If you’re invited to take a test by a university you’ve applied to, some smart preparation beforehand is in order. A range of experts – who either set, advise on or have taken entry tests before – have shared their top tips on what you need to do.
Entry tests will differ from course to course and university to university, but there are ways to get ahead so you’re not venturing into the unknown on the day of the exam. Plus, we've got loads of tips on admissions tests
from current students who've taken them - and passed.
The student view
Jack is a sixth-former in north-west England who has applied for medicine and taken the UK Clinical Aptitude test (UKCAT). This test is currently used by 26 different universities. He ended up scoring a solid 700+ and at the time of writing is holding a conditional offer for a medicine course.
Half of the challenge with the UKCAT is becoming familiar with the style and approach to questions, and the pace you’ll need to adopt to cover everything, rather than the questions themselves. I would have found it very daunting to sit down in the exam having never encountered the particular types of questions before.
Preparation resources and tips:
Official UKCAT online tests – free – ‘The online official UKCAT practice tests from their website are in the exact same format as the UKCAT itself so I knew what to expect.’
- UKCAT 600 book – around £15
The university view:
The University of Oxford uses various admissions tests. Here are its top preparation tips:
- become familiar with the style of the questions and the time available for each section, so that this doesn't throw you. Examples of previous tests are available for free from the relevant test website
- revise and understand the relevant subject material from your current post-16 study as it will be this material you will have to draw upon, along with any wider reading around your chosen degree, to answer the aptitude test questions. This is particularly important for STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) and language tests
- online tests such as the LNAT will require students to type an essay to a tight timescale. Invest in some touch-typing practice
- for tests where there are essay elements, get used to planning structured essays, with an introduction, relevant content and conclusion, rather than regurgitating everything you think you know about a topic.
Tests are meant to be challenging and will require a candidate to think about their response rather than just do a brain-dump of everything they know. An average Oxford applicant is likely to get about 50% right, very good applicants get high 70s, weaker applicants low 20s.
We don’t, however, use the test marks alone to decide either who is interviewed or who gets an offer. The UCAS application materials (reference, personal statement, prior and predicted academic record) as well as submitted coursework where it is asked for all contribute to the short-listing for interview and the final decisions that tutors reach on who will receive an offer.
Preparation resources and tips:
- University of Oxford tests
Don’t overprepare: ‘Where there are past-papers and mark schemes available candidates should familiarise themselves with the style of question, content and timing for each section, but there is little to be gained from attempting multiple past-papers or committing to memory model answers, because this is not how the tests operate.’
The paid-for trainers
There are lots of exam preparation and training companies out there offering paid-for classes and services to help applicants prepare for university tests, as well as mainstream exams. As well as individual applicants, they are also used by schools and councils to help groups of students familiarise themselves with what is involved in tests (in which case you won't need to pay).
Of course, individually paying for training isn't an essential part of preparation and universities won't be expecting you to have completed any additional tuition - the cost of a one-day course can be a few hundred pounds. There are plenty of past papers and advice online for free to help get you equipped and your teachers may be able to offer some one-to-one advice.
So why bother paying? We asked one such company, Oxbridge Applications, to tell us what students come to them for.
We advise students to look first at material available on official university and related websites including past papers – they need to know the logistics, structure, format and skills tested. We also suggest that students should discuss any issues they have with the most suitable teacher at their sixth form. Students want extra support from us for many different reasons:
- they learn better with academic support rather than on their own and there may be no classes at their school covering key topics
- they want to make preparing for the test fun and are finding it a little stressful on top of all their other commitments
- there is a particular area they are weak on eg they are taking the BMAT and have not done physics at GCSE and feel this makes it tougher
- they lack confidence on a particular topic or skill and could do with encouragement eg they are sitting the TSA Oxford and are more comfortable with words than numbers
- students may have failed the test the year before and have concerns that this might happen again.