Why is the TSA test used?

Advice & Insight From TSA Specialists

The Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA) is a pre-interview test used by certain UK universities – Oxford, Cambridge and UCL – to assess candidates’ critical thinking and problem-solving skills. The TSA test is a tool that has been shown to reduce bias, improve admissions processes, and allow for comparison between students with high grades.

TSA Reduces Bias in Admissions

Traditional admissions processes rely heavily on academic grades, which can be biased by a range of factors, including socio-economic status, educational background, and gender. The TSA test helps to reduce these biases by providing a standardised and objective measure of a candidate’s critical thinking and problem-solving skills. This means that candidates who may not have had access to the same educational opportunities as others can still demonstrate their abilities through the TSA test. Thus, the TSA test allows universities to identify potential high-performing students who may not have had the same resources or support as others, leading to greater diversity and inclusivity in the admissions process. The TSA test also reduces the impact of unconscious bias by providing a more objective evaluation of a candidate’s skills and abilities than might be feasible through an interview alone. It has been found that there is a slight gender bias in the TSA, with males generally more likely to do well than females, but this effect is minor.

TSA Improves Admissions Processes

The TSA allows for a more comprehensive evaluation of a candidate’s abilities than would otherwise be possible. Through assessment of critical thinking and problem solving skills, at a very high level – the TSA is a difficult test, despite the content not being advanced in terms of school year – the TSA allows for increased efficiency in the admissions processes of top UK universities for certain courses. Note that the TSA is not a replacement for grades, but rather an adjunct that can be used alongside them – the test provides a more holistic view of a candidate’s abilities, allowing universities to assess candidates based on multiple criteria rather than relying solely on academic grades. This means that universities can make more informed decisions about which candidates to accept into their programs.

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TSA Allows for Comparison Between Students with High Grades

First, yourself with the test format, as understanding the structure and format of the TSA is essential for efficient time management. FAcademic grades do not always provide a complete picture of a candidate’s abilities. The TSA test allows universities to compare candidates with high grades based on their critical thinking and problem-solving abilities. This means that candidates who may have lower academic grades but have strong critical thinking and problem-solving skills can still be considered for admission, or alternatively that a number of candidates with very high scores can be differentiated between, based on their ability to take on new information, analyse it, and provide solutions in a novel, time-pressured manner. This ensures that universities can be confident in the true academic ability of a student, and confident that two students with high grades can be compared like-for-like through a challenging single exam, rather than through their grades alone. amiliarise yourself with the types of questions, the time allocated for each section, and the overall test duration. This knowledge will help you create a realistic plan for managing your time during the test. Then, develop a study schedule. Consistent and focused practice is key to building your skills and improving your time management. Develop a study schedule that allocates sufficient time for both sections of the test, and adhere to it strictly. Make sure to include regular practice sessions, review periods, and breaks to maintain balance and prevent burnout. Make sure you practise under timed conditions, and that you Identify your strengths and weaknesses – analyse your performance during practice tests and identify areas where you excel and those where you need improvement. This insight will enable you to allocate your time effectively during the test, focusing more on the sections or questions that require extra attention.


To conclude, the TSA is an important part of the admissions process for three of the UK’s top universities due to its ability to predict the success of candidates – it will help ‘identify applicants who will thrive’ on a given course, and there is a positive relationship between test scores and on-course performance; its ability to widen access, as it is accessible to all applicants and a test of innate skill rather than prior knowledge (although this can, of course, be prepared for and improved); and it can reduce bias and produce comparable results for the highest performing of students, worldwide. It allows for a comprehensive evaluation of a candidate’s abilities in either one 90 minute exam, or a total of 2 hours if the essay-writing component is to be sat as well. If the latter is sat, then the exam allows for assessment not just of critical thinking and problem solving, but also the candidate’s ability to convey information and construct arguments under time pressure, and on general subjects. It is thus of use for courses that require students to blend analytical skill with the ability to write and communicate at a high level – which covers many courses, especially in the social sciences, across Oxford, Cambridge, and UCL.

Why is the TSA test used?

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