Applying to Oxford or Cambridge
To apply to Oxford or Cambridge University, you should fill in the UCAS form stating Oxford or Cambridge as one of your choices (you cannot apply to both Oxford and Cambridge in the same application year, unless you already have a degree). You will also need to research the individual colleges within the universities and specify which you want to apply for. If you cannot decide or don’t mind which college you go to, you can make an ‘Open Application’, which means the University will allocate you a college with fewer applications.
As well as the UCAS form, you’ll need to complete an Oxford or Cambridge application form. These are available from your school or college or from the Universities themselves. These forms have space for an additional personal statement. Don’t repeat anything from your UCAS personal statement, but use the space to put forward why you would especially like the opportunity to study this course at Oxford or Cambridge. The forms also have space for an additional statement from your referee, where he or she can state why you might be well suited for the particular course at Oxford or Cambridge. Once completed, the form should be sent to the admissions tutor at your chosen college. Attached to it should be a copy of your UCAS personal statement, a copy of your UCAS reference, and an application fee of £17. The closing date for application forms is 15 October.
Oxford and Cambridge Admissions Tests
Admissions tests are now becoming a part of the admissions process in many cases: the LNAT, BMAT and UKCAT are taken for specific subjects at a few universities. Both the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge have developed their own tests for different subjects. These tests are only a part of the application process and not instead of traditional entry requirements and the interview process.
The aim of the tests is to help the universities make a more informed decision on the many able candidates that apply. A brief overview of the tests that the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge ask for can be found below.
University of Oxford – The History Aptitude Test (HAT)
If you intend to apply to the University of Oxford to study a history-related course you will be expected to sit the HAT test. If you are still at school or college this can be organised through them and taken there. If you are applying as an individual you will need to send special test declaration form in addition to the Oxford Application form and arrange to take the test at a local testing centre.
The test examines your skills and abilities that will be required for the study of history at university and it is designed to be challenging. However, it is not designed to test your knowledge of history but you analytical abilities, critical thinking, the ability to offer a coherent argument, the selection of evidence, originality and your historical imagination.
The test lasts for two hours and is in two parts. Part 1 requires you to read an extract from a work of history and to then answer questions on what you have read. You will be expected to apply your ideas to historical situations and make judgments on the extract.
Part 2: You will be required to read an extract from a primary source and candidates will be asked to offer thoughtful interpretations of its content without knowing anything about its context.
There is no real preparation needed for the HAT test, but it may be a good idea to go over the topics that you have studied over the year.
The test is marked anonymously and successful candidates will be invited to their interviews within a few weeks of taking the test.
For a practice test and further information, go to www.history.ox.ac.uk
University of Oxford – The Philosophy, Politics and Economics Test (PPE)
Students applying to the University of Oxford to study philosophy, politics or economics will be required to sit the PPE Test. The test aims to help admissions tutors to assess whether candidates have the skills and aptitudes that will be required of them to study these subjects at Oxford.
The test requires candidates to demonstrate a range of abilities with different emphases is each of the three subjects.
The tests lasts for two hours and is split into two sections.
Section 1: This section tests aptitude and skills and includes 50 multiple choice questions designed to measure problem-solving and critical thinking skills.
Section 2: This section consists of a writing task. You will be given three essay questions and will need to choose one. This gives candidates the chance to show that they can communicate effectively in writing, organising ideas and present a clear and concise argument.
Further information and a practice test, go to www.tsa.cambridgeassessment.org.uk/ppe
University of Oxford – English Literature Admissions Test (ELAT)
If you are intending to apply to the University of Oxford to study English Literature you will be required to sit the English Literature Admissions Test.
The test is designed to assess how far students have developed their ability in the skills of close reading and the ability to shape and communicate a clear and concise response to unfamiliar literary material.
The test lasts for 90 minutes and candidates are required to write one essay comparing two or three passages of unseen poetry or prose.
The tests needs to be sat at an approved test centre which are situated all around the country and overseas. Please go to www.elat.org.uk to find your nearest test centre.
For practice papers and further information, go to www.elat.org.uk
University of Cambridge – Modern and Medieval Languages Test (MML)
If you are applying to study modern or medieval languages at the University of Cambridge you will be required to take the MML test. There is no need to make any special arrangements to take the test as this will be administered when you are in Cambridge for your interview.
As with all other admissions tests, the MML only forms a part of the selection process and does not replace the traditional entry requirements or interview.
The test lasts for 45 minutes and you will be asked to read a brief passage in English and then answer two or three questions about what you have read in the language you are applying to study. The questions contain an element of comprehension but you will also be invited to contribute ideas of your own.
The MML aims to test you grammar, accuracy, the ability to express ideas and your use of vocabulary.
University of Cambridge – The Sixth Term Examination Papers (STEP)
The STEP test needs to be taken if you wish to study mathematics at the University of Cambridge. It is also worth noting that the University of Warwick have also begun to use this test as part of their selection processes and the University of Bristol, University of Oxford and Imperial College strongly recommend the sitting of the test.
To take the test you will need to apply to OCR through your school or college at around the same time as you apply for your A-levels.
There are three STEP Mathematics papers. Mathematics I and II are based on the specifications for Advanced GCE Mathematics, with Mathematics II being more challenging than Mathematics I. The content of Mathematics III is wider and is only suitable for candidates studying for Further Mathematics.
Each paper is three hours long and is divided into three sections: Pure Maths (eight questions), Mechanics (three questions), and Probability and Statistics (two questions). All questions carry equal weight and candidates are assessed on the six questions being answered. There is no restriction on your choice of questions. Calculators are not allowed. Universities will specify which papers a candidate needs to sit.
The best way to prepare for the test is to work through past papers. These are available from www.stepmathematics.org.uk.
University of Cambridge and University of Oxford – The Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA)
The Thinking Skills Assessment will need to be taken if you are applying to study computer science, natural science, engineering or economics at the University of Cambridge or the University of Oxford. As with the MML test, this will be taken when you are in Cambridge for your interview.
The test is non-subject specific and is required by 27 of the Colleges of the university and they will decide whether the test will be taken online or on paper. The College will also inform you of when you need to take the test.
The test consists of 50 multiple choice questions, takes 90 minutes to complete and aims to look for evidence of critical thinking and problem solving.
For further information and practice papers, go to www.tsa.cambridgeassessment.org.uk
Depending on the course you have chosen, you may well be asked to provide two or more samples of written work for the tutors to assess. Written work must be submitted to your chosen college by 15 November.
Cambridge and Oxford interview almost all who apply. When you are called for interview, expect one or more of the following:
• An oral or written test. This will be in a subject relevant to your chosen course.
• More than one interview. You may have two or more interviews spread over several days.
• Questions on current issues related to your chosen course, as well as on more general issues unrelated to the subject (on top of the more usual questions such as “why this course?” or “why this college?”)
• To be asked to send or bring along two or more marked essays as examples of the standard of your work.
This may sound daunting but the interviewers will just be looking to see whether you have an enthusiasm for your subject and have a good general knowledge with interests beyond the curricula. Even if you don’t know an answer, show how you can think on your feet and discuss problems intelligently.
In late December or early January, you will be notified whether your application has been successful either by the college or via UCAS. If successful, you will be offered a place conditional on obtaining certain grades in your summer exams.