What is the PAT?
If you are applying for one of the following courses you will be required to sit the Physics Admissions Test (PAT) - formerly known as the Physics Aptitude Test - as part of the admissions process:
The PAT is a subject-specific admissions test, lasting for 2 hours and sat under timed conditions. It is a hybrid test - with online questions and a paper answer booklet. You will need to take this test at an authorised test centre which, in most cases, will be your school or college. All applicants taking this test will be able to practise by taking the 2022 past paper (or equivalent) as a hybrid test in advance of your test day. Please note that as the syllabus and structure of this test has not changed, all the existing resources and practice materials available here are still valuable preparation for you and we strongly recommend exploring these.
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 Test preparation and practice materials tab.
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.
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. Use of the tests is carefully reviewed and we undertake substantial statistical evaluation of each test.
How do I register?
Make sure you are registered for your Oxford admissions test anytime between 1 September and 29 September.
Test registration isn't automatic and just completing your UCAS application won't register you for the test. You cannot register yourself for an admissions test. This must be done on your behalf through an authorised test centre. For most candidates this is their own school or college, but can also be an open test centre.
First, check Oxford's test centre portal to see if your school or college is already an authorised test centre. If you can’t find them listed, then get in contact with your exams officer as soon as possible and direct them to our information on becoming an Oxford/TCS test centre. Applying to become a test centre should be quick and straightforward, particularly if the school or college are used to running public examinations or have previously run Oxford’s admissions tests. New centres can be authorised until 15 September.
If for any reason your school or college cannot apply for centre authorisation or you are no longer in education, please read the information below on taking your test at an open centre.
Authorised schools, colleges and other test centres will be able to register candidates for Oxford’s admissions tests anytime between 1 September and 29 September.
Once your test centre has registered you for your test, you will receive an automated email giving you a candidate test registration ID. This email will also give you login details for the test platform and guidance on how to prepare for your Oxford admissions test.
Please make sure you have received this automated email with your candidate test registration ID and other instructions as proof of entry by midnight on 29 September.
To be registered, you will need to provide your centre with the following information:
- Date of birth
- Chosen course name and code (this is on the course webpage)
- UCAS ID number (you will have been given this when you opened your UCAS application)
- Email address (as it appears on your UCAS form)
- Details of any access arrangements you require (together with evidence to support your request unless your centre already has this information).
Registering at 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 authorised open centre. The list of current open centres is available on the Find a test centre page of the test centre portal. This will be expanded over the coming weeks as centres become authorised so if you can’t immediately find a centre, please check this regularly for updates.
Approved test centres can register candidates for Oxford admission tests anytime between 1 September and 29 September.
Please make sure you have your candidate test registration ID as proof by the time registrations close at midnight on 29 September.
If you cannot find a test centre within reasonable travelling distance of your home town, please contact the Support Team at TCS.
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.
Test preparation and practice materials
Taking any type of test or exam can be stressful, but you can help build your confidence by doing some preparation ahead of time. You may also do better in the real test if you've practised some past papers, and got used to the format and timings of the admissions test you have to take.
The PAT is now a hybrid test, with the questions online and a printed booklet for your answers. However, as the content hasn't changed, you will still find it helpful to practise for the test with the past papers and other practice materials on this page.
A digital scientific calculator will be included as part of the online interface for the PAT from October 2023 onwards. Candidates must use this and may not bring their own calculators, of any description, into the exam. You will be able to try out the online digital calculator when practising the online practise test available below.
Our general advice is to follow these steps:
- Before 29 September (the registration deadline), check that you have received email confirmation of your test registration, together with your test registration ID and log in details (username and password) for the online test platform.
- Explore the test-specific practice materials for your test available below.
- Watch the video demonstrating how to use the online test platform and prepare for your test.
- Once you have watched the videos and explored the practice materials below, we strongly recommend you have a go at your online practice test (click on the button below) using the 2022 past paper. You can download and print the sample answer booklet provided or just write your answers on available paper. You might want not to look at this past paper in advance so that you can mimic the experience of taking the online test unseen and as if for real. Having a go at the online practice test will not only allow you to practise answering some past questions and learn the structure of the test. It will also allow you to familiarise yourself with the online test platform and the tools available to support you, including the digital scientific calculator. These will also include accessibility features such as increasing font size, using coloured overlays and high contrast. This will mean that on test day you are able to focus fully on the content of your answers.
- Please note that you will not be able to access a score or any feedback on your online practice test.
Here are our top tips for preparing specifically for the PAT:
- Watch the our video with our Physics tutor giving insights and tips on 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 syllabus covers 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 on this page, which goes through some of the questions from the 2006 paper.
- Visit the Department of Physics Youtube channel, and watch their videos about admissions and preparing for the PAT.
- 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 – most candidates will find them really hard.
Note: during the real test, for security reasons, the test platform will lock if you try and navigate away from it. If this happens accidentally, your test centre administrator will be able to unlock it again.
The PAT workbooks contain many questions of varying difficulty and subject matter, and the accompanying solutions manuals outline possible approaches to each question in detail.
Past or specimen papers
As you may notice when going through past papers, the PAT has undergone various changes in the past few years.
In 2015, multiple-choice questions were removed, and longer 20 mark questions were replaced by shorter 10 mark questions. In 2017, multiple-choice questions were re-introduced and the physics and maths sections were mixed up.
The PAT is now hybrid - with online questions and a paper answer booklet; however, the older papers will still be of use when preparing. Please note that from 2023, only use of the digital scientific calculators provided on the test platform will be permitted. You can explore using this via the online practice PAT.
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 on the Physics website, together with a set of model solutions.
- PAT paper 2022 (also used for the online practice test)
Blank answer booklet
The University does not endorse, or allow use of, its tests that are protected by copyright for commercial use
Updated 6 June 2018 and still current
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 on this page and picking relevant questions.
Websites and resources
Visit the Physics website for a list of other helpful resources and websites to help you to prepare for the PAT.
When do I take the test?
These tests are taken on specific dates each year, a few weeks after the application deadline on 29 September. The next test date for the PAT is:
- Friday 20 October 2023
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). You can find more information on test start times by location and the test timetable on our Information for schools, colleges and other test centres webpage.
Our admissions tests are an important part of our assessment process so please ensure your school, college or other test centre registers you for your test (or tests) by 29 September.
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; or if there was some form of disruption at the test centre you can do this yourself. Application forms must be received within 5 days of the test date.
Remember to ensure you are registered for the test by 29 September, even if you feel exceptional circumstances may mean there is a risk you will not able take it.
Our admissions tests are an important part of our assessment process for candidates and in order to make sure your application is as competitive as possible, we strongly advise that you make every effort to sit the test.
If you experience exceptional circumstances beyond your control which prevent this, please alert the college you have applied to as soon as possible.
If you have made an open application, please contact us using our contact form. In this case your application will be considered using the other information you give us as part of your UCAS form and alongside other candidates applying for your subject.
How do I get my results?
Admissions tutors will receive the results of all candidates' tests directly and in time to make their shortlisting decisions in November.
PAT scores will be distributed to all applicants for Materials Science and Engineering Science and to all unsuccessful applicants for Physics and Physics and Philosophy, shortly after college decision letters are sent in January. Applicants will still be able to write to their college to request feedback.