Maths admissions tests can be daunting. They are very different to your school exams, and it is often difficult to know how well you need to do in order to give yourself the best shot at success. Here we provide you with all the information you need about the scores required by UK universities.
MAT – Mathematical Admissions Test
MAT is the admissions test used by Oxford and Imperial College, but a good MAT score can also earn you credit and potentially a reduced offer with lots of different universities.
The average score in MAT varies from as low as 43.7, to as high as 58.7, depending on the year. In 2018, the average score was 50.8. To get an interview, you want to be looking at getting a score in the region of 55-65, although this too will depend on the difficulty of the paper.
Generally, those candidates who are go on to receive offers have slightly higher MAT scores. In 2018, the average score of a successful applicant was 72.9. This is partly because success in the MAT will be correlated with the strength of the rest of your application, including your predicted grades and interview performance, as preparing well will enhance all three. However, it is also because a high MAT score can somewhat make up for weaknesses in the rest of your application, making good MAT preparation all the more important!
The same principle applies in reverse – if you don’t quite do your best on the day, don’t lose hope, but instead focus on performing as well as possible in the interview.
Ideally, you want your MAT score to be as high as possible, but remember that it is not the whole application, and you are not expected to be scoring 80 and 90%, as with tests in school.
You can pick up a lot of method marks in the MAT, so even if you know you haven’t obtained an answer, your mark may be better than you think!
STEP – Sixth Term Examination Paper
STEP (Sixth Term Examination Paper) is a maths admissions test used primarily by the University of Cambridge and the University of Warwick. Other UK universities sometimes ask for STEP as part of their offer. STEP questions are designed to reflect the difficulty of undergraduate maths.
STEP is a very different kettle of fish to the MAT, as you sit it alongside your other A-Levels, rather than before the interviews. It also focuses a lot more on the A-Level content you have covered in all of your Core Maths modules, whereas the MAT only covers the Year 12 syllabus.
There are actually 3 papers called ‘STEP’ each year: STEP I, STEP II, and STEP III. For Cambridge, your offer will usually be based on a mark in STEP II and STEP III. They generally offer 1,1 in STEP II and III. There are 5 grades for STEP: S, 1, 2, 3, U, with S being the highest (outstanding), and 1 being second to this (very good.)
Some other universities also give offers based on STEP grades:
- Warwick offers A*A*A* for their maths courses, but will lower that offer to A*A*A if you achieve a grade 1 in any of the 3 STEP papers.
- Imperial doesn’t always offer with STEP. The university requests that you sit the MAT paper, but if you miss this deadline, then they require STEP. Additionally, if your MAT score is borderline, they will ask you to sit STEP.
- King’s College London asks for STEP if you do not have a full A-Level in Further Maths.
- UCL reduces its offer with STEP, from A*A*A without it, to A*AA with a 1 in a STEP paper.
- Bath also recommends sitting STEP papers, and adjusts its offers depending upon whether or not you intend to sit STEP. Bristol does the same.
- Lancaster offers AAA if you are neither taking a Further Maths A-Level, nor STEP. However, it drops these to ABB if a grade 3 in STEP is achieved, or if one of the A-Levels is Further Maths.
As you can see, many universities value STEP when making offers for maths courses, so it is definitely worth considering. This applies especially if you are worried that you won’t make the grades of the higher offers, such as A*A*A* from Warwick.
There is also another advantage to doing STEP: many universities think it is the closest reflection of studying maths at a university level. For example, Cambridge says on its website:
“Preparation for STEP serves as useful preparation for our course” and “STEP is a far better predictor of success in the Mathematical Tripos than A-levels”
TMUA – Test of Mathematics for University Admission
The official TMUA website says the test has no pass mark. There are no penalties for incorrect answers, and your final score is based on the number of correct answers given. There are two papers, and you are given a score based on your overall performance on both papers. Scoring is done on a scale from 1.0 to 9.0; 1.0 is the lowest and 9.0 the highest.
In 2019, the most common score was 5.4, and approximately one third of candidates scored above 6.5. So, ideally, you would want to be scoring somewhere from 6.5 upwards.
Cambridge now uses the TMUA (under the name ‘CTMUA’) for Computer Science admission. It will be considered in determining who is invited for interview, and then in determining who gets an offer.
No official ‘pass mark’ has been set, likely because, as Cambridge say: “The CTMUA results will be combined with the application information to select candidates to proceed to interview.” Your CTMUA score alone won’t tell you whether your application is strong enough overall.
Durham also uses the TMUA as part of its offer; a Maths offer is reduced to A*AA if what Durham deems a pass (6.5 or above) is scored in the TMUA.
Warwick recommends that you take one of MAT, TMUA or STEP, and it will adjust your offer depending upon your score in the former two, or make an offer that is conditional on your score in STEP.
Although lots of universities besides Oxford, Cambridge and Imperial don’t set any maths admissions tests, it’s definitely worth trying to sit at least one of the MAT, TMUA or STEP. It can only help you by potentially giving you a reduced offer, and it won’t damage your chances if you score lower than you were hoping.