How Do I Prepare for Oxford TSA?
Advice & Insight From TSA Specialists
First, you need to make sure you are registered for the test through an authorised test centre (for example, your school, college or an open test centre). Also you should find out whether you will be taking the paper version of the test or the online version; you can then prepare in the way that will help you most for when you take the actual test.
Familiarise yourself with the format of the test
Oxford TSA does not require a lot of extra study since it is a test of skills and aptitudes that students like yourselves already possess. However, it is vital that you familiarise yourself with the format of the test, the types of questions that will be asked and the time you have available for them. Past papers are an extremely useful way to get used to all of these aspects; you can download practice papers from the TSA website. It is advisable to complete as many past papers from the last ten years or so (you could even do them twice each), because this will give you an excellent indication of all the different sorts of questions that may be asked in the exam.
The TSA is divided into two sections.
Section 1 comprises 50 multiple choice questions on the themes of problem solving (including numerical and spatial reasoning) and critical thinking (including the ability to understand an argument and the ability to use everyday language). You are allowed 90 minutes for this section which means you have 1 minute 48 seconds available for each question.
In section 2, you have to choose from four essay titles on general subjects that do not require any specialised knowledge and write an essay in 30 minutes. The questions are designed to give you the chance to argue and reason. This section seeks to evaluate your ability to organise ideas in a clear and concise manner, and communicate them effectively in writing. You should note that this section is not taken by those applying for “History and Economics” at Oxford University, or “Land Economy” applicants at Cambridge University.
Tips for preparing for section 1
Remember that this section is testing your ability to find a solution to a numerical or logical problem (problem solving) and your ability to understand and evaluate an argument (critical thinking). Time management is going to be important for this section; aim to spend about 1 minute 30 seconds on each question and do not spend more than 2 minutes. If you need to, you can skip and come back to questions but do make sure that you have answered all the questions in the test (there is no negative marking so you won’t lose marks for wrong answers). Since this section only includes multiple choice questions, you can eliminate wrong answers to narrow down your choices.
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Tips for preparing for section 2
As time is limited (30 minutes) for this section, you need to be selective and think about the important aspects of the question before you start writing. This section doesn’t test your knowledge nor is the question looking for any particular right or wrong answers, but you should demonstrate that you can argue from the other point of view as well.
A good way to approach this question is to use the: think, plan and write technique; this will help you to develop and organise your ideas carefully. Aim to produce a clear, coherent and concise and justified argument. There is an overall word limit of about 850 words for those using a word processor (or two sides of A4 if you are writing by hand). This is the upper limit of how much you should aim to write; you should focus more on the quality of what you write rather than the quantity. You could also look at past questions and try writing essays under timed conditions. Successful candidates will show that they focussed on the subject of the essay question.
Don’t leave your preparations to the last minute
It is a good idea to start preparation in advance, perhaps by fine-tuning your reading skills by looking at good quality newspapers or some material on critical thinking, as this will help you get into the mind-set for the test. Next you should start doing practice questions and developing the most effective techniques of answering them. As mentioned earlier, you should aim to complete as many past papers from the last ten years or so (you could even do them twice), and so that you are used to the timings, you could do them under strict timed conditions, remembering that section 2 follows straight on from section 1.
Use your mistakes as learning opportunities
After you have completed practice questions, a good idea is to go through your answers carefully with the answer key provided (if you have one) and focus on the questions you may have got wrong. This will allow you to see where you made a mistake. It could be that you had eliminated three of the five answers and you opted for the wrong one and therefore it may help you to understand why you chose the answer you did.
Try and enjoy your preparation for the exam. Reward yourself when you have done well and keep track of your progress which will help you build your confidence.