How do I prepare for the TSA
Advice & Insight From TSA Specialists
The first thing to say is that you cannot start preparing too soon! You should begin preparing as soon as you decide that you might like to apply to the courses at Oxford, Cambridge and UCL which require the TSA.
Preparing for Section One
- You will need to get to grips with the terminology that is used in critical thinking and the analysis of arguments. What does it mean for a condition to be necessary or sufficient? What is a conclusion? How do you decide if something is an assumption? All of these are key questions that you will need to be able to answer in the critical thinking questions, so make sure you understand what the terminology means.
- The other half of the section one paper will be largely problem solving questions: you will likely know all of the mathematical concepts that are required in the problem solving section of the paper: if you’re not sure, then take a look at some of the questions and you will realise that the only concepts you need to be familiar with are averages, basic operations, percentages, and so on – likely all things you will have covered in GCSE Maths, and even before.
- There is a third category of questions, but this one has much fewer questions appearing on the test papers. The third category is spatial reasoning: in this part of the paper, you will be required to think about the net of a cube, or a ground-plan, or similar questions to do with space. You should aim to get familiar with the net of a cube and practice abstract reasoning of this kind by finding lots of practice questions – there are lots available.
Once you have familiarised yourself with the content of the paper, the next step is to get comfortable with the kinds of contexts that these concepts come up in. That means – practice papers! You can get worked solutions for most of the TSA papers, though you should have a go at the papers without any guidance (start by working at your own pace, you can work on speed later). Once you have gone through the past paper questions on your own, mark the work and then work through the worked solutions to come to understand why the answer is what it is.
A common question here is: What do I do when I have done all the past papers? You might turn to the BMAT to find some more questions to work on (though make sure you ignore the Biology and Chemistry questions!) and after that, it will probably be a long time since you did the TSA papers, so come back to them and do them again. You can also purchase books of questions which may be useful to find additional questions to practice with. TOP TIP: You might want to save the most recent paper to do completely unseen once you have finished the rest of your preparation.
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Preparing for Section Two
Section Two is only required for some courses, and it concerns writing a two-page essay in half an hour on a question you choose from a given set (usually of 4). Most of the questions that you’re asked to answer provide something that provokes an immediate reaction from you; they are designed to be provocative and that means you should run with the strong view that you have.
- One way to prepare here is to think about recent stories in the news (there are often current affairs questions) – how can you think about the news item critically, and what do you think should happen?
- You can also complete a lot of past paper questions for this section: rather than just choosing one of the four questions on the paper, I would recommend working on all of the questions on every paper. That way, you will be able to cover more topics in your preparation.
- Don’t waste time writing a full essay for every question, it is much more efficient to just write plans for each of the questions, which should take 5-10 minutes rather than writing a full half hour essay for each question.
The main thing is to start practicing as soon as you can. Good luck!