Is the TSA Test Difficult?

Advice & Insight From TSA Specialists

The Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA) is a test used by the University of Oxford and certain other leading UK universities to evaluate the critical thinking and problem-solving abilities of applicants for specific courses. Given the prestigious nature of these schools and their competitive admissions processes, it’s natural to wonder just how difficult the TSA is. In this article, we will provide an overview of the TSA, discuss the challenges that make the test difficult for some candidates, and consider the average mark that students receive in the TSA.

Overview of the TSA (Thinking Skills Assessment) Test

The TSA is a test designed by Cambridge Assessment Admissions Testing, a part of the University of Cambridge, and is employed by the University of Oxford, Cambridge, and UCL, for admissions purposes. The test comprises two sections: Section 1, a 90-minute multiple-choice test consisting of 50 questions evaluating problem-solving, critical thinking, and numerical reasoning skills; and Section 2, a 30-minute essay paper that requires candidates to provide a well-structured and well-written argument on a broad range of topics. The TSA is used as one of several assessments to determine applicants’ academic potential for specific courses – for example, at Oxford, these courses include Experimental Psychology, Human Sciences, Philosophy and Linguistics, Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE), and Psychology, Philosophy and Linguistics.

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Challenges of the TSA Test - why is it difficult?

Firstly, the TSA features unique question types – these are questions that assess critical thinking and problem-solving skills, which may be unfamiliar to many candidates. These questions require a different approach compared to standard subject-based examinations, which can make the test more challenging for those who have not previously encountered such questions. Instead of simply regurgitating knowledge that you have learnt, you will instead be assessed more on raw aptitude, which can require a very different approach. The next issue is the time constraints of the exam. As stated, there are just 90 minutes for Section 1 and 30 minutes for Section 2. This means candidates must manage their time effectively and work through questions quickly and accurately, which can add to the pressure and difficulty of the test. The time pressure is part of the test – the test is designed to ensure that students are able to work well even under immense pressure, and remain calm and focused.

Of course, the high stakes of the test add to the pressure. Each university that uses the TSA (or the TST, as it is known at UCL), is highly prestigious and competitive, and the TSA plays a significant role in the admissions process for certain courses. This can make the test more difficult for some candidates due to the high stakes involved and the pressure to perform well.

Next, preparation materials are a little more limited for the TSA than they might be for a typical exam. The TSA is a unique test, and finding high-quality preparation materials can be challenging. While past papers are available, they are limited. This makes using a question bank – like that offered here at BlackStone Tutors – all the more important, as it mirrors the questions used in the test itself.

Lastly, you will need strong essay writing skills – the essay component in Section 2 can be challenging for candidates who struggle with writing skills or who have limited experience in constructing well-structured, persuasive arguments. This can make the essay portion of the test particularly difficult for some students, especially those who have more of a background in the Sciences.

What is the TSA average score?

The TSA exam is scored on a scale of 0-100, with the average score falling between 50-60%. Nevertheless, the raw score does not correspond precisely to a percentage. Based on the most recent data available, the mode score for problem-solving was 57.6, and for critical thinking, it was 68.2.

For most students who are applying to the highly competitive courses that demand the TSA, these scores will seem very low – they will be used to scores in the 80s and 90s, or even 100%. As such, it seems fair to state that the TSA is a very difficult exam – and that it is designed to be, to ensure that the best students are selected.

Is the TSA Test Difficult?

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