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So – you’re preparing for the TSA, and you’re feeling pretty happy with the questions. But is your exam technique up to scratch? We’ve got a complete guide to approaching the TSA, and how to maximise your score in your time in the exam room.

Section 1

Time management is the most important thing to focus on in Section 1. You have 108 seconds to answer each question, which is really not long. Here is a good way of maximising your capability within the allotted time:

  • The first time you are going through the paper, just do all the questions that you can do in a really short amount of time, ideally under a minute. If a question looks complicated, or if you are not sure what it is asking, circle it to return to later. Circle any questions that you think you might struggle with, and just work through the whole paper once, to get as many answers in the bank as possible
  • On the next go through, try some of the circle question. Begin each one, and if you think you can reach an answer in a good amount of time, do it. You still don’t want to be spending much longer than 2 minutes per question however. If there are questions you just don’t understand, mark them out, maybe with a cross, and ditch them for now. 
  • Now, you should be left with only the hardest questions, which baffled you on the first and second read. If you have enough time, just try and spend some time reaching the answer. If you cannot see the correct answer, but you can see what the answer is not, use deduction to narrow down the possible options it could be, and make an educated guess. If you are really getting nowhere at all, just make a guess and move on. 

You need to think efficiently, and if you really can’t grasp a question, just ditch it. All the questions are equally weighted, so you are only shooting yourself in the food by spending an irrational amount of time on one question. Even if it is the hardest on the paper, it will not win you any more points with the admissions tutors. 

As the TSA is multiple choice, a good way of answering a lot of the questions is by eradicating the statements you know are definitely false. For example if you read a piece of writing, and have 5 possible options for what the argument is, you can immediately get rid of any that seem as if they are completely incorrect and not fitting with the argument. You are then left with fewer to choose from. You can eradicate some of the answers for the harder questions on the first read through of the paper, then come back to them later, and spend some time choosing what you think the correct one is from the remaining possibilities. 

Although the TSA is time pressured, you need to read and comprehend all the stimuli given to you as well as possible. A slight misread can lead you to completely the wrong answer. Although moving at a pace is important, there is no point racing through the paper and making a multitude of silly mistakes. It is better to be slightly more careful and not complete the paper. You need to strike the ideal balance for you, and this can only be found through practice. 

Also, remember, you get no points for your workings in the TSA. If you can immediately see an answer, or you have used the eradication of incorrect answers technique, do not spend time unnecessarily explaining and showing your workings. Just circle your answer and move on. 

Section 2

As Section 2 of the TSA is so time-pressured, you can’t spend ages planning and drafting your essay. You need to come up with an argument quickly, jot down a plan, and then write your essay as concisely and as clearly as you can. You shouldn’t spend more than five minutes planning your essay, as you want at least 25 minutes to write the main essay. 

When writing, you need to ensure you don’t waffle or go off on a tangent. As it is difficult to get much down in 25 minutes, every sentence is precious. For each paragraph you write, include a clear topic sentence. This is a sentence at the beginning of the paragraph that sets out what the paragraph is going to achieve. Every time you write a sentence, you can ask yourself whether it’s adding something to the point you’re making; in other words, does it fit with the topic sentence? If it doesn’t, scrap it.

It is important to strike a balance between writing too much and writing too little. You don’t want any long paragraphs, as your argument must be well-rounded rather than too focused on one point. Having said that, each point requires some development, which means you’re probably looking for a maximum of four sentences per paragraph, including your topic sentence. 

When writing your essay, you must also make sure the paragraphs are cohesive. Make sure the fresh topic sentences follow from the end of the previous paragraph, and that any paragraphs representing the other side of the argument you are presenting are clearly signposted with a phrase such as, “However” or, “Alternatively, it could be argued.” 

Another hugely important thing to remember is not to change your argument half way through your essay. As time passes, your thoughts may develop and shift about the question, but you do not have time to rework it. You must clearly lay out your argument in the introduction, and follow it through. Although the admissions tutors want to see a balanced debate, the impetus of your argument must be firmly on one side. 

A short concise essay that makes clearly presented and valid points is far more valuable than a longer one that is just waffle. Do not worry if you do not have time to make all the points you want, but make sure you leave yourself a few minutes to write a conclusion. This is important, to synopsise your thoughts, and make your essay complete and well-rounded. These are the skills the examiners will be keen to see. 


Remember: keep calm. If you panic in the exam, you won’t be able to show yourself at your best. For more tips, take a look at our comprehensive TSA guidebook, or our guide to preparing for the TSA.