, just because the Admissions Test may not examine you directly on specific information you may have learned in class, going over what you’ve learned throughout you’re A-Levels, and even GCSEs, will help build you a very solid foundation from which to prepare for the Admissions Tests. This is because the specific things you have learned in class, be they formulae, processes, dates, or methodologies, are likely to involve transferable skills or fundamentals that can be used in different scenarios, and is something which your Admissions Test will look for. The whole idea of the test is to show admissions tutors that you are adaptable to new content and can analyse the kind of new information you will be exposed to at university in a succinct and thoughtful manner.

The Best Way to Prepare is with Practice Exams

Since there isn’t a solid syllabus for you to revise from, aside from starting with your relevant A-Levels, we also recommend going through past papers and practice exams as the most reliable way to make sure you understand what will be required of you on the paper and how you can revise to make sure that you’re able to answer it come the test itself. This is particularly useful if you’re applying to study a subject that you don’t currently study in the same form at school, since in these situations it can be very difficult to guess what the test will involve without looking at past papers. We recommend taking all of your current knowledge, obtained not just from your school courses but also anything you may have gleaned from your wider reading, and try your hand at a past paper, before using this to tell you where you may need more practice in the lead up to your exam.
The bottom line is, although Admissions Tests are aimed at examining your ability to adapt to new information and demonstrate your intuition when approaching new questions, it still doesn’t harm to make sure you’re solid on the main principles of your relevant A-Level syllabuses as well as running through past papers for the Admissions Test in question just to double check you’re prepared for the kind of questions they’re likely to ask. Good luck with your preparation!

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We provide tuition for all admissions tests, including LNAT, BMAT, UCAT, CLT, TSA, NSAA, HAA, HAT, ELAT, MAT, PAT, ENGAA, ECAA. All which are available in our library of Mock Tests for purchase.

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