How to Prepare for the HAT

The History Aptitude Test (HAT) is an admissions test used by Oxford University to assess your ability to read carefully, think critically, and write in a clear and concise way. It does not test your historical knowledge, however there are many skills and strategies needed to perform well in the HAT and maximise your chance of an interview offer.

That’s where The Profs’ expert HAT 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 HAT and secure a place on your chosen course at Oxford.

What is the HAT?

The HAT (History Aptitude Test) is an essay-based admissions test used to test applicants wanting to study a History course at Oxford University. The exam is designed to equally assess all candidates, regardless of their existing historical knowledge, what they have studied or what school exams they are taking.

The HAT lasts for just one hour and requires candidates to read a primary source before answering a question about it. The question will require candidates to analyse the text critically, form a well-evidenced answer, and write this answer in a clear and concise way.

As there are so many elements to the HAT and so little time in the exam, it is crucial that you prepare for the HAT just as you would any other test. Read on to find out how to prepare or get straight in touch with our team of HAT experts to get started today.

Which courses require the HAT?

The HAT is required by Oxford University for courses which include the study of History. These courses include:

  • History
  • History (Ancient and Modern)
  • History and Economics
  • History and English
  • History and Modern Languages
  • History and Politics

Note that the HAT is not the only required admissions test for some of these courses. For example, for History and English you will be required to sit the ELAT as well, while for History and Modern Languages you’ll need to sit the MLAT. Find out more about which courses require which admissions tests in our helpful guide.

What is included in the HAT exam?

The HAT consists of one historical source and one question which candidates must read and answer within one hour. You will be asked to offer thoughtful interpretations of the source without knowing anything about its context. Because the HAT is a test of your skills (aptitude) and not of your existing historical knowledge, you will be penalised if you include any information that’s not provided in the paper in your answer.

The source provided in the HAT is different each year and is very unlikely to be something you have studied before. You will be given some information about the source at the start of the paper, which may include the author of the text, the year or time period it is from, the form of the source (e.g. a dialogue, a story, etc.) and any other relevant contextual information.

Oxford University recommends that candidates spend one third of the exam time (20 minutes) reading the source and preparing their answer, and the remaining time (40 minutes) writing their response in an original, precise, and well-evidenced way. If you’d like some support in practising your essay-writing skills or preparing for other elements of the HAT, get in touch with our team of HAT experts who are on hand to help.

How is the HAT marked?

The HAT is marked based on six key areas. These areas are:

  • Historical insight and perceptiveness
  • Comprehension, content and analysis
  • Use of evidence
  • Coverage
  • Structure, organisation and relevance
  • Use of English and presentation

Each of these areas is given a mark out of 5 by the examiner, but is weighted differently. Historical insight and perceptiveness (x4), comprehension, content and analysis (x4), and use of evidence (x4) are weighted most highly, followed by coverage (x3), then structure, organisation and relevance (x2), and finally your use of English and presentation (x1). Each of the marks given for each section are then readjusted according to their weighting to give you a total score out of 90.

The specific mark scheme is tailored to each test – you can see the mark schemes for each past paper on the Oxford University HAT page. However, there are general characteristics of your response that examiners will be looking for every year. These are:

  • The ability to read carefully and critically
  • The adoption of an analytical approach
  • The ability to answer a question relevantly
  • Ability to handle concepts and select evidence to support points
  • Originality and independence
  • Precision and clarity of writing

Remember that you will not be marked on any extraneous knowledge you have and will be penalised if you reference historical information or sources that are not provided in the exam paper.

When is the HAT?

The HAT typically takes place on a set date in November. You must ensure you have registered for the test through an authorised test centre (see below) before the September deadline to ensure that you are eligible.

It is not possible to re-sit the HAT. If you feel you did badly due to extenuating circumstances, such as being ill on the day of the test, then your test centre can submit a special consideration form for you. However, application forms must be received within 5 days of the test date.

How do you register for the HAT?

To register for the HAT, you will need an authorised test centre to register you on your behalf. For most candidates, their authorised test centre is their school or college, however you should check this with your Exams Officer to make sure. If your school or college is not authorised, they can register to become a test centre at any time before the September deadline. Alternatively, you can find an open test centre to register with. You can find your nearest test centre via the Cambridge Assessment Admissions Testing (CAAT) website.

In order to register, you will need to provide your personal details and UCAS number, as well as the name of the university (Oxford), course and course code, which you can find on UCAS or the individual subject page for your course. You can register from early September and you must have your candidate entry number as proof of entry by the end of September.

Please note that registration is not automatic for any admissions tests at Oxford, including the HAT, so you must register through a test centre before the deadline in September.

How much does the HAT cost?

Oxford University does not charge candidates to take the HAT. However, some independent test centres do charge an administration fee to candidates, so contact your local test centre for details.

When can you find out your HAT results?

Your HAT results will not be automatically published, however you can request them as part of the usual feedback process. Oxford University will receive the results of all tests in time to make their shortlisting decisions in November, so you do not need to send your results to them separately.

5 tips for preparing for the HAT

1. Take practice tests under timed conditions

Taking practice tests under timed conditions is one of the best ways you can prepare for the HAT, as it gives you an understanding of the types of texts you’ll be presented with and the questions you’ll be asked. You can find every past paper from 2016 to 2021 on Oxford University’s HAT page.

One hour is not a long time to read a whole text and write a well-structured and analytical response. Practising past 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, as well as 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.

Top top: As you may notice when going through past papers, the HAT has undergone changes in the past few years. The HAT used to consist of several questions, however in 2018 this was replaced by one single question, based on an extract from one primary source, to be answered within one hour. Although the whole 2016 and 2017 papers may not be of use in your preparation, question 3 from both papers will still be useful, so make the most of these when you’re preparing.

2. Use the mark scheme to guide your practice answers

Unlike many Oxford admissions tests, for the HAT, the university provides the mark scheme for each of its past papers (from 2016 to 2020). Make the most of this in your preparation by using these mark schemes to guide your practice answers.

You can start off by using the frameworks/checklists the examiners will be using to help plan and structure your responses. Once you’ve become more familiar with what they will be looking for, try doing the full paper under exam conditions (as suggested above) without having the mark scheme to refer to. Then, ask a parent, teacher or expert HAT tutor to mark your response against the mark scheme so that you can learn where your strengths and weaknesses lie, and how you can improve next time.

The Profs’ HAT tutors have many years’ experience and expertise helping students learn how to write answers that meet the examiners’ marking criteria. Reach out to our team to start your HAT preparation today.

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

The HAT 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.

Oxford recommends spending around one third of your time (20 minutes) reading and the rest of your time (40 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. If you find, as many students do, that you are taking slightly longer than 20 minutes to read, analyse and plan your response, then don’t worry! You don’t need to fill the booklet and you’re likely to write far more efficiently if you’ve given yourself time to plan, so do what works for you. Quality is more important than quantity in the HAT.

Another strategy we recommend is to read the question at the end of the source text before reading the text itself. This will allow you to stay more focused while you read and start forming thoughts, analyses and ideas along the way – all of which saves you time when it comes to planning and writing your response.

You should also try highlighting certain parts of the question and/or 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, a break-down of the key concepts of the question (exploring them in a structured way using evidence throughout), before exploring any caveats (areas of your essay that may be weak), and ending with a conclusion. For more tips on how to create an essay plan that helps you to write a great response, reach out to our team of HAT experts today.

4. 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 HAT.

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.

Familiarising yourself with texts from the past will also help you learn to view these texts in a purely historical, academic way. In the HAT, assessors are not looking for you to judge a text based on what you know or feel is right by today’s standards – instead, you should try to approach the text from a purely analytical perspective, without external influences. This is easier said than done and any extra practice you can get to improve your skills in these areas will give you a real advantage over the competition.

5. Get help from a professional HAT tutor

How you perform in the HAT 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 HAT preparation due to a lack of experience, expertise or resources. As a result, we advise seeking a professional HAT tutor to help you through the process.

The Profs’ HAT tutors have many years of experience preparing students for the HAT 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 Oxford, the 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 HAT, but also achieve top A level or IB grades and perform well in your interview. Reach out to our team today to get started.