The TSA Complete Guide

Are you having to sit the TSA? Understanding everything there is to know about this Admissions Test is essential to scoring highly.

Author: Chloe Hewitt

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Table of Contents

The Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA) is an aptitude test taken by students who are applying to certain courses at Oxford and UCL.

Oxford applicants sit the TSA Oxford and UCL applicants (surprise, surprise) sit the TSA UCL.

In this article, we outline the format of the exam, who needs to sit the test and why it’s an important part of the admissions process.

What Is the Format of the TSA?

The TSA consists of two sections:

Section 1

Consists of 50 multiple-choice questions and assesses problem-solving skills, critical thinking skills, and the ability to reason using everyday language. The time allowed for this section is 90 minutes.

Section 2

A writing task, that evaluates an applicants ability to organise ideas and communicate them effectively in writing. Applicants answer one question from a choice of four and the time allowed for this section is 30 minutes.

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Who Sits The TSA?

Used by Oxford and UCL to assess the skills required for admission to specific courses. 

The two universities use the Admissions Test slightly differently. If you are applying to Oxford you will have to sit the two sections, whereas UCL applicants only need to sit Section 1. 

You will have to sit the TSA if you are applying to the following subjects: 

Oxford

UCL

Candidates applying to History and Economics, and Economics and Management will be required to take the Thinking Skills Assessment: Section 1 (TSA S1) as part of their application. Applicants must ensure that they are registered to take the test called Thinking Skills Assessment: Section 1. 

The TSA Oxford takes place in the first week of November each year. Those taking the TSA UCL will be told directly by them when you will be sitting it. You can only sit the TSA once per admissions cycle. 

Why is the TSA used?

The TSA is considered by Admissions Tutors alongside your grades (both achieved and predicted), Personal Statement, references, and Interview, in order to determine whether you should get an offer.

Different colleges and Admission Tutors will give different weighting to each of these components, and therefore there is no sure-fire way to know how much consideration will be given in each application.

The TSA is used because applicants to these prestigious universities tend to be very closely matched on paper, with the majority of candidates receiving all A – A* grades. This is an extra differentiator for Admissions Tutors to look at.

How Important Is The TSA For Oxford Admissions?

The Oxford admissions process is a holistic one; a wide range of your academic performances are considered, including exam scores, interview performance and, of course, the TSA score. Performance in the TSA is not entirely indicative of a candidate’s success.

It is not uncommon to have the TSA referred to in your Interview.

You may be asked how you think the test went, or they may disclose your score to you. In Oxford Interviews, you may be asked about the content of the essay you wrote. It is used to gain a better understanding of how you think.

Furthermore, different subjects weigh the TSA exam differently. Many subjects require you to sit other entrance exams too, such as the MLAT or the HAT, which will clearly be considered too.

It is also the case that the average TSA scores of shortlisted and successful candidates will vary by subject. Successful PPE candidates often score around 70 which is a high TSA score. This is due to a combination of the TSA’s weighting as well as a reflection of the subject’s competitiveness.

How To Prepare for the TSA

It is often said that it is impossible to revise and prepare for the TSA

Given that the TSA has been designed to test the skills you should already possess, it is meant that your aptitude at critical thinking and problem solving are difficult to change. 

Practising past papers under timed conditions is a sure-fire way to prepare. By doing so you are familiarising yourself with the question styles and will have a realistic idea of the time pressure. 

Typically, the last few question questions of the assessment are the most difficult, so it is advisable to keep this in mind and possibly even consider practising this section of the Admissions Test first. 

Another helpful place to start your preparation is by reading the TSA question guide which explains and works through a sample of the different types of Critical Thinking and Problem Solving questions in the test.

How is the TSA scored?

Scoring for the two sections of the TSA is done differently. 

For the multiple-choice Section 1 candidates score one mark per question. This section is marked by the computer and scored on a scale of 1-100, only around 10% of applicants score above 70.  

The scores are calculated on the TSA scale to one decimal place. The scale is an estimate of the candidate’s ability, which makes scoring comparable by factoring in the question and overall test difficulty, using the Rasch statistical technique

For Oxford applicants, the essay you write in Section 2 will be sent directly to the college you are applying to for them to mark. 

The mark is at their discretion. 

The “mark scheme” will vary from Admission Tutor to Admission Tutor but regardless of marking style, all the tutors are looking for the ability to organise ideas in a clear and concise manner. 

Conclusion

The TSA is the component of the admissions process that applicants understandably worry about. It is quite different from anything you will have encountered before. 

Whilst the questions may seem foreign at this stage, it is a case of cultivating the required skill set throughout practice. 

Now you have a better understanding of the TSA and what is in store during the Admissions Test, you are in the best possible place to score highly. 

Our expert tutors will guide you to Oxford Economics 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 TSA score and teach you how to Interview effectively – covering all areas of your Oxbridge application.

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