What is the TSA?
The TSA is a multiple choice assessment that measures the test-takers natural aptitude in areas deemed essential to both academic and professional life. It forms part of the admissions process for a wide range of degree subjects at some of the UK’s most prestigious universities.
Unlike your school or college exam results, the TSA does not show strengths in a particular subject area. Instead, it focuses on the core competencies of problem solving and critical thinking. These skills are important in higher education, as they determine your ability to process, evaluate and apply new information.
Since no prior knowledge is required to complete the test, the TSA gives admissions teams an objective way to assess the suitability of an applicant for their chosen course.
Traditionally administered as a pen and paper assessment, it is now more commonly taken as a supervised computer-based test and is sat under timed conditions.
What universities use the TSA?
In the UK, there are currently three universities that use the TSA for admissions purposes:
- University of Oxford
- University of Cambridge
- University College London (UCL)
Not all students are required to sit the TSA, as it is only used for certain degree subjects.
At the University of Cambridge, only those applying to study Land Economy are required to take the test. At UCL, it is used for applicants to International Social and Political Studies and European Social and Political Studies.
The University of Oxford uses the TSA more broadly, and you should expect to sit the test if applying to any of the following courses:
- Human Sciences
- Psychology and Philosophy
- Experimental Psychology
- Psychology and Linguistics
- Philosophy and Linguistics
- Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE)
It should be noted that entry requirements are subject to change, and you should always check the admissions criteria for your chosen course at your chosen university.
What to expect on the TSA
The format of your TSA will depend on which university you’re applying to.
Applicants to Cambridge and UCL will sit the standard TSA. This is made up of 50 multiple choice questions - 25 for problem solving and 25 for critical thinking - with a 90 minute time allowance.
Each task contains a stimulus, an accompanying question and five possible answers, only one of which will be correct. For problem solving questions, stimuli are presented as tables, graphs or diagrams, and for critical thinking questions as passages of text.
Applicants to the University of Oxford will sit the same standard TSA, and will complete an additional writing task.
Problem solving questions
Problem solving questions on the TSA look at your numerical reasoning skills through three different question types, each assessing a particular component of your problem solving ability.
Relevant selection - in these questions, you’ll be given a range of numerical information, some of which will be relevant to the given problem, and some of which will not.
To find the right answer, you’ll need to quickly identify and dismiss irrelevant details and focus only on the information required to find an appropriate solution.
Finding procedures - building on your ability to identify relevant information, this question type asks you to apply logical procedures to find a solution.
Within the stimulus, you’ll typically be given three or four numbers on which you’ll need to perform certain operations to draw accurate conclusions.
Identifying similarity - here you’ll be given different representations of complementary data sets - for example, you may be given one set of data presented in a bar chart and an associated set of data in a table.
Your task is to analyse both to find the relationships that exist between them and what logical conclusions can be taken from similarities present.
Critical thinking questions
Critical thinking questions on the TSA are a measure of verbal reasoning ability. Each revolves around a written argument and asks you to assess that argument’s reasoning, and whether or not a conclusion logically follows.
The complexity of each argument given will vary, and may ask you to apply any of the following skills:
Identifying the main conclusion - selecting which of the five statements given from within the argument is a logical conclusion based on the rest of the passage.
Drawing a conclusion - selecting which of the statements given is the most logical conclusion based on the facts, when that conclusion does not appear within the argument itself.
Identifying an assumption - finding a reason within an argument that is not explicitly stated, but must be assumed to form the conclusion.
Assessing the impact of additional evidence - choosing which of the five statements given would weaken the validity of an argument.
Matching arguments - identifying parallels in the structure of reasoning between arguments on different topics.
Detecting reasoning errors - here you’ll be given an argument in which the conclusion does not logically follow, and will need to select the statement that best expresses why the reasoning is flawed.
Applying principles - in this question type, you’ll need to identify the underlying principle of a given argument to conclude which of the five statements presented is based on the same principle.