How to Prepare for the HAA

29/07/2022

The History Admissions Assessment (HAA) is an admissions test used by Cambridge University to assess your ability to read, analyse and compare historical texts. It does not test your historical knowledge, however there are many skills and strategies needed to perform well in the HAA and maximise your chance of an interview offer.

That’s where The Profs’ expert HAA tutors can help. With first-hand experience of the exam content, tried-and-tested strategies for approaching the questions, and an understanding of how it fits into the wider admissions process, our tutors are able to help you perform well in the HAA and secure a place on your chosen History course at Cambridge.

What is the HAA?

The HAA (History Admissions Assessment) is a subject-specific admissions test for students applying to study History at Cambridge. It is designed to assess your ability to use and evaluate historical evidence, rather than your existing historical knowledge, so no previous knowledge is required. Nevertheless, like any exam, the HAA does require thorough preparation to ensure that you perform as best as possible. Read on to find out how to prepare or get straight in touch with our team of HAA experts to get started today.

Which courses require the HAA?

The HAA is required by some colleges at Cambridge University for courses which include the study of History. These courses include:

  • History
  • History and Modern Languages
  • History and Politics

The table below shows the colleges that require the HAA or another admissions assessment for each History course.

Course Require the HAA Require another admissions assessment No admissions assessment required
History Christ’s
Clare
Emmanuel
Fitzwilliam
Gonville & Caius
Hughes Hall
Jesus
Lucy Cavendish
Magdalene
Murray Edwards
Newnham
Pembroke
Peterhouse
Queens’
Robinson
St Catharine’s
St John’s
Sidney Sussex
Trinity Hall
Wolfson
St Edmund’s
Churchill
Corpus Christi
Downing
Girton
Homerton
King’s
Selwyn
Trinity
History and Modern Languages Clare
Emmanuel
Fitzwilliam
Gonville & Caius
Hughes Hall
Jesus
Lucy Cavendish
Murray Edwards
Newnham
Pembroke
Peterhouse
Robinson
St Edmund’s
St John’s
Sidney Sussex
Trinity Hall
Wolfson
All colleges require applicants to take a language assessment.
History and Politics Christ’s
Clare
Emmanuel
Fitzwilliam
Gonville & Caius
Hughes Hall
Jesus
Lucy Cavendish
Magdalene
Murray Edwards
Newnham
Pembroke
Peterhouse
Queens’
Robinson
St Catharine’s
St John’s
Sidney Sussex
Trinity Hall
Wolfson
St Edmund’s
Murray Edwards (in addition to HAA)
Churchill
Corpus Christi
Downing
Girton
Homerton
King’s
Selwyn
Trinity

What is included in the HAA exam?

The HAA is a 60-minute exam containing two passages of text on a linked historical theme. You are required to read these two extracts and answer a related question, typically asking you to compare and contrast the two passages, in essay format.

Cambridge recommends spending up to 15 minutes reading the passages and planning your response, and the remaining 45 minutes writing your essay.

When is the HAA?

The HAA is an internal Cambridge assessment, meaning that it is sat later than external tests used for some other courses and by other universities (such as the Oxford HAT). Usually, internal Cambrdige assessments are sat at-interview, however the HAA is slightly different. The university requires all candidates to sit the HAA on the same day – this is usually a few days before the interviews start.

How do you register for the HAA?

You do not need to register for the HAA because it is an internal Cambridge admissions test. Only certain candidates will be required to take the HAA (if you are shortlisted and are applying to a college that asks for the admissions test) and the university will send details to you directly.

How much does the HAA cost?

Cambridge does not charge candidates to take its internal admissions tests, including the HAA.

4 tips for preparing for the HAA

1. Take practice tests under timed conditions

Taking practice tests under timed conditions is one of the best ways you can prepare for the HAA, as it gives you an understanding of the types of texts you’ll be presented with and practice identifying key areas to compare and contrast. You can find three HAA specimen papers on Cambridge’s History page to use as practice tests.

One hour is also not a long time to read a whole text and write a well-structured and analytical response. Practising specimen papers under time constraints is therefore a great way to prepare, as it will allow you to develop strategies for reading and organising your ideas quickly and efficiently. It will also give you an idea of how long you should be spending on reading and writing in order to produce the best possible answer on the day.

2. Learn strategies to help you make the most of your time

The HAA is only one hour long, which is a very short amount of time for an essay-based paper and something that candidates often struggle with in the exam. It’s therefore important that you learn effective strategies to help you make the most of your time and produce the best possible answer.

Cambridge recommends spending around one quarter of your time (15 minutes) reading and the rest of your time (45 minutes) writing. During your preparation, try to stick to these timings and see how much you are able to get done and how high-quality your responses are.

You should also try highlighting the key parts of the question and the passages of text that are the most important to consider. This will not only ensure that you stay focused on what you are answering, but also keep track of all of the useful evidence and organise your thoughts more effectively.

One final strategy we would always recommend is to have an essay plan before you begin writing. This plan should include an introduction, definitions of any key terms you are going to be talking about, and the key areas you are going to be comparing and contrasting from the two passages. For more tips on how to create an essay plan that helps you to write a great response, reach out to our team of HAA experts.

3. Read and analyse other historical texts

You don’t need to limit yourself to past papers for historical texts to analyse in your preparation. In fact, reading a wide range of texts from a variety of sources will only strengthen your skills for the HAA.

You can use websites such as the Gutenberg Project, a library of over 60,000 eBooks, for an endless supply of free historical material to read and analyse. Using these texts is a great way to try out new strategies (such as those above) and really refine which techniques work for you.

4. Get help from a professional HAA tutor

How you perform in the HAA will impact how likely you are to be offered a place on your chosen course, so it’s really important that you are prepared to do as well as possible in the exam. Unfortunately, schools and colleges are oftentimes not equipped to provide specialist HAA preparation due to a lack of experience, expertise or resources.

As a result of these difficulties, we advise seeking a professional HAA tutor to help you through the process. The Profs’ HAA tutors have many years of experience preparing students for the HAA exam, with many having actual experience as university admissions officers as well. Over these years, they have built a bank of previous questions and developed in-depth knowledge of the mark scheme, so they know exactly what examiners will be looking for.

If you work with The Profs, you are more than three times more likely to get into Cambridge, which is ranked as the second best university in the UK for History. You’ll also gain invaluable independent study skills that will prepare you for higher education, as well as a deeper and broader understanding of the subject area.

Plus, you can trust us to guide you through every stage of the admissions process to ensure that you don’t just succeed in the HAA, but also achieve top A level or IB grades and perform well in your interview. Reach out to our team today to get started.

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