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Oxford Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA): A Complete Guide

Oxford Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA): A Complete Guide

10 min Read|February 07 2024
|Written by:

Dr Rahil Sachak-Patwa

Contents

The Oxford Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA) is a critical part of the application process for several courses at the University of Oxford. It's a unique test designed to assess your problem-solving and critical thinking skills, both of which are essential for success in higher education. The TSA is divided into two parts: a 90-minute, multiple-choice assessment, and a 30-minute writing task. In 2023, the TSA will be a paper-based test.

The multiple-choice section is designed to evaluate your problem-solving skills, including numerical reasoning, as well as your critical thinking skills, such as understanding argument and reasoning using everyday language. The writing task, on the other hand, seeks to evaluate your ability to organise ideas in a clear and concise manner, and communicate them effectively in writing.

The TSA is used as an additional tool to differentiate between candidates who, on paper, may appear equally qualified. With most applicants predicted top grades and boasting excellent personal statements and references, the TSA provides an extra piece of information that helps identify the very best candidates.

The Importance of the TSA in Oxford Admissions

The TSA plays a significant role in the Oxford admissions process. With the majority of applicants achieving top grades and presenting impressive personal statements, the TSA serves as an additional differentiator for admissions tutors.

The Oxford admissions process is holistic, considering a wide range of academic performances, including exam scores, interview performance, and, of course, the TSA score. It's not uncommon for the TSA to be referred to in your interview. You may be asked how you think the test went, or they may disclose your score to you.

Interestingly, different subjects weigh the TSA exam differently. For instance, successful Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE) candidates often score around 70, which is a high TSA score. This is due to a combination of the TSA’s weighting as well as a reflection of the subject’s competitiveness.

In essence, the TSA is used because applicants to these prestigious universities tend to be very closely matched on paper. It provides an extra layer of information that helps identify the very best candidates.

Who Needs to Take the TSA?

The TSA, or Thinking Skills Assessment, is a pre-interview written test that is required for applicants to certain courses at the University of Oxford. The test is not subject-specific but instead assesses a range of general skills that are transferable between many different subjects.

If you're applying for the following courses at Oxford, you'll be required to take both sections of the TSA:

  • Human Sciences (BCL0)
  • Philosophy and Linguistics (VQ51)
  • Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) (L0V0)
  • Psychology and Linguistics (CQ81)
  • Psychology and Philosophy (CV85)
  • Experimental Psychology (C830)

However, if your course of choice is Economics and Management or History and Economics, you'll only need to take Section 1 of the TSA. This section is composed of 50 multiple-choice questions that aim to assess your problem-solving skills, including numerical reasoning, and critical thinking skills, such as understanding argument and reasoning using everyday language.

As of 2023, the TSA is used exclusively by the University of Oxford. Previously, there were three versions of the TSA used by three different universities; TSA Oxford, TSA Cambridge, and TSA UCL.

Format of the TSA

The TSA, or Thinking Skills Assessment, is an aptitude test that is divided into two sections.

Section 1: Multiple Choice Questions

Section 1 is a 90-minute, multiple-choice assessment that aims to evaluate your problem-solving skills, including numerical reasoning, and critical thinking skills, such as understanding argument and reasoning using everyday language. This section is composed of 50 multiple-choice questions.

The scoring for this section is done on a scale of 1-100, with each correct answer earning you one mark. It's important to note that only about 10% of applicants score above 70, making a high score in this section quite an achievement. The scores are calculated on the TSA scale to one decimal place, which is an estimate of the candidate’s ability. This scoring method ensures that the scores are comparable by factoring in the question and overall test difficulty.

Section 2: Writing Task

Section 2 is a 30-minute 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. Candidates must answer one question from a choice of four.

For Oxford applicants, the essay written in this section is sent directly to the college you are applying to for them to mark. The marking scheme varies from Admission Tutor to Admission Tutor, but all tutors are looking for the ability to organise ideas in a clear and concise manner.

The TSA is designed to test the skills you should already possess, making it a challenging but fair assessment of your aptitude for critical thinking and problem-solving. It's quite different from anything you will have encountered before, making effective preparation crucial to achieving a high score.

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Understanding TSA Scores and Grading

This test measures an applicant's problem-solving and critical thinking skills, both of which are crucial for academic success. But what constitutes a good TSA score? Let's delve into the details.

The TSA is scored on a scale of 0 to 100, with the average score typically hovering around 60, according to data from Cambridge Assessment Admissions Testing (CAAT). This score is derived from the applicant's raw marks, which are then converted using the Rasch Statistical Technique. This method ensures a fair scoring system that accurately reflects the applicant's abilities.

TSA Section 1 Overall Score distribution in 2022

TSA Section 1 Overall Score distribution in 2022

Oxford University states that a score of 70 out of 100 would represent a "comparatively high score," although the best applicants are expected to score higher. However, achieving a score slightly below 70 wouldn't necessarily be detrimental to an application. It's important to note that a score of 80 or above is incredibly rare and would significantly boost an applicant's chances of success.

TSA Section 1 Problem Solving Score distribution in 2022

TSA Section 1 Problem Solving Score distribution in 2022

TSA Section 1 Critical Thinking Score distribution in 2022

TSA Section 1 Critical Thinking Score distribution in 2022

TSA Section 1 Problem Solving and Critical Thinking Score distributions in 2022

These scores are not arbitrary. They are based on a careful analysis of past TSA results. For instance, the score distributions for the 2022 entry show that the most common scores for problem-solving and critical thinking were in the 60-70 range. This trend has remained consistent over the years, indicating the balance and consistency of the TSA.

However, a good TSA score is not the only factor considered during the admissions process. Other elements, such as the personal statement, grades, and performance during interviews, also play a significant role. Therefore, even if an applicant scores slightly below the average TSA score, they can still bolster their application through these other aspects.

Best TSA Resources and How to Prepare for the Exam

Preparing for the TSA can seem daunting, but with the right resources and strategies, you can approach the exam with confidence. Here are some of the best resources and tips to help you prepare effectively.

1. Official TSA Website: The official TSA website is a valuable resource for understanding the format of the test, the types of questions you'll encounter, and the skills you'll need to demonstrate. It also provides access to past papers, which are crucial for understanding the style of questions and for practicing under timed conditions.

2. TSA Past Papers: Past papers are an invaluable resource when preparing for the TSA. They provide a clear idea of what to expect in the actual exam and offer a great opportunity to practice your problem-solving and critical thinking skills.

3. TSA Tutoring: Hiring a TSA tutor can be a beneficial investment. A tutor who is familiar with the TSA can provide personalised guidance, help you identify your strengths and weaknesses, and offer strategies to improve. They can also provide valuable feedback on your practice essays and problem-solving questions.

4. Online Resources: There are numerous online resources available to help you prepare for the TSA. Websites like Exams Ninja and UniAdmissions offer guides, tips, and practice questions to help you get familiar with the test format and question types. However, always ensure the resources you use are up-to-date and reliable.

5. Practice, Practice, Practice: The more you practice, the more comfortable you'll become with the types of questions on the TSA and how to approach them. Regular practice under timed conditions can also help improve your speed and accuracy.

6. Review and Understand: Simply practicing questions is not enough. It's important to review your answers and understand why you got a question right or wrong. This will help you learn from your mistakes and improve your problem-solving and critical thinking skills.

7. Stay Informed: Keep up-to-date with any changes to the TSA by regularly checking the official website. This will ensure you're preparing for the test as effectively as possible.

Remember, the TSA is not about rote learning but about demonstrating your problem-solving and critical thinking skills. So, focus on understanding the concepts and developing these skills rather than memorising facts.

TSA Preparation Tips

Here is what one Oxford PPE student had to say about how to do well on the test:

"I've had the privilege of guiding countless students through the challenging journey of TSA preparation. The key to success lies in a combination of focused effort and strategic planning. To excel in the TSA, here are my personal tips:

Firstly, familiarize yourself with the exam format. Understand the structure, time constraints, and question types. Practice past papers regularly to build confidence and enhance your problem-solving skills. Utilize online resources, such as the official TSA website, to access additional practice materials and gain insights into the test's requirements.

Secondly, sharpen your critical thinking abilities. TSA questions often assess your ability to analyze complex information and draw logical conclusions. Engage in thought-provoking activities like puzzles, debates, and reading intellectually stimulating articles. Cultivate the habit of approaching problems from different perspectives and practice explaining your reasoning effectively.

Furthermore, prioritize time management. TSA is a time-pressured exam, so learn to allocate your time wisely. During practice sessions, set strict time limits to simulate the exam environment and improve your speed without compromising accuracy. Practice under timed conditions regularly to enhance your efficiency and decision-making skills.

Lastly, embrace a multidisciplinary approach. TSA tests a wide range of skills, including mathematics, problem-solving, and data interpretation. Cultivate a diverse knowledge base by exploring subjects like politics, economics, and scientific advancements. Keep up with current affairs and engage in intellectual discussions to broaden your perspective and develop a well-rounded approach to answering TSA questions.

Remember, TSA preparation is not just about memorization, but about cultivating a deeper understanding of the subject matter and honing your analytical skills. With dedication, practice, and the right mindset, you can conquer the TSA and open the doors to your academic aspirations."

The Role of the TSA in the Interview Process

The TSA, or Thinking Skills Assessment, plays a significant role in the interview process at the University of Oxford. It's not just a hurdle to clear; it's an integral part of the holistic admissions process that Oxford employs.

During the interview, it's not uncommon for the TSA to be referred to. You may be asked how you think the test went, or they may disclose your score to you. This is because the TSA is used to gain a better understanding of how you think. It's designed to assess your problem-solving and critical thinking skills, both of which are crucial for academic success.

In some cases, you may even be asked about the content of the essay you wrote in Section 2 of the TSA during your Oxford interview. This provides the interviewers with a unique insight into your thought process and your ability to organise ideas and communicate them effectively in writing.

Dates, Costs, and Registration for the TSA in 2023

Here's what you need to know about the dates, costs, and registration process for the TSA. Registration for the TSA opens on 1 September 2023, and the deadline to apply for modified papers (e.g., enlarged print) is 15 September 2023. The registration closes on 29 September 2023 at 18:00 (BST), which is also the deadline to apply for Access Arrangements (e.g., extra time).

The TSA will be held on 18 October 2023. Please note that these dates are designed to fit in with the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) cycle for applications to the University of Oxford.

As for the costs, Cambridge Assessment Admissions Testing does not charge candidates who have registered to take the test. However, some centres may charge an administration fee, which covers the cost of invigilation and room hire, essential for running the test.

To register for the TSA, you need to be registered as a candidate by a test centre. You cannot register yourself for the test. If your school or college is not already registered as a centre, they can apply to become a test centre. If you are not able to take the test at school or college, you need to find an authorised open test centre where you can take the test.

Final Thoughts

Navigating the TSA can seem daunting, but with the right preparation, you can approach it with confidence. Remember, the TSA is not just about your ability to recall facts, but rather your critical thinking and problem-solving skills. It's a unique opportunity to showcase your abilities beyond your academic grades. Utilise the resources available, consider hiring a tutor, and most importantly, practice regularly. The TSA is a significant part of your application, but it's not the only factor. Your personal statement, grades, and interview performance are equally important. So, approach your application holistically, and remember, every challenge is an opportunity to learn and grow. Good luck with your TSA preparation and your journey to Oxford!

FAQ

Is the Oxford TSA hard?

The Oxford TSA is challenging as it tests critical thinking and problem-solving skills, which are not typically the focus of standard school curricula. It requires you to think outside the box and apply logical reasoning to a variety of scenarios. However, with adequate preparation, including practising past papers and understanding the test format, it is manageable.

What TSA score do you need for Oxford?

The required TSA score for Oxford varies by course and year. There's no set score that guarantees admission. However, it's worth noting that successful PPE candidates often score around 70, which is considered a high TSA score. The exact use of TSA scores in the admissions process can vary between different subjects and colleges.

How many students take the TSA?

Each year approximately 2000 students take the TSA. In 2021, 2171 students sat the TSA exam.

How do you get TSA results?

TSA results are passed to the Oxford College to which a candidate has applied. The exact use of results varies between the subjects which use the test. The University of Oxford releases results for the TSA to applicants at the end of their selection process. For more details, candidates can refer to the Explanation of Results on the Cambridge Assessment Admissions Testing website.

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Dr Rahil Sachak-Patwa

Written by: Dr Rahil Sachak-Patwa

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Oxford University - PhD Mathematics

Rahil spent ten years working as private tutor, teaching students for GCSEs, A-Levels, and university admissions. During his PhD he published papers on modelling infectious disease epidemics and was a tutor to undergraduate and masters students for mathematics courses.

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