The Physics Aptitude Test (PAT) is a subject-specific admissions test, lasting for 2 hours and sat under timed conditions.
The PAT is designed for candidates who have studied the first year of A-level (or equivalent) Maths and Physics, and covers similar material to that of the GCSE and A-level syllabus. However, please make sure to go through the PAT syllabus carefully as you may find there are a few topics that you haven’t yet covered in school. If this is the case, we recommend talking to your teacher about how best to tackle these subjects before the test date. This may require you to do some independent study by reading through your textbook or looking at the online resources provided by your exam board. We also provide resources to help you prepare including a PAT preparation webinar on the How do I Prepare? tab.
Calculators are permitted, please see the following guidelines about usage in the PAT. Candidates should note that you are not allowed to take formula sheets, tables and data books into the test.
Changes to the PAT: As of 2017, the format of the Physics Aptitude Test changed: multiple choice questions were re-introduced and the Physics and Maths sections were mixed up with one another rather than kept as two distinct sections. Please see How do I prepare? for the 2017 paper.
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.
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 PAT 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 CAAT 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 also 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 PAT:
- Check the syllabus: we strongly recommend that you check the details and ensure that you have covered the relevant material. The material is aimed at A-level Maths and Physics plus knowledge of material covered at GCSE. However we cannot guarantee when the material will be covered in your school by the time of the test date. If this is the case, we recommend talking to your teacher about how best to tackle these subjects before the test. This may require you to do some independent study by reading through your textbook or looking at the online resources provided by your exam board.
- Watch the PAT webinar below, which goes through some of the questions from the 2006 paper.
- Review the sample papers for the PAT. This will help you to feel familiar with the test paper and know what to expect.
- Get practice doing some problem solving/hard physics questions that are not included in your A-level syllabus. It is advisable to do questions from a range of other sources, not just A-level type questions which can be more structured in nature than the PAT. There are some links below to other websites/material which you might find helpful.
- 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 and keep within the two hour limit.
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.
Past or specimen papers
We do not generally provide solutions to the past papers. When marking the PAT all suitable methods for solving the questions are allowed and we would not want you to feel only one specific way of solving the problem will gain you marks. Solutions to the 2009 paper can be found here, together with a set of model solutions.
Updated 6 June 2018
Please note that the formulae included in this syllabus do not represent an exhaustive list of formulae which may be used within the test.
Syllabus for the Mathematics content
- Knowledge of elementary mathematics, in particular topics in arithmetic, geometry including coordinate geometry, and probability, will be assumed. Questions may require the manipulation of mathematical expressions in a physical context.
- Knowledge of the properties of polynomials, including the solution of quadratics either using a formula or by factorising.
- Graph sketching including the use of differentiation to find stationary points.
- Transformations of variables.
- Solutions to inequalities.
- Elementary trigonometry including relationships between sine, cosine and tangent (sum and difference formulae will be stated if required).
- Properties of logarithms and exponentials and how to combine logarithms, e.g. log(a) + log(b) = log(ab) .
- Knowledge of the formulae for the sum of arithmetic and geometric progressions to n (or infinite) terms.
- Use of the binomial expansion for expressions such as (a+bx)n, using only positive integer values of n.
- Differentiation and integration of polynomials including fractional and negative powers.
- Differentiation to find the slope of a curve, and the location of maxima and minima.
- Integration as the reverse of differentiation and as finding the area under a curve.
- Simplifying integrals by symmetry arguments including use of the properties of even and odd functions (where an even function has f(x)= f(-x), an odd function has f(-x)= - f(x)).
Syllabus for the Physics content
- Distance, velocity, speed, acceleration, and the relationships between them, eg velocity as the rate of change of distance with time, acceleration as rate of change of velocity with time. Understand the difference between vector quantities (eg velocity) and scalar quantities (eg speed). Knowledge and use of equations such as speed = distance / time, acceleration = change in velocity / time or the SUVAT equations.
- Interpretation of graphs, eg force-distance, distance-time, velocity-time graphs and what the gradient of a curve or area underneath a curve represents.
- Response of a system to multiple forces; Newton's laws of motion; know the difference between weight (= mg) and mass; vector addition of forces.
- Circular motion including equations for centripetal force (F=mω2r or F=mv2/r) and acceleration (a=v2/r or a=ω2r).
- The meaning of the terms friction, air resistance and terminal velocity and how they can be calculated.
- Levers (including taking moments about a point on an object), pulleys (including calculating the tension in a rope or the overall motion in a system of ropes and pulleys) and other simple machines combining levers, springs and pulleys.
- Springs, including knowledge of Hooke's law (Force = - kx) and stored potential energy ( = 1/2 kx2 ).
- Kinetic energy (= 1/2 mv2) and gravitational potential energy (= mgh in a constant gravitational field) and their inter-conversion; what other forms of energy exist (eg thermal, sound).
- Conservation of energy and momentum (=mass x velocity); power ( = energy transfer/time) and work ( = force x distance moved in direction of force).
Waves and optics:
- An understanding of the terms longitudinal and transverse waves; and that waves transfer energy without net movement of matter.
- Be able to define the amplitude, frequency, period, wavelength and speed of a wave. Knowledge and use of formulae for the wave speed = wavelength x frequency and frequency = 1 / period (with units of hertz, Hz).
- Basic properties of the electromagnetic spectrum, eg identify and correctly order parts of the spectrum by wavelength or frequency (radio waves, microwaves, IR, visible light, UV, X rays and gamma rays) and the nature and properties of electromagnetic waves (transverse, travel at the speed of light in a vacuum).
- Description of reflection at plane mirrors, where the angle of incidence (the angle between the incident ray and the normal) = angle of reflection (angle between the reflected ray and the normal).
- Refraction, including the definition of refractive index (n) as the ratio of the speed of light in a vacuum to the speed of light in a material and Snell’s law n1sinθ1=n2sinθ2. Elementary properties of prisms and optical fibres including total internal reflection, where total internal reflection occurs at an angle θc when sinθc=n2/n1
- Qualitative understanding of how interference, diffraction and standing waves can occur.
Electricity and magnetism:
- Understanding of the terms current ( = charge / time), voltage (potential difference = energy / charge), charge, resistance ( = voltage / current) and links to energy and power (power = voltage x current, power = energy / time). Knowledge of transformers, including how the number of turns on the primary and secondary coils affect the voltage and current.
- Understanding circuit diagrams including batteries, wires, resistors, filament lamps, diodes, capacitors, light dependent resistors and thermistors. Knowledge of current, voltage and resistance rules for series and parallel circuits.
- Knowledge of the force between two point charges (Force= kQ1Q2/r2(where k is a constant)) and on a point charge in a constant electric field (Force = charge x electric field).
- Understanding that current is a flow of electrons; the photoelectric effect, where photoelectrons are emitted if they are given sufficient energy to overcome the work function of the material, and how to find the energy of accelerated electron beams ( energy = charge x potential difference).
- Atomic structure; that atoms consist of protons, neutrons and electrons, definition of the atomic number, Bohr model of the atom.
- Basic knowledge of bodies in our Solar System, including planets, moons, comets and asteroids. (Name and relative positions of the planets should be known but detailed knowledge of their physical parameters is not required).
- Know what is meant by the phrases ‘phases of the moon’ and ‘eclipses’ and how the position of the observer on the Earth affects their view of these events.
- Knowledge of circular orbits under gravity including orbital speed, radius, period, centripetal acceleration, and gravitational centripetal force. This may include equating the force between two masses due to gravity (F=GM1M2/r2) to centripetal force of a smaller body orbiting a larger body (F=mω2r or F=mv2/r) and use of centripetal acceleration (a=v2/r or a=ω2r).
- Understanding of the terms satellites; geostationary and polar orbits.
- Problems may be set which require problem solving based on information provided rather than knowledge about a topic.
If there are parts of the syllabus you haven’t yet covered in school, we recommend talking to your teacher about how best to tackle these topics before the test date. This may require you to do some independent study by reading through your textbook or looking at the online resources provided by your exam board. You can then test yourself using the further resources outlined below and picking relevant questions.
Calculators and tables
Non-graphical calculators may be used but no tables or lists of formulae are allowed. Candidates may be expected to perform standard arithmetical operations by hand, including simple powers and roots, and the manipulation of fractions. Numeric answers should be calculated to 2 significant figures unless indicated otherwise. Specifications for Calculators used in the PAT.
Websites and resources
This website contains lots of Maths and Physics problem solving questions. We suggest you either look through the A- level book suggested here and try a few questions on topics you find tricky or select your own questions (click here, select ‘Problem solving’ and click on 'Physics' or 'Maths' and the level of question you want.) Questions at the same level as the PAT tend to be around level 4-5. Remember to register/log in so the website records your progress. This page also contains lots of questions which are suitable as university entrance preparation (eg for interviews).
British Physics Olympiad
This website contains lots of past papers and solutions of problem solving type questions. Click on the Question Bank and find topics on the 'AS and A2 Challenge Questions' you find interesting or want some practise with. Solutions can also be found on the website (click on ‘mark scheme’ and find the relevant paper the question you are interested in is from).
This website contains some fun questions designed to make you think about physical concepts. They are often multiple choice or yes/no questions, and there is usually not much maths involved. Questions are grouped into topics, and each question has a title that is a link to a PDF that includes the question on one page and the solution on a second. Some of the questions are probably more relevant for interview questions than the PAT as they might not contain the level of maths required in the PAT but it can be useful for checking your understanding of general concepts.
I want to study Engineering.org
This website is a useful for all applicants not just those applying to engineering. On the first page there is a choice of level of question; you should be looking at the 'mathematics and physics questions at the level of university engineering admissions interviews' for preparation for the PAT or university interview practice. This section then has an index of problems, divided into smaller groups of about 10-20 questions by topic. Each question has a multiple choice answer, plus hints for a solution strategy and summaries of relevant bits of theory. There is also a (usually concise and mathematical) solution, plus little videos to help with understanding. You might need a paper and pen to work out some of the problems and some of the material is beyond the PAT syllabus – you should double check if you are in doubt.
This website has some resources to test your mathematical and physics knowledge. Questions are usually answered via multiple choice and one of the nice aspects of this website is that you can see how many other people have got the question right or wrong. The ‘Problems of the week’ on the home page are always free but quite a large part of the website requires a subscription to get full access. Try the ‘Practice’ section of the website for some free questions on maths, electricity and magnetism and classical mechanics.