The Oxford PAT is taken by thousands of students a year, but what exactly is it? The ambiguous acronym stands for ‘Physics Aptitude Test’, the pre-interview entrance exam for the prestigious Oxford University. Students who apply for Physics, Physics and Philosophy, Engineering Science, and Materials Science courses must take the test as part of the university’s admissions process. This is performed under timed conditions, answering multiple-choice and longer-form questions.
Unsurprisingly, the test is highly challenging. According to the University, the average mark is 50-60 out of 100, and many students struggle with the sheer number of questions (usually 24-26) within the two-hour time limit. There is no official pass mark, but you’ll naturally want to score as highly as you can. The exam is designed to assess problem-solving, reasoning skills, and critical thinking, as well as your technical knowledge. Afterward, your result is reviewed alongside your personal statement, predicted grades, and academic references to consider you for a place.
If you are feeling unprepared — don’t panic. There are a number of things you can do to help revise for the test of a lifetime. Here is our ultimate guide to the Oxford PAT.
Familiarise yourself with the syllabus
It is important to remember that the Oxford PAT is designed to cover both physics and mathematics in a comprehensive format. Therefore, there will not be individual papers for those applying to study Engineering Science, Physics, or Philosophy. Instead, you will need to cover the entire syllabus for the exam, which covers a wide range of topics, from Elementary Mathematics to The Natural World.
The Oxford PAT is designed to test your knowledge up to Year 13 A Level, meaning that the exam could require an understanding of GCSE level and below. Don’t let elementary material catch you out — arithmetic and geometry can be integral ingredients for answering trickier questions, so keep this in mind and plan your revision schedule accordingly.
When reviewing the syllabus, understanding the material is just half the battle. The PAT demands you apply the subject in new scenarios. Fortunately, there are fantastic resources available online with an emphasis on lateral thinking. For example, the British Physics Olympiad has many past papers for practice and solutions to problem-solving tasks. Plus, Physics LAB offers questions to make you think about physical concepts.
Boost your knowledge
Oxford’s website specifies that some material in the test is likely not yet to have been covered in further education. Students, therefore, are required to cover extra material independently — the PAT will differ significantly from studies up until now.
If you’re feeling the pressure, specialist courses are available to help boost your academic knowledge, self-confidence and familiarity with the PAT’s format. Look for workshops run by experienced teachers who have passed the exam themselves — this way, you will have access to the necessary technical knowledge, advice, and insider knowledge. Take PMT Education, for example, which offers PAT preparation workshops that are run by Oxford graduates turned qualified teachers.
Perfect your timings
You will have two hours to complete as many of the questions in the PAT as possible within the time constraints. The test is divided into two sections: section one has multiple choice questions (that can fluctuate in difficulty) worth up to two marks each. The second — arguably more challenging — section, consists of longer-form questions worth up to ten marks each.
Before the test
To prepare for the time restrictions of the test, take advantage of the numerous past papers available. Oxford does not provide the mark schemes but has given sample solutions to the 2019 paper, or there are explanations available on YouTube.
It may be worthwhile to initially attempt a past paper untimed, to gain an understanding of its format and the kinds of questions you’ll face. Then, once you feel ready, continue to complete past papers in as realistic exam conditions as you can replicate at home. Remember that you are allowed a non-graphical calculator, but you should work in silence, not confer with anyone else and stop the test after two hours.
On the day
When taking the test, the order in which you complete each section is entirely up to you. However, it may be worthwhile to distribute your time according to marks available in either section, for example allowing 30 minutes for section one and 90 minutes for section two. You should aim to answer every question, even if you make some estimated guesses, and move on from any tasks that you find particularly puzzling. You can always return to these later or show off your workings — which could gain you crucial marks in section two.
Naturally, many people dread taking the Oxford PAT, but if you are fully prepared, you have nothing to worry about. However, keep in mind that it is supposed to be difficult, but try to embrace the challenge. Regardless of the result, recognise that you have done amazingly well to get to this stage and that you should be extremely proud of yourself — best of luck!