10 Tips for TSA Section 1

5 min read
Oxford TSA Section 1

What is TSA Section 1?

Section 1 of the TSA is a 90-minute, 50-question paper that assesses your ability to reason verbally and mathematically. These skills are a generic indicator of the ability to study at an undergraduate level, particularly in essay-based courses. Section 1 will be the only part of the TSA they must do for some people. For others, there will be a 30-minute essay task afterwards. To find out whether you need to sit the TSA and which parts, read our article, including the Cambridge and Oxford TSA test date. In this article, we will cover some helpful TSA section 1 tips to help you ace the exam.

What are the Questions like?

Each question is worth one mark and is multiple choice, and you have five answers. Oxford TSA Section 1 questions fall into one of two categories: Critical Thinking, which tests your ability to understand arguments, and Problem Solving, which tests your numerical reasoning ability. There are 25 questions of each type mixed throughout the exam, and they are roughly in order of difficulty.

Oxford TSA Section 1 Questions

Problem Solving

There are three types of Problem Solving questions, which test different aspects of your numerical reasoning ability.

  • Relevant Selection: This assesses your ability to pick out relevant information from the question material and ignore irrelevant and distracting information, and use only the relevant information to come to your answer
  • Finding Procedures: Usually you will have less information to work with, but will have to find and carry out appropriate mathematical operations to get to your answer. The method you need to use may not always be immediately apparent. 
  • Identifying Similarities: You will have to interpret data presented in different ways. These could be graphs, tables, charts etc. and you will have to compare them with other representations to find similarities and make inferences to get to your answer.
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Critical Thinking

This tests your ability to understand and identify the features of logical arguments. You will read a passage and have to answer a question on some aspect of it. There are seven types of Critical Thinking questions in Oxford TSA Section 1. 

Identifying the Main Conclusion

You will have to identify which statement from the list of possible answer choices best expresses the argument’s main conclusion. The conclusion will be in the text, perhaps phrased differently, so you must pick it out and match it up with the right answer. These questions follow a similar phrasing: ‘Which of the following best expresses the main conclusion of the above argument?’

TSA Section 1 tips

Drawing a Conclusion

You’ll need to choose which of the possible answers is a conclusion that you can reasonably draw from the arguments presented in the passage. The conclusion itself won’t be in the passage. These questions follow a similar phrasing: ‘Which one of the following conclusions is best supported by the passage above?’

Identifying an Assumption

Assumptions are not stated in the argument, but you can take for granted in order to reach the conclusion. You’ll first have to identify the conclusion in the passage, then think about what important point needed to reach that conclusion has not been stated in the passage. These questions follow a similar phrasing: ‘Which of the following is an underlying assumption of the argument above?’

Assessing the Impact of Additional Evidence

You’ll have to choose which of the answers would most weaken/strengthen the argument in the passage. These questions are phrased: ‘ Which of the following, if true, would most weaken (or strengthen, depending on the question) the above argument?’

Detecting Reasoning Errors

You must identify the flaw in the argument. Work out why the conclusion does not follow from the reasons given in the argument. These questions are phrased: ‘Which of the following is the best statement of the flaw in the argument above?’

Matching Arguments

You will need to pick out which answer choice is structured most similarly to the argument in the passage. These questions follow a similar format: ‘Which of the following most closely parallels the reasoning used in the above argument?’

Applying Principles

You will have to work out what principle, or general recommendation, the argument in the passage rests upon, and match it to one of the answers that uses the same principle. These questions follow a similar format: ‘Which one of the following best illustrates the principle underlying the argument above?’

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    How is it marked?

    The Oxford TSA Section 1 is automatically marked by a computer, and 1 mark is awarded for each answer that is correct. It is not negatively marked, so you don’t lose any points for a wrong answer. Your marks are then statistically converted into a score that takes into account the question and paper difficulty. For more information on TSA scores, you can check out our article What is a Good TSA Score?

    TSA Section 1 tips

    TSA Section 1 Tips

    1. Prepare!

    TSA preparation is tip number one because it is the single most important thing you must do to succeed in TSA Section 1. Don’t think you’ll do fine if you leave it all to the night before. Because TSA is an aptitude test to a certain extent, it’s more of a skill to learn, and that takes plenty of time and practice.

    2. Brush up on your maths skills

    The maths required doesn’t go above GCSE level, and it’s fairly simple even then. However, you won’t get a calculator, so if you’ve not done maths for a while or got used to always having a calculator within reach for A-level maths, you’ll want to practice working things out by hand. Speed is of the essence as you don’t get very long to answer the questions. 

    3. Learn the question types

    In Critical Thinking, most of the time you’ll be able to figure out the question type easily from the phrasing of the question. This will help you identify exactly what you have to do to find the answer. It’s not always clear what type of question a Problem Solving question is, but if you’re able to spot that something is Relevant Selection it’ll hopefully stop you falling into the traps the distracting information might lead you towards, for example.

    4. Read the TSA question very carefully

    There will often be nuances in the wording or small pieces of information that are key to understanding how to find the answer. Make sure you fully understand the question before starting to answer. It might help to get a basic overview first, to help eliminate irrelevant bits, but make sure you fully understand the relevant information so the question does not catch you out. 

    5. Develop a timing strategy and stick to it

    You only get 1.8 minutes per question, which is not very long at all. Some questions might be fairly straight-forward and answerable quickly, and others may take longer than 1.8 minutes. Doing practice papers will help you identify what sorts of questions are quick to answer and which you may need more time on, so use that to plan your question timings. Set a limit after which you have to move on, even if you haven’t found the answer – it’s not worth spending several minutes of your precious time on one question when there’s 49 others that need answering. Set a target of how many questions you want to have answered by certain time points in the exam to keep track of your progress. Our TSA Online Course provides more TSA section 1 tips and timing strategies to help you stick to the time.

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    6. Use process of elimination

    Remember – you will always have the answer in front of you, as one of your five options. Use this to your advantage and start eliminating wrong answers if you can’t immediately see a method to the right one. Even if you can’t get to an answer, if you manage to eliminate three that are obviously wrong your odds of a correct guess just increased from ⅕ to ½!

    7. Move straight on once you’ve answered a question

    It can be tempting to deliberate over your answer and check it again and again, but you don’t have time. Move on to the next question as soon as you’ve got to an answer you’re pretty happy with. If you somehow have spare time at the end, use it to check things, but chances are you won’t have much time to spare.

    8. Use the resources that are available in the TSA exam

    You will be able to take rough notes in the exam, which is a good idea. Some calculations will be too long to do in your head without risking mistakes. It also might help if you struggle with spatial reasoning to sketch things out. If a question feels really confusing, writing down your working out can make it clearer, and being able to look over your working out will make it easier to spot errors. You won’t need to do this for all questions – some are very easy mental maths – but don’t be afraid to write stuff down if you feel it will help. 

    9. Use everything you can find to prepare

    There’s plenty of TSA past papers online for free that you can use to practice. Section 1 of the BMAT has the same types of questions as the TSA, there’s just fewer of them , so use BMAT Section 1 past papers too. You can also apply your developing Critical Thinking skills in everyday life – consider the logical structure of arguments you come across in your studies, or in newspapers, for example. 

    10. Read through the explained answers on the Specimen Paper

    This is an excellent way to get an idea of what is expected of you when answering questions. The people who set the test produce the papers, so it’s your best insight into the rationale behind the questions and the kind of reasoning they expect you to be able to do. Take your time to understand the answers and apply any new ways of thinking you might come across to your own practice attempts and see how you get on. 


    With some hard work and preparation, you can maximise your score in TSA Section 1. If you’re looking for some extra guidance, Our expert tutors can give you 1-1 support to help you ace TSA Section 1!


    →What is TSA Section 1?

    TSA Section 1 is the first part of the Thinking Skills Assessment, an admissions test used by some universities in the UK to assess a student’s potential to study a particular subject.

    →What does TSA Section 1 assess?

    TSA Section 1 assesses a student’s critical thinking, problem-solving, and reasoning skills through a series of multiple-choice questions.

    →How can I prepare for TSA Section 1?

    To prepare for TSA Section 1, you should familiarize yourself with the format of the test, practice your critical thinking and problem-solving skills, and review past papers and sample questions.

    →What are some tips for taking TSA Section 1?

    Some tips for taking TSA Section 1 include managing your time effectively, reading the questions carefully, eliminating obviously incorrect answers, and practicing good test-taking strategies such as educated guessing.

    →Can I retake TSA Section 1?

    It depends on the university’s policies. Some universities allow students to retake TSA Section 1, while others do not. You should check with the specific university you are applying to for their retake policies.

    →How important is TSA Section 1 for university admissions?

    The importance of TSA Section 1 varies depending on the university and the course you are applying for. However, it is generally considered an important factor in the admissions process and can have a significant impact on your chances of being accepted.

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