8 Tips for the NSAA Exam

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UPDATE: Please note that CAAT has announced that they will be discontinuing the NSAA exam and will no longer administer the test from 2024. Candidates looking to apply for Natural Sciences or Veterinary Medicine at the University of Cambridge for 2025 entry and beyond need to take the ESAT.

Top Tips for the NSAA Test

If you are reading this article about “8 Tips for the NSAA Exam”, I assume you are a year 11 or 12 student preparing to apply to study Natural Sciences, Veterinary Medicine or Chemical Engineering (via Natural Sciences) at the University of Cambridge. Or you are a year 13 student who has already applied. Either way, you want to know how to ace the Cambridge Natural Sciences Admissions Assessment, or NSAA as it is more commonly known. 

Here are eight top tips for acing the Cambridge NSAA test, so read on for more info! If you aren’t exactly sure what the NSAA is, you can read the article about the NSAA Cambridge Test here which breaks down the need-to-know information.

1. Start preparing well in advance

This sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised at how quickly the test will come around once you start with the chaos of year 13! The exam is usually takes place in early November. So I would recommend starting your NSAA prep in August. You will have A-Level work to focus on once school or college starts back in September.

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2. Read through the specification thoroughly

The University of Cambridge provides a specification (you can find it here) containing a list of all the content you are required to know, understand and could be tested on. This is important because remember that not every student will have taken the same exams up to this point. For example, different countries around the world have different qualifications. Furthermore, not every school (even within the UK) will teach the same A-Level (or equivalent) content up to the point of taking the exam.

This means you can’t assume that you will have covered everything on the exam. However, since it is mostly based on applying GCSE content in ways you are unfamiliar with, you will most likely not have to learn too many new things. 

To help you out with this, I break down the important bits of each section of the exam here You can also find more information in NSAA Section 1 and NSAA Section 2 along with giving you other NSAA preparation resources.

3. Have a go at as many NSAA past paper questions as possible

I cannot stress enough how important this is! The style of questions on the NSAA will be unfamiliar to you. So the absolute best way to be as prepared as possible is to practice using the NSAA past papers. These are all available on the Oxbridge Mind wesbite and also provided by the university here.

Download Your Free NSAA S1 Mock

    4. Make sure you’re registered by your school well in advance of the test

    It is your responsibility to ensure that:

    1. Your school is a registered test centre. If it is not, your school can apply to become a test centre (there is a deadline for this which is usually the end of September). Or you can find a different test centre near you.
    2. You register for the test (you will need your UCAS number for this)
    3. You have your candidate number, which is also your proof of registration

    All of these things can be done by speaking to the exams officer at your school or college, and more information about registration can be found on the admissions testing website here.

    5. Practice under timed conditions

    Multiple-choice tests are notoriously difficult when it comes to timing, and the NSAA is no exception. The timings are different for each section. But the long and short of it is that you don’t have very much time per question (only 1.5 minutes in Section 1!). 

    This means that practicing some of the NSAA past paper questions under timed conditions is really good practice. This enables you to get a feel of the pace that you’re going to have to work at to answer as many questions as possible. I wouldn’t recommend doing all of your revision under timed conditions as this could be a little stressful. But certainly work up to it once you feel that you have an idea of the style of the questions.

    6. Practice your mental arithmetic

    Every candidate is required to complete the maths part of Section 1. This is done without a calculator, as is Section 2! This means any and all calculations will need to be done in your head. You will have a pencil and paper too so it’s not completely mental maths! A lot of students struggle with this. So I would definitely recommend practicing extra mental maths as part of your NSAA revision if you think this might be a weak point for you.

    7. Don’t stress!

    Remember that the NSAA is not a pass or fail exam. Admissions tutors will not completely disregard your application if you don’t do as well on the day as you could have done. The NSAA test is only one part of your application to Cambridge and will be looked at alongside all of your other work, such as exam grades (or teacher assessed grades), predicted grades, personal statement, SAQ and references from teachers. There is no ‘NSAA minimum score’ that you need to get, so all you can do is practice the NSAA past paper questions, remain as calm as possible on the day and try your best!

    8. Contact Medic Mind if you need any extra help

    The team of experienced NSAA tutors at Medic Mind (who all sat this exam and went on to study at Cambridge) is here to help you! If you feel like you would benefit from some extra help in your NSAA preparation, I would definitely recommend reaching out to Medic Mind for a one-to-one lesson with a NSAA tutor who was in your shoes not so long ago!

    Remember to check out the other resources available which have been linked throughout the article, as well as the other information guides to the NSAA which you can find here:

    What is the NSAA?

    NSAA Section 1

    NSAA Section 2

    Best of luck with your NSAA preparations and applications!

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