PAT Basics: The Complete Guide

If you are applying to study a Physics-based subject at Oxford you have likely come across the PAT, but what actually is it?

Author: Chloe Hewitt

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The University of Oxford uses the PAT as part of its admissions process for a number of subjects.

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

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

What Is The PAT?

The Physics Aptitude Test (PAT) is a subject-specific Admissions Test.

It must be taken by all students applying to Physics, Engineering and Material Science at Oxford. If you are applying to a Physics ‘joint school’ (any course with a title of ‘Physics and [subject]’ such as Physics and Philosophy) then you will also have to sit the PAT.

The PAT is designed for candidates who have studied the first year of A-Level (or equivalent) Maths and Physics and covers similar material to that of the GCSE and A-Level syllabus.

It is worth going through the PAT syllabus to identify any areas you have not covered at school, and independent study may be necessary.

The main thing to remember when looking at the syllabus is that knowing the content is only half the challenge. What sets the PAT apart is the way it asks you to apply the content in new or unusual contexts.

This is why practicing with questions and past papers is so important as part of your preparation.

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Why Do I Have To sit the PAT?

The PAT is set up to test your Maths and Physics ability, but that is not all. Afterall, your A-Levels and other qualifications test these too.

It also throws in questions to test your problem-solving skills and creative thinking ability.

This is because, for Oxford, competition for places is very high and so the test and Interview gives Oxford extra information to distinguish applicants who generally have very similar academic credentials.

What Does The PAT Actually Test?

As you will hopefully be expecting, the Physics Aptitude Test is first and foremost, a test of Physics with a large amount of Maths too.

Like other aptitude tests, it is primarily designed to test the way that an applicant thinks and uses logic to reach solutions to problems. So, as well as measuring the conceptual understanding of Physics, the exam is also a broader assessment of aptitude.

It is important to recognise that you cannot simply use A-Level revision as preparation for this Admissions Test.

It requires separate attention.

What Is The Format Of The PAT?

The PAT is a two-hour exam, which includes questions on Maths and Physics. Unusually, the Maths and Physics questions are mixed together, and there are lots of different question styles.

The paper normally starts with a number of two-mark multiple-choice questions, which often take more time and working out than their relatively small mark allocation would suggest.

After the multiple-choice questions, you will move on to questions ranging from three-marks up to 10-marks. There are no essays, so even the 10-mark questions are broken down into several smaller questions much like a typical Physics exam.

Calculators are permitted for the PAT, however, make sure to check if your calculator is on the specified list otherwise you will not be able to use it during the Admissions Test.

How To Prepare For The PAT

Look over a range of past papers to help to familiarise you with the format of the test and the content covered. Oxford also publishes reports for each test; reports contain information such as the average mark on the paper and the mark students needed to achieve an Interview. Do not expect to get all of it correct – most years the average is 50-60%.

Familiarise yourself with the syllabus. The material is aimed at AS level maths and physics plus knowledge of material covered at GCSE. However, we cannot guarantee when the material will be covered in your school so you might find you need to teach yourself a few topics before the exam.

Get practice doing some problem solving/hard physics questions which are not A-Level questions. It is advisable to do questions from a range of other sources, not just A level type questions which can be more structured in nature than the PAT.

Try doing some questions under timed conditions. One of the things which students who have taken the test say is hard is the number of questions you need to do in only 2 hours. Practising some questions under timed conditions near the date of the exam will mean you are more likely to get to the end of the paper.

When Do I Take The PAT?

All of Oxford’s Admissions Tests are administered by Cambridge Assessment Admissions Testing. These tests are taken on specific dates each year, a few weeks after the application deadline on 15 October.

It will typically be the first week of November.

Candidates need to be entered for the PAT by 15 October via the Cambridge Assessment Admissions Testing website, otherwise you will not be able to sit the Admissions Test.

What Score Do I Need?

In total you have 100 marks available, and 120 minutes in which to get them. So, if you want to leave yourself time to read questions through and review your solutions and any skipped questions at the end, you should be aiming for about a mark per minute.

In general, you want to be in the 1/3rd of applicants to make sure you get offered an Interview, so aiming for a score of 60 is a far more achievable target.

Results for the PAT are not automatically published but they can be requested as part of the feedback process.

Admissions Tutors will receive the results of all tests directly in time to make their shortlisting decisions in November.

Conclusion

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

The Oxford application process is highly competitive, and the PAT 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 Maths and Physics skills are rather than as another hurdle.

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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 PAT score and teach you how to Interview effectively – covering all areas of your Oxbridge application.

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