Philosophy Test | University of Oxford

Philosophy Test

All candidates applying for Philosophy and Theology are required to sit the Philosophy Test. 

The Philosophy Test is a paper-based test, lasting 60 minutes and sat under timed exam conditions.

The Philosophy Test is designed to test a candidate's philosophical reasoning skills. There is no expectation that you will have undertaken any formal study of philosophy, and it is not a test of philosophical knowledge.

You will normally be asked to undertake a comprehension exercise and write a short essay or answer a structured question. Tutors are looking for the use of precise and careful reasoning to answer the question asked, and particularly answers which anticipate and are able to answer objections to the reasoning given. You should avoid stating an opinion without evidence or argument to support it.

Why do I have to take a test?

Most applicants to Oxford University have great personal statements, excellent references, and are also predicted top grades. It can therefore be difficult for us to choose between so many well-qualified candidates, especially as applicants come from all over the world and take different qualifications.

Tests give us an extra piece of information for every student who has applied for a given course, wherever they are from. Considered together with the other elements of the application, this helps us to identify the very best candidates. However, there is no specific mark that will guarantee your application will be shortlisted. The tests vary each year, and your test score will be considered alongside the scores of other students who apply for your course.

Do I have to pay?

We do not charge candidates to take this test. However, please be aware that some independent test centres do charge an administration fee to candidates; you should contact your centre for details.

How are the tests designed and reviewed?

When a department wishes to introduce a new admissions test for their course, there is a substantial consultation process within the University, including a pilot testing phase, designed to ensure that the test is suitable. Where appropriate, subject departments are encouraged to share common tests, or elements of tests, to ease the process of application for the student and administration for the school or college. A report for each admissions test is produced every five years and we undertake substantial statistical evaluation of each test.

How do I register?

The University's admissions tests are administered by Cambridge Assessment Admissions Testing (CAAT). Registration isn't automatic and just completing your UCAS application won't register you for the test. You cannot register yourself for a test, but must do so through an authorised test centre. For most candidates this is their own school or college, but can also be an open test centre.

You must provide your centre with the following information:

  • your name, gender, date of birth and UCAS number exactly as they have been entered on your UCAS application
  • the name of the University, course and course code
  • details of any access arrangements you require, along with the evidence to support your request. (Requests for modified question papers must be submitted by your centre by 30 September.)

Taking your test in school or college:

Please ask your Exams Officer whether or not your school or college is registered as a test centre. If they are not, they can follow this advice on how to become a test centre. Institutions can register to become test centres at any time before the deadline of 30 September. Registration for candidates to take tests opens on 1 September and you must have your candidate entry number(s) as proof of entry by 6pm UK time on 15 October. You are strongly advised to begin making arrangements as soon as possible.

Taking your test in an open test centre:

If for any reason your school cannot become a test centre, or your circumstances make this impractical, you can take your test at an open centre. You can find your nearest test centre via the Cambridge Assessment Admissions Testing (CAAT) website. Registration for candidates to take tests opens on 1 September and you must have your candidate entry number(s) as proof of entry by 6pm UK time on 15 October. You are strongly advised to begin making arrangements as soon as possible. If you cannot find a test centre within reasonable travelling distance of your home town, please contact the Support Team at CAAT.

Philosophy joint schools: 

Please note if you are applying for Philosophy and Linguistics (PPL) you need to take the Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA) and the Modern Languages Admissions Test (MLAT), if you are taking Psychology and Philosophy (PPL) or Philosophy, Politics and Economics you need to take the Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA). If you are applying for any Philosophy and Modern Languages course at Oxford, you need to take the relevant parts of the Modern Languages Admissions Test (MLAT).

Can I apply for access arrangements?

Your test centre will be able to apply for access arrangements for you if you have a permanent or long-term disability which might affect your performance such as a sight impairment, dyslexia or cerebral palsy. You may also be eligible for access arrangements if you have a short-term difficulty, such as a broken arm.

The access arrangements you are eligible for will depend on the exact nature of your condition and most often will be the same as those you would get while taking a public examination at your school. These could include modified materials (i.e. large print or braille exam papers), extra time, or the use of a laptop.

You should let your school or test centre know of any requirements you may have as early as you can and provide them with medical evidence to support your application. Please note the deadline for applying for modified papers is 30 September, while all other access arrangements can be arranged by the normal deadline of 15 October.

When do I take the test?

The University's admissions tests are administered by Cambridge Assessment Admissions Testing (CAAT). These tests are taken on specific dates each year, a few weeks after the application deadline on 15 October. The next test dates are:

  • Wednesday 31 October 2018
  • Wednesday 30 October 2019
  • Wednesday 4 November 2020

We are aware that sometimes tests fall during school half terms which vary by region each year. Unfortunately due to the tight timeframes for processing applications, it is not possible to avoid this but we hope that by giving considerable notice of test dates, schools will be able to make plans for their students to sit tests either at their school or at an alternative test centre and candidates will make sure they are available to take the necessary test(s).

If you don't take the admissions test(s) required for your course, either because you didn't register or didn't attend on the test day, then your application will be significantly affected. Your UCAS form will still be viewed by our admissions tutors. However, as the admissions test forms an important part of our selection process it will be extremely difficult for your application to be competitive when viewed against other candidates who have fulfilled all the admissions criteria.

It is not possible to re-sit a test. If you feel you did badly due to extenuating circumstances, for example: if you were ill on the day of the test, your test centre can submit a special consideration form for you; or if there was some form of disruption at the test centre you can submit the form yourself. Application forms must be received within 5 days of the test date.

How do I get my results?         

Results for the Philosophy Test are not automatically published but they can be requested as part of the usual feedback process. Admissions tutors will receive the results of all tests directly from Cambridge Assessment Admissions Testing in time make their shortlisting decisions in November, so candidates do not need to send their results to us separately.

How do I prepare?

Taking any type of test or exam can be stressful, but you can help build your confidence by doing a bit of preparation ahead of time. You may do better in the real test if you've had a chance to practise some sample or past papers, and got used to the format and timings of the admissions test you have to take. Here are our top tips for preparing for the Philosophy Test:

  1. Review the sample papers for the Philosophy Test below. This will help you to feel familiar with the test paper and know what to expect.
  2. Read through our 'Preparation advice' in the section below. 
  3. Sit at least one past paper in test conditions. This is really important as it will help you get used to how much time to allocate to each question.
  4. You may also find this webinar on admissions tests and assessments useful when preparing.

Don't worry if you find the past or specimen papers very difficult - they're supposed to be! All our tests are designed to stretch you further than you have been stretched before – most candidates will find them really hard.

Past papers

The Philosophy Test is a 60-minute exam designed to test a candidate's philosophical reasoning skills. There is no expectation that you will have undertaken any formal study of philosophy, and it is not a test of philosophical knowledge. 

You will normally be asked to undertake a comprehension exercise and write a short essay or answer a structured question. Familiarise yourself with the format of the paper using the past papers below and remember to sit at least one paper in test conditions.

Preparation advice

The information below, written by an Oxford tutor, outlines the different types of questions you will come across in the test and discusses ways to approach them.