How did you find the Oxford MAT paper 2015?

Attempting it ourselves, we felt that the 2015 Oxford MAT exam was significantly more difficult than past papers, indicating that Oxford wants to see how students think on their feet. The types of questions seemed different to those in past papers.

The popular belief until this year’s MAT test, was that if you practised all the past papers, you’d be fine. Yet, it seems that as GCSEs and A-levels are introducing problems requiring more lateral thinking and a deep understanding of the relationships between concepts, so too are universities in their entrance exams. These tough exams just got tougher.

For example, this year, number theory, geometric series and the difference of two cubes appeared on question 2, a spot historically reserved for a polynomials or geometry question. The British Mathematical Olympiad and UKMT Maths Challenges contain excellent questions to get students to think about Diophantine Equations (equations where the solutions can only be integers or whole numbers) but confining their preparation to past MAT papers, students may have lost out on valuable opportunities to improve their skills in this area.

Overlapping geometrical shapes is a favourite of the Oxford MAT examiners (see question 4) and indicate that strong geometry and trigonometry skills will be an asset for any student taking the paper. So too are the dreaded question 5’s which often require you to spot patterns in iterations or nested functions and demonstrate fluency with combinatorics.

Ideas resembling first year undergraduate mathematics, for example, those in Analysis seem to be creeping into the papers too, question 3 being this year’s example. STEP paper questions are frequently based on concepts encountered at university and could provide useful yet accessible exposure.

Overall, it would appear that a holistic (rather than narrowly focused) approach to Oxford MAT preparation will hold hopeful students in good stead. A general enthusiasm to improve one’s higher order thinking skills by approaching very different types of Maths problems will undoubtedly help students to achieve a place at their dream university!