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How to Prepare for the STEP University Admissions Exam

How to Prepare for the STEP University Admissions Exam

4 min Read|September 26 2023
|Written by:

Thomas Babb


Standing for Sixth Term Examination Paper, STEP is a mathematics examination that uses early-undergraduate style exam questions to put students to the test. Currently, there are only three universities that actively use STEP, being the University of Cambridge, Warwick, and Imperial College London. That said, be sure to either check your course content admissions page or speak to an admissions tutor if you’re looking to confirm whether you’ll have to sit this exam.

Before 2021, STEP was a three-exam test, composed of STEP 1, STEP 2, and STEP 3. However, since the beginning of 2021, STEP 1 no longer exists, with only the latter two exams still being used. Due to this, the entire STEP exam consists of two 3-hour long papers, STEP 2 and STEP 3.

Depending on the university that you’re applying to, you may have to sit only one of these papers. If you’re applying to Cambridge, you’ll have to sit both papers.

How is STEP Structured?

In the STEP 2 and STEP 3 exams, students will have to answer questions that are based on different parts of their A-Level Maths and A-Level Further Maths studies. Both papers have 12 questions, split across three sections of 8, 2, and 2.

  • STEP 2 - Within this paper, you’ll be answering questions on A-Level Maths and AS-Level Further Maths. There will be 8 questions on pure mathematics, 2 mechanics questions, and two about probability and statistics.
  • STEP 3 - Within this paper, you’ll be answering questions on A-Level Maths and A-Level Further Maths, making this paper harder than the first. Within this exam, you’ll answer another 8 questions on pure maths, 2 on mechanics, and 2 on probability.

On the Cambridge Admissions Site, they specifically comment on the fact that the style, difficulty, and structure of the questions remain unchanged each year. With this in mind, you’re able to work through past papers as a fantastic revision method.

In each paper, you’re able to get a maximum mark of 20. Interestingly, this does not mean that each question is worth the same amount of marks. On the contrary, you’re given a total based on the six questions that you performed best on. Within these papers, you’re allowed to attempt as many questions as you have time for - all of the questions you attempt will be marked.

From there, your six best will be totalled up to give you your final mark. As these are undergraduate-level qualifications, students will have to put their A-Level knowledge to the test in unfamiliar ways, pushing the limits of the A-Level syllabus.

If you’re looking for more specific guidance on what could come up within the exam, then refer to the STEP Specification.

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How to Prepare for the STEP University Admissions Exams

To help students effectively prepare for their STEP exams, Cambridge has a central page for this admissions exam. Within this page, you’re able to access all the information that you would need to know, such as:

  • General STEP test explanation
  • How STEP scoring and results work
  • Dates of the next STEP exam and cost
  • How to register and a link to the registry portal

Going beyond this information, Cambridge Admissions also provides a range of STEP past papers, resources, solutions, and mark schemes. The past papers that are available on this site are incredibly comprehensive, with every single admissions exam published between 1998-2021 currently being active for download.


preparing for STEP

Alongside this, they also offer STEP resources, which provide a database of past questions, additional support that includes online resources and workshops, a breakdown of the specification, and even a free Maths textbook. This textbook, Advanced Problems in Mathematics: Preparing for University, should be your first port of all, as it contains methods and knowledge that will be vital for doing well in your STEP exam.

How To Effectively Work Through the STEP Specification

When working directly from the specification, you know that when you arrive on exam day, you’ll be prepared for absolutely any topic that could come up. However, considering the STEP specification is fairly complicated, not following the format of an exam board’s subject specification, you may need a little guidance.

The STEP specification is broken down into Section A: Pure Maths, Section B: Mechanics and Probability, Mathematics 2 Section A, B, and C, and Mathematics 3, A, B, and C. As you progress further through the specification, the content becomes harder, with everything covered in Mathematics 3 requiring all the knowledge from Maths 1 + Maths 2.

Due to this, you should always work through the specification chronologically, mastering one skill before then moving on to the next. When discussing how to practise these skills, the specification will give you a method, but not any practice or additional information. That’s where one of two methods will come in:

  • Working with an online STEP Tutor - An online STEP tutor that has sat the exam will be able to guide you through complex skills, hone your knowledge of advanced mathematics, and ensure that you have all the knowledge you need for the exam.
  • Question Banks - Using the STEP resources page, you can find questions that are directly tied to each part of the specification, using these to practise each skill before moving on to the next.

With these tactics, you’ll be well on your way to mastering all the skills on the STEP admissions exam.

Final Thoughts

If you’re looking to ace your upcoming STEP exams, then one of the best possible support networks you can rely on is working with an online STEP tutor. At TutorChase, we have world-class tutors, with years of experience and top grades in their own STEP exams. Having gone on to study at Cambridge, our tutors will be able to give you a leg up, help you practice the mathematical skills you’ll need in the exam, and build your exam confidence.

Get in contact with us today to see exactly what we can do for you. Best of luck on your upcoming STEP examinations!

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Professional tutor and Cambridge University researcher

Thomas Babb

Written by: Thomas Babb

Oxford University - PhD Mathematics

Thomas is a PhD candidate at Oxford University. He served as an interviewer and the lead admissions test marker at Oxford, and teaches undergraduate students at Mansfield College and St Hilda’s College. He has ten years’ experience tutoring A-Level and GCSE students across a range of subjects.

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