Thinking Skills Assessment

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The Thinking Skills Assessment (also known as TSA) is a generic admissions test, which is used as part of the admissions process for entry to some undergraduate courses at the University of Cambridge, the University of Oxford and University College London. From 2014, it will be used by Leiden University in the Netherlands, for entry to undergraduate Psychology.


TSA was developed and is run by the Admissions Testing Service. It was developed to help universities assess whether applicants have the skills and aptitudes considered essential for Higher Education study.

The test was first introduced for undergraduate entry to the University of Cambridge in 2001, and is used as part of the admissions process for a number of courses: Computer Science, Economics, Engineering, Human, Social and Political Sciences, Land Economy, and Natural Sciences. Not all Cambridge Colleges require TSA to be taken; the admissions pages of the University of Cambridge website give up-to-date information about which courses and colleges require TSA.[1]

In 2007, the University of Oxford introduced TSA as part of its admissions process for Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE). At this stage, the test was known as the ‘PPE Admissions Test’. The use of TSA was extended for entry to Economics and Management in 2008 and to further subjects in 2009: Experimental Psychology, and Psychology and Philosophy. In addition, from 2012, Geography, Philosophy and Linguistics, and Psychology and Linguistics began to use TSA.

Since the 2008–09 application cycle, University College London has used TSA to assist in the selection of applicants to European Social and Political Studies (ESPS).

From 2014, Leiden University will use TSA as part of the selection process for its undergraduate Psychology course.


TSA consists of two sections, where Section 2 is optional.

Section 1 (90 minutes): 50 multiple-choice questions testing problem solving (including numerical and spatial reasoning) and critical thinking skills (including understanding argument and reasoning using everyday language).

Section 2 (30 minutes): Candidates must answer one essay question from a choice of four (questions are not subject specific). It tests the ability to organise ideas in a clear and concise manner, and communicate them effectively in writing.[2]


The multiple-choice answers (Section 1) are marked by the Admissions Testing Service with 1 mark available per question. Final scores are calculated to one decimal place on the TSA scale (running approximately 0–100) using the Rasch statistical technique. The average TSA score of UCL and University of Cambridge applicants is in the high 50s, with only 10% of applicants scoring over 70.[3]

The writing task component of TSA (Section 2) used by the University of Oxford is reviewed by admissions tutors at the Oxford College to which a candidate has applied.

Timing and results[edit]

For the University of Oxford: TSA is held at the beginning of November as a pre-interview, paper-based test taken at schools, colleges or equivalent centres globally. Results are issued in mid-January of the following year, via the Admissions Testing Service’s Results Online website.

For the University of Cambridge: TSA is normally taken when applicants come to their Cambridge interview in November or December. It is administered as a paper-based or online test, either at the College to which the student is applying, or at a central test site in Cambridge. Results are reported to the university only.

For University College London (UCL): TSA is taken during the interview stage. It is administered as a paper-based test. UCL admissions interviews are held on specific dates from December to March. Results are reported to the university only.

For Leiden University: TSA is used as a selection tool for its International Bachelor of Science in Psychology (IBP) programme. The test is taken in mid-April, with results released at the end of April.[4]


TSA is typically used alongside A Levels and a structured interview, as part of the admissions process.[5] However, the exact use of results varies between the subjects which use the test, and candidates need to refer to their chosen course for precise details.[6]


Practice materials, including specimen questions and past papers, can be downloaded for free from the Admissions Testing Service website.


An ongoing programme of research by the Admissions Testing Service evaluates the predictive validity of TSA. Research on the relationship between TSA scores and first year undergraduate examination performance at the University of Cambridge shows that TSA total scores appear to be a strong predictor of the probability of achieving a first class examination outcome, for the courses that use the test.[7]

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