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Most Oxford degrees require admissions tests during the application process. It comes with the territory – the tutors want to see how you’ll perform in an academic environment beyond A-level. If you’re applying for Physics, Physics and Philosophy, Engineering, or Materials Science, you’ll have to sit the PAT: the Physics Aptitude Test. 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.)  


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 Further Maths is not a prerequisite, though 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, Earth and 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. We also have PAT-style questions to practice, that you cannot access anywhere else. 

You can also take a look at our complete guide to preparing for the PAT, and our tips and tricks for sitting the PAT. Don’t panic – there’s plenty you can do to prepare, and put yourself in a secure position for when you walk into that exam room.


How well do I 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). 



Remember: although the PAT is important, it’s only one part of your pre-interview application. Your PAT score will be considered alongside your grades and your personal statement, when they’re deciding whether to invite you to interview. If you want to know even more about the PAT, including more information about the format of the test, check out our complete guidebook to the PAT, which has everything you could possibly need!

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