How to Prepare for a University Admissions Test

University admissions tests are designed to assess your academic potential and suitability for some of the most competitive degree courses in the UK. They help to give all applicants an equal opportunity to showcase knowledge and skills that are relevant to their chosen course, such as logic, data interpretation, critical thinking, and communication.

When you think of the most common admissions tests, you almost certainly think of Oxford and Cambridge – and you would be right to. However, there are other universities and degree programmes, such as Medicine, Law and Mathematics, that also require admissions exams.

No matter which test you’re required to take, it’s crucial that you invest time and effort into your preparation to achieve the best possible results. This guide will help you find out which test you need to take for undergraduate courses and, very importantly, how to prepare for it.

The Profs have helped students pass admissions tests and get into the very best universities in the UK. In fact, 90% of our students get into their first or second choice universities. If you need more information or support, get in touch with the team today.

Which universities require admissions tests?

The two most well-known universities that require admissions tests for entry to most courses are Oxford and Cambridge. However, the famous Oxbridge admissions tests are not the only tests you might encounter in your university application process.

Here are some of the most common admissions tests required by some of the top UK universities for undergraduate courses.

Universities Courses Admissions test(s)
University of Oxford Many BMAT (BioMedical Admissions Test), CAT (Classics Admissions Test), ELAT (English Literature Admissions Test), MLAT (Modern Languages Admissions Test), MAT (Maths Admissions Test), TSA (Thinking Skills Assessment), PAT (Physics Aptitude Test), GAT (Geography Admissions Test), HAT (History Admissions Test), LNAT (National Admissions Test for Law) or the Philosophy test. See this guide
University of Cambridge Many Unique ‘College Admission Assessment’, NSAA (Natural Sciences Admissions Assessment), TMUA (Cambridge Assessment Admissions Testing), ENGAA (Engineering Admissions Assessment), LNAT (National Admissions Test for Law), HAA (History Admissions Assessment) or BMAT (BioMedical Admissions Test). See this guide
Imperial College London Mathematics courses MAT
Imperial College London Aeronautical Engineering IC Aero/EEE MAT (Imperial College’s Mathematics aptitude test for Aeronautical Engineering)
University of Warwick
University of Bath
University of Southampton
Durham University
Mathematics courses MAT (Mathematics Admissions Test)
Or
TMUA (Test of Mathematics for University Admissions)
Or
STEP (Sixth Term Examination Paper)
University College London (UCL) European Social and Political Studies
International Social and Political Studies
TSA UCL (Thinking Skills Assessment)
University of Sheffield Mathematics courses TMUA (Test of Mathematics for University Admissions)
Or
STEP (Sixth Term Examination Paper)
London School of Economics (LSE) Economics courses TMUA (Test of Mathematics for University Admissions)
University of Bristol
Durham University
University of Cambridge
University of Glasgow
King’s College London
LSE
University of Nottingham
University of Oxford
SOAS University of London
UCL
Law courses LNAT (National Admissions Test for Law)
University of Oxford
University of Cambridge
Imperial College London
University College London (UCL)
Lancaster University
Brighton and Sussex Medical School
Medicine BMAT (Biomedical Admissions Test)
University of Edinburgh
University of Dundee
Keele University
University of Exeter
Queen Mary University of London
University of Glasgow
University of Sheffield
University of Liverpool
University of Manchester
University of Warwick
King’s College London
University of Aberdeen
Anglia Ruskin University
Aston University
University of Birmingham
University of Bristol
Cardiff University
Edge Hill University
Hull York Medical School
Kent and Medway Medical School
University of Leicester
University of Newcastle
University of Nottingham
Plymouth University
Queen’s University Belfast
University of Southampton
University of St Andrews
St George’s University of London
University of Sunderland
University of Leeds
Medicine UCAT (University Clinical Aptitude Test)

Some of the universities do not make these tests a compulsory part of the application process. However, it is highly recommended that you don’t opt out as doing so could result in a reduced offer.

Which subjects require admissions tests?

Most universities do not require admissions tests and, of the ones that do, only Oxford and Cambridge require them for most subjects. More commonly, universities only require admissions tests for a couple of particularly competitive courses.
The subjects that typically require admissions tests are:

  • Medicine and related medical courses – Most undergraduate medical schools in the UK require applicants to take either the UCAT or BMAT. Read our helpful guide for more information on medical admissions tests.
  • Law – Some universities require students applying for undergraduate Law courses to take the LNAT.
  • Mathematics and maths-based courses – Some universities require applicants to take an admissions test for mathematical courses due to their competitiveness and difficulty. The most common tests are: MAT (Mathematics Admissions Test), TMUA (Test of Mathematics for University Admissions) and STEP (Sixth Term Examination Paper).

There are other subjects that require admissions tests at select universities. Usually, they are designed to help the university whittle down huge numbers of applicants for the most competitive courses. For example, at UCL, applicants to the European and International Social and Political Studies courses are required to sit a Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA) as part of the application process. The TSA is also used to assess PPE as well as Economics and Management at Oxford.

Don’t forget to check out all our articles on specific admissions tests: LNAT, BMAT, GMAT, GRE, TMUA, TSA, STEP, CAT, ELAT, GAMSAT, HAT, MAT, UCAT, HAA, MLAT and PAT!

7 tips for preparing for a university admissions test

Each admissions test will require different preparation depending on the course and university you are applying for.

1. Find out which test is required and when it will be taken before applying

This may go without saying, but always find out which admissions test is required of you before you apply. Many courses require applicants to register for their admissions test before submitting their application, while some don’t require registration at all. Some also have registration deadlines that are different from the UCAS deadline. In most cases, completing your UCAS application will not automatically register you for an admissions test – you have to follow a separate process in order to do so.

Also find out when your admissions test is taken. Some tests, such as STEP, are sat just after your A level exams, while others are sat in the summer before, or during, your final year of school. For example, the TSA, one of Oxford’s most common admissions tests, is usually sat in the October of your final year.

Making sure you know which test you need to take and when you need to take it is crucial, as it significantly impacts on when and how you need to prepare. Check what is required of you on your chosen university’s website to avoid disqualifying yourself. If you’re applying to Oxford or Cambridge, you can also check our quick guide to Oxbridge admissions tests for more information.

Joe’s tip: Some students have been told that it is not necessary to prepare for admissions tests because they often assess more abstract skills, such as logic and critical thinking, rather than strictly subject knowledge. However, all tests – even admissions exams – have a mark scheme, and not understanding this mark scheme and preparing ahead of your test will put you at a major disadvantage. Through just 10 hours of preparation with a tutor, The Profs’ success rates are three times higher than those who do not have tutoring.

2. Know what score you’re aiming for

Unlike with school assessments, many admissions tests do not have a clear, set ‘top’ grade (such as A* in A levels or 7 in IB). This can lead to a misinterpretation of what you should be working towards in your test. Similarly, for tests that are required by multiple universities (such as the LNAT, UCAT and TMUA), the requirements can differ between universities.

Check to see whether your chosen university has a cut off grade (common for medical admissions tests) or if there is an average score for successful offer holders (common for Oxbridge) from previous years. Use this as a benchmark to work towards.

3. Leave plenty of time to prepare

Whichever admissions test you are required to take, make sure you leave plenty of time to prepare. You should treat admissions tests just like you would any other exam. Make sure you know what is required of you and structure your preparation accordingly. Performing well in an admissions test could be the difference between you getting an offer from your chosen university or not.

If you’re applying to Cambridge University, you may be required to sit a college admission assessment if you are offered an interview. These tests are specific to Cambridge courses and ordinarily occur on the same day that your interview takes place. Although you may not know if you need to attend an interview or admissions test until a few weeks before the day, the Profs advise preparing for both nonetheless.

The more time you give yourself to prepare, the greater your knowledge and confidence will be, and the more likely you’ll be to perform to the best of your ability on the day.

4. Get to know the specification

Just as you would with an A level or other school-level exam, get to know the specification and what your assessors will be looking for. There are plenty of past exam questions and content specifications for most admissions tests online.

Go through these resources and think about how you would approach particular questions. Make sure you know which content you will be tested on and write a list of what you already know, what you need to improve on, and what you need to revisit in depth. The goal is to become familiar with the exam before the day to minimise unwanted surprises.

Joe’s tip: In some cases, you may be tested on content that you either haven’t yet covered or may not be covering in your related school subject. Make sure you prepare for these questions as well as those you’ve already covered.

Lots of tests have also had specification changes over the years, so make sure you’re aware of when the current test specification came into use so you don’t end up preparing with out of date papers.

5. Practise past papers under timed exam conditions

Getting familiar with common questions using past papers is great, but actually practising full past papers under timed conditions is one of the best ways to prepare for an admissions test. The Profs have found that typically, students score around 10% lower in timed mocks than in other practice tests. Timed practice tests therefore give you a true picture of your understanding of the content as well as your ability to work under time pressure.

Just like GCSE and A level exams, many admissions exams are split into sections, with each section being weighted or marked slightly differently. Being able to prioritise where you spend your time will help you to maximise your marks for each section as well as your overall score.

It’s also important to avoid having a phone or laptop near you when you’re doing timed practice tests. Not only could they be a distraction, but mock tests are only accurate if they reflect the conditions you will be working in on the day. Avoid looking up answers, chatting to other people, or even listening to podcasts or music, as you won’t be able to do this in your actual exam.

Joe’s tip: Many tests only have a very limited number of past papers and specimen papers. Don’t use all the official past papers available in one go. Instead, make sure you spread out their use throughout your preparation in order to keep track of your progress.

Many tests also have similarities and test the same skills, such as the MAT and STEP exams for Mathematics. If you only have a limited number of past papers, consider using these other exam papers to help you practise necessary skills.

6. Focus on applying your knowledge

Admissions tests are meant to be challenging. They are designed to assess not only your current subject knowledge, but your academic potential and problem-solving ability. Each admissions test will have its own structure, but nearly all of them will be designed to test your ability to apply your knowledge to new, unfamiliar problems.

As part of your preparation, focus on applying your existing subject knowledge and skills to new scenarios. For example, you may have strong graph-interpretation skills, but can you interpret graphs which show data you’ve never encountered before? Do you understand the benefits and limitations of different types of graphs? And are you able to convert the data you interpret into a clear, concise, and coherent written argument?

7. Work with an admissions test expert

Preparing for an admissions test can be a daunting and unfamiliar process. Unlike school, you won’t necessarily have a structured learning plan that ensures you are prepared for all of the content, or teachers who understand the test specifications. The solution to this is to work with an admissions test expert.

Working with a tutor will provide so many benefits to your admissions test preparation. A tutor can:

  • Identify and focus on areas in which you need extra support.
    It can be tricky to identify your own weaknesses, especially if you don’t know what exactly your examiners are looking for. Our experienced admissions test specialists can help you tailor your preparation to areas where it’s most needed.
  • Offer insider knowledge on the admissions test you are taking and what the assessors will be looking for.
    The Profs’ admissions test tutors have first-hand experience of the specific test structure, content and admissions process, all of which will be invaluable to your preparation.
  • Make the preparation more fun and engaging.
    It can be difficult to stay self-motivated and engaged when you’re juggling admissions test preparation with normal schoolwork and your other responsibilities. Making sure that you are enjoying the process of preparing for your test will take some of the pressure off while still ensuring that you are maximising your chances of success.

How can we help?

The Profs have many admissions tutors who can guide you through the process of preparing for an admissions test. Whether you want to get into Oxford or Cambridge, a Medicine or Law course, or a particularly competitive course at another top university, our tutors are highly experienced. They have a proven track record of helping students secure places at the most competitive universities in the UK. Get in touch with our team today to begin preparing.

FAQs

What is an admissions assessment?

An admissions assessment (also known as admissions test or entrance exam) is a test that you are required to take when applying to university. Admissions tests differ between universities and specific courses, but each is designed to test your ability to study your chosen subject at degree-level. The most common ones are the Oxbridge admissions tests, as well as the UCAT or BMAT for Medicine, LNAT for Law, and MAT, STEP or TMUA for Mathematics courses.

Why do some universities require admissions tests?

Most of the time, university admissions tests are required by the most competitive universities and courses in the UK. They help universities to assess each applicant’s academic potential. They may test specific skills, such as critical thinking or mathematical ability, that are required in order for students to succeed on their chosen course.

Admissions tests are especially important for students who have had disrupted exams due to Covid. They help to showcase your suitability for your chosen course specifically, rather than your general subject knowledge. They also help universities to more fairly differentiate between candidates that may have been awarded grades based on predictions or coursework.

Which tests are required for admission to university?

Admissions tests differ between universities and degree programmes. For undergraduate Medicine courses, most universities require either the UCAT or BMAT. There are also some other common admissions exams for competitive courses, including the LNAT for Law and the MAT, STEP or TMUA for Maths-based courses.

Which admissions tests are required to get into Oxbridge?

Oxford and Cambridge require applicants to sit a range of admissions tests depending on the course they are applying for. Most tests are different at each university, however some tests are required for courses at both universities, such as the BMAT for Medicine. Read our guide to Oxbridge admissions tests to find out which test you need to take. Always check on the individual course page before applying.

Does LSE require admissions tests?

LSE does not require admissions tests for the vast majority of its undergraduate courses. They require the LNAT (National Admissions Test for Law) for Law. The TMUA (Test of Mathematics for University Admissions) is recommended – but not required – for its Maths-based courses. If you’re applying to LSE from a non-traditional academic background, you will also be required to take the UGAA (Undergraduate Admissions Assessment) to help the university fairly assess your application. Always check whether an admissions test is required on the specific university course page before applying.

Which admissions tests are required to study Medicine?

Universities require undergraduate applicants to take either the UCAT or BMAT for Medicine degree courses. Both admissions tests are designed to assess students’ suitability for studying Medicine and ultimately becoming a doctor. How you perform in the UCAT or BMAT will impact which universities may offer you a place. Read our guide to the medical application process for more information on which admissions test is required by each university.