The purpose of the pre-interview assessment is to help the admissions team offer interviews to the best of the applicants. Oxford currently use the Thinking Skills Assessment (Part 1 and Part 2) for Geography candidates, and it’s an important step to prepare for. Few details are shared about what kind of threshold scores are typically required – so all you can do is aim for your very best.
The test comes in two parts.
In Part 1, you complete multiple choice questions in a time window. They are designed to test problem solving skills, numerical and spatial reasoning, and critical thinking skills like arguments and reasoning using every day language. You’ll see a range of questions using different themes, and need to answer 50 multiple choice questions in 90 minutes.
In Part 2, you’re expected to write an unseen essay in 30 minutes. This requires structured and thoughtful essay planning, and effective and clear communication. The questions are not subject specific – the aim is to test your ability to think and reason clearly in a short period of time.
It’s strongly recommended that you get lots of the practice papers, and become familiar with three key aspects:
- The type and nature of questions. Seeing the way they ask questions, and getting a sense of the themes and types of questions that get asked will help you understand the thinking skills, and your own strengths and weaknesses to work on.
- This helps you to make good decisions. There are some questions where you’ll immediately know an answer and be able to solve it quickly with high confidence. There are others where you can get the answer with high confidence, but it’ll take you a decent chunk of time. There are others where you’ve got low confidence that you’ll get the right answer, irrespective of how much time you were to spend on it. Knowing what to do, to prioritise and how to approach the test as a whole piece for best scores helps!
- Practice against the clock. In groups, discussions, or with all the time in the world, you’re probably going to be able to get most of the questions right. But you need to get skilled at doing it in the time conditions.
To an extent, working with teachers and groups can be a helpful first starter – perhaps in the early part of summer. But as you get closer, you’ll want to build your own confidence by working through this yourself, and knowing your own approaches. Even within 2-3 Geographers applying, there’s the potential for a big range of skill sets, and it’s important that you do what works best for you!
Teachers supporting Geographers applying for Oxford might want to work together with colleagues, other subjects, and their Exams Officer for their expertise in organising this. There’s a decent amount of logistics involved in administering the tests, and if it’s your school’s first time, the preparation for this is probably better started before the summer holiday!
The tests will need to be taken at an approved Cambridge Assessment centre, and if that’s not you, you’ll either need to get approval to become one, or support your candidate to find their nearest.
You’ll also want to think about how you can support candidates – TSA are sat by multiple subjects, so it can be worthwhile to provide space for them to think through ideas together in the early stages, and to support familiarity with the approach and type of work. You might want to provide feedback on essay writing and clarity, and be available for mentoring – but as suggested above, increasingly, it’s important for candidates to own this themselves and know their own approach to the papers!
It’s important to phase your preparation cycles so that you can start thinking about potential interviews, too. Don’t wait until you’ve got an offer of an interview to start getting ready for it!