Admissions tests, selection of applicants and interviews


The selection of applicants by universities and colleges takes many forms. However, with rising numbers of applicants for places (especially in the popular subjects) and increasing numbers of students with high grades, greater importance is now attached not only to applicants’ predicted A-level grades and GCSE attainments, but also to other aspects of their applications, especially the school reference and the personal statement and, for some courses and some institutions, performance at interview, and performance in admissions tests.

Here find out about the different admissions tests used including:

There is also information here on:

ADMISSIONS TESTS

Admissions tests are now increasingly used for undergraduate entry to specific courses and specific institutions. These include national subject-based tests such as LNAT, BMAT and UKCAT (see below) which are used for selecting applicants for entry to specified courses at particular institutions in subjects such as Law, Medicine, Dentistry and Veterinary Sciences. Admissions tests are also set by individual universities and colleges (or commercial organisations on their behalf) for entry, again, to particular courses in the individual institutions. Examples of these include the Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA) used by, for example, the University of Oxford, and the Health Professions Aptitude Test (HPAT) used by Ulster University for entry to some health-related courses. Other examples include the subject-based admissions tests used by many universities and colleges for entry to particular courses in subjects such as Art, Dance, Construction, Design, Drama and other Performance-based courses, Education and Teacher Training, Economics, Engineering, Journalism, Languages, Music, Nursing and Social Work.

The colleges at the University of Cambridge now use common-format written assessments, to be taken by applicants for all subjects except Mathematics and Music. Applicants will take the written assessments either pre-interview in November at their school, or at interview (if shortlisted for interview), depending on the course for which they apply. Students applying for Mathematics are required to take the STEP in June, and music applicants will be asked to com­plete short tasks at interview, if called to interview. Please see www.undergraduate.study.cam.ac.uk/applying/admissions-assessments and www.admissionstestingservice.org for further information on these assessments and links to sample papers.

Other university admissions tests are usually taken before or at interview and, except for courses requiring auditions or portfolio inspections, they are generally timed, unseen, written, or online tests. They can be used on their own, or alongside other selection methods used by university and college admissions staff, including:

  • questionnaires or tests to be completed by applicants prior to interview and/or offer
  • examples of school work to be submitted prior to interview and/or offer
  • written tests at interview
  • mathematical tests at interview
  • practical tests at interview
  • a response to a passage at interview
  • performance-based tests (for example, for Music, Dance, Drama).

Applicants should find out early from university prospectuses and websites whether admissions tests are required for entry to their preferred courses, and if so, what these will be, and the arrangements for taking them. This is important, especially for Oxford and Cambridge applicants as many of their courses and colleges also require submission of marked written work done in Years 12 or 13 at school or college.

Here is a list of commonly used admissions tests.

English

English Literature Admissions Test (ELAT)

The ELAT is a pre-interview admissions test for applicants to English courses at the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge (see the ELAT pages on the Admissions Testing Service website www.admissionstestingservice.org).

Health Professions

Health Professions Admissions Test (HPAT)-Ulster

The HPAT is used by Ulster University for entry to courses including Dietetics, Occupational Therapy, Physiotherapy, Podiatry, Radiography, Radiotherapy and Oncology, and Speech and Language Therapy.

History

History Aptitude Test (HAT)
The HAT is a two-hour test sat by all candidates applying for History courses and joint schools at Oxford University. See www.history.ox.ac.uk.

Law

The Law National Aptitude Test (LNAT)

The LNAT is an on-screen test for applicants to specified undergraduate Law programmes at  Bristol, Durham, Glasgow, London (King’s), London (UCL), Nottingham, Oxford and SOAS universities. Applicants need to check universities’ websites and the LNAT website (www.lnat.ac.uk) for the UCAS codes for courses requiring applicants to sit the LNAT. (NB Cambridge does not require Law applicants to take the LNAT) Details of LNAT (which includes multiple-choice and essay questions), practice papers, registration dates, test dates, test centres and fees are all available on the LNAT website. 

Cambridge Law Test (CLT)

This is a, one-hour, two-part question test designed and used by the University of Cambridge with Law applicants who are called for interview. No prior knowledge of law is required for the test. See http://ba.law.cam.ac.uk/applying/cambridge_law_test/ for full details. 

Mathematics

Sixth Term Examination Paper (STEP)

Applicants with offers for Mathematics courses at Cambridge and Warwick universities are usually required to take STEP. Bath, Bristol and Oxford Universities, and Imperial London also encourage applicants for their Mathematics courses to take STEP. For details, see the STEP pages on the Admissions Testing Service website (www.admissionstestingservice.org).

Mathematics Admissions Test (MAT)

The MAT is required by the University of Oxford for Mathematics, Computer Science courses and joint schools, and by Imperial London for its Mathematics course. Details of the test can be found onthe MAT pages on the Admissions Testing Service website (www.admissionstestingservice.org).

Medicine, Dentistry, Veterinary Science/Medicine, and related subjects

Most medical schools require applicants to sit the UK Clinical Aptitude Test (UKCAT) or the BioMedical Admissions Test (BMAT) or, for graduate entry, the Graduate Australian Medical Schools Admissions Test (GAMSAT) for specified Medicine courses. Applicants are advised to check the websites of all universities and medical schools offering Medicine for their latest admissions requirements, including admissions and aptitude tests, to check the UKCAT website www.ukcat.ac.uk or the BMAT pages on www.admissionstestingservice.org (and for graduate entry www.gamsat-ie.org) for the latest information.

The BioMedical Admissions Test (BMAT)

This is a pen-and-paper admissions test taken by undergraduate applicants to Medicine and Veterinary Medicine at Cambridge, Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at Oxford, Medicine and Dentistry at Leeds, and Medicine courses at Imperial London, London (UCL), Brighton and Sussex (MS), Lancaster and Keele (international applicants only). Applicants for Graduate Medicine at Imperial are also required to take the BMAT. A list of the courses requiring BMAT is available on the BMAT pages of the Admissions Testing Service website (www.admissionstestingservice.org) and also on university websites and in their prospectuses. It is important to note BMAT’s early closing date for entries and also the test dates. The two-hour test consists of three sections:

  • aptitude and skills
  • scientific knowledge and applications
  • writing task.

Applicants sit the test only once and pay one entry fee no matter how many courses they apply for. However, if they re-apply to universities the following year they will need to re-take the BMAT and pay another fee. Past question papers are available on the BMAT website and an official study guide Preparing for the BMAT is also available at www.pearsonschoolsandfecolleges.co.uk. Results of the BMAT are first sent to the universities, and then to the BMAT test centres. Candidates need to contact their test centres direct for their results.

The UK Clinical Aptitude Test (UKCAT)

The UKCAT is a clinical aptitude test used by the majority of medical and dental schools in the selection of applicants for Medicine and Dentistry, alongside their existing selection processes, for undergraduate entry. The tests are not curriculum-based and do not have a science component. No revision is necessary; there is no textbook and no course of instruction. In the first instance, the UKCAT is a test of cognitive skills involving problem-solving and critical reasoning. With over 150 test centres, it is an on-screen test (not paper-based), and is marked electronically. Some bursaries are available to help towards the cost of the test. Applicants who require extra time due to a disability or medical condition should register for the UKCATSEN. Further details (including the most recent list of universities requiring applicants to sit the UKCAT) are found on the website www.ukcat.ac.uk.

Modern and Medieval Languages

The Modern and Medieval Languages Admissions Assessment (MMLAA)

This written test is used by the University of Cambridge for selecting applicants for entry to courses involving modern and medieval languages. See www.mml.cam.ac.uk/applying/involve

General Admissions Tests

Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA)

The TSA is a pen-and-paper test that tests applicants' critical thinking and problem-soliving skills. The test is used by the University of Cambridge for applicants to Land Economy, by University College London for European, Social and Political Studies, and by the University of Oxford for entry to several courses (see the TSA web pages on www.admissionstestingservice.org). Both the TSA Cambridge and the TSA UCL tests consist of 50 multiple-choice questions, which applicants have 90 minutes to complete. However, the TSA Oxford has an additional section, the Writing Task, in which candidates are given 30 mintues to answer one essay question out of a possible four questions.

LSE UG Admissions Assessment (UGAA)

The LSE UGAA is used for some applicants with non-traditional educational backgrounds. The test is not subject or course specific and consists of English comprehension exercises, essay, questions and mathematical problems.

SELECTION OF APPLICANTS

University and college departmental admissions tutors are responsible for selecting candidates, basing their decisions on the policies of acceptable qualifications established by each institution and, where required, applicants’ performance in admissions tests. There is little doubt that academic achievement, aptitude and promise are the most important factors although other subsidiary factors may be taken into consideration. The outline which follows provides information on the way in which candidates are selected for degree and diploma courses. 

 

  • Grades obtained by the applicant in GCE A-level and equivalent examinations and the range of subjects studied may be considered. Some universities require an additional AS grade for certain courses, such as Medicine. Where school policy limits a student's opportunity to take AS subjects, alternative A-level offers may be given (check websites).
  • Applicant’s performance in aptitude and admissions tests, as required by universities and colleges.
  • Academic record of the applicant throughout his or her school career, especially up to A-level, Highers, Advanced Highers or other qualifications and the choice of subjects. If you are taking general studies at A-level confirm with the admissions tutor that this is acceptable.
  • Time taken by the applicant to obtain good grades at GCSE/Scottish Nationals and A-level/Scottish Highers/Advanced Highers.
  • Forecast or the examination results of the applicant at A-level (or equivalent) and head teacher's report.
  • The applicant’s intellectual development; evidence of ability and motivation to follow the chosen course.
  • The applicant’s range of interests, both in and out of school; aspects of character and personality.
  • The vocational interests, knowledge and experience of the applicant particularly if they are choosing vocational courses.

INTERVIEWS

Fewer applicants are now interviewed than in the past but even if you are not called you should make an effort to visit your chosen universities and/or colleges before you accept any offer. Interviews may be arranged simply to give you a chance to see the institution and the department and to meet the staff and students. Alternatively, interviews may be an important part of the selection procedure for specific courses such as Law, Medicine and Teaching. If they are, you need to prepare yourself well. Most interviews last approximately 20–30 minutes and you may be interviewed by more than one person. For practical subjects such as Music and Drama almost certainly you will be asked to perform, and for artistic subjects, to take examples of your work. For some courses you may also have a written or other test at interview (see above).

How best can you prepare yourself?

Firstly, as one applicant advised, ‘Go to the interview – at least you’ll see the place.’

Secondly, on the question of dress, try to turn up looking smart (it may not matter, but it can’t be wrong).

Two previous applicants were more specific: ‘Dress smartly but sensibly so you are comfortable for travelling and walking round the campus.’

More general advice is also important

  • ‘Prepare well – interviewers are never impressed by applicants who only sit there with no willingness to take part.’
  • ‘Read up the prospectus and course details. Know how their course differs from any others you have applied for and be able to say why you prefer theirs.’
  • ‘They always ask if you have any questions to ask them: prepare some!’ For example, How many students are admitted to the course each year? What are the job prospects for graduates? How easy is it to change from your chosen course to a related course?

Questions which you could ask might focus on the ways in which work is assessed, the content of the course, field work, work experience, teaching methods, accommodation and, especially for vocational courses, contacts with industry, commerce or the professions. However, don’t ask questions which are already answered in the prospectus!

These are only a few suggestions and other questions may come to mind during the interview which, above all, should be a two-way flow of information. It is also important to keep a copy of your UCAS application (especially your personal statement) for reference since your interview will probably start with a question about something you have written.

Usually interviewers will want to know why you have chosen the subject and why you have chosen their particular institution. They will want to see how motivated you are, how much care you have taken in choosing your subject, how much you know about your subject, what books you have read. If you have chosen a vocational course they will want to find out how much you know about the career it leads to, and whether you have visited any places of work or had any work experience. If your chosen subject is also an A-level subject, you will be asked about your course and the aspects of the course you like the most.

Try to relax. For some people interviews can be an ordeal; most interviewers know this and will make allowances. The following extract from the University of Manchester's website will give you some idea of what admissions tutors look for.

  • ‘You should remember that receiving an interview invite means that the admissions tutors are impressed with your application so far and you are in the running for an offer of a place at that university. It is an opportunity for you to discuss a subject that you and the interviewer share an interest in.’
  • ‘Interviewers will be looking for you to demonstrate how you met the criteria advertised in the prospectus and UCAS entry profiles, but will not always ask you about them directly. Some examples of criteria used by admissions tutors include: interest, motivation and commitment to the subject; the ability to study independently; the ability to work with others; the ability to manage time effectively; an interest in the university.’

On the site, under Selection interviews, Interview advice and questions and Reasons for rejection, you will find examples of questions which have been asked in recent years for which you might prepare, and non-academic reasons why applicants have been rejected! The preceding section on Applications provides a guide through the process of applying to your chosen universities and courses and highlights key points for your action.