UCAS: The Ultimate Guide to Applying to University in the UK

Kings College in the city of Cambridge, England

Chapter 1: UCAS and Choosing a University 

Picking where to go to university is a big decision, and there is a lot to consider before sending off your UCAS form. Town or campus? Traditional or modern? Academic or vocational? Choosing where to apply does not have to be stressful, however, and our comprehensive guide is here to help you through the process. Or you could contact us for a consultation.

When it comes to narrowing down university choices, it is important to be both ambitious and realistic – and to do your research. Students are allowed to apply to just five institutions, so choose carefully!

We hope that you find the information here really useful, however, should you still require our assistance, whether it be choosing a university of personal statement writing, why not send us a request and one of our consultants will contact you.

Russell Group Universities 

The Russell Group consists of 24 UK universities renowned for the quality of their teaching and research. If you are academically minded and on track for excellent A Level results, one of these universities could be for you. 

The Russell Group consists of: 

University of Birmingham

University of Bristol

University of  Cambridge

Cardiff University

Durham University

University of Edinburgh 

University of Exeter

University of Glasgow

Imperial College London

Kings College London

University of Leeds

University of Liverpool

London School of Economics & Politics

University of Manchester

Newcastle University

University of Nottingham

University of Oxford

Queen Mary University of London

Queens’ University Belfast

University of Sheffield

University of Southampton

University College London

University of Warwick

University of York. 

While offers vary between Russell Group universities, all typically require excellent A Level results. For a more detailed breakdown of grade requirements, go to the subject pages of university websites. 

  • The Russell Group refers to 24 UK universities renowned for their academic excellence.
  • Russell Group universities require excellent A Level grades – the admissions pages of university websites set out typical offers so you know what to expect. 

Oxford and Cambridge

The universities of Oxford and Cambridge – known as ‘Oxbridge’ for short – are two of the highest ranking universities in the world. The admissions process is tough and students are usually required to attain at least A*AA at A Level. 

Unlike most other universities, Oxford and Cambridge have a college system. This means that students apply to a specific college – a small, self-enclosed community – as opposed to the  university as a whole. Cambridge has 31 colleges while Oxford has 45. 

You can apply to either Oxford or Cambridge – not both – and application deadlines are several months earlier than for other establishments.  

For more information on the Oxbridge admissions process, please see Chapters 4 and 5. 

  • Oxford and Cambridge are two of the most prestigious universities in the world. 
  • They both have collegiate systems, meaning that students apply to specific colleges. 
  • Oxbridge deadlines are earlier than for other universities. 

Town or campus?

UK universities are situated either on campuses or in cities. At campus universities – such as Bath, Nottingham and Loughborough – accommodation and lecture halls are within easy reach on one site. Meanwhile, at city universities – such as UCL and Edinburgh –  everything is more spread out. 

When you are thinking about where you would like to study, this is an important factor to consider. Cities are bustling and fun but friends could live on the other side of town and accommodation might prove very expensive – particularly if you are based in London. On the other hand, campuses are safe and sociable, but they can feel claustrophobic once you have settled in. 

  • Universities are based in cities or on campuses. 
  • Campuses are self-enclosed, while students in towns tend to be more spread out. 

Open Days

Open days are the best way to find out if you like the feel of a place. On open days – which are scattered throughout the year – current students show you accommodation and catering facilities, as well as lecture halls and libraries. You also get the chance to explore the city or campus. 

As tours are conducted by current students you can fire off all the questions you are burning to ask, and are likely to get an honest response. This page on the UCAS website is a handy tool to find out when different open days are taking place.  

  • Open days run throughout the year and are a good way of learning about different universities and courses. 
  • Tours are usually conducted by current students who respond honestly to your questions. 

Subject considerations

Different universities teach courses in very different ways – and some have stricter entry requirements than others. Here are some things to bear in mind if you plan to study the following: 

Business 

Business degrees vary significantly between universities. At Oxford’s Saïd Business School, for instance, undergraduates focus on economics and management and are taught within a traditional degree framework. Other institutions, such as Bournemouth University, adopt a more hands-on approach with a focus on real world experience. Make sure you look closely at the courses before making a decision. 

Engineering 

The key thing to consider when applying for Engineering is whether you want to take a general course or specialise immediately. At the University of Liverpool, for example, students can specialise in chemical, mechanical or civil engineering from the get-go. In contrast, the University of Cambridge only offers a general engineering degree. Once again – do your research. 

Law

Law is offered by almost all universities but only a few require applicants to take the LNAT test. LNAT stands for the National Admissions Test for Law and is required by the University of Bristol, Durham University, University of Glasgow, Kings College London, the London School of Economics, the University of Nottingham, University of Oxford, SOAS and UCL. Your performance in the LNAT will influence how likely you are to gain a place, so make sure you gen up before applying. (For more information on subject-specific entrance exams, please see Chapter 3).

Medicine

Again, the majority of UK universities offer Medicine, but the admissions process can vary dramatically. The UK Clinical Aptitude Test (UKCAT) is a computer-based test and is used by universities such as Newcastle and Plymouth Meanwhile, the BMAT – the BioMedical Admissions Test – is used by Cambridge, UCL and Leeds, among others. Some universities have very rigid pass marks which they publish online – if you don’t meet the grade you will not get an offer.

It is also important to note that most medical schools interview candidates and do so in a variety of ways (eg multiple mini-interviews, a panel interview or assessed tasks). Universities tend to explain their interview process on their admissions page so it is worth doing your research and considering your strengths. 

This document written by the Medical Schools Council is a fantastic resource. It breaks down the application process by individual university, looking at interview methods, typical offers and necessary work experience. 

Dentistry

As with medicine, some universities require Dentistry applicants to sit the BMAT or the UKCAT, and almost all demand excellent A Level grades (usually a minimum of 3 As). Work experience is also important. Different universities value different elements of your application, however, so look at the fixed entry requirements and play to your strengths. 

There is usually an interview for Dentistry applications as well. This document put together by the Dental Schools Council is worth a look, breaking down every stage of the application process.

Nursing

Nursing is a vocational degree and is not offered by all universities. An important factor to consider is whether a university has strong ties with a good hospital, where nursing students can gain their clinical experience. According to a recent report by the Telegraph, Kings College London, Keele University and University of Leeds all rank very highly. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/education-and-careers/0/10-best-uk-universities-nursing/

PPE

Philosophy, Politics and Economics is the quintessential Oxford University degree. However, a range of other universities – such as Warwick and Durham – now also provide the course. If you have your heart set on Oxford’s rival, Cambridge University offers Human, Social, and Political Science (HSPS) which covers much of the same ground. 

Economics & Econometrics

Most universities do not require Economics or Econometrics applicants to sit an entrance exam. However, as with Business degrees, not all Economics degrees are the same. Make sure you read the course descriptions carefully as each course will have a different focus and different optional units. 

A Bachelor of Science Economics degree (BCs) will focus heavily on advanced mathematics and statistics, and tends to be more practical. In contrast, a Bachelor of Arts Economics degree focuses on theory, as well as numbers. 

Computer Science 

There is an extensive range of universities that offer computer science degrees and most do not require candidates to sit an entrance exam. However, some higher education institutions use computer science as an umbrella term to cover various vocational degrees involving computers and technology, such as IT degrees – so do your research. If you want to study the theoretical foundations of information and computation make sure you pick a university that offers this. 

  • Always read the course description – degrees can vary dramatically from university to university. 
  • Check if there is an entrance exam – medicine, law and dentistry tutors like to test candidates before offering them a place. 
  • Some universities are renowned for their vocational degrees, such as Nursing – do your research to find the best course on offer. 
  • Make sure the university you have set your sights on actually offers your course – or whether they offer something similar under a different name. 

Chapter 2: Getting to grips with UCAS

View of Kelvingrove Park full of people enjoying the Scottish summer with the main building of Glasgow University on the top of the hill.

There is a lot to keep on top of when you apply to university – particularly when you are studying for your A Levels at the same time. However, if you stay organised and make a note of important deadlines, there is nothing to worry about.

Plus, our essential guide to UCAS is here to see you through the process. 

(1) Registering with UCAS

First things first. UCAS stands for the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service and refers to the organisation that handles all university applications. 

Nowadays, almost everything is done online. The first thing you have to do, therefore, is register with UCAS’s online portal, ‘Apply’. Your school or college will give you a special ‘buzzword’ which you will need to complete your registration.

  • Applications are all done online so, before worrying about anything else, make sure you register and set up your account. 

(2) The application form

Next comes the form itself – which, you will be pleased to know, does not have to be completed in one sitting. You can save your progress and sign back in at any time.

UCAS first requests a swathe of personal details such as your name, email address and residential status, along with any disabilities and criminal convictions. 

You can then fill in some optional information such as your ethnicity and what jobs your parents do. It is up to you whether you disclose this information – it is not compulsory. 

Next up is course choices. You can apply for a maximum of five courses so choose wisely. You can put the courses in any order – they are not ranked by preference – and other universities will not see where else you have applied. There is also an option for deferred entry – but it is a good idea to check whether your chosen universities accept deferred entry applications. 

Then comes a large space for you to enter your full education history. UCAS wants to know everything from GCSE results to predicted A Level grades. There is also an option to write about your employment history – i.e paid full-time or part-time work. If you have done any relevant volunteering, you can write about this in your personal statement. Speaking of which…

  • UCAS will ask for lots of personal information. Triple-check all the details you enter and choose your courses wisely.
  • You are allowed to apply for a maximum of five courses.
  • UCAS will ask for your full education history, including GCSE results and predicted A Level grades. 

(3) Personal Statement 

A personal statement is a short essay which gives universities an insight into who you are and what you have to offer. There is lots of advice out there on how to write the perfect personal statement but the key thing is not to overthink it. Just be truthful, concise and enthusiastic. 

The word limit for the personal statement is around 500 words (47 lines of text, or 4000 characters) and statements should include why you are drawn to your chosen subject and how you have displayed your interest in it. Why would you be an asset on the course? Have you done any extra curricular activities related to your subject? What qualities do your chosen universities value most?

It is also a good idea to write about your skills and ambitions. For example, have you taken part in schemes like the Duke of Edinburgh award or CCF? Do you have any relevant employment experience or done any volunteering?

This page on the UCAS site is a very useful starting point but if you feel like you would benefit from some extra support, our tutors also provide tailored advice. 

  • Don’t overthink it. Be honest, enthusiastic and explain why you would be an asset to the course. 
  • The word limit for personal statements is around 500 words (47 lines of text, or 4000 characters). 
  • Write about your skills and ambitions as well as your academic achievements. 

(4) Reference

UCAS asks for one reference. This is nothing to worry about. If you are an A Level student, a teacher will typically write your reference and attach it to the UCAS form (however curious, applicants are not allowed to read what has been said about them).

 If you are applying independently, you need to pick someone who knows you in an academic context. Family and friends cannot act as referees. 

  • If you are at school, a teacher will usually write your reference. 
  • Family and friends can’t act as referees. 

(5) Fees 

  • Students have to pay a small fee to submit a UCAS application. For 2020 entry, it costs £20 for one choice, or £25 for multiple choices. Schools and colleges sometimes collect money from students so they can pay a lump sum to UCAS. Alternatively, they will tell you to pay UCAS directly by credit/debit card.
  • UCAS charges £20 for one choice; £25 for multiple choices. 

(6) Deadlines

Official 2020 deadlines (for courses starting in 2021) are yet to be released. However, 2019’s deadlines are as follows:

5 October 2019 at 18:00 – any course at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, or for most courses in medicine, veterinary medicine/science, and dentistry.

15 January 2020 at 18:00– for the majority of courses.

These are fairly standard dates so you can expect the same timetable next year.

  • Make a note of the 5 October or 15 January in your diary – there is very little you can do if you miss UCAS deadlines. 

(7) Offers

Once offers start coming in, students are allowed to accept a maximum of two: a ‘firm’ choice and an ‘insurance’ choice. For the latter, it is highly recommended to pick a university that asks for lower grades.

This might mean compromising on course slightly. For example, if you are applying for Law at Russell Group universities, they are likely to demand excellent A Level results. Law and Criminology could be a good insurance insurance option, giving you a safety net if things do not go to plan on results day. 

  • Pick a ‘firm’ choice and an ‘insurance’ choice – that way you’re covered if you don’t get the grades you expect. 
  • Picking an insurance choice might mean compromising on your course. For example choosing Law and Criminology as opposed to pure Law.

Chapter 3: Courses that require additional tests

Students having exam in classroom at university

Law: the LNAT

Law is a competitive degree and a number of Russell Group universities ask students to sit an aptitude test before offering them a place. This online assessment is known as the LNAT – the National Law Aptitude Test.

What is it?

The LNAT is designed to test your intellectual ability, as opposed to your existing legal knowledge. There is no set syllabus and you will not have to swot up on facts and figures. Instead, you must rely on your core problem solving and communication skills.

The exam is 2¼ hours long, is taken on the computer, and is divided into two sections. Section A consists of 42 multiple choice questions based on 12 argumentative passages, with 3 or 4 multiple choice questions on each. You will have 95 minutes to answer all of the questions.

For Section B, you have 40 minutes to answer one of three essay questions on a range of topics. Some example questions include: How should judges be appointed?; Does it matter if some animal and plant species die out?; ‘It is right that students should contribute to the cost of their degrees.’ Do you agree?; and What disciplinary sanctions should teachers be allowed to use?

  • The LNAT is an online test lasting 2¼ hours.
  • It assesses your problem solving and writing skills – not your existing legal knowledge.
  • There is a multiple choice section and a short essay writing section.

Which universities require it?

The following universities require students to sit the LNAT:

  • TheUniversity of Bristol
  • Durham University
  • University of Glasgow
  • Kings College London
  • London School of Economics
  • University of Nottingham
  • University of Oxford
  • SOAS 
  • University College London

The University of Cambridge has its own test for law students – please see Chapter 4 for further information.

When do I sit the test?

You must sit the LNAT in the academic year in which you are applying for university – and it is recommended that you take the test as early as possible for maximum choice of test venues and availability. The earlier you book, the more chance you have of getting an appointment on the day you choose.

In 2019, LNAT registration opened on 1 August (the same day as UCAS registration opens) and testing kicked off on 1 September. It is expected that 2020 will run according to the same timetable.

For the 2019/20 UCAS cycle, all candidates apart from those applying to Oxford had to sit the exam before or on 20 January 2020, and have registered for the test by 15 January. (Most UCAS applications also go in on 15 January). Applicants not applying to Oxford are strongly advised to meet the January deadlines if possible. Under UCAS rules universities are permitted – but not required – to consider late applications.

Oxford applicants have to meet an earlier deadline. For the 2019/20 UCAS cycle,t hey had to register for the test by 30 September 2019 and to have sat the exam by or on 15 October. (The deadline for all Oxbridge applications is on the same date). 

Students are only allowed to sit the test once in an academic year and results cannot be carried over from one academic year to the next.

  • The deadline for most universities was 20 January (for students starting university this September). It is expected to be the same next year.
  • Oxford applicants have to sit the test by 15 October.
  • Register and book as early as possible to avoid last minute panic.

Where do I sit the exam?

You will take the LNAT at a local approved test centre – there are about 150 in the UK – as opposed to at school. After registering with the test centre, you will be given a numbered desk with a computer terminal.

  • The test is usually taken at a local test centre – not at school.

How much does it cost?

It currently costs £50 at UK or EU test centres and £70 at test centres outside of the EU.

How should I prepare?

There is nothing specific you can revise to guarantee a good result in the LNAT. However, wider reading is strongly advised. For example, get into the habit of reading a range of good quality newspapers and magazines such as the Financial Times, the Economist, the Guardian and the Washington Post. Specialist legal publications can also be interesting and informative.

The LNAT website also has a couple of practice test papers to help familiarise you with the format and type of questions you will face.

If you feel like you would benefit from one-to-one tailored support, our law tutors have a wealth of experience preparing students for the LNAT.

  • Look at practice papers.
  • Read good quality newspapers and magazines.
  • One-to-one tuition can also be beneficial.

When will I see my results?

There is no specific LNAT results day. However, starting on 21 October, the first batch of LNAT scores are released for universities to look at. After that date, within a day of finishing your LNAT, your score and essay will be available for your chosen universities to download. For better or worse, they will see your score before you do.

Candidates who took the LNAT on or before 20 January 2020 will receive their results in mid February 2020 – and a similar timetable is expected next year. Meanwhile, candidates who take the test after 20 January 2020 will receive their results in mid August 2020.

  • If you take the LNAT before 20 January you will get your results in the middle of February.
  • If you take the LNAT after 20 January you will get your results in the middle of August.
  • There is no fixed LNAT results day.

Medicine and Dentistry: BMAT/ UCAT

Students applying for Medicine and Dentistry are put their paces with aptitude tests and interviews. The two most common aptitude tests are the BMAT and the UCAT (formerly known as the UKCAT).

BMAT

What is it?

The BioMedical Admissions Test – or BMAT for short – is a pen and paper aptitude test for prospective medical and dentistry students. The exam is split into three sections and students must attempt each one.

Section 1 will test your problem solving skills, how you understand arguments, and your  ability to analyse data. Bear in mind you are not allowed to bring a calculator, so be ready to do some speedy mental maths.

Some questions are verbal, asking you to identify conclusions, assumptions, and flaws in different arguments, while others are numbers based. Meanwhile, data analysis tends to focus on 3-dimensional representation. So you may be asked, for example, to decide what 3-dimensional structures could be made from 2-dimensional plans and how to navigate objects through 3-dimensional puzzles.

Section 2 is typically based on knowledge from school Science and Maths courses. Importantly, however, this section tests your ability to apply the knowledge you have acquired in the classroom – possibly in unfamiliar contexts.

Section 3 is a writing task, as opposed to a test of knowledge, and looks at how effectively you can communicate. Students are required to write a short essay to prove they can express themselves clearly and can formulate an argument. Example essay questions include:

‘I observe the physician with the same diligence as the disease.’ John Donne, English poet (1572-1631)

Write an essay in which you address the following points:

Why would a patient observe his physician with the same diligence as his disease? Under what circumstances might a patient be more concerned with his disease than with his physician? How would you advise a patient to best balance these two concerns?

Or: ‘Parents who withhold vaccines from their children have betrayed their duty of care.

Write an essay in which you address the following points:

Why would parents withhold vaccines from their children? In what ways would doing so betray their duty of care? How can a doctor best advise a parent who is considering withholding a vaccine from a child?

  • The BMAT is a 2-hour, pen and paper test for prospective medical and dentistry students.
  • It is split into three sections and tests numerical, reasoning and communication skills.
  • Calculators are not allowed.

Which universities require it?

For those applying for medicine, the following universities require the BMAT.

  • Brighton & Sussex Medical School
  • University of Cambridge
  • Imperial College London
  • Keele University (only for international students)
  • Lancaster University
  • Leeds’ School of Medicine
  • University of Oxford Medical School
  • University College London

For those applying for dentistry, only the University of Leeds requires the BMAT.

When do I sit the test?

Unlike the Law aptitude test and the UCAT, the BMAT takes place on just two days each year: once in August and once in October. For all universities apart from Oxford you can sit the exam in either month – it will not make a difference to your application. For Oxford candidates, however, only those applying for graduate medicine can take the BMAT in the summer. Prospective undergraduates must sit the test in October.

In 2019, one exam took place on 31 August and the other took place on 30 October. Students are only allowed to take the test once every cycle: either in the summer or the autumn.

  • Most students can sit the BMAT either at the end of August or at the end of October.
  • If you are hoping to study undergraduate medicine at Oxford, you must sit the test in October.

Where do I sit it?

The majority of students sit the BMAT at school – assuming it is authorised to run admissions testing. If you are not able to sit it at school, you can take the exam at a local test centre.

  • The majority of  students sit the BMAT at school

How much does it cost?

For UK or EU students it costs £48 to sit the BMAT. For those outside of the EU it costs £81.

How should I prepare?

The different BMAT sections require different types of preparation. For section 1, practising your mental maths is key – often at A Level students become overly reliant on calculators. Reading the news is also important, in order to keep you up-to-date with developments in medicine and dentistry.

When the exam gets closer, there is also a large range of past papers online to help you get to grips with the BMAT’s style.

For section 2, go back over your school notes and make sure you are on top of the GCSE and AS Level Maths and Science syllabi. Our tutors are always here to help if there are gaps in your knowledge.

  • There are lots of past papers available online.
  • Practise your mental maths – remember, no calculators allowed!
  • Revise the Maths and Science you learned in Years 11 and 12.

When will I see my results?

For October 2019 candidates, results came out on 22 November 2019 at 9.00am UK time. The last day for querying the outcome was a week later, on 29 November.

For August 2019 candidates, test results came out on 20 September at 9.00 UK time. The deadline for querying results was 27 September.

The UCAT

What is it?

The University Clinical Aptitude test – known as the UCAT – is more commonly used than the BMAT and assesses students’ academic and practical skills. Formerly known as the UKCAT, this computer-based exam is split into five different sections – verbal reasoning, decision making, quantitative reasoning, abstract reasoning and situational judgment – and lasts for two hours. Each section is multiple choice.

Verbal reasoning (which lasts for 21 minutes exactly) asks you to critically evaluate information presented in a written form; decision making (31 minutes) assesses your ability to make sound judgements using complex information; quantitative reasoning (24 minutes) is numbers based; abstract reasoning (13 minutes) uses shapes and sequences to test spatial awareness; and situational judgment (26 minutes) measures your capacity to understand real world situations. Unlike in the BMAT, there is no essay writing section.

  • The UCAT is a 2 hour, multiple-choice test taken on the computer.
  • It is split into five sections: verbal reasoning, decision making, quantitative reasoning, abstract reasoning and situational judgment.
  • There is no essay writing section.

Which universities require it?

For those applying for medicine, the following universities require the UCAT:

  • University of Aberdeen
  • Anglia Ruskin University
  • Aston University
  • University of Birmingham
  • University of Bristol
  • Cardiff University
  • University of Dundee
  • Durham University
  • University of East Anglia
  • University of Edinburgh
  • University of Exeter
  • University of Glasgow
  • Hull York Medical School
  • University of Keele
  • Kings College London
  • University of Leicester
  • University of Liverpool
  • University of Manchester
  • University of Newcastle
  • University of Nottingham
  • Plymouth University
  • Queen Mary, University of London
  • Queen’s University Belfast
  • University of Sheffield
  • University of Southampton
  • University of St Andrews
  • St. Georges University of London
  • University of Sunderland
  • University of Warwick

For those applying for dentistry , the following universities require the UCAT:

  • University of Aberdeen
  • University of Birmingham
  • University of Bristol
  • Cardiff University
  • University of Dundee
  • University of Glasgow
  • Kings College London
  • University of Liverpool
  • University of Manchester
  • University of Newcastle
  • Plymouth University
  • Queen Mary University of London
  • Queens University Belfast
  • University of Sheffield

When do I sit it?

For 2020, registration and bookings opens on 4 May and testing begins on 1 July, closing on 6 October.  Registration closes on 22 September and the final booking deadline for registered candidates is 5 October. 

It is recommended that you take the test as early as possible for maximum choice of test venues and availability. The earlier you book, the more chance you have of getting an appointment on the day you choose.

  • Bookings open on 4 May 2020 and the final booking deadline for registered candidates is 5 October 2020.

Where do I sit it?

The UCAT is delivered in Pearson VUE test centres in over 160 locations throughout the UK. You can use this test centre locator to find your nearest centre.

How much does it cost?

Tests taken in the UK/EU between 1 July and 31 August 2020 cost £55.

Tests taken in the EU between 1 September and 6 October 2020 cost £80.

Tests taken outside the EU cost £115.

How should I prepare?

First, research the different sections of the exam and try section-specific revision techniques. There are loads of digital and paper resources to help with UCAT preparation, including reams of past papers.

However, if you feel like you would benefit from one-to-one help, our Science tutors have seen many students through both the UCAT and the BMAT.

  • Plan some section specific revision.
  • Get to grips with the past papers.
  • Consider one-to-one support.

When will I see my results?

When you leave the test centre you will immediately be given a copy of your UCAT Score Report.Your result will also be uploaded within 24 hours of completing your test.

Universities usually receive results in the first week of November.

Maths, Engineering, Economics, Physics and Computer Science: STEP

What is it?

The Sixth Term Examination Paper (STEP) is an additional mathematics exam which students take at the end of Year 13. Unlike the other aptitude tests in this chapter, this assessment is not before you are offered a place – instead, when universities make you an offer, they can ask for a specific mark in the STEP alongside your other A Level grades. Maths applicants – and occasionally Engineering, Computer Science, Economics and Physics candidates – are required to sit the test.

STEP is a very challenging assessment, designed to test candidates on questions that are similar in style to undergraduate mathematics. The test consists of up to three 3-hour paper-based examinations: STEP 1, STEP 2 and STEP 3 – but most universities will only ask you to sit one of these.

STEP 1 is based on A Level Maths. The paper has 11 questions across two sections: the first contains 8 pure questions, and the second contains 3 questions, at least one of which will be on mechanics, at least one of which will be on probability/statistics, and a third either on mechanics or probability/statistics.

STEP 2 is based on A Level Mathematics and AS Level Further Mathematics. The paper has 12 questions across three sections: the first contains 8 pure questions, the second contains 2 mechanics questions, and the third contains 2 probability/statistics questions.

STEP 3 is based on A Level Mathematics and A Level Further Mathematics. The paper has 12 questions across three sections: the first contains 8 pure questions, the second contains 2 mechanics questions, and the third contains 2 probability/statistics questions. 

In each section, question have the maximum mark of 20 and in each paper you will be assessed on the six questions you answered best. Calculators are not allowed.

  • STEP is pen and paper exam, lasting three hours.
  • You may be asked to sit up to three papers – STEP 1,STEP 2 and STEP 3.
  • Calculators are not allowed.
  • The test is designed to give you a taste of what Maths at university will be like.

Which universities require it?

The University of Cambridge and the University of Warwick typically require Maths applicants to take the STEP. (The University of Oxford has a different way of assessing candidates – please see Chapter 4).

At Cambridge, STEP is used as part of almost all conditional offers in Mathematics and Mathematics with Physics, and some colleges may use STEP for other courses such as Economics and Engineering.

At Warwick, the following courses may require candidates to sit one or more STEP papers: Mathematics, Mathematics and Statistics, MMORSE (Mathematics, Operational Research, Statistics and Economics) and Data Science (Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science).

However, a number of other universities sometimes ask that students take the exam. These universities include:

  • Imperial College London
  • Kings College London
  • University College London
  • University of Bath
  • University of Lancaster
  • University of Bristol
  • University of Durham
  • University of Southampton

When do I sit it?

In 2020, entries for STEP open on 24 February and standard entries close on 1 May. Each STEP paper takes place on a set day every year. In 2020 STEP 1 takes place on 9 June, STEP 2 takes place on 15 June and STEP 3 takes place on 19 June.

Where do I sit it?

Most students sit the STEP at school – assuming it is authorised to run admissions testing. If you are not able to sit it at school, you can take the exam at a local test centre.

How much does it cost?

It costs £54 for standard entry within the UK and the EU.

It costs £92 for standard entry outside of the EU.

How should I prepare? 

The STEP exams are notoriously difficult and preparation is essential. The Cambridge Admissions Testing webpage contains a host of useful resources such as past papers, a breakdown of relevant topics and free online books. If you would like more tailored support, however, our Maths tutors have an excellent track record in preparing students for the STEP.

  • The Cambridge Admissions Testing website contains a host of valuable revision resources.
  • Our Maths and Science tutors have an excellent track record preparing students for the STEP.

When will I see my results?

In 2020, STEP results will be published on 13 August – the same day as A Level results come out. The grading is as follows: S – Outstanding

1 – Very Good, 2 – Good, 3 – Satisfactory, U – Unclassified.

Chapter 4 – Applying to Oxford 

Oxford University Press Shop

Applying to the University of Oxford is a lengthy process, involving early deadlines, entrance exams and interviews. It is a good idea, therefore, to get your head around what is entailed before you begin your application so there are no surprises along the line. To help you do this, here is a step-by-step guide covering everything you need to know about applying to Oxford. 

For information on Cambridge applications please see Chapter 5 – remember, you cannot apply to both universities! 

Choosing a college 

The Universities of Oxford and Cambridge are made up of self-contained communities called colleges. When you apply to Oxford, you have to choose which of the university’s 39 colleges you would like to go to. 

Each college has its own buildings, students, tutors and administrative staff – and a lot of socialising takes place within college communities. Most offer meals, libraries, accommodation, sports, and events, and each has its own character and history. 

Ultimately, all of the colleges are excellent and the quality of teaching will be the same wherever you end up. However, it is a good idea to attend a university open to day to see which college feels like home. 

If you are still unsure, you do have the option to submit an open application. This will mean that your application will be assigned to a college that has relatively fewer applications for your course in the year you apply.

  • The university is made up of 39 colleges – self-contained communities with their own students and tutors.
  • Most students apply to an individual college but you can make an open application if unsure. 

Choosing a course 

Choosing a course at Oxford is much the same as choosing a course at any university. The crucial thing is that you check the entry requirements. Almost all courses at Oxford will require a minimum of three As at A Level – with many requiring an A* – and some ask you to study specific subjects at school. The university has published a helpful overview of entry requirements on its website.

Many students who apply to Oxford are taking A-levels but the university accepts a whole range of other equivalent qualifications, such as Scottish Highers and Advanced Welsh Baccalaureate. 

Oxford also offers some courses – such as Philosophy, Politics and Economics – that are not offered elsewhere, so it is worth taking a careful look through its prospectus before making a final decision. 

  • Make sure you check the entry requirements for different courses. 
  • Oxford accepts A Levels and other equivalent qualifications such as Scottish Highers. 

UCAS application and personal statement 

You apply to Oxford through the UCAS portal, just as you do for all other universities. (For more information on the UCAS process, please go to Chapter 2). Your personal statement will also be unaffected. 

The important difference to remember is that Oxford and Cambridge hopefuls send off their UCAS forms earlier than most students. The Oxbridge deadline is 15 October, as opposed to 15 January. 

Oxford advises you start working on your UCAS application in June, choosing your course and college, writing your personal statement and organising your academic reference. UCAS applications can be submitted from early September. 

  • Oxford applications must be submitted through the UCAS portal by 15 October. 

Tests

The majority of Oxford courses require applicants to sit an admissions test – usually at some point between sending off their application and being invited for interview.

For more information on the Oxford admissions tests, please read Chapter 3 Part 2.

Submitting written work 

If you are applying for an arts, humanities or social sciences degree, you may be required to submit a school essay to demonstrate your writing ability. These sample essays will be read by the college tutors and may be discussed at the interview stage. The writing you send off should be a normal school or coursework essay and should be marked by a teacher. 

It may be typed or handwritten – as long as it is legible – and should be no more than 2,000 words. Written work needs to be submitted to your chosen college by 10 November.

  • You may be asked to submit written work. These should be school essays marked by a teacher. 
  • The deadline for written work is 10 November. 

Interviews

The Oxford interview process is slightly different to the Cambridge one. Firstly, Oxford interviews fewer students than Cambridge – just under half of applicants make the shortlist. Tutors pick the candidates they feel have the strongest potential and meet their selection criteria best. 

You will receive a letter or an email indicating whether or not you have been invited for interview between the middle of November and early December. (Different courses send out invitations on different days). Interviews themselves take place between 1 and 20  December. 

Interviews typically take place over two days and you may be interviewed by multiple colleges. This is part of the reallocation process, where applicants get moved around to make sure everyone interviewed has a similar chance of being made an offer. Students usually stay overnight in college, enjoying dinner in hall and the chance to meet other candidates. 

In general, interviews last about 20 minutes and are designed to give you the best chance to show your potential. You are usually interviewed by two tutors and the process is designed to mirror a ‘tutorial’ – the one-to-one Oxford teaching sessions. 

In the interview itself, you may be asked to look at a poem, graph or maths question; you could be quizzed about your personal statement or the written work you submitted; or you may answer more general questions about your chosen subject. In short, tutors are looking at your self-motivation and enthusiasm for your subject – and they know you will be nervous. 

According to an Oxford French tutor, interviewers ‘want to see someone thinking for themselves, being willing to tackle a challenging question – It’s really important for candidates to understand that ‘tackling’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘solving’: it’ll be about applying skills that you already have to a new scenario, text, or problem, so we want to see how you set about it.’ 

  • Oxford interviews just under half of applicants.
  • Interviews typically take place over two days with applicants staying in college overnight. 
  • They take place between 1-20 December. 
  • They typically last 20 minutes and you may be presented with a text, graph or written question to discuss with the tutors.

The outcome 

Shortlisted candidates for 2021 entry will be told whether or not their application has been successful on 12 January 2021. Decisions will be released via UCAS Track early in the morning. This will be followed by a letter from the college considering your application. 

You can request feedback from the college until 15 February. 

Oxbridge Admissions tests

Lots of courses at the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge require students to sit additional entrance exams that are not required by most universities. Some of these are sat at school, some can be completed at local test centres and some are taken on the day of the interview.

It is important to remember that Oxford and Cambridge do not run a joint admissions system. While there is some overlap, Oxford requires applicants to sit certain aptitude tests, while Cambridge uses a different set of assessments. Here is a breakdown of everything you need to know.

Exams used by the University of Oxford

For Oxford applicants, all aptitude tests are sat before the interview stage and may affect how likely you are to be called for interview. 

Classics Admissions Test (CAT) 

Which courses require it? 

Classics, Classics and English, Classics and Modern Languages, Classics and Oriental Studies. 

How long is it? 

Up to 3 hours

What does it consist of? 

This paper-based test is split into three one hour sections: the Latin Translation Test, the Greek Translation Test and the Classics Language Aptitude Test. Don’t worry – not every applicant has to complete every section. It depends what A Level subjects you are taking.

In short, if you are taking Latin or Greek at A-level or equivalent, you must take the papers in the languages you are studying. So an A Level Latin student will take the Latin Translation Test. If you are studying neither Latin nor Greek to A-level or equivalent, you must take the third paper – the Classics Language Aptitude Test. This requires no prior knowledge of classical languages; it simply tests your linguistic ability. 

Where do I sit the test? 

Most candidates sit the test at school, but some take it at a local test centre.

When do I sit the test? 

Wednesday 4 November 2020

Do I have to pay? 

The university does not charge candidates to sit the test but some local test centres do charge for administration.

Results? 

Test results are not published automatically, but candidates may request their test score. 

English Literature Admissions Test: ELAT 

Which courses require it?

 English Language and Literature, Classics and English, English and Modern Languages. 

How long is it? 

1 hour 30 minutes

What does it consist of? 

The ELAT is a paper-based test designed to stretch your close reading skills, and your ability to respond to unfamiliar literary material. You will be asked to write one essay comparing two passages, and you will home in on elements such as language, imagery, syntax, form and structure.

You will be presented with six passages on the same theme – a mix of prose, poetry, drama, fiction and non-fiction. The names of the authors and the dates of publication will also be provided to give you a helping hand. 

When do I sit the test? 

Wednesday 4 November 2020

Where do I sit the test? 

Most candidates sit the test at school, but some take it at a local test centre.

Do I have to pay? 

The university does not charge candidates to sit the test but some local test centres do charge for administration.

Results? 

This year, on Monday 13 January 2020, the university issued a PDF Statement of Results to each candidate via their  Results Online system.

Geography Admissions Test: GAT 

Which courses require it? 

Geography 

How long is it? 

1 hour 30 minutes

What does it consist of? 

The GAT is a handwritten test lasting 90 minutes. The assessment has two parts, each worth 50% of the overall marks. Part 1 will ask you to read a short passage of text to which you will be asked to respond. This is designed to test your critical reading and thinking skills.

Meanwhile, Part 2 will require you to answer a number of questions relating to some data, presented in the form of a graph, table, chart or map. This is designed to test your problem solving skills. The university recommends you spend roughly 45 minutes on each part of the test.

When do I sit the test? 

Wednesday 4 November 2020

Where do I sit the test? 

Most candidates sit the test at school, but some take it at a local test centre.

Do I have to pay? 

The university does not charge candidates to sit the test but some local test centres do charge for administration.

Will I see my results? 

Test results are not published automatically, but candidates may request their test score. 

History Aptitude Test: HAT 

Which courses require it?

 History, History (ancient and modern), History and Economics, History and English, History and Modern Languages, History and Politics. 

How long is it? 

1 hour

What does it consist of? 

The paper-based HAT consists of just one question, based on an extract from a primary historical source. It is important to remember that the HAT is a test of skills, not substantive historical knowledge, and you will be asked to offer thoughtful interpretations of the source without necessarily knowing anything about its context.

When do I sit the test? 

Wednesday 4 November 2020

Where do I sit the test? 

Most candidates sit the test at school, but some take it at a local test centre.

Do I have to pay? 

The university does not charge candidates to sit the test but some local test centres do charge for administration.

Will I see my results? 

Test results are not published automatically, but candidates may request their test score. 

Mathematics Admissions Test: MAT 

Which courses require it? 

Computer Science, Computer Science and Philosophy, Mathematics, Mathematics and Computer Science, Mathematics and Philosophy, Mathematics and Statistics

How long is it? 

2 hours 30 minutes 

What does it consist of? 

The MAT draws on the mathematical knowledge and techniques needed to pass AS-level Maths, with a few extra topics from A-level Maths thrown in. 

The first question on the test is multiple choice and contains ten parts, each worth four marks. Questions 2–7 are longer questions, each worth 15 marks, and it is important to show your working out, as part marks are available for this section. You will attempt four questions from 2–7, the selection depending on your chosen course. No calculators, formula sheets or dictionaries are permitted during the test – so make sure you are on top of your arithmetic. 

When do I sit the test? 

Wednesday 4 November 2020

Where do I sit the test? 

Most candidates sit the test at school, but some take it at a local test centre.

Do I have to pay? 

The university does not charge candidates to sit the test but some local test centres do charge for administration.

Will I see my results? 

Test results are not published automatically, but candidates may request their test score. 

Modern Languages Admissions Test: MLAT 

Which courses require it?  

European and Middle Eastern Languages, Classics and Modern Languages, English and Modern Languages, History and Modern Languages,  Modern Languages, Modern Languages and Linguistics or Philosophy and Modern Languages.

How long is it? 

Every part other than the Philosophy section is 30 minutes. The Philosophy section is 1 hour. 

What does it consist of? 

The MLAT is a paper-based test which consists of 10 parts. Which sections you attempt depends on the course you are applying for.

There are eight individual sections for each of the following languages: Czech, French, German, Italian, Modern Greek, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish. These sections consist primarily of translation exercises. The other two sections are: the Language Aptitude Test and the Philosophy test.

The Language Aptitude Test involves an imaginary language (a new one is invented for the test each year), and invites you to identify and apply the patterns and rules which govern this language. Meanwhile, the Philosophy test is designed to assess your philosophical reasoning skills.

When do I sit the test? 

Wednesday 4 November 2020

Where do I sit the test? 

Most candidates sit the test at school, but some take it at a local test centre.

Do I have to pay? 

The university does not charge candidates to sit the test but some local test centres do charge for administration.

Will I see my results? 

Test results are not published automatically, but candidates may request their test score. 

Oriental Languages Aptitude Test: OLAT 

Which courses require it? 

Oriental Studies, Classics and Oriental Studies, European and Middle Eastern Languages, Religion and Oriental Studies.

How long is it? 

30 minutes

What does it consist of? 

This test is designed to see how quickly you can learn new languages. Like the Language Aptitude Test, the assessment presents you with an artificial language and asks you to identify rules and patterns. 

When do I sit the test? 

Wednesday 4 November 2020

Where do I sit the test?  

Most candidates sit the test at school, but some take it at a local test centre.

Do I have to pay? 

The university does not charge candidates to sit the test but some local test centres do charge for administration.

Will I see my results? 

Test results are not published automatically, but candidates may request their test score. 

Physics Aptitude Test: PAT 

Which courses require it?

 Engineering, Materials Science, Physics and Physics and Philosophy.

How long is it? 

2 hours 

What does it consist of? 

The PAT is designed for candidates who have studied the first year of A-level Maths and Physics, and covers similar material to that of the GCSE and A-level syllabus. In previous years there have been number-based questions, logic puzzles and questions based on electrical circuit diagrams, and a mixture of multiple-choice and written answers. Calculators are permitted. 

When do I sit the test? 

Wednesday 4 November 2020

Where do I sit the test?  

Most candidates sit the test at school, but some take it at a local test centre.

Do I have to pay? 

The university does not charge candidates to sit the test but some local test centres do charge for administration.

Will I see my results? 

Test results are not published automatically, but candidates may request their test score. 

Philosophy Test 

Which courses require it? 

Philosophy, Theology 

How long is it? 

1 hour 

What does it consist of? 

The Philosophy Test is designed to test your philosophical reasoning skills. There is no expectation that you will have undertaken any formal study of philosophy beforehand, and it is not a test of philosophical knowledge. You will normally be asked to complete a comprehension exercise and write a short essay or answer a structured question.

When do I sit the test? 

Wednesday 4 November 2020

Where do I sit the test?  

Most candidates sit the test at school, but some take it at a local test centre.

Do I have to pay? 

The university does not charge candidates to sit the test but some local test centres do charge for administration.

Will I see my results?

 Test results are not published automatically, but candidates may request their test score. 

Thinking Skills Assessment: TSA

Which courses require it?  

Economics and Management, Experimental Psychology, Human Sciences, Philosophy, Politics and Economics, and Psychology, Philosophy and Linguistics. Chemistry or History and Economics applicants have to sit Section 1. 

How long is it? 

2 hours 

What does it consist of? 

This wide-ranging test is made up of two parts. Section 1 is made up of 50 multiple-choice questions and aims to assess the following: problem-solving skills, including numerical and spatial reasoning; critical thinking skills, including the ability to understand an argument; and the ability to reason using everyday language.

Meanwhile, Section 2 is a writing task, that seeks to evaluate your ability to organise ideas in a clear and concise manner, and communicate them effectively in writing. Questions are not subject-specific – they cover a broad range of topics – and candidates must answer one question from a choice of four.

When do I sit the test? 

Wednesday 4 November 2020

Where do I sit the test?  

Most candidates sit the test at school, but some take it at a local test centre.

Do I have to pay? 

The university does not charge candidates to sit the test but some local test centres do charge for administration.

Will I see my results? 

Results for the TSA are released to candidates in early January.

BMAT

This test is for those applying for Biomedical Sciences, Medicine or Graduate Medicine. Lots of universities require the BMAT and more information can be found in Chapter 3 (insert link). 

LNAT

This test is for those applying for Law or Law with Law Studies in Europe. Several Russell Group universities require the LNAT and more information can be found in Chapter 3 (insert link). 

The University of Cambridge 

If you are applying to Cambridge, you may have to sit a pre-interview test or a test on the day of your interview – or, if you are unlucky, both!

Pre-interview tests

Arts-Humanities Admissions Assessment (AHAA)

Which courses require it? 

Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic, Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, Education, History, History and Modern Languages, History and Politics, Human, Social, and Political Science

How long is it? 

2 hours 

What does it consist of? 

This paper-based test is split into two sections. Section 1 is multiple-choice and assesses your reading skills, including your ability to read critically, understand main ideas in texts, analyse detail and grasp implicit meaning.

Meanwhile, Section 2 requires candidates to answer one of two questions, producing a written response to a text extract. This section is designed to assess your ability to read closely, analyse texts, and show a broader awareness of the context and features of texts. No prior knowledge will be assumed.

Where do I sit the test? 

Most candidates sit the test at school, but some take it at a local test centre.

When do I sit the test? 

Wednesday 4 November 2020

Do I have to pay? 

The university does not charge candidates to sit the test but some local test centres do charge for administration.

Natural Sciences Admissions Assessment (NSAA) 

Which courses require it? 

Natural sciences, Veterinary medicine, Chemical engineering via natural sciences

How long is it? 

2 hours 

What does it consist of? 

This assessment, taken by hand, is also split into two sections, the first of which is non-calculator. Section 1 consists of five parts, of which candidates should answer three. Each part is multiple-choice and you can choose to answer on Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Biology Advanced Mathematics or Advanced Physics.

Meanwhile, Section 2 consists of six questions, two each on Biology, Chemistry and Physics. Students write two responses, and can include diagrams and drawings. 

Where do I sit the test? 

Most candidates sit the test at school, but some take it at a local test centre.

When do I sit the test? 

Wednesday 4 November 2020

Do I have to pay? 

The university does not charge candidates to sit the test but some local test centres do charge for administration.

Engineering Admissions Assessment (ENGAA)

Which courses require it? 

Engineering, Chemical engineering via Engineering

How long is it? 

2 hours 

What does it consist of? 

Section 1 is 60-minute assessment, consisting of 40 multiple-choice questions. This section covers Mathematics and Physics as well as

Advanced Mathematics and Advanced Physics. Section is a 60-minute assessment, consisting of 20 multiple-choice questions solely assessing Advanced Physics.

Calculators are forbidden in both sections.

Where do I sit the test? 

Most candidates sit the test at school, but some take it at a local test centre.

When do I sit the test? 

Wednesday 4 November 2020

Do I have to pay? 

The university does not charge candidates to sit the test but some local test centres do charge for administration.

Cambridge Test of Mathematics for University Admissions (CTMUA)

Which courses require it? 

Computer science 

How long is it? 

2 hours 30 minutes 

What does it consist of? 

This long non-calculator exam is split into two 75 minute parts, both of which are multiple-choice. Part 1 focuses on mathematical thinking and Part 2 focuses on mathematical reasoning, i.e your ability to justify mathematical arguments. 

Where do I sit the test? 

Most candidates sit the test at school, but some take it at a local test centre.

When do I sit the test? 

Wednesday 4 November 2020

Do I have to pay? 

The university does not charge candidates to sit the test but some local test centres do charge for administration.

Economics Admissions Assessment (ECAA)

Which courses require it? 

Economics 

How long is it? 

2 hours 

What does it consist of? 

Part 1 of this paper-based test consists of problem solving and Maths questions, while Part 2 consists of 40 minutes of essay writing on a topic of economic interest.

Where do I sit the test? 

Most candidates sit the test at school, but some take it at a local test centre.

When do I sit the test? 

Wednesday 4 November 2020

Do I have to pay? 

The university does not charge candidates to sit the test but some local test centres do charge for administration.

Thinking Skills Assessment: TSA

Which courses require it? 

Land economy 

How long is it? 

2 hours 

What does it consist of? 

Section 1 is made up of 50 multiple-choice questions and aims to assess the following: problem-solving skills, including numerical and spatial reasoning; critical thinking skills, including the ability to understand an argument; and the ability to reason using everyday language.

Section 2 is a writing task, that seeks to evaluate a candidate’s ability to organise ideas in a clear and concise manner, and communicate them effectively in writing. Questions are not subject-specific and candidates must answer one question from a choice of four.

When do I sit the test? 

Wednesday 4 November 2020

Where do I sit the test?  

Most candidates sit the test at school, but some take it at a local test centre.

Do I have to pay? 

The university does not charge candidates to sit the test but some local test centres do charge for administration.

Will I see my results? 

Results for the TSA are released to candidates in early January

BMAT

This test is for those applying for Medicine. Lots of universities require the BMAT and more information can be found in Chapter 3 (insert link). 

ELAT 

This test is for those applying for English. Lots of Russell Group universities require the BMAT and more information can be found in Chapter 3 (insert link). 

At-interview assessments

These tests are taken on the same day as interviews, usually in a room in the college you have applied to. All are free and paper-based.

The Archaeology Admissions Assessment 

Which courses require it? 

Archaeology

How long is it? 

1 hour

What does it consist of? 

This test for hopeful archaeology students involves reading one passage of text of around 500 words (selected from two options) and answering two related questions (chosen from a list of four questions). 

You will have one hour to complete the task; the university recommends you spend around a quarter of your time reading and planning and the remainder writing. The task is designed to assess comprehension and the ability to read closely, deploy arguments effectively, and write clearly.

The Architecture Admissions Assessment

Which courses require it? 

Architecture

How long is it? 

1 hour

What does it consist of? 

This assessment takes place before the subject interview and consists of two parts. Part 1 is a 30-minute writing skills assessment while Part 2 is a 30 minute graphic and spatial ability assessment. 

In Part 1, you will be asked to write a short essay in response to a question – possibly about a pair of images.  In Part 2, you will be asked to observe and interpret a setting through drawing – either indoor or outdoor within the college premises. 

The Classics Admissions Assessment 

Which courses require it? 

Classics

How long is it? 

Either 1 hour or 20 minutes

What does it consist of? 

The Classics assessment you take depends on whether you have studied Latin or Greek before. If you are taking a three year course, having studied Latin at A Level, you will be asked to sit a one hour translation exercise. While some vocabulary knowledge is assumed, other words are glossed at the bottom of the page. 

Meanwhile, if you have not studied Latin at A Level and are applying for the four-year course, you will sit a 20 minute linguistics test. This will assess your ability to analyse language but will not require existing knowledge of Latin or Greek. 

Cambridge Law Test 

Which courses require it?

 Law

How long is it? 

1 hour

What does it consist of? 

You will answer one essay question which will ask you to consider legal ideas. However, no prior legal knowledge is expected – tutors will be looking to assess your writing and critical reading skills. An example question could be: ‘As society becomes more sophisticated, there ceases to be a need for general rules. All justice should be individualised.’ Discuss.

History and Modern Languages Assessment 

Which courses require it? 

History and Modern Languages

How long is it? 

1 hour

What does it consist of? 

Like the Classics test, the assessment you sit depends on what languages you have studied at school. If you applying to study a language you have taken at A Level, you will write a discursive response in that language for 40 minutes. You will then write a 20 minute response in English. 

If you are applying to learn a language from scratch, you will write a discursive response in English for 40 minutes and then take a 20 minute language aptitude test. This test presents candidates with unusual or fictional languages to test their linguistic ability. 

Remember, if you are taking History and Modern languages, you will also have to take a pre-interview assessment: the Arts-Humanities Admissions Assessment. 

History of Art assessment

Which courses require it? 

History of Art 

How long is it? 

1 hour

What does it consist of? 

Different colleges have different methods of assessing History of Art candidates, within the envelope of the standard interview format. However, applicants are typically asked to write an essay comparing different images.

Modern and Medieval Languages assessment 

Which courses require it? 

Modern and Medieval Languages 

How long is it? 

1 hour

What does it consist of? 

This exam is split into two parts. In Section A of the assessment you are asked to respond in a language you wish to study at Cambridge. If you are applying to study two languages which you are taking at A-level, then you can choose to respond in either language, but not both.

Part 2 is a discursive response in English in response to a foreign text.

Philosophy Assessment

Which courses require it? 

Philosophy

How long is it? 

1 hour

What does it consist of? 

The philosophy assessment has two parts. Part I, which lasts 20 minutes, contains eighteen multiple choice logic questions, asking you to fill in the correct words and to analyse the logic of arguments. The question paper for Part 2 contains two essay questions, of which you should choose only one. An example question could be ‘Is the future open in any sense in which the past is not?’

The Theology, Religion, and Philosophy of Religion Admissions Assessment

Which courses require it? 

Theology, Religion, and Philosophy of Religion

How long is it? 

1 hour

What does it consist of? 

Unlike all the other assessments in this chapter, this exam is based on a pre-recorded sample lecture lasting up to 20 minutes. You will then have the remaining 40 minutes to answer a set of comprehension questions. It will be skills-based, looking at your comprehension and writing skills, but will not assume any prior knowledge.

Post-interview assessments 

The Sixth Term Examination Paper (STEP)

Which courses require it? 

Mathematics, Mathematics with Physics, and some colleges may use STEP for Economics and Engineering. 

How long is it? 

3 hours 

What does it consist of? 

The Sixth Term Examination Paper (STEP) is an additional mathematics exam which students take at the end of Year 13. Unlike the other aptitude tests in this chapter, this assessment is not taken before or at interview. Instead, if Cambridge makes you an offer, they can ask for a specific mark in the STEP alongside your other A Level grades. 

STEP is a very challenging assessment, designed to test candidates on questions that are similar in style to undergraduate mathematics. The test consists of up to three 3-hour paper-based examinations: STEP 1, STEP 2 and STEP 3 – but, usually, Cambridge will only ask you to sit one of these. 

STEP 1 is based on A Level Maths. The paper has 11 questions across two sections: the first contains 8 pure questions, and the second contains 3 questions, at least one of which will be on mechanics, at least one of which will be on probability/statistics, and a third either on mechanics or probability/statistics. 

STEP 2 is based on A Level Mathematics and AS Level Further Mathematics. The paper has 12 questions across three sections: the first contains 8 pure questions, the second contains 2 mechanics questions, and the third contains 2 probability/statistics questions.

STEP 3 is based on A Level Mathematics and A Level Further Mathematics. The paper has 12 questions across three sections: the first contains 8 pure questions, the second contains 2 mechanics questions, and the third contains 2 probability/statistics questions. 

In each section, question have the maximum mark of 20 and in each paper you will be assessed on the six questions you answered best. Calculators are not allowed. 

Some other universities also use the STEP. For more information please see Chapter 3. 

Past papers are available for all the exams mentioned in this chapter on subject webpages. However, if you feel you would benefit from extra support, our team of Oxbridge tutors have successfully prepared students for a range of admissions assessments. 

Chapter 5 – Applying to Cambridge

University of Cambridge

Applying to the University of Cambridge involves early deadlines, aptitude tests and face-to-face interviews. The process is significantly more involved than most other university applications so it is sensible to get your head around what is entailed before you start. To help you do this, here is a step-by-step guide covering everything you need to know about applying to Cambridge.  

For information on the University of Oxford please see Chapter 4. It is important to remember you cannot apply to both establishments, and the application processes are not identical. 

Choosing a college 

The Universities of Oxford and Cambridge are made up of self-contained communities called colleges. When you apply to Cambridge, you choose which of the university’s 31 colleges you would like to attend.

Each college has its own site, buildings, students, tutors and administrative staff – and a lot of socialising takes place within college communities. Most offer meals, libraries, accommodation, sports, and events, and each has its own character and history. In Cambridge, there are also two women-only colleges: Newnham and Murray Edwards.

Ultimately, the quality of teaching will be the same wherever you end up. However, it is a good idea to attend a university open to day to see which college feels like home. Some colleges have small student intakes – Peterhouse, for example, admits only 75 undergraduates a year – while others are far larger. Meanwhile, some have their own sports grounds and swimming pools, some are close to the city centre, some attract lots of tourists and some have a more modern feel. 

If you are still unsure after attending an open day, you have the option to submit an open application. This means that your application will be assigned to a college that has relatively fewer applications for your course in the year you apply. 

  • Cambridge University is made up of 31 colleges – self-contained communities with their own students and tutors. 
  • There are two women-only colleges: Newnham and Murray Edwards.
  • Most students apply to an individual college but you can make an open application if you do not have a strong preference.

Choosing a course 

Choosing a course at Cambridge is essentially the same as choosing a course at any university. The crucial thing is that you check the entry requirements. Almost all courses at Cambridge will require a minimum of three As at A Level – and many require an A* and 2 As. The subject pages of the Cambridge University website all set out typical offers. 

Many students who apply to Cambridge are taking A-levels but the university accepts a range of other equivalent qualifications. It is also happy to consider applicants taking a combination of qualifications from different systems providing the individual qualifications are acceptable and any subject requirements are met.

Cambridge offers some courses – such as Human, Social, and Political Science (HSPS) and Land Economy – that are not offered elsewhere, so it is worth taking a careful look through the university prospectus before making a final decision. 

  • Make sure you check the entry requirements for different courses. 
  • Cambridge accepts A Levels and other equivalent qualifications such as Scottish Highers. 
  • Check if there are any Cambridge-specific courses that you are interested in.

UCAS application and personal statement 

As for all undergraduate degrees, you apply to Cambridge through the UCAS portal. (For more information on the UCAS process, please see Chapter 2). Your personal statement is also unaffected by the fact you are applying to Oxbridge. 

The important difference to remember is that Oxford and Cambridge hopefuls – as well as aspiring medics, dentists and vets – send off their UCAS forms earlier than most students. The Oxbridge deadline is usually 15 October, as opposed to 15 January. 

Oxford and Cambridge advise you start working on your UCAS application in June, choosing your course and college, writing your personal statement and organising your academic reference. UCAS applications can be submitted from early September. 

  • Cambridge applications must be submitted through the UCAS portal by 15 October. 
  • It is sensible to start working on your application in early summer. 

The Supplementary Application Questionnaire (SAQ) 

Shortly after submitting your UCAS application, you’ll be asked via email to complete an online Supplementary Application Questionnaire (SAQ). In the majority of cases, the deadline for this will be towards the end of October, roughly a week after the UCAS deadline. 

The SAQ is only required by Cambridge and is designed to ensure that the university has complete and consistent information about all applicants. The survey is split into eight parts: Application Type, Photograph, Personal Details, BMAT Number, Education, Qualifications, Additional Information, Submit. Each of the eight sections contains a number of pages with a series of questions to complete. 

Most of the details you have to fill in are factual – for example, a breakdown of the A Level modules you have taken. However, there is an option to write an additional personal statement. Your answer can be a maximum of 1,200 characters and you should focus on what aspects of the Cambridge course that attracted you to apply. 

The SAQ is nothing to worry about – it is just one element of your application and is not hugely time consuming. However, this document from the University of Cambridge gives a thorough breakdown of how to approach the SAQ and what to do if you encounter any technical difficulties.

  • The SAQ is a Cambridge specific questionnaire.
  • You have the option to write an additional 1,200 character personal statement. 
  • The deadline for most candidates is towards the end of October – roughly a week after the UCAS deadline. 

Admissions Tests 

Almost all Cambridge courses require applicants to sit some sort of admissions test -occasionally more than one. These exams are taken in early November or at the interview itself. 

For more information on Cambridge admissions tests, please read Chapter 3.

Submitting written work 

A number of Cambridge arts and social sciences courses require you you to submit one or two examples of your written work from a relevant A Level/IB (or equivalent) course. These should be as submitted to, and marked by, your teachers – they should not have been edited or rewritten. A discussion of this work may then form part of your interview.

Your school or college will be asked to complete a cover sheet to verify it’s your own work and provide details of the circumstances in which it was written. If you’re asked to send in some work, make sure it is something you would be happy discussing during an interview – and always make a photocopy before submitting it! The deadline for submitting written work is usually around the 8 November. 

  • You may be asked to submit written work – particularly if you are applying for an arts or social sciences course.
  • These should be school essays marked by a teacher. 
  • The deadline for written work is around 8 November. 

Interviews

The Cambridge interview process diverges significantly from the Oxford one. The majority of Cambridge applicants are invited to attend an interview. In previous years, the figure has been around 75% of UK/EU applicants overall (though it varies between courses).

You will receive a letter or an email indicating whether or not you have been invited for interview between the middle of November and early December and most interviews take place in Cambridge during the first three weeks of December. 

Interviews take place over the course of a single day and you will usually be interviewed at just one college. You’ll have one, two or three interviews – usually two – and each will last between 20 and 45 minutes. The exact form and length of interviews vary from college to college and between subjects, but you will be given some information in advance about what to expect.

You will typically have at least one subject-specific interview. In this, you may be asked to look at a poem, graph or maths question or be asked more general questions about your chosen subject. You may also have a more general academic interview, which could be based around your personal statement. 

You may also be asked to sit a written test. 

  • Cambridge interviews about 75% of applicants.
  • Your interviews will take place over a single day – you do not have to stay overnight. 
  • They take place in first three weeks of December. 
  • They typically last between 20 and 45 minutes and you may be presented with a text, graph or written question to discuss with the tutors. 

The outcome 

Candidates will receive a letter from Cambridge in early January telling them whether or not their application has been successful. You might find out you have been ‘pooled’. This means your application has been picked up by a different college to the one you applied to. 

Some pooled applicants may be asked to attend another interview in early January. The ‘winter pool’ is designed to ensure that the best applicants who have been squeezed out by the competition at their original college are offered places. 

  • You will find out if your application has been successful in early January.
  • You may be ‘pooled’ which means your application is considered by a different college. 

Chapter 6- Clearing and Adjustment 

My Plan B is Just Another Way to Make My Plan A Work

Clearing 

Every now and then, things do not go to plan on A Level results day and it is important to be prepared. While many teenagers and parents view Clearing with trepidation, over 60,000 sixth-formers obtain university places through Clearing every year – and it doesn’t have to be a last resort.

Here is everything you need to know about the Clearing system, from finding the best courses to confirming your university place. 

What is Clearing?

Clearing is the process universities and colleges use to fill any places they still have on their courses. It is an ideal way for you to find another university place if you have missed your grades – and Russell Group universities, such as Durham, Bristol and Birmingham, often have vacancies. 

Do I qualify for Clearing? 

Students who find university places through Clearing have usually not achieved the grades required by either their firm or insurance choice of university. However, you can also go through Clearing if you are not holding any offers from the establishments you have applied to, or if you are applying late (typically after 30 June). Around 64,300 applicants obtained university places through Clearing last year. 

If you are worried about your A Level results you should always wait until you have seen your grades before contacting universities and colleges about possible vacancies.

When does Clearing open?

Lots of people think clearing opens in the middle of August on A Level results day but this is not correct. It actually opens in early July – usually 6 July – and ends in September, shortly before the beginning of most university terms. 

How does Clearing work?

First things first: you will know you are in Clearing if your UCAS Track status changes to ‘You are in Clearing’ or, ‘Clearing has started’ on A Level results day. 

On the UCAS website you will then find an official list of course vacancies (found here). Read through this and make a shortlist: which courses and which universities would you consider, and which is the most attractive option available? After you have done this, it is time to pick up the phone. Call around your chosen universities to make sure you meet the entry requirements and they still have vacancies. 

If a university offers you a place over the phone and you want to accept it, enter your choice in UCAS Track. (When you sign into UCAS you will be given an option to ‘Add a Clearing choice’ in the ‘Next Steps’ section). It is important to remember you can only submit a Clearing choice once you have been informally accepted over the phone – not before. 

Also note that you can only apply for one university at a time through Clearing. Once a choice has been selected online, you cannot add another one. If you receive a more attractive offer afterwards and want to apply elsewhere, you need to ask the first university to cancel your place so you are able to apply again.

If a university or college provisionally offers you a place in Clearing, they will usually give a date by which you must enter the course details in Track.

What happens if I have only just missed my grades?

If you have only just missed out on your first choice university – or your insurance choice –

it is worth calling them before you start the Clearing process, regardless of what UCAS Track says. They may well say the course is full, but it is always worth picking up the phone to confirm. 

Do I have to pay for Clearing?

Students who miss their grades and have paid the full UCAS application fee (£24) are automatically eligible for Clearing. Those who originally applied to only one university, and paid £13, need to make the additional payment of £11 if they wish to enter Clearing. This can be done in UCAS Track using a debit or credit card.

Top tips for finding the right course

Things can happen quickly on A Level results day and teenagers going through Clearing often feel very anxious. However, there are a number of steps you can take to maximise your chances of success. 

  • Be quick. Spaces fill up quickly on Results Day so it is essential to call universities in the morning. Some schools inform students the night before Results Day that they have missed their university offers so they can come in early. 
  • Pick up the phone yourself. It is tempting to rely on your teachers or your parents, but universities what to hear from you. Also prepare to answer some questions admissions offices may have: why do you want to study a particular course? Why would you like to attend a particular university? Phoning is nearly always quicker than emailing. 
  • Phone lines will be busy but be persistent. Stick on the line and you will get through to somebody eventually.
  • Be ambitious. Within the context of clearing, universities may well go lower than the offer listed on their prospectus. According to UCAS, it depends how much demand each university and course has, as well as the grades of the other interested students. The best way to find out is to ask the universities directly. 
  • Make a list beforehand. If you are worried you might have missed your grades, make a list of universities and their telephone numbers before Results Day. Think about what you might say on the phone beforehand and make notes if necessary.
  • Have the relevant paperwork to hand. Universities will want to know your personal UCAS ID and your Clearing number. 
  • Consider different subjects. You do not have to stick to your original degree idea, so look at what else is on offer, such as joint honours courses.
  • Keep checking – universities and colleges update their course information on a regular basis on Results Day. Something you like the look of might pop up later in the day. 

Adjustment

While things sometimes don’t go to plan on Results Day, sometimes they go better than expected. This is where Adjustment comes in. 

What is Adjustment?

Adjustment is an optional service for students who meet and exceed the conditions of their firm university choice. It gives you an opportunity to reconsider where and what to study, without losing your secured place. Can you aim higher than you originally thought? 

Do I qualify for Adjustment? 

If you have exceeded your original university offer you qualify for Adjustment. For example, if your firm university choice asked you to achieve ABB at A Level and you achieve three As, perhaps you could upgrade to a different course. 

When does Adjustment open?

Unlike Clearing, Adjustment opens on A Level results day (typically in the middle of August) and closes at the end of August. During this time, students can register for Adjustment in UCAS Track.

You then have five days to secure an alternative university place. Don’t worry: if you don’t find a better option you remain accepted at your original confirmed place. There is no risk involved. 

How does adjustment work?

Unlike Clearing, there are no Adjustment vacancy lists. It is your responsibility to contact a university admissions offices to discuss an Adjustment place and course vacancies. Tell them you’re applying through Adjustment and give them your Personal UCAS ID. You will need to register for Adjustment in UCAS Track before you do this.

You may then be offered a place over the phone. Only verbally agree to the offer if you are absolutely sure you want it. It is perfectly ok to take some time to weigh up your options. 

If the university accepts you, your UCAS Track screen will be updated with the new choice and you will receive a confirmation letter. If not, you can keep on looking until the five days are up.

Do I need to pay?

In most cases, no. However, students who originally applied for just one choice and paid £13, need to make the additional payment of £11 if they wish to use Adjustment. This can be done in Track using a debit or credit card.

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