Year 12 Oxbridge Programmes / New Year 13 Interview Programmes
Select Page

As we discussed in our Ultimate NSAA preparation guide, time management is crucial to your success. Here are some time management tips for both sections of the NSAA, and a few pieces of general advice.

Section 1

In this section you are expected to answer 54 multiple choice questions in 80 minutes, giving you just 89 seconds per question. Therefore, it is important not to spend lots of time weighing up one question, as this will affect your chances of finishing the section.

You need to work with speed and accuracy. When you go through the paper for the first time, answer the easier questions really quickly and leave those that will take longer. When you go back through, you can now spend a little longer dissecting each question, knowing that you have already got lots of answers in the bag.

Remember though, if one question just doesn’t seem crackable to you, make an educated guess and move on. After all, no multiple choice question is worth more than the others!

Elimination Technique

Since you have multiple options for every question, it is worth considering the elimination technique, where you get rid of all the impossible answers.

In fact, this will sometimes be the best way to answer the question in the first instance! For example, if you have a complicated graph question that you can’t quite picture, you can ask yourself the following questions: 

  • Where is the turning point?
  • What does the graph do at 0? 
  • Where are the roots of the graph (roughly)?
  • What does the graph do as its input tends to positive and negative infinity?
  • Where is the graph increasing and decreasing?

From just a few of these questions, you will likely be able to eliminate all the incorrect answers, leaving you with the correct option, without necessarily determining what the correct graph looks like in detail. 

However, sometimes elimination may take you down to a couple of answers, but you won’t be able to pick between them. If you are running out of time, you can now make an educated guess, and you’ll have a far higher chance of choosing the correct answer.

How Much Working?

Remember that there is only one mark available for each question in Section 1. So, don’t spend time writing down unnecessary information: if you have worked something out in your head and you are confident, just choose the answer and move on. Furthermore, any written workings you do can just be scribbles; there is no point making them as neat as possible!

Section 2

Section 2 is more involved than Section 1, with longer answers. You have to answer two questions in 40 minutes, so you have 20 minutes per question.

Unlike in Section 1, where you will likely go in knowing the three parts you will answer questions on, you may have more options with Section 2. E.g. if you are comfortable answering questions on either Biology and Chemistry, you are able to pick any 2 from the 4 questions on these sciences combined.

So it’s worth taking a couple of minutes to read the questions thoroughly. Make sure you have read all the parts of all the potential questions you could answer. A question may seem appealing at first but actually get very complicated, so you need to read the questions carefully to inform your judgement. 

Dividing Your Time

Having read through and selected your two questions, you will probably have about 17 minutes remaining per question. The questions are quite developed, so this isn’t loads of time. Try to be as quick as you can in the earlier parts of each question. You want to bag these marks before the question gets more complicated. 

Having done as much of both the questions as you can without a huge struggle, you now need to move on to the harder parts. If there’s one question that you think you can solve more thoroughly, attempt the harder parts of this one first. If it takes you a little longer but you definitely think it suits you better than the other question, it is probably worth spending a few extra minutes on it. 

If you are running out of time on either question, it is important to get down as much information as possible. Write down any formulas, draw some sketches of what is going on, just try and get as much useful information as you can on the exam paper – you don’t know where the marks will lie!

How Much Working? 

Remember, in Section 2 you want your workings to be clear and scientifically justified. Make sure you write down all the formulas you use, and include scientific justification for any big steps you take. The examiners want to see your scientific understanding, and this section is really your opportunity to show that off.


With our top tips on board, we hope you’re now confident in your ability to ace the NSAA! If you still want more help with preparation, take a look at our comprehensive NSAA guidebook, or our tips on how to prepare for the NSAA.

If, on the other hand, you’re looking forward to interviews, take a look at our guide to Natural Sciences interviews.