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Home Learn about the HAT test and how to get a high score Preparing for the HAT test: Tips from a successful Oxford History applicant

Preparing for the HAT Test

The best way to prepare for the HAT exam is to do lots and lots of practice. There is no set syllabus that you need to know, no list of kings and queens that you need to memorise. The key skills are insight and imagination. What is the source saying? How do its provenance, form, tone, and audience inform how we understand it? What other sources would be useful? What is left unsaid? Practice will reduce the amount of time you naturally spend being puzzled by the source and will mean you can start asking these questions and finding the answers more readily. Students should build their repertoire of tackling such unfamiliar sources using past HAT papers, materials such as our specially-written HAT papers, or setting yourself sources that you find online.
To illustrate what we mean, the HAT exam in 2020 was based on an extract from Juvaynī’s History of the World-Conqueror, begun in 1251, about the rise to power of Genghis Khan. The question was:
“What can we learn from this document about the expectations and realities of rulership in the Mongol empire?”
As you can see, the question is not: ‘Explain the expectations and realities of rulership in the Mongol empire.’ You are not required to have any knowledge of the history of the Mongol empire at all. Rather, the question is ‘what can we learn from this document’. You are provided with some notes explaining who the author is and what the context for his history was. Your task is then to draw out some salient features of rulership in the Mongol empire with your analysis focused on how this document shows that. You’ll want to consider both what the author says about rulership, implicitly and explicitly, and possibly what is left unsaid. You’ll also want to think about why the author might be making the points he does. For example, is he trying to impress a current ruler or denigrate a past one? These questions can be answered both with reference to the text, including its tone, and by using a bit of historical imagination. For example, in a diary or a letter to a confidant you are likely to be more candid than in a speech where you might avoid offending your host. The explanatory notes will give you information about what sort of source it is.
In addition to the past HAT papers, we have written a series of additional mock papers. Our students have 33% more questions to practise with. Our mock HAT papers can be found here and are included with our admissions test tuition. All of our HAT tutors are highly-trained Oxbridge graduates who can share their personally insights of having sat the test. You can contact our Oxbridge-graduate Consultants on +44 (0) 20 7499 2394 or email [email protected] to discuss which of our test training would suit you best. We also have an online testing portal for students who want to sit the exam in timed, test conditions.
The best advice we can offer is to begin preparation early and practise often. Most students who don’t get through the HAT to be invited to interview tell us that they didn’t spend enough time familiarising themselves with the type of questions that can arise. They typically say that they were caught off guard by the unfamiliarity of the source and it put their timings off for writing their answer.
Start early: The more practice you can do the better to banish your fear of weird and puzzling sources. To fit in all this practice, it is better to start sooner rather than later. Don’t leave it to the last minute but start looking at past papers and our practice materials now to give yourself enough time to hone your skills to access the highest marks. Remember that your answer should have an argument. With practice you will get better at reading the source, noticing what is useful and what is not, and then planning your answer. To use the example above, what is the most important thing the document teaches us about the Mongol empire and how does it do that? Analyse, don’t just describe.
Don’t restrict your practice materials: Once you have tried all of the real past papers, and have moved on to additional materials like our HAT papers, you should then look wider at similar materials. It’s easy to find collections of primary sources online. Pick an unfamiliar period at random and have a go. The questions are always broadly similar: ‘what does this source tell us about the culture that produced it?’ Work with a friend of teacher to discuss questions and identify your own personal revision goals. Working with others can be a huge motivation and keep you on track in the weeks and months leading up to the test. We have specialist HAT tutors who can work with you one-to-one to refine your test technique.

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