Information, advice and guidance
Additional admissions tests
Helping students to prepare for admissions tests
It can often be difficult for universities to identify the strongest candidates from the application alone, particularly at highly-selective institutions where many students apply with top grades and excellent references. Admissions tests allow students to be academically stretched and assessed and enable universities to distinguish those individuals with the most ability and potential from a highly-qualified field.
Who needs to take an admissions test?
Admissions tests are usually required for entry to competitive courses such as medicine and dentistry and often also for a range of courses at competitive universities such as Oxford or Cambridge. Sometimes tests might also be required for certain competitive maths and law courses. Individual course descriptions on university websites will detail if a formal test is required as part of the admissions process. Encourage your students to look into this as early as possible. Registration deadlines and test dates vary and, in some cases, may even be before the application deadline. If a student hasn’t completed the appropriate test by the given deadline, their application will likely not be considered. Some universities will use the test results as a basis to shortlist for interview. At the University of Cambridge, we use some tests (pre-registration assessments) for shortlisting and others (those taken around the time of interview) as an additional indicator in our holistic admissions processes.
What will students be assessed on?
Admissions tests are designed to supplement the information in a student’s application and to assess levels of knowledge and understanding relevant to their chosen course. Where relevant, they also assess particular skills, such as writing, language, critical thinking and problem solving.
It is likely that the test will draw on what students have already learnt in the school curriculum and will ask them to apply that existing knowledge to unfamiliar problems. For subjects that aren’t offered at GCSE and A Level/Scottish Highers, students will most likely be assessed on how they think in relation to the subject, and how they develop and express their ideas.
Admission assessments are designed to stretch students so it’s unlikely that everyone will be able to answer every question. Prepare your students for that, especially if they are used to breezing through their work at school or college. Encourage them to stay calm if they get stuck and to systematically think through the problem to get as far as they can.
How can students prepare?
If a student has decided on the course they wish to apply for, it is assumed that they will already have developed a genuine interest in the subject through super-curricular activities. Students don’t need to learn new material or cram subject knowledge for admissions tests. The most useful preparation is to understand what the assessments will look like and what is expected. If they feel comfortable with the format and content in advance, they will feel much calmer and more relaxed during the assessment.
Specimen test papers are usually available on official test websites. Students should familiarise themselves with a few examples of the different types of questions and practise under timed conditions. For many courses, the solutions to specimen papers are provided so students will be able to review their answers.
Please note: Students should never need to pay for tuition to support admissions tests. All the information needed to prepare is available free of charge through test websites and via past papers.
You can support your students by:
> encouraging them to check the test dates and deadlines and ensure they are registered in advance where necessary. Pre-registration for some tests is the responsibility of the school or college
> notifying the university or test centre of any disability or requirements for additional support, such as larger fonts or additional working time
> helping them find example test papers and allowing them the time and space to practise
> approaching admissions tests with positivity! They are an additional opportunity for students to demonstrate their potential to succeed.
> Advancing Access resource: Admissions test reference sheet
> Request an Advancing Access CPD session on preparing students for interviews and admissions tests
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