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Many Oxford degrees require admissions tests during the application process. If you’re applying for Physics, you’ll have to sit the PAT. But what exactly is the PAT?

What is the PAT?

The PAT is the Physics Aptitude Test set by Oxford. It is a mixture of physics questions, based upon the Physics A-Level syllabus, and maths questions. It must be sat by all Oxford physics applicants as a pre-interview assessment. It is designed to determine your academic potential, and it assesses your ability to use scientific and mathematical knowledge in unfamiliar contexts.

How is the PAT structured?

The PAT is made up of multiple choice questions and longer questions. There are 12 multiple choice questions, and they are a mixture of maths and physics questions, as are the longer ones. There are 100 marks available across the test paper, and you get two hours for the paper (you are expected to answer every question.) 

Who is the PAT for?

Unlike the MAT, which lots of universities now use, the PAT is entirely designed for candidates applying to Oxford University to study physics.

What does the maths syllabus cover?

The maths tested will not go beyond the scope of the A-Level Maths you have already covered, and although further maths is not a prerequisite, it will inevitably help. The maths topics covered include:

  • Elementary maths: arithmetic, geometry, coordinate geometry, probability 
  • Algebra: polynomials, graph sketching, differentiation, transformations, inequalities, trigonometry
  • Logs and exponentials 
  • Arithmetic/geometric series
  • Binomial expansion
  • Calculus: differentiation and integration

What does the physics syllabus cover?

Similarly, the physics covered is based upon the A-Level syllabus. As the A-Level syllabus differs between exam boards, you can find a comprehensive view of the syllabus for PAT on the Oxford Physics website. Note that you will not have extra compensation when your paper is being marked if you have not studied the topic the question is on. The onus is on you to study the extra material. This is a great example of the independent study required at university. 

Broadly, the physics topics covered are: 

  • Mechanics: distance, Velocity, Speed, and Acceleration Equations, Graph analysis, Response of a System to Multiple Forces, Circular Motion, Calculating Forces, Levers/Pulleys, Springs, Kinetic Energy, Conservation of Energy, and Energy Transfer
  • Waves and Optics: Longitudinal and Transverse Waves, Amplitude, Frequency, Period, Wavelength and Speed of a Wave, Wave Speed Formula, Electromagnetic Spectrum, Reflection at Plane Mirrors, Refraction, Interference/Diffraction and Standing Waves
  • Electricity and Magnetism: Current, Voltage, Resistance, Transformers, Circuit Diagrams, Force, and Photoelectric Effect 
  • Natural World: Atomic Structure, Solar System, Moon, Circular Orbits, Centripetal Force, and Satellites

You may also be faced with problem solving questions; these require no prior knowledge on any specific topic, but rather your ability to solve complex problems. The skills these questions require are taken from those developed over both Maths and Physics A-Level. 

How can I prepare for the PAT?

To get a taste of the PAT-style questions, we offer all of the past papers with worked solutions and video tutorials on the STEPMaths website, and also new PAT-style questions to practice, that you cannot access anywhere else. 

How well do you need to score?

Generally, you want to score above 60% in the PAT, as it is a good quantitative example of your physics ability. Although your PAT score is not the only indicator the university take into account, 60% is generally seen as a respectable score that will secure you an interview (if the rest of your application is also strong.)