TSA (Thinking Skills Assessment)

What is the TSA? 

The Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA) is divided into two parts: a 90-minute, multiple-choice Thinking Skills Assessment and a 30-minute writing task. The TSA will be a paper-based test in 2023.

If you are applying for one of the following courses you will be required to take both sections of the TSA:

However, if you are applying for Economics and Management or History and Economics, you will be required to take only Section 1.

Section 1 is made up of 50 multiple-choice questions and aims to assess the following: Problem-solving skills, including numerical reasoning. Critical thinking skills, including understanding argument and reasoning using everyday language.

Section 2 is a writing task, that seeks to evaluate a candidate’s ability to organise ideas in a clear and concise manner, and communicate them effectively in writing. Questions are not subject-specific and candidates must answer one question from a choice of four.

Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA): A short film about thinking 

This video explains what thinking skills are and why they are fundamental to success in higher education. It also includes an introduction to the Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA).

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?

Register for your admissions test anytime between 1 September and 29 September.

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 Cambridge Assessment Admissions Testing (CAAT) 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 your chosen university, course and course code
  • details of any access arrangements or modified papers you require, along with the evidence to support your request. (Requests for access arrangements must be made by 29 September (the deadline for test registration) to Cambridge Assessment Admissions Testing (CAAT) by your centre. Requests for modified question papers must be submitted to Cambridge Assessment Admissions Testing (CAAT) by your centre by 15 September, so earlier than the registration deadline. 

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 Cambridge Assessment Admissions testing's advice on how to become a test centre. Institutions can request to become CAAT test centres if they are not already, until 15 September.

Schools can register their candidates anytime for the TSA between 1 September and 29 September.

Please make sure you have your candidate entry number as proof of entry by midnight on 29 September. 

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.

Centres can register candidates for the TSA anytime between 1 September and 29 September.

Please make sure you have your candidate entry number as proof of entry by 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 CAAT.

Joint Schools 

Applicants for History and Economics must ensure that they are registered to take the test called Thinking Skills Assessment: Section 1 (TSA S1). Candidates for History and Economics will need to sit more than one test and will need to ask to be registered for both tests.

You will receive two candidate numbers as confirmation that your registration has been successful.

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. The deadline for applying for modified papers is 15 September 2023 and the deadline for requesting access arrangements is 29 September 2023.

Do I have to pay?

Cambridge Assessment Admissions Testing does 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.

When do I take the test?

The TSA is administered by Cambridge Assessment Admissions Testing. The test is taken on specific date each year, a few weeks after the application deadline on 29 September. The next test date for the TSA is:

  • Wednesday 18 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).

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 considerations 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.

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. 

Test scores will be automatically distributed to all applicants shortly after college decision letters are sent in January. Applicants will still be able to write to their college to request feedback

Practice materials

Read the candidate preparation checklist

Taking any type of test or exam can be stressful, but you can help build your confidence by doing some preparation ahead of time. The TSA is not subject-specific, so there is no curriculum to learn. It assesses the generic thinking skills you already have, and practising for the test will help you develop these skills. 

Note: Candidates applying for Geography are no longer required to take the TSA but from 2023 will sit the GAT

Here are our top tips for preparing for the TSA:

  1. Watch the videos below to find out more about how to approach the TSA.
  2. Review the sample papers for the TSA below. This will help you to feel familiar with the test paper and know what to expect.
  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. Check the details of the test specification and the marking criteria shown below.
  5. Have a look at the TSA preparation videos on the CAAT website, to familiarise yourself with what taking the test will be like. 

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.

An introduction to the Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA)

In the presentation below we explain why TSA is used by universities for admissions, and provide information about the test and how to prepare for it.

TSA Workshop video

Section 1 specimen and past papers

The first section of the TSA is made up of 50 multiple-choice questions. Below you can find a specimen paper, in addition to past papers going back to 2008. You can also download answer sheets for each paper and a score conversion chart. 

Section 2 specimen and past papers

Section 2 of the TSA test is a writing task. You will have 30 minutes to write a single short essay. There will be a choice of four essay questions, on general subjects that do not require any specialised knowledge.

The writing task gives you an opportunity to show that you can communicate effectively in writing, organising your ideas and presenting them clearly and concisely. You should start by planning the essay carefully, deciding what are the main points that you want to make in the limited time available, and how to organise your answer to explain and convey them clearly. You will have plenty of space if you want to use it, but a concise and well-structured answer may be more effective than a longer essay.

It is important that your answer is relevant to the question, and addresses it directly. If the question requires you to make judgements and express your own opinions, try to provide coherent arguments to support your views, and consider the merits of possible counter-arguments. Your essay will be judged by the quality of the writing, and the way you use what you know.

The document below, written by an Oxford tutor, gives several example questions from past papers and discusses ways to approach them. 

Below you can find a specimen paper and past papers going back to 2008. 

Test question guide and explanation of results

Explanation of results:

Section 1 scores 1 mark per question. Scores are calculated on the TSA scale to one decimal place (running approximately 0–100). The scale is an estimate of the candidate’s ability, which makes scoring comparable by factoring in the question and overall test difficulty, using the Rasch statistical technique. Marking of this section is automated. 

Section 2 is reviewed by the admissions tutor(s) of the college you apply to.

Further reading

  • John Butterworth and Geoff Thwaites, Thinking Skills (Cambridge University Press, 2013)
  • Anne Thomson, Critical Reasoning: A Practical Introduction (Routledge, 2008)
  • Nigel Warburton, Thinking from A to Z (Routledge, 2000)
  • Alec Fisher, Critical Thinking: An Introduction (Cambridge University Press, 2011)