The thinking skills assessment is a general admissions test used by certain universities to distinguish between candidates of equal academic ability.
The thinking skills assessment is used by the University of Oxford as a pre-interview test, and by the University of Cambridge and University College London as part of the interview process.
The TSA is usually used by courses such as philosophy and psychology, in which critical thinking plays a significant role, although it can also be used for subjects as diverse as engineering and computer science.
The TSA does not test academic knowledge or subject specific learning. Instead it tests for the way your mind works. The TSA tests your abilities in areas such as critical thinking, logic, making or following an argument, spatial reasoning and mathematical calculation.
The Oxford TSA also includes a 30 minute essay question, which tests your ability to arrange information, structure a coherent argument and express yourself clearly in the written word.
All three TSA tests include a 50 question, multiple choice element. This includes a range of questions, split into 25 that test problem solving, numerical and spatial reasoning, and 25 that test critical thinking skills. These are mixed up together throughout the paper.
The problem solving questions will usually present a maths puzzle, similar to the cliché questions where ‘A train leaves Paddington a 1pm travelling at 50mph…’ etc. There is only one correct numerical answer to these. Other problem solving questions test your ability to imagine an object rotated through various planes and select the resulting shape.
The critical thinking questions will generally include a short paragraph of text in which an argument is made or a conclusion is reached. The question will then talk about the information presented, asking for you to identify the flaw in the argument, deduce the assumptions made for the argument to be valid, or asking which of a series of statements most reflects the idea presented in the original piece. There is only ever one right answer, however valid the other answers may at first appear.
Courses such as philosophy are likely to be different from anything that you have studied at school, so your exam results are not enough to determine if you have the right qualities to study these at degree level. The thinking skills assessment has been developed to test for the kind of thinking that will do well on such courses, identifying students with the right mindset and approach to succeed.
The three universities involved are always over-subscribed with exceptionally well qualified candidates, who cannot be separated based on A-Level grades alone. The thinking skills assessment helps them to pick the candidates who are most suited to the course and have the highest potential from this high quality group.