How to prepare for the TSA exam using TSA past papers

3 min read

TSA past papers are probably the best resource out there to prepare for the TSA exam. There’s plenty of them available, and they’re all released for free from Cambridge Assessment (who administer the TSA).

Where can I find past papers?

You can find past papers for TSA Oxford online. Oxbridge Mind have also compiled TSA Past Papers for you to practise question types, specific sections or try a whole test!

Oxford TSA past papers

You can find past papers for Oxford TSA Section 1 and 2, as well as a Section 1 specimen paper with explained answers and a demo of the computer based test here: Oxford TSA Past Papers

How do I use past papers to prepare?

The best way to prepare using the past papers is to sit the exam under timed conditions, and ideally all in one go. You should allow 90 minutes for Section 1, and 30 minutes for Section 2 if you also have to do that.

Work through the paper in timed conditions and note down your answers. Try not to leave any blank – if you aren’t sure, try your best to eliminate the options that can’t be right, and take an educated guess. 

Use the answers you got wrong as a learning opportunity. Spend some time working out how to get to the correct answer for each one you got incorrect. Look at where you went wrong as well.  What mistake did you make in your thought process or working out that led you to the wrong answer? If you can work out what kind of mistakes you are prone to making, for example, you may often get mental maths calculations wrong, or not have read the text clearly enough, you can avoid them better next time. 

It can also be useful to categorise your answers by which of the three Problem Solving or seven Critical Thinking question types they fall under. This will help you identify what types of questions are your strengths and weaknesses, so you can focus on the ones you need to improve most on. 

Keep an eye on how much time each question is taking you as well. You have on average 1.8 minutes per question, but you’ll probably find some questions are very quick to solve and others take a bit longer. If you know the kind of questions that you can do quickly and the kind of questions you may need a little longer on, you can be more tactical in the exam about your timings.

When tracking your progress, don’t just look at your raw mark, but your converted score as well. The paper difficulty can vary somewhat each year, so a lower raw mark doesn’t necessarily mean a lower score. If your raw marks and converted scores get better with each paper you sit, that is a good sign.

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Section 2

With Section 2 past papers, it is best to do them to time, as writing a coherent essay in 30 minutes is a skill that needs to be developed. However, if you’re unfamiliar with writing essays, which applicants who have not done essay based A-levels may be, you can allow yourself longer on the first couple of attempts to get yourself used to extended writing again. It’s a good idea to handwrite your essays as you’ll be handwriting them in the exam. There is also a limit of 2 sides of A4 , so do not exceed this in any of your practice essays!

After you’ve written an essay, leave it for a while, and come back to reread it. Looking at it with fresh eyes will help you spot errors and be more critical. If you have a teacher or someone else willing to look over your essays, be sure to get their feedback too. Read over your essay to make sure it flows well, has no spelling or grammar errors, and answers the question. Your essay should put forward several justified arguments and respond to counter-arguments. It should have a brief introduction, where you can introduce your argument and define any key terms of the argument, and a brief conclusion, where you sum up your points and relate them back to answer the question. 

Timed practice is very important as you will get an idea of how much you’ll be able to write. Take a few minutes to plan at the beginning. Briefly outline what each paragraph will cover and set a time limit to write it in. The more essays you write, the better your ability to plan for the time will be, so lots of practice is key.

Download Free TSA S2 Essay Plans

    How do I use the specimen paper and explained answers to prepare?

    The specimen paper is really useful as there is an explained answer for each question, which gives you an insight into the thought process behind each question. It also explains why the wrong answers are wrong, which may help you understand some of the traps to avoid when choosing your answer. It might be useful to tackle this paper at the start of your TSA exam prep. 

    It is helpful to go through the specimen paper more slowly than the past paper. For each question, think through your answer, then have a look at the answer’s explanation. If you got it wrong, you’ll be able to easily see why. If you got it right, there may still be an easier or quicker method than what you did, so right or wrong pay close attention to each answer explanation. 

    Make sure you have a proper go at every question. If you’re stuck, don’t be tempted to scroll straight to the explanation. Keep working at it until you get there. In the TSA exam you won’t have this kind of time, but as the specimen paper is most useful for understanding the reasons behind answers as opposed to timed practice, you can afford to do that here.

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    There are plenty of ways you can use TSA past papers to prepare for the exam. They are freely accessible and there’s plenty of them, so use them all! An Oxbridge Mind’s expert TSA tutor can also help you use past papers to your advantage. Our tutors can walk you through past papers and help you improve your score! Our TSA Online Course is packed with expert advice and questions with explanations; a perfect way to start your TSA preparation!

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