The Oxford PAT exam (Physics Aptitude Test) is a big part of your Materials Science application, along with your interview and personal statement. There is no separate Oxford Materials Science test – it's just the PAT Oxford expects you to take.
How is PAT relevant to the Oxford Materials Science degree?
When it comes to doing the Oxford Materials Science degree, the things that come up in the PAT aren't necessarily as related to what you'll come across in the degree as for Oxford Physics students.
What the tutors are looking at is how you can use the knowledge you've already gained to solve problems you haven't come across before. This is a skill which is crucial to succeeding in Materials Science.
Oxford PAT Tip 1. Don't get caught by an unknown Physics or Maths concept
If you are applying while in 6th form (or equivalent), you will be taking the Oxford PAT exam early in your final year. There may still be plenty of stuff you have yet to learn. So the first thing I recommend that you do is look ahead in your Physics and Maths textbooks and try to absorb the basics of things you haven't covered. For example, when I did the PAT we hadn't done differentiation yet in Maths, but it still came up.
The majority of questions will be mathematical, with many of them having a mechanical aspect. What I found find helpful when doing questions like this is having attempted something harder. I definitely recommend trying some problems from the more advanced mechanics papers in Maths and going further with questions from the British Physics Olympiad or STEP.
Below is an example of a question from the 2017 PAT and 2 questions from the mechanics section of STEP II 2015. Have a go at these in your own time.
I have attached the answers to the STEP questions at the bottom and more questions and answers are available online. These should start to give you an idea of what you should be looking at.
Oxford PAT Tip 2. Learn to present your thinking in a clear way
Doing the PAT as an Oxford Materials Science applicant is stressful. It's very likely that you will make stupid mistakes during it. I definitely did, and you'll probably find yourself slapping your head the moment you walk out of the exam realising that you mislabelled a diagram or used the wrong number.
You want to make sure that even when you do make mistakes that you are able to gain some marks. This means showing your working.
Imagine that you had to explain your answer to someone who had only a very basic understanding of maths and physics. If they are not able to perfectly follow, then you are not explaining well enough.
Try running through a problem with a parent or someone else who might not exactly know the subject. If they can follow then this proves that you fully understand the solution and can present it in a clear way.
Alternatively look up some videos on YouTube that feature people running through problems and think about what might make the way that they explain the problem good or bad. Here's an example of one I think is good.
Oxford PAT Tip 3. Practise, practise, practise
There have been some big changes to the style of the PAT since I did it 4 years ago. That said, the topics that they will ask you are likely to be the same.
My personal method for practising for the PAT was to do as many of the past papers as I possibly could. Use the past papers as a guide for what topics to look at find some textbooks or similar problems in other tests or competitions. Ask your teachers about any topics that you might be struggling with.
For example, some topics that came up in 2018 include:
- Fibonacci sequences
- Angular momentum
If some of these topics look unfamiliar to you first look ahead in your Physics or Maths textbook and see if perhaps it's something that you haven't got to yet.
For a more detailed run through of the different concepts that you may come across and some recommended reading, have a look at this post about Oxford PAT preparation from a Physics student.
You can also check out our online PAT courses for free here.
Oxford PAT Tip 4. Treat yourself after
I actually overslept when I did this exam and woke up half way through. I then had probably the quickest shower or my life and sprint cycled to the exam hall. Luckily I was still able to do the exam and didn't fail!!
If you're an Oxford Materials Science applicant taking the PAT then it's likely that you've had a strong academic record up to this point. However, the PAT exam has an average mark of around 50%,(remember it's selecting between people who are bright already) compared to higher marks you will have got in your subjects up till now.
You will have sections that you can't answer or don't even understand: that's normal. Don't listen to the people on forums who say they found it easy.
Completing the PAT takes so much preparation and hard work and you deserve to do something nice after. For now, here is something to lift your mood while you prepare.
Ultimately there are not any secrets to acing the Oxford PAT exam. The way to success on the PAT is through gaining a thorough understanding of the different concepts in your Physics and Maths syllabus and being able to apply them to problems you might not have come across before.
But you're in luck!
You can definitely streamline this process by identifying the key areas that you struggle with in Physics and Maths and working at them. Look for links between the different methods and trying to memorise as little as possible while understanding the topics.
Best of luck with your revision!!