By our founder, Paarul
Over 200 students wrote to me to let me know how their Oxbridge admissions tests went. I thought it would be useful to put their thoughts together to try to make an initial consensus opinion on the 2020 tests.
A couple of non-paper-related concerns that students had were:
- Having tested positive for COVID in the run up to the test (if you have also tested positive, please contact your Oxbridge college or ask your school to do so, so that the admissions tutors are aware of this)
- Local lockdowns meaning exam centres were not open, e.g. in Greece
- Having to self-isolate and therefore not being able to sit the exam.
I haven’t seen the papers myself yet, but based on the feedback, here is what the general consensus was:
The MAT 2020 paper seemed to be generally less difficult than in previous years, especially compared to the 2019 paper, which was incredibly challenging. Question 1 was particularly accessible this year.
However, there was a typo in one of the questions, which defined an odd function by: f(-x) = -f(-x), when it should in fact have said: f(-x) = -f(x).
The good news is that the exam-setter for the MAT has created a ten minute sketch-solution video of the MAT 2020 paper, which you can see below, and he talks about them applying special consideration for the above error. Do watch this to get an idea as to how you scored on the paper:
Again, the general feeling was that the PAT 2020 paper was not as difficult as 2019, which included some questions of undergraduate style.
However, time pressure was a real issue (to quote one student, “this paper had 26 questions compared to the usual 23”) and many students didn’t finish.
The physics questions were more challenging than the maths (except the question about bases) and required more visualisation to understand what was going on, which meant that some students didn’t know where to start with them. Although apparently, there was a ten-marker physics question at the end which looked horrible but was actually rather nice.
Disclaimer: I haven’t seen the PAT 2020 paper yet, so don’t quote me on this!
ENGAA 2020 / NSAA 2020 (Physical)
Students complained of the ENGAA 2020 paper (and the physics questions in the NSAA, which are shared with it) feeling very “physics-physicsy”. I.e. the physics questions had fewer mechanics questions among them, and more traditional physics topics.
Section 1 was incredibly time pressured, with many students having to guess answers in the final moments of the test.
Surprisingly, the same was not true for section 2 (which students traditionally find more difficult), with students reporting that there was adequate time to dedicate to each question.
With the 2020 TSA being done online, several students complained of glitching, which led to several wasted minutes during what is already an incredibly time-pressured test.
One student mentioned that she was faced with a “red screen” indicating that the system thought she had cheated in some way, which was very off-putting. I wonder whether Oxford and Cambridge will take these occurrences into account? Again, no harm in contacting the college.
Another student stated that the 2020 TSA being online hindered his performance in the problem-solving questions, which he prefers to draw all over.
Apparently, there were comparatively few spatial reasoning questions in this paper, which would have been a blessing for some and a curse for others!
Most students who wrote to me found the multiple choice section about average in difficulty, though some found it harder than in previous years.
The essay questions were highly topical, with a couple referencing COVID, and most students were able to tackle these with ease, but having to type the essay felt less natural to some.
The main feedback to note was that paper 2 (proof and logic) was very doable, whereas paper 1 was conversely surprisingly tough!
Section 1 seemed fine and there were no complaints. Some students even described section 3, the essay section, as relatively easy due to the nature of the essay questions given (e.g. whether online sites and apps giving out medical advice do more harm than good).
On the other hand, Section 2 (the science section) was even more time-pressured than usual (described by one student as ‘brutal’), with the questions feeling more difficult, especially the maths questions.
Some students complained of glitching again, which it’s very important you make your exams officer aware of, if it happened to you.
Section 1 of the ECAA consists of Maths and Advanced Maths sections. The Maths section was relatively straightforward, but the Advanced Maths section was much more challenging than in previous years, with many students feeling very short on time and most students not completing this section.
The essay used an extract from a recent (2020) article, which some students enjoyed. It was an accessible piece, but some students found that the extract did not link to the question as closely as it might have.
NSAA 2020 (Bio/Chem)
I only received a handful of comments on how students found these: probably not enough to draw a meaningful conclusion. However, in general, students found the biology questions rather mathematical. Students without A Level maths found the maths questions challenging.
Have a break for a couple of days after your test! You deserve it 🙂 But after that, do have a think about interviews.
The reason I say this is that both Oxford and Cambridge have been leaving it later and later to invite students to interview. So, waiting to be called to interview to start preparing is really leaving things to chance.
To help you with your preparation, check out our interview courses and mocks interviews here.