TSA (Thinking Skills Assessment) | University of Oxford

TSA (Thinking Skills Assessment)

Covid-19: important information for TSA candidates

Here’s a summary of the changes to the Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA) this year (for 2021 entry):
- The date for the TSA will now be 5 November 2020.* 
-  The TSA will still be taken at your chosen centre but you will take it on a computer rather than with pen and paper.
- Your school/centre will be able to advise whether you should bring your own laptop or if a computer will be provided for you.
- You should register for the test through your centre in the usual way.

*For those applying for History and Economics, both the TSA (Section 1) and HAT will now be taken on Thursday 5 November.  

For a summary of all the changes to the Oxford admissions test dates, please visit the CAAT website.

The Thinking Skills Assessment is divided into two parts: a 90-minute, multiple-choice Thinking Skills Assessment and a 30-minute writing task. 

If you are applying for one of the following courses you will be required to take both sections of the TSA: Economics and Management, Experimental Psychology, Human Sciences, Philosophy, Politics and Economics, and Psychology, Philosophy and Linguistics.  

However, if you are applying for 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 and spatial reasoning; critical thinking skills, including the ability to understand an argument; and the ability to reason 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.

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. Use of the tests is carefully reviewed 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.

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. 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. These tests are taken on specific dates each year, a few weeks after the application deadline on 15 October. The next test dates are:

  • Thursday 5 November 2020
  • Wednesday 3 November 2021
  • Wednesday 2 November 2022

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.

We are aware that there may be extra difficulties for some candidates this year, but we expect the vast majority of candidates to be able to sit tests as planned. If exceptional circumstances make this impossible, you may be able to take the TSA online via a remote proctoring service arranged by CAAT. Please subscribe to this article for updates about eligibility criteria and how to apply for this service. For all other queries about the TSA and remote proctoring, please contact CAAT directly.

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 Cambridge Assessment Admissions Testing 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.

When do I get the results?         

Results for the TSA are released to candidates in early January by CAAT. You will be issued a Statement of Results via their Results Online system*. Results are only available for candidates to download for 60 days from the date of issue. After this, you cannot obtain your results. 

*When registering on Results Online, if you cannot select your date of birth in the pop-up calendar, please type it into the box.

Admissions tutors will receive the results of all tests directly from Cambridge Assessment Admissions Testing in time to make their shortlisting decisions in November, so you do not need to send your 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 some preparation ahead of time. The TSA does not require a lot of extra study as it is a test of skills and aptitudes that students already possess. However, 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 TSA:

  1. Review the sample papers for the TSA below. This will help you to feel familiar with the test paper and know what to expect.
  2. 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.
  3. Check the details of the test specification and the marking criteria shown below.

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.

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 one-page 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)