NSAA Basics: The Complete Guide

If you are applying to study Natural Science or Veterinary Medicine at Cambridge you have likely come across the NSAA, but what actually is it?

Author: Chloe Hewitt

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The NSAA will be sat on the 19th October 2022 rather than the usual first week of November. 

If you are thinking of applying to Natural Science or Veterinary Science at the University of Cambridge, you will likely have come across the NSAA.

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

We will go over everything you need to know for the NSAA. 

What does the NSAA test?

The NSAA is designed to be approachable to students studying A-Levels with the Admissions Test, as it focuses on content that should have been covered at GCSE and A-Level. 

The test is used to help Admissions Tutors to differentiate between candidates when shortlisting for Interviews due to the high A-Level predicted grades (or equivalent) and strong GCSE grades of the applicants. 

The specification of the test changed in 2020, so past papers before then contain areas that won’t be tested in upcoming year’s Admissions tests. 

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What is the test format?

The NSAA lasts two hours and consists of candidates answering 60 multiple-choice questions. 

Candidates will sit the test at their school, college or local test centre. 

Do I Need To Take The NSAA?

The test is required for any application to study Natural Science and Veterinary Science at undergraduate level. You’ll need to sit it regardless of which college you’re applying to at Cambridge.

Which NSAA questions do you need to do?

The answer to this question is that it is entirely your choice. There is no point in answering the Physics questions when you are interested in the Biological aspects, and vice versa.

Given how time constraint the NSAA is, it would be beneficial to go into the NSAA knowing what sections you are going to answer to avoid wasting valuable time. 

Assumed Knowledge Required

Mathematics

The content for the Maths section is taken from the first-year of the A-Level Pure Maths course. 

The topics you will be assumed to have knowledge of are numbers, algebra, geometry, measures, statistics and probability.

Physics

Section 1: The topics covered include: electricity, magnetism, mechanics, thermal physics, matter, waves and radioactivity. 

Section 2: You can be tested on any of the topics from Section 1, as well as expected to have an understanding of forces and equilibrium, kinematics, Newton’s Laws, momentum, energy, materials, waves, and electricity. 

Chemistry

Section 1: The topics covered include: atomic structure, the periodic table, chemical reactions formulae and equations, quantitative chemistry, oxidation, reduction and redox, chemical bonding, structure and properties, group chemistry, separation techniques, acids, bases and salts, rates of reaction, energetics, electrolysis, carbon/organic chemistry, metals, kinetic/particle theory, chemical test, and air and water. 

Section 2: You can be tested on any of the content from Section 1, as well as the following: atomic structure, bonding and structure, energetics, kinetics, equilibria, redox, inorganic chemistry and Periodic Table, and organic chemistry.

Biology

Section 1: The topics covered include: cells, movement across membranes, cell division and sex determination, inheritance, DNA, gene technologies, variation, enzymes, animal physiology, ecosystems and plant physiology.

Section 2: You can be tested on anything from Section 1 as well as the following: cell structure, biological membranes, cell division and organisation, biological molecules, nucleotides and nucleic acids, enzymes, animal physiology and plant physiology. 

NSAA Key Dates

  • 1 September 2022 – Registration opens
  • 16 September 2022 – Deadline to apply for modified papers (e.g. enlarged print).
  • 30 September 2022 – Registration closes.
  • 19 October 2022 – Test date
  • January 2023 – Candidates will receive their results 

Cambridge Assessment Admissions will release results to each candidate via their Results Online system.

In 2022, the NSAA will be sat on 19th October. In line with this, there are different dates to be aware of which you can read about here.

How is the Test Scored?

There are a possible 60 marks available to candidates in the NSAA. There is no negative marking for an incorrect answer. 

The results for each part will be reported separately. 

Raw marks for each part are converted into the usual marking scale used by Cambridge – 1.0 (low) to 9.0 (high). 

How is the NSAA used?

Different Cambridge colleges will place different weightings on the different components that make up your application (grades, Admission Test, Interview and Personal Statement), so it is important you find out as much information about how your marks will be used by emailing the college admissions office 

In general, the university will Interview a high proportion of realistic applicants, so the NSAA score is not vital for making the Interview shortlist. However, it can play a huge role in the final decision after your Interview. 

How to prepare for the NSAA?

Choose Which Sections You Are Going To Answer

You must go in knowing exactly which sections of the Admissions Test you are going to answer and which you are not. Time in the NSAA is excruciatingly tight – you cannot afford to waste any of it growing through questions and deliberating over the choice. This also allows you to focus your preparation on the sections which you are actually going to answer. 

Create A Plan

Make sure you create a revision timetable and strategy, especially when you start early revision. This will help you stay on track with working through the syllabus and working consistently on your revision. Anything to avoid last minute cramming is ideal. If there are topics in the syllabus that you find harder, then make sure you start with these first. Try using a simple colour code (red, amber and green) to rank the topics to help you decide on where to start your revision. 

Practice Questions

There are not that many NSAA-specific papers to do out there so there is no excuse not to do them all. By far the most challenging aspect of the NSAA is the time constraints so it is vital that you practise the papers under timed conditions to get a sense of how efficiently you are required to work. Remember that Cambridge are not expecting you to finish the paper perfectly, and it might be wise to pick and choose which questions to answer as not to waste time. 

Once you have run out of NSAA papers, look to other exams that are in similar styles such as the PAT if you are opting for the Physical aspects of the NSAA. 

Maximise your NSAA score through effective NSAA preparation.

The NSAA is a vital component of your Natural Science and Veterinary Science application so scoring highly can mean the difference between an offer or rejection. At UniAdmissions, we are experts at boosting your NSAA score and maximising your chances of gaining a place.

Discover our NSAA Programme by clicking the button below to enrol and triple your chances of success.

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