TSA Thinking Skills Assessment: The Complete Guide
Advice & Insight From TSA Specialists
What is the TSA exam?
- TSA stands for Thinking Skills Assessment, and that is exactly what the exam is designed to test.
- The exam is split into two sections: section one is multiple choice and concerns problem solving and critical thinking, while the second section is an essay.
- The exam is used by Oxford, Cambridge, and UCL as an admissions test for many of its courses. In all cases, this forms just one data point and is used alongside personal statements, GCSE/A-level grades, contextual information, interview performance, and so on. The TSA does not determine who is admitted to the universities, but it is used as one point in guiding admissions decisions.
Which courses require the TSA?
The following courses in Oxford require both Sections 1 and 2 of the TSA:
- Economics and Management
- Experimental Psychology
- Human Sciences
- Philosophy and Linguistics
- Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE)
- Psychology and Linguistics
- Psychology and Philosophy
Chemistry and the joint-honours course in History and Economics require section 1 but not the essay section. (Note that applicants in History and Economics must also take the HAT, History Aptitude Test.)
If you are applying to study Land Economy in Cambridge, you will also need to take Section 1 of the TSA. At UCL, applicants for European Social and Political Studies (ESPS) and International Social and Political Studies (ISPS) also require TSA Section 1.
TSA Score Conversion
The score that you are awarded for the TSA is different from the raw mark out of 50 that you achieve in the section 1 paper. Like most A-level and GCSE examinations, the score conversion changes each year, and takes account of how difficult candidates found the paper that year.
Let’s look at the 2016 and 2015 exam scores to illustrate this:
1/50 = 12.8 10/50 = 39.9 25/50 = 56.3
30/50 = 61.1 38/50 = 70.1 50/50 = 107.3
1/50 = 16.3 10/50 = 42.4 25/50 = 57.8
30/50 = 62.5 38/50 = 70.7 50/50 = 106.3
We can see from these two that there is variation in the UMS for each year, and if you look at further score converters (available on the Admissions Testing website) you will see that this is true across all the past papers available.
It is important to note that this plays to your advantage, because it means that if a paper is objectively more difficult, then your mark will be automatically moved up.
This is all interesting stuff, but the most important part of preparing for the TSA is not focussing on what number you would have got in a given year, but rather on improving your score out of 50 (and your essay technique, if section 2 is relevant) to ensure that you do yourself justice in the exam and make the most of the time available for you to prepare.
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What is a good TSA score?
It is likely that, as applicants to the country’s best universities, you are used to getting 100% in school tests, and maybe even 100 UMS in A-level and GCSE exams. It is important to realise that the standard of the TSA means that this is not our goal! Instead, we need to be more realistic about what it is possible to achieve, and equally what it is necessary to achieve in order to get an offer or interview.
- An average score is 60, so roughly 28/50
- If you can score 70, you are in the top 10% of candidates and that equates to about 38/50
Given this information, it is important not to be disheartened when you mark your work and get lower marks than you are used to getting at A-level. Put those numbers into context, but most importantly, use the mistakes that you make on each practice paper to learn and develop your technique.