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What is the CSAT?

The CSAT is the Computer Science Aptitude Test: the Cambridge admissions test for the course. Unlike the MAT for Oxford, you do not sit it before being invited to interview, but after. You do not need to register for it (unlike the MAT), and the college you are being interviewed at will entirely organise the process for you. 

The purpose of the Cambridge CSAT is to give you an opportunity to show your skills in a situation other than the interview, and to give the tutors an indication of your problem solving ability. The CSAT is a two hour paper, made up of two sections, with the second section the more challenging of the two. In each section, your best five answers are considered, so a total of ten answers contribute towards the mark.

You can attempt as many questions as you like. There are eight in the first section and twelve in the second section, but it is recommended that you aim to answer only five from each section, to avoid rushing. 

Section A

The questions in Section A will only rely upon techniques you will have seen before you go to your interview at Cambridge. They are based on the first year of the Pure Maths A-Level content. However, they are all of the style of the A*/A standard questions, if not harder, and they go into more depth.

For example, you may be expected to sketch and identify the turning points. These are standard techniques, but the graph will be a lot more complicated (potentially involving moduli and unknown powers) than those you are used to. You may also have some proof-style questions, that can be proved by contradiction or directly, although the hypothesis you are proving may be more complicated than you have seen before. 

An example question you could expect is: 

Find 2x2sin2x. Furthermore, where does this graph intersect the x-axis?

Section B

Section B is more complicated. It is also not restricted in syllabus, as different exam boards examine different areas, so if you think you have not seen the content covered in the question, leave it. You may get hints as the questions are generally harder.

However, they are still mathematically based, and will not ask you questions like: how does a computer work? How do you program this particular function? This section examiners your problem solving skills, when you are presented with new and more developed questions. 

An example question you could expect is: 

Show that if 2n-1 is prime, then n is prime.


The CSAT is a rigorous test of your mathematical abilities; a Cambridge Computer Science degree involves a lot of complex maths, and the admissions tutors need to see if you can cope with that type of work. Don’t sweat, though: we’ve got a guide to preparing for the CSAT, and tips for when you’re sitting the CSAT.

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