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For degrees like PPE and Chemistry at Oxford, you have to complete Section 1 of the TSA (Thinking Skills Assessment). Let’s have a look at what it’s about.

What is the TSA?

Section 1 of the TSA is a 90 minute test, consisting of 50 multiple-choice thinking skills questions. Section 2 is a writing task, but is not required for all applicants. The TSA is primarily a test of your problem solving and critical thinking abilities. 

What are the skills being tested?

Problem Solving:

Problem solving involves looking at a problem, and finding logical and creative solutions. The questions are often numerical in nature. 

Critical Thinking:

Critical thinking involves analysing arguments and statements, and finding problems with them, and constructing your own arguments, given a set of information. 

The TSA is designed to test your problem solving and critical thinking abilities. It is designed to test how you think, rather than what you know. The problem solving skills you will be tested on in Section 1 are numerical and spatial reasoning, and the critical thinking you will be expected to do involves understanding argument and reasoning in everyday language. For each question there will be a stimulus, a question, and 5 options. The stimulus may be a diagram, a table, a graph, or a passage of text. 

How can I approach the problem-solving questions?

You can further break down the problem solving questions into three types: 

  • Relevant Section: requires you to analyse information to get a solution
  • Finding Procedures: involves manipulating relevant information to get a solution
  • Identifying Similarities: involves finding a situation with similarities to the one you were given

How can I approach the critical-thinking questions?

There will be seven different types of critical thinking question: 

  • Summarising the main conclusion of the passage
  • Drawing a conclusion from the passage
  • Identifying an assumption in the argument 
  • Seeing if additional evidence strengthens or weakens the argument 
  • Identifying flaws in the argument
  • Looking for similarities within the logical structure of an argument
  • Identifying a principle relied upon by the argument

Are the problem-solving and critical-thinking questions in separate sections?

The questions are roughly in order of difficulty, but the problem solving and critical thinking questions are interspersed throughout.

How much time do I have for the TSA?

It is very time pressured. You have 108 seconds per question, and many people do not complete the test. Often those who do not complete the test are those who get bogged down on one question. Each question has an equal weighting throughout the section, so there is no point spending a disproportionate amount of time on one question. 

How well do I need to score in the TSA?

Section 1 is scored out of 100, and you want to obtain a score above 60 to get shortlisted for interview. The average score of an applicant is usually around 50. Remember, there are lots of applicants taking the test – the TSA is used for several subjects at Oxford, Cambridge and UCL.


Remember, however, that your score in the TSA is considered alongside the other elements of your application, and will not by itself determine your fate. If you’re looking for more help and advice with the TSA, we’ve got a TSA guidebook full of guidance and sample materials. You could also check out our blogposts on preparing for the TSA, and our top tips for actually sitting the TSA.

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