TSA Oxford Specification

Advice & Insight From TSA Specialists

In order to be admitted to certain undergraduate courses at Oxford you are required to take the TSA. Oxford has a very large number of applicants and so the TSA gives admissions tutors extra information about which students have the necessary skills and aptitudes to study on their course.

Which courses at Oxford require the TSA?

The TSA is used by Oxford to assess students who apply for the following undergraduate courses:

LN12 Economics and Management

L0V0 Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE)

C830 Experimental Psychology

CQ81 Psychology and Linguistics

BCL0 Human Sciences

CV85 Psychology and Philosophy

VQ51 Philosophy and Linguistics

LV11 History and Economics (section 1 only)

Special notes

Please note that if you want to apply for the “History and Economics” course you must ensure you are registered for the test called, “Thinking Skills Assessment: Section 1 (TSA S1)”. This is because you will also need to take the History Aptitude Test (HAT).

If you apply for a joint course, you may also have to take a separate test in your other subject, in which case separate registration is required for each test.

Test format

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. As mentioned above, this section is not taken by those applying for the “History and Economics” course.

Optimise Your TSA Performance

Learn the best TSA strategies and practice with reflective TSA questions & worked solutions.

Section 1 different question types

Problem solving

You will need to answer 25 problem solving questions which are divided into three main question types:

  • Relevant selection – where you must identify key information in a problem and disregard redundant or distracting information.
  • Finding procedures – here you must identify a method that will generate a solution.
  • Identifying similarity – you will be presented with a problem and asked to identify another situation or problem with a similar structure, or which can be solved using a similar method of calculation.

Critical thinking

You will have to answer 25 critical thinking questions which are divided into seven main question types:

  • Identifying the main conclusion – you have to find the statement which is supported by or follows from the rest of the information given.
  • Drawing a conclusion – you need to identify a conclusion which is not explicitly stated in the passage.
  • Identifying an assumption – you have to find something which is not stated in the argument but is taken for granted.
  • Assessing the impact of additional evidence –you need to consider what additional information would either strengthen or weaken an argument.
  • Detecting reasoning errors – you have to spot the flaw in an argument.
  • Matching arguments – you must identify similar structured arguments which use a parallel form of reasoning.
  • Applying principles – you have to identify the principle which underlines an argument.

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.

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 that you should not exceed (about 850 words if you are using a word processor, or two sides of A4 if you are writing by hand). This should be regarded as the upper limit; try to focus on the quality of your response rather than the quantity. You could also look at as many past questions as you can and try writing essays under strict timed conditions. Successful candidates will show that they focussed on the subject of the essay question.

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