HAA Basics: The Complete Guide

If you are applying to study History at Cambridge you have likely come across the HAA, but what actually is it?

Last Updated: 26th May 2022

Author: Chloe Hewitt

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If you are thinking of applying to History at the University of Cambridge, you will likely have come across the HAA.

But what is the HAA and why do you have to sit it?

We go over everything you need to know for the HAA.

What Is The HAA?

Introduced by Cambridge in 2018 the History Admissions Assessment (HAA) helps the university assess applicants to their History courses.

If you are applying to any of the following courses at the majority of Cambridge’s colleges, you will need to sit the HAA:

If you are applying to a joint honours course you will also need to take Section 1 of the TSA in the case of History and Economics, or the MLAT in the case of History and Modern Languages.

If you are applying for History and English however, you will not have to sit the ELAT – just the HAA. This is also the case for History and Politics.

Early preparation is the key to a successful Cambridge History application.

Writing the perfect Personal Statement, scoring highly on the HAA and interviewing like a pro is how you get your dream Cambridge History offer.

Discover our History Programme for comprehensive admissions support by clicking the button below to enrol and triple your chances of success.

Why Do I Have To Sit The HAA?

The purpose of the HAA is to determine a candidate’s potential to achieve in an academically demanding undergraduate degree course.

The assessment is designed to be challenging in order to differentiate effectively between able applicants, including those who may have achieved the highest possible grades in school examinations.

It is important to remember that not all Cambridge colleges require you to sit the HAA, so do confirm with the college you are applying to whether or not you would have to sit the assessment.

What Is the Format of the HAA?

The HAA is essay based and lasts for one hour.

In this time your will need to analyse and compare two short extracts on a linked historical theme.

The purpose of this task is to assess your ability to handle and analyse historical sources, as well as your ability to write succinctly and argue with clarity.

These tenets are tested practically by the university to understand how well you would be suited to studying at Cambridge.

No prior knowledge is required, and candidates will not be credited for displaying this in their answer, as the purpose of the task is source criticism. Therefore, you do not need to ‘revise’ or accumulate knowledge for this task.

How To Prepare For The HAA

Though it may not be as easy as other assessments to prepare, you can find ways to prepare for the HAA.

As with many Admissions Tests making sure you have the timing nailed on is essential. You could start by not attempting it under timed conditions just to get a feel of what the sources are like and get used to doing the analysis.

From there you can move onto timed conditions.

It is important to note though that the HAA had a specification change in 2020 so any past papers from before then are different to what the test is like today. If you choose to do any of these, you just need to do Section 2.

You could also look at the Oxford HAT past papers, though the format is different the sources they use are similar so should only be used as a place for new material to practice with.

How Is The HAA Scored?

Cambridge has not said much about how the essay is marked. This is deliberate and the university stresses that this is because it wants to view candidates holistically. 

It wants to take into account candidate’s educational backgrounds, their exam results to date, submitted schoolwork, and performance in both the HAA and Interview before reaching its final decision.

Given the proximity of the HAA to the Interview, it may mean that the Admissions Test and the Interview together may have a greater impact on each other than previously.

Chances are the sources, themes raised in them and your answer could even be discussion points in the Interview.

How Is The HAA Used?

The main aim is to thin the herd to ensure that only applicants with a high level of a historical aptitude and great grades and a great Personal Statement get through to the Interview phase.

Which means that not only do you have to have the correct level of aptitude but also the ability to show it.

The Admissions Tutors who mark your HAA want you to show that you can creatively and accurately analyse a source to learn a huge amount of information.

They also want you to communication it well, the better you can do that, the easier it will be for them to read, understand and mark your work.

The mark from this will be passed onto those making the application decisions and they will use it to inform their understanding of your abilities.

Unlike your A-Levels, your HAA result is situated within the context just of how applicants performed. Which means your final mark will be put into a small band which joins the rest of your application in consideration.


You should now have a better idea of what the HAA is and begin preparing for the Admissions Test.

The Cambridge application process is highly competitive, and the HAA is an effective way for the Admissions Tutors to gauge a realistic representation of you.

It is best to think of the Admissions Test as another opportunity to show the Admissions Tutors how impressive your ability to argue analytically and produce a coherent argument is, rather than as another hurdle.

Our expert tutors will guide you to Cambridge History success.

Applying to Oxbridge is immensely competitive, and you must give yourself the best chance of success. We help you craft the perfect Personal Statement, achieve a highly competitive HAA score and teach you how to Interview effectively – covering all areas of your Oxbridge application.

Discover our Cambridge History Premium Programme for comprehensive admissions support by clicking the button below to enrol and triple your chances of success.

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