How to Apply TSA Critical Thinking Skills in the Test

How to apply TSA critical thinking skills in the Thinking Skills Assessment. TSA Critical thinking skills are one of the requirements applicants are expected to demonstrate. The written test tests required skills such as communication skills, writing skills and critical thinking skills; the latter will be the focus of this article.

Author: Zayra Morales

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How to Apply TSA Critical Thinking Skills in the Thinking Skills Assessment.

TSA Critical thinking skills are one of the requirements expected of applicants to demonstrate when taking the test. The TSA (Thinking Skills Assessment) is a key part of Oxford and UCL admissions for those hoping to study subjects including PPE and Psychology.

The written exam tests many of the skills required to succeed whilst at Oxford like communication ability, writing skills as well as critical thinking skills; the latter will be the focus of this article.

What are the TSA Critical Thinking Skills?

The TSA critical thinking skills are most tested in Section 1 of the TSA, where they make up half the questions in the paper (the other half being problem-solving skills). These questions require you to analyse and form judgements using the provided data, which is usually in the form of a passage of text. Candidates are being tested on their ability to think constructively and it is akin to verbal reasoning. In contrast to problem-solving skills, there is no need for mathematical ability.

Cambridge Assessment Admissions Testing explains why critical thinking is included in the TSA:

We have TSA guides for each of the sections to help you develop your understanding of the test:

In the next section, we’ll go through an example TSA question and show the thinking skills that are required.

Example of a TSA critical thinking skills question


Whilst many people claim to have been abducted by aliens, the most likely reasoning would be sleep paralysis. In this state of sleep, the dreamer might hear strange noises, lights, and movement that they associate with the experience of being abducted. Most all recorded experiences, such as these, coincide with the people who say they’ve been abducted by aliens.

Sleep paralysis is fairly common and is experienced by three out of ten people. The phenomenon could explain the sensations reported by many who have claimed to have been abducted, therefore, we can come to the conclusion that aliens are not really abducting people and have not actually come to Earth.

From the argument above, which of the following is an underlying assumption that the argument is making?


Alien abductions are rarer than people think.


Dreaming about being abducted is unusual.


Others who also believe they’ve been abducted by aliens haven’t reported it.


People who are abducted rarely remember their experiences.


People will always remember their dream if it’s about being abducted by aliens.

Analysis of the Question and Answers:

This question has been taken from the TSA specimen paper and is one of the final questions. Typically, both the critical thinking and the problem-solving questions increase in difficulty as the paper goes on, so this is representative of one of the tougher questions that you might encounter on the paper.

We’ll now go through the possible answers and reveal which is correct.

Answer A:

The article makes no mention of the rarity of alien abduction; it flat out denies they occur at all in the very last sentence (‘we can conclude that aliens have not come to Earth’) and so this is at odds with the answer and is clearly not the assumption.

Answer B:

The article seeks to explore why people think they have been abducted by aliens. The commonness or unusualness of alien abduction dreams is not relevant to this analysis.

Answer C: 

The correct answer; the conclusion is that aliens have not carried out abductions by explaining away the reported symptoms and conditions; it there excludes the possibility of unreported abductions having different symptoms. This is most highlighted by the sentence ‘Most all recorded experiences such as these coincide with the people who say they’ve been abducted by aliens.’

Answer D: 

The article makes no mention of people forgetting their abduction experiences and, as such, this is not a right answer.

Answer E: 

Again, a fairly irrelevant statement. Some candidates may pick E instead of C, but the logic underpinning C more clearly applies to the passage.

Is your goal to score highly on the TSA?

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Our expert tutors guide you through past papers in mock exam scenarios so that you are well-prepared by the time your exam comes around. UniAdmissions helps students refine and hone their abilities so that they’re exam-ready on test day for all aspects of the TSA.

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