How to Prepare for the PAT

The Physics Aptitude Test (PAT) is an admissions test used by Oxford University to assess your skills and knowledge of Physics and Mathematics. It is designed to be challenging to all candidates, no matter their current attainment, so it’s important that you prepare adequately and cover all of the topics in the PAT syllabus.

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

What is the PAT?

The PAT (Physics Aptitude Test) is a subject-specific admissions test for students applying to Physics and Physics-related degree courses at Oxford. It is designed to assess both your mathematical skills as well as your knowledge of both Maths and Physics. The exam is a mixture of both Physics and Maths questions and you will have just 2 hours to complete as many of them as possible.

There are many elements to the PAT that candidates struggle with. Not only is the content challenging (many students may not have covered some of the topics in school by the time of sitting the exam), but the time allocated is short and the questions are often different in style to those in school-level exams. It is therefore crucial that you prepare thoroughly for the PAT. Read on to find out how to begin preparing or get straight in touch with our team of PAT experts to get started today.

Which courses require the PAT?

The PAT is required by Oxford University for courses which include the study of Physics and related subjects. These courses include:

  • Engineering
  • Materials Science
  • Physics
  • Physics and Philosophy

All of these courses are incredibly competitive at Oxford and not only require a strong performance in the PAT, but also an excellent application and successful interview. Reach out to The Profs’ admissions consultants to help secure a place on your chosen Oxford course.

What is included in the PAT exam?

The PAT is a 2-hour long exam covering similar material to that of the GCSE and A level syllabuses for Maths and Physics. However, students may not have covered some of the content at the time of completing the PAT, so it is advised that you check the PAT syllabus for the full list of content to expect.

The exact number of questions in the PAT paper differs slightly each year: in 2018 there were 23 questions, in 2019 there were 24, and in 2020 there were 26. You must attempt as many questions as you can in the time given.

The paper contains a mixture of multiple-choice and non-multiple-choice questions. You are expected to show your working out for every question in the spaces provided below each question. Calculators are permitted in the PAT, however no tables or formula sheets are allowed.

How is the PAT marked?

The PAT is marked out of 100 in total. Each question is assigned a different number of marks, and this number will be displayed in the margin. We advise using the total possible marks for each question as a guide to how long you should spend on them – the higher the marks, the more time you should spend, and vice versa.

The PAT is not only marked on your ability to choose (multiple-choice) or come to the correct final answer – marks may also be awarded for the correct workings. You should therefore show your working out clearly for each question you attempt to ensure that you are maximising your final score.

It’s important to note that the PAT is designed to be very challenging to even the top applicants to Oxford. Do not expect to get all of the questions correct in your preparation or in the final exam. In most years, Oxford states that the average score is between 50-60% overall. In order to give yourself the best chance of receiving an interview offer, we recommend aiming to score 60% or above.

Oxford University does not shortlist candidates based on their PAT scores alone. Instead, they use your PAT score in combination with your contextualised GCSEs to calculate an ‘R-score’ and then shortlist candidates based on this. Read the university’s report on Physics admissions (2022) for more information on how Oxford shortlists candidates.

When is the PAT?

The PAT 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 PAT. 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 PAT?

To register for the PAT, 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 deadline in September. 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 the deadline in 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 PAT, so you must register through a test centre before the September deadline.

How much does the PAT cost?

Oxford University does not charge candidates to take the PAT. 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 PAT results?

Your PAT 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.

4 tips for preparing for the PAT

1. Check the syllabus

We strongly recommend that you check the details of the PAT syllabus on Oxford’s PAT page. The material included in the exam is aimed at A-level Maths and Physics (plus knowledge of material covered at GCSE), however you may not have covered some of this material at school by the time of the test date. You should therefore ensure that you have learnt everything included in the syllabus in your own time.

The contents of the syllabus ranges in difficulty and includes topics all the way from algebra to electricity and magnetism. It’s important not to skip anything you think you find too easy (that you might have covered before) or too difficult (that you might not have covered yet). Ensure that you give yourself the best chance of success by covering as much material in as much depth as you can.

The Profs’ PAT tutors have extensive knowledge of the syllabus and can help you get to grips with all of the content you’ll need to know for the exam. Reach out to our team today to find out how we can help and to begin your PAT preparation.

2. Practise questions from a range of sources

PAT questions are often less structured than A level Physics questions, so try to avoid using only your school textbook to prepare for the topics included. Instead, use materials from a range of sources, including websites and books, to familiarise yourself with different types of questions. Some resources to try include:

Oxford’s PAT workbooks are also an incredibly useful resource to help you prepare. The two workbooks contain many questions of varying difficulty and subject matter to help you in every subject area. They also come with accompanying solutions manuals which outline possible approaches to each question in detail. There is often more than one way to tackle the problems you’ll face in the PAT, and these solutions books can help you practise the different ways and find ones that work for you.

3. Take practice tests under timed conditions

One of the best ways you can prepare for the PAT is to complete past papers under timed conditions, just as you will face in the real exam. One of the main areas candidates struggle with is time-keeping and finishing all of the questions in the PAT, so practising with time pressure will help you to work out how much time you should be spending on each question to ensure you complete the paper within the 2 hours.

You can find every past paper from 2006 to 2022 on Oxford’s PAT page or on Oxford’s Physics Department website, so use these to your advantage in your preparation. Work your way through as many papers as you can throughout your preparation, as these really are the best way of familiarising yourself with both the content and the types of questions that you will encounter. This will ultimately give you a huge advantage on the day of your test.

4. Get help from a professional PAT tutor

How you perform in the PAT 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 PAT preparation due to a lack of experience, expertise or resources. In addition, Oxford does not publish the mark schemes for each of the past papers, so only a teacher or an experienced PAT tutor can mark your practice papers based on their knowledge of the subject and the test.

As a result of these difficulties, we advise seeking a professional PAT tutor to help you through the process. The Profs’ PAT tutors have many years of experience preparing students for the PAT 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, one of the best universities in the UK for Physics. 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 PAT, but also achieve top A level or IB grades and perform well in your interview. Reach out to our team today to get started.