How to Prepare for the Philosophy Test

29/07/2022

The Philosophy Test is an admissions test used by Oxford University to test your philosophical reasoning and comprehension skills. Oxford’s Philosophy Test does not require any prior subject knowledge or formal study of Philosophy, however there are many aspects to the test that you can – and should – prepare for.

That’s where The Profs’ expert Philosophy Test 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 Philosophy Test and secure a place to study Philosophy and Theology at Oxford.

What is the Oxford Philosophy Test?

Oxford’s Philosophy Test is a 1-hour admissions test for students applying to study Philosophy and Theology at undergraduate level. The test consists of two parts – one to assess your comprehension skills (part A) and one to assess your essay-writing skills (part B).

The Philosophy Test does not assume any prior philosophical knowledge and does not require you to have studied any particular subject at GCSE or A level. Instead, the test is designed to be a ‘level playing field’ for all Philosophy applicants and assess the raw skills necessary to succeed at degree level.

Which courses require Oxford’s Philosophy Test?

The Philosophy Test is required by Oxford University for applicants to its Philosophy and Theology course only. Applicants to other Philosophy-related courses will be required to take different admissions tests. See the table below for details.

Course Admissions test required
Philosophy and Theology Philosophy Test
Philosophy, Psychology and Linguistics (PPL) Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA)
Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA)
Philosophy and Modern Languages Modern Languages Admissions Test (MLAT)

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

What is included in the Philosophy Test?

The Philosophy Test is a 1-hour, paper-based test consisting of 2 parts. Part A includes one question and Oxford advises you spend half the time (30 minutes) on this question. Part B includes three questions but you must only answer one of them in the remaining 30 minutes.

The Philosophy Test is designed to test candidates’ philosophical reasoning skills and not any particular subject knowledge. Therefore, you will not be faced with any questions which require information outside of the data included in the questions.

Part A

Part A consists of one comprehension exercise. You will be asked to read a passage of text about a particular topic or opinion, before being asked to answer questions about the contents of that passage. The questions might ask you to, for example, identify the key arguments of the text or extract the meaning of a particular word or phrase. The aim of all of these questions will be to gauge how well you understood the text and how you think about new information and arguments you may not have encountered before.

Part B

Part B consists of three questions, from which you choose one to answer. Each question will require you to write a short essay or a response to a structured question. The questions could be on any number of topics and there is no way to predict which topics will come up. Instead, you must decide in the exam which question most interests you or best suits your skills. The aim of this section is to assess how well you structure arguments and write essays that adequately answer the question at hand.

How is the Philosophy Test marked?

Oxford University does not publish the mark scheme for the Philosophy Test and there is little information on how it is marked. However, we do know that both parts (A and B) are given equal weighting, so you are advised to spend the same amount of time (30 minutes) on each question.

Part B is marked similarly to other essay questions in admissions tests. Namely, examiners will be looking for the use of precise and careful reasoning to answer the question in a clear and structured way. Oxford particularly looks for answers which anticipate alternative points of view and are able to answer objections to the reasoning provided. They are also looking for answers which support every opinion or claim with evidence from the question

When is the Philosophy Test?

The Philosophy Test takes place on Wednesday 2nd November 2022. You must ensure you have registered for the test through an authorised test centre (see below) before 30th September to ensure that you are eligible.

It is not possible to re-sit the Philosophy Test. 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 Philosophy Test?

To register for the Philosophy Test, 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 16th 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 1st September and you must have your candidate entry number as proof of entry by 30th September.

Please note that registration is not automatic for any admissions tests at Oxford, including the Philosophy Test, so you must register through a test centre before the 30th September.

How much does the Philosophy Test cost?

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

Your Philosophy Test 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 Philosophy Test

1. Develop your essay-writing skills

Part B of the Philosophy Test relies on your ability to write an excellent essay above all else. That includes being able to answer the question in a clear and concise way, using evidence from the question to support your arguments, and structuring your essay in a way that makes sense to both you and the examiner.

The best way to develop your essay-writing skills is simply to practise writing essays! You may have some experience writing essays in school coursework and exams, and this is great preparation, but it’s also important to go beyond the bounds of school work.

Work through the questions from past Philosophy Test papers to get familiar with the style of questions asked. Develop techniques that allow you to write better essays, such as spending 5 minutes highlighting key parts of the question and writing an essay plan to help you structure your response. All of these strategies will help you go from a good essay writer to a great one

Top tip: It can be incredibly hard to mark your own essays in an unbiased way. Asking a teacher, parent or professional Philosophy Test tutor to mark your practice essays is a great way to find areas that you can improve on. An experienced tutor can also give you advanced tips on how to write a quick and effective essay plan and how to structure your answer in a way that appeals to the examiner – both of which can help you stand out from the crowd.

2. Stay up to date with current affairs

While you’re preparing for the Philosophy Test, it is beneficial to stay up to date with what is going on in the news. Pay close, critical attention to developments in the world across a range of fields, from politics to religion. Make sure that you are intellectually engaged with any issues facing people, considering your own views and the viewpoints of others.

This will not only help you to develop the skills needed to understand issues in part A and write a great answer in part B of the Philosophy Test, but it may also prepare you for the specific questions that could come up. When we look at the 2021 past paper, for example, we see one essay question relating to a new vaccine, while in the 2020 paper, one question asks whether politicians should give control of health policy over to scientists in a global health crisis. As you can see, some questions tend to be topical, so staying up to date may give you an advantage in the exam.

3. Take practice tests under timed conditions

Taking practice tests under timed conditions is one of the best ways you can prepare for the Philosophy test, as it gives you an understanding of the types of passages or questions you’ll be asked and the environment you’ll face in the real exam. You can find every past paper from 2014 to 2021 on Oxford University’s Philosophy Test page, so make the most of them!

Completing practice tests under timed conditions will also help you to gauge how fast you need to work in the exam. You’ll only have a short time (1 hour) to complete both sections of the test, and time is one of the main factors students struggle with, so ensuring you are able to complete as much of the paper as possible in the time allowed will give you an advantage.

4. Get help from a professional Philosophy Test tutor

How you perform in the Philosophy Test 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 Philosophy Test preparation due to a lack of a published mark scheme, expertise or resources.

As a result of these difficulties, we advise seeking a professional Philosophy Test tutor to help you through the process. The Profs’ Philosophy Test tutors have many years of experience preparing students for the Philosophy Test, 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 what examiners are looking for in the admissions process.

If you work with The Profs, you are more than three times more likely to get into Oxford, which is ranked as the best university in the UK for Philosophy. 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 Philosophy Test, 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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