TSA Section 2: The Essay

Section 2 of the TSA is an extended essay responding to an excerpt of text. The best way to guide you through this section is to start with the basics. In this guide, we will outline the basics of Section 2, explain how to structure your essays and leave you with some final useful tips.

Last Updated: 23rd September 2022

Author: Chloe Hewitt

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Section 2 of the TSA is completely different to the rest of the Admissions Test. It is an essay, so how do you go about writing it? 

With just 30 minutes to answer Section 2, it is essential you know how to write your essay. 

To ensure you write the best possible essay for the TSA, we have put together this guide which goes over everything you need to know. 

Do I need to answer section 2 of the TSA?

Firstly, what is important to know is that not everyone who sits the TSA has to answer Section 2. 

Applicants to the following courses will have to answer Section 2: 

This means applicants to History and Economics, and Economics and Management need to ensure you apply for the correct Admissions Test – you need to register for the Thinking Skills Assessment: Section 1 as you are not required to answer Section 2. 

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What is section 2 of the TSA?

For Section 2 of the TSA, candidates have 30 minutes to answer an essay question. 

Candidates are given the choice of four questions and must answer one of them. 

Doing this in just half an hour is a demanding task, and it is designed to be that way. From your essay there is a few things that Oxford will be looking for: 

The first point is essential, you need to make sure you actually answer the question. The question is not intended as a prompt to recall material you have already learnt at school or college.

Remember, there are no hidden agendas or anything – you really do just need to answer the question. 

When reading your essay Oxford is looking to see how well you have understood the question and what it demands. They are looking to see if you can argue with your own voice and whether you have considered what an opponent might say. 

This inner dialogue of other viewpoints is really important as so much teaching at Oxford is in the small group tutorials. 

Why Can I Only Use Two Sides of A4?

You are purposefully limited to just two sides of A4, and are not allowed additional paper. Applicants have been given continuation sheets in the past and apart from going against instructions, it probably will not work in your favour anyway. 

Longer essays usually indicate a tendency to write a lot without serious thought or reflection. 

It is recommended that you spend time thinking and planning your essay, and then write it carefully. 

Afterall, the instructions are to answer the question and not write as much as you can. 

You should be helped and not hindered by a careful decision to limit the length of your essay. The instruction to ‘do as much as you can in the time available’ is not advice to write a lot. It is intended to communicate the recognition that with more time, more could be done, but that with just 30 minutes candidates will need to be selective. 

What are the TSA Section 2 Questions Like?

A question for this exercise will give plenty of room for argument. It will not be a question where you can give a simple answer – however obvious it may appear. As already mentioned, it also will not be a question where you can just report on something you have learnt. 

Even if the question seems to suggest an obvious answer, you will still need to argue the case, and recognise that something needs to be said for at least one alternative point of view. 

For an idea of the types of questions you will be asked, below are the questions from the 2021 TSA Section 2. 


Questions like this are discussed in politics and wider society all the time. You do not need to feel limited to past Admissions Tests when it comes to developing skills in thinking and arguing. 

The people marking your essay do not have a ‘right answer’ in mind, nor a set list of points to be made. The marker need not have any answer of their own in mind at all, and, even if they do, they might be persuaded otherwise by a good argument. 

How is the TSA Section 2 scored?

Unlike Section 1 of the TSA, you will not receive a score for your essay. 

Whereas Section 1 is marked by Cambridge Assessment Admissions Testing, and you are sent your result in January – Section 2 is marked by the college you have applied to. 

The colleges typically use your Section 1 result as a guide on whether to shortlist you for an Interview or not. Your essay could possibly be used as a discussion point during the Interview if selected. 

Top Tips for the TSA section 2


Be open-minded!

There are at least two sides to every story. You will not be rewarded for being ‘right’, however eloquently you make your point. Show that you can see an argument from different angles and that you can appreciate the alternative even if you do not agree with it. 

Try starting with the opposing argument to the one you agree with, and then argue the case you support. 


Make a plan.

Though you will likely feel like you do not have the time, but make a plan. It will help you answer much more efficiently. 


Use opposites. 

If you are struggling to come up with different sides of a debate, take an argument you have already made and turn it on its head. For example, you could say “it’s better to be loved as a leader because you are trusted to do what is right,” but then you could counter it with “it’s better to be hated as a leader because it shows that people are free to think for themselves.”


Clarity is key.

Do not disguise your argument in flowery language or a complicated structure. Make it easy for the college admissions team to follow your arguments, and they will find it easier to reward you. 


Choose Wisely.

The best question to answer is the question that most interests you. If you already have knowledge of a topic, it will be that much easier to get writing about it. 

Do not worry about trying to get facts or figures of the topic in, whilst these can be beneficial they should not dictate which question you opt to answer. 


Hopefully you should now have a better understanding of what the Section 2 of the TSA is like. 

With just 30 minutes, you will be under a time constraint but using your time wisely and effectively will mean you will be able to construct a strong essay. 

As long as you also choose your question wisely and write with clarity, you will be on course to a successful Section 2. 

Best of luck in the TSA.

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