The TSA or (Thinking Skills Assessment) is a test that Oxford University requires applicants to take who are applying for certain courses.
These courses vary widely and include some of the most competitive courses at the University, such as Economics and Management, PPE and Philosophy. So, why exactly do applicants have to take the TSA and what are the ‘Thinking Skills’ it tests?
What is the TSA?
Oxford degrees that require the TSA:
- Experimental Psychology
- Human Sciences
- Philosophy, Politics and Economics
- Psychology, Philosophy and Linguistics
- Economics and Management
- History and Economics
The basic structure of the TSA is split into 2 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: is 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.
Economics and Management or History and Economics applicants are required to only take Section 1.
We explain the TSA structure and scoring in more depth in our TSA Overview article.
What are the thinking skills?
The Thinking Skills are what Oxford consider to be the generic academic skills needed to successfully study an undergraduate or postgraduate course there. These include:
- Problem-solving – the ability to create a solution to a numerical, spatial or logical problem
- Critical thinking – the ability to evaluate and understand an argument
It’s easy to see how these skills are essential in order to study a range of degree subjects. The TSA is therefore a chance for Oxford to assess how you tackle problems and how suitable you are for studying there. It’s also a chance for you to showcase to the admissions tutors that you can think quickly, critically and logically!
How Competitive is the TSA?
All of the courses at Oxford University are competitive to get into and all applicants have strong academic records which consist mostly of A’s and A*’s (for a few courses last year, 90% of applicants had all A* predictions at A level).
As a consequence, the admissions tutors at Oxford introduced the TSA in order to help them differentiate between different applicants who otherwise have very similar credentials. This means that the TSA is designed to be a hard exam in order to separate out a cohort of very bright students – don’t panic if you’re finding it hard!
It isn’t 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. You may be asked about the content of the essay you wrote. It’s used to gain a better understanding of how you think.
How to use the TSA
The TSA exam may seem like another annoying hurdle in your application to Oxford, but you should view the TSA as a great opportunity o see whether or not you’re well-suited to and would enjoy the course you’re applying for. The TSA was picked as the admissions assessment for certain courses because the admissions tutors believed that the thinking skills they test are integral to being successful in and enjoying the course.
Use the process of preparing for the TSA exam as a chance to test whether or not you would enjoy the course you’re applying for. And if it doesn’t feel right, at least you’ve found out with plenty of time to look for other options, instead of a week into actually starting the course!
Looking to maximise your TSA score?
The UniAdmissions TSA Programme will rapidly boost your score and triple your chances of succeeding in your application.
Our expert tutors will 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 thinking skills abilities so that they’re exam-ready on test day for all aspects of the TSA exam.