What Is Thinking Skills Assessment and How to Prepare for It?
Are you hoping to get into a top university? Oxford, Cambridge, and UCL all require future students to sit for a psychometric test called the Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA). This test offers more information than your A-Level results alone, as it is designed to measure your critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
You’ll need to ace the Thinking Skills Assessment to get into your university of choice. That alone makes taking the test nerve-wracking!
The good news? Understanding exactly what to expect gives you a competitive edge — and we’ll cover everything you need to know about the Thinking Skills Assessment in this guide.
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What Is The Thinking Skills Assessment?
Some universities ask prospective students to take a Thinking Skills Assessment when they apply for a place. This psychometric test is similar to the aptitude tests many job seekers take, and it measures critical thinking skills.
Specifically, the Thinking Skills Assessment covers:
- Applicants’ abilities to deduce core arguments from a text
- Applicants’ reasoning skills
- Applicants’ ability to think on their feet and solve problems constructively
The Thinking Skills Assessment assesses whether you have the skills and aptitude to succeed at your chosen university and beyond and is an important part of the admissions process.
Because the Thinking Skills Assessment does not depend on specific prior knowledge, it simply ascertains how you make decisions and how well you can handle challenges.
Which Universities Require Applicants To Take The Thinking Skills Assessment?
Three of the UK’s leading universities currently administer the Thinking Skills Assessment during the application process. These are:
Not everyone applying for a place at one of these prestigious universities has to sit the Thinking Skills Assessment; it depends on the courses you are applying to take.
Students applying for a place at Oxford University can expect to take the TSA if they plan to take courses in economics and management, psychology, philosophy, human sciences, linguistics, or geography.
Only prospective Land Economy students need to take the Thinking Skills Assessment to gain admission to Cambridge University.
UCL asks future European Social and Political Studies and International Social and Political Studies students to sit the TSA.
What Is The Format Of The Thinking Skills Assessment?
The structure and length of the Thinking Skills Assessment you take depend on the university you hope to attend. Oxford University uses the TSA more extensively and adds an essay-writing component that prospective Cambridge and UCL students don’t have to sit.
The Thinking Skills Assessments that Cambridge and UCL use take 90 minutes to complete. These tests are made up of 50 challenging multiple-choice questions in two different categories. Oxford uses the same format and then asks students to complete a 30-minute essay.
Scoring well on the TSA may determine your entire future. That is why understanding the format of the Thinking Skills Assessment is so important. Job Test Prep offers a comprehensive overview of the TSA, so consider heading there as well.
Read on to discover what types of questions you can expect to encounter in the Thinking Skills Assessment.
Thinking Skills Assessment Problem-Solving Questions
Problem-solving skills are a critical factor in determining a student’s future success at university and beyond. The Thinking Skills Assessment includes 25 multiple-choice questions that measure the applicant’s strengths and weaknesses in this area. All call for strong reasoning, numerical, and spatial thinking skills.
This half of the Thinking Skills Assessment assesses three different skillsets:
- Identifying relevant information. These TSA questions present you with data and ask you to isolate the relevant section.
- Developing procedures. These TSA questions call on students to develop a strategy that allows them to find a solution to a problem. Prepare for data-rich scenarios that require innovative thinking.
- Establishing similarity. Finally, the Thinking Skills Assessment contains problem-solving questions that ask students to determine which of the answers is most similar to the given scenario.
Thinking Skills Assessment Critical-Thinking Questions
Each critical-thinking question you find on the Thinking Skills Assessment is preceded by a paragraph between 120 and 150 words in length. Students are invited to read the passage carefully and then select the correct answer to the question from a multiple-choice list.
The critical-thinking portion of the Thinking Skills Assessment features seven different types of questions:
- Summarising the conclusion. Some questions ask students to select the answer that best summarises the conclusion of the argument the passage presents. This conclusion can appear anywhere within the paragraph.
- Draw a conclusion. Other questions ask you to choose which of the multiple-choice options is the most logical conclusion to the passage based on the premises of the argument.
- Identifying assumptions. Some TSA questions ask which unspoken assumptions are present in an argument.
- Determining how new evidence would impact the argument. These questions present a list of new evidence. Students are invited to choose which of these options would weaken the argument in the passage most.
- Identifying faulty reasoning. Some TSA questions present arguments with weak and flawed logic. Students have to determine what is wrong with the argument.
- Pinpointing similar arguments. The Thinking Skills Assessment contains questions in which you choose the argument most similar to that presented in the passage from the list. The topic will differ, and it’s your job to identify which argument is structurally most similar.
- Identifying the principle of the argument. This final type of question asks you to determine which of the multiple-choice options best describes the principle that underlies the argument you find in the passage.
Thinking Skills Assessment Writing Task (Oxford University)
Students applying for a place at Oxford take an extended Thinking Skills Assessment that includes a writing task. This writing task consists of a question-based prompt, and students can choose from four different options.
The essay-based portion of the Thinking Skills Assessment takes 30 minutes to finish, and assessors look for concise, clear, and coherent writing. Students must limit themselves to a maximum of 750 words for this essay.
How Can You Prepare For The Thinking Skills Assessment?
A lot rides on your ability to score well on the Thinking Skills Assessment — acing the test can unlock a place at one of the UK’s top universities and set you up for a promising future. It is vital to prepare well for this psychometric test, then!
How do you do it? While every prospective Oxford, Cambridge, or UCL student will employ slightly different methods, you should always tick these boxes:
- Practise for the Thinking Skills Assessment by taking mock tests. Practice TSA tests give you the chance to familiarise yourself with the format of the assessment, avoid common mistakes, and get faster at answering questions correctly. Job Prep Test offers a practice Thinking Skills Assessment that closely mimics the real TSA you will take.
- Understand the format. Know that the Thinking Skills Assessment includes two different types of questions (problem-solving and critical thinking) and that each falls into a sub-category. Mentally note which type of question you are dealing with and proceed accordingly.
- Learn from your early mistakes. The questions you face on the TSA are deceptively complex, and you will make avoidable errors that negatively affect your performance. Job Prep Test’s TSA preparation package includes explanations, tips, and feedback to enhance your performance.
- Use the TSA question guide. A TSA question guide will be available online in the weeks before the test. Study this manual to glean useful tips.
- Brush up on your weaker areas. Do you struggle with a particular part of the Thinking Skills Assessment? Concentrate your practice efforts on this area so that you can bring your overall score up.
- Arrive at the test centre early. Nothing takes the wind out of your sails like rushing. Arrive at the test centre early on the day of the Thinking Skills Assessment so that you don’t have to worry about last-minute hiccups.
- Get yourself into a healthy mindset. Taking the Thinking Skills Assessment is daunting. Ensure you are at your best on test day by eating well, sleeping well, and minimising distractions in the weeks before the TSA.
- Brush up on your time-management skills. The Thinking Skills Assessment is timed — you will have 90 minutes to finish. Consider how much time you want to allocate to each question ahead of time, remembering that the TSA increases in difficulty with each question. Don’t waste time wondering whether you missed something if you are quite sure you know the answer. Make sure you leave yourself time for especially challenging questions.
Is The Thinking Skills Assessment Hard?
The Thinking Skills Assessment is a genuinely challenging aptitude test designed to make sure that only the best make it into Oxford, Cambridge, and UCL.
Students should have excellent reasoning and problem-solving skills but must also come armed with an understanding of the TSA’s format.
If you prepare with Job Test Prep’s TSA practice package, you will be ready for the Thinking Skills Assessment when the big day arrives.
How Is the Thinking Skills Assessment Scored?
Students taking the Thinking Skills Assessment receive one mark for each correct answer. Points are not subtracted for wrong answers. Once the assessor marks your total number of points, this score is translated to a score between 0 and 100.
The majority of applicants achieve a score of 60. Those who achieve a score of 70 or 80 do exceptionally well.
Oxford applicants should know that a qualified professional manually reads and scores the written task that only the Oxford Thinking Skills Assessment includes.
A Final Word
The Thinking Skills Assessment is a challenging psychometric test with a multiple-choice format. Some students applying for a place at Oxford, Cambridge, and UCL will be required to sit a TSA as part of their application process.
This aptitude test ensures that students have more than a strong academic background and are also equipped with the reasoning and problem-solving skills needed to succeed at the UK’s leading universities.
Because the Thinking Skills Assessment is difficult even for the brightest and most talented students, preparation is essential.
Immersing yourself in TSA practice using tests that closely mimic the Thinking Skills Assessment you will encounter on test day is the best way to get ready.
Job Test Prep offers a TSA preparation package that includes practice tests, drills, tips, and feedback on your performance. The platform also offers a comprehensive Thinking Skills Assessment study guide.
Are you determined to ace the Thinking Skills Assessment and earn yourself a spot at one of the UK’s top universities? Your journey starts now, and that place can be yours with the right practice.
Sarah is an accomplished educator, researcher and author in the field of testing and assessment. She has worked with various educational institutions and organisations to develop innovative evaluation methods and enhance student learning. Sarah has published numerous articles and books on assessment and learning. Her passion for promoting equity and fairness in the education system fuels her commitment to sharing insights and best practices with educators and policymakers around the world.