How is the TSA constructed and scored?
If you’ve read our previous articles on the TSA or checked the official website, you will be aware that the TSA is comprised of two sections, both testing your rational thinking skills and analysis.
Section 1 consists of multiple-choice questions and can be broadly broken down into two categories of questions: Critical Thinking and Problem Solving.
Section 2 is a 30-minute essay-based question that is on an unfamiliar topic. It is used to test communication skills and your ability to be concise and persuasive. The essay is passed on to the relevant college tutors for review. As such, the grading and criteria is not readily available and thus, this article instead focuses on Section 1. For further guidance on the essay section of the test, read the article we’ve provided on TSA Section 2.
Analysis of TSA Results
In a manner not unlike UMS grading, the TSA papers are scaled yearly to ensure a fair distribution of marks that factors in the difficulty of the paper. Unlike UMS, it is hence possible for candidates to score more than 100!
TSA Problem Solving Section
TSA Critical Thinking Section
Using the publicly available score conversion charts and TSA results, we can estimate the number of marks involved. Doing so, we find that the average marks are roughly 62.0 (29/50) for 2018, 64.0 (31/50) in 2019 and 66.2 (33/50) in 2020. When comparing these average scores to successful candidates for degrees such as Experimental Psychology, the TSA average scores are lower. For instance, shortlisted Experimental Psychology applicants scored on average 69.04 in 2019, which is 2.84 more than the 2019 average TSA score.
Results per Subject
The TSA results of successful candidates can vary significantly per subject and university. This means that the TSA may be used more heavily to exclude candidates who score poorly or separate candidates who have similar academic grades.
It is also potentially indicative of the competitiveness of a subject; for 2020 entry, the score to ‘almost certainly be shortlisted’ for PPE was over 73.26 (38/50), and successful Experimental Psychology applicants scored an average of 70.93 (37/50).
2019-2020 PPE TSA shortlisting process:
|Band 1||n>= 73.26||Almost certainly shortlist |
|Band 2||70.45<= n< 73.26||Probably shortlist |
|Band 3||68.37 <= n < 70.45||Marginal: use other information |
|Band 4||n < 68.37||Probably deselect |
2021 TSA Results
The results are in for the November 2021 running of the TSA. From the information provided by Cambridge Assessment we can determine how the applicants have done.
The total raw scores on section 1 are converted to a scale which runs roughly from 0 to 100, but this varies to take into account the overall difficulty of the questions asked. This scale also allows the scores of candidates who have taken different versions of the test to be directly compared.
Extreme scores are expected to be comparatively rare, and is designed that typical applicants to the most selective undergraduate university courses in the UK will score around a 60.
Exception applicants will score more highly but 70 represents a comparatively high score and very few candidates will achieve higher than an 80.
Below you can see the scale for the Problem Solving score, which as expected has the vast majority of the students hitting the 60 target.
As for the Critical Thinking score, we can see that the candidates performed overwhelmingly better than they did in the Problem Solving, with more being able to achieve over 70.
Looking to the Overall Score, we can see that less than ~30% of students did not meet a score of 60. The medium score worked out to around 64.4.
Cambridge Assessment does not mark section 2, with the essays being sent directly to the Admissions Tutors along with the marks achieved in section 1.
The TSA is an important part of the selection process for many subjects at the most competitive universities. By looking back on TSA results, we can see how different scores are reflected for each subject, along with the scores you need to aim for/aim to score higher than. It is also good to see these past results to remember that you don’t have to have a perfect score to pass. It’s okay to score slightly higher than average, depending on your subject choice.
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