NSAA Exam: Section 2

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If you are reading this article, I’m assuming you are studying for the Cambridge Natural Sciences Admissions Assessment (NSAA) and are looking for more information on how to ace Section 2. If you have no idea what I’m talking about (‘what on earth is Section 2?!’ – your brain, right now), I would suggest heading here, to check out my article on ‘What is the NSAA?’ for more of an overview on the exam, why you need to take it and other information.

I’m going to be breaking down Section 2 of the NSAA to give you everything you need to know to start your revision for this section, or some NSAA top tips to help you on your way if you’ve already started studying. This article will only talk about Section 2 (of two) of the assessment, so if you want to learn about Section 1 first, you can check out the NSAA Section 1 article (if you didn’t know there were two sections at all, I would suggest going back to ‘What is the NSAA’.)

For starters, let’s discuss the format of NSAA Section 2.

There are three parts, of which you are required to answer only one part. The three parts are called X (physics), Y (chemistry) and Z (biology). Each part contains 20 multiple choice questions, so you answer 20 total questions in this section. As mentioned in the Section 1 article, calculators are not allowed in ANY section of the exam, so Section 2 is non-calculator (on the plus side, you don’t have to worry about accidentally using a calculator in the wrong section!)

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The timing in Section 2 is slightly less chaotic (for lack of a better word) than Section 1, but by no means does that mean you can sit there and chill out instead of answering questions! You have 60 minutes to complete Section 2, the same as for Section 1, but there are half as many questions. This gives you 60 minutes for 20 questions, or 3 minutes per question.

You might be thinking, ‘but compared to Section 1, that’s SO long, this is going to be a breeze!’ and I’m here to say you are NOT correct! The time per question might be longer, but the questions are also longer. You are given a lot more information to read in order to answer the question, and your working out will usually contain more steps. But, this is okay! From my perspective, certainly for the chemistry questions, this makes the questions more similar (but not the same) in style to those you might see in an A level paper, where you would be expected to do more steps to reach your answer. Except that you’re not getting marks for your working out!

Speaking of marks, let’s talk about how marks are awarded in Section 2.

As in Section 1, each correct answer is worth one mark, and there is no negative marking in Section 2 either (wrong answer = no mark, not minus one). However, you will have to work a bit harder for that one mark than you did in Section 1, owing to the longer questions. The two sections, even though one is worth twice as many marks as the other, are weighted the same in the final result, making each Section 2 question twice as important!

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    What you need to know

    The specification provided by the university tells you all the content that you are required to know and understand for the exam. Section 2 assumes knowledge of Section 1 (including the maths), so make sure that you read the specification for Section 1 first before attempting Section 2. Chemistry has extra content for Section 2 (labelled ‘advanced chemistry’ in the spec) and physics Section 2 has two extra specification parts, ‘advanced physics’ and ‘advanced mathematics’. You will need to make sure you cover whichever extra sections are required for the subject to wish to answer the questions for. Biology actually has no extra content for Section 2, however.

    You can find the specification on the Cambridge website, or via this link.

    My Top Tips for NSAA Exam Section 2:

    1. Practice NSAA past paper questions

    Within the last few years, the format of Section 2 has changed, from long answer questions to multiple choice questions. This means that the bank of available NSAA past paper questions for Section 2 which match the style of the current exam is more limited than it is for Section 1.

    This is not too big of a deal though, since Section 1 papers are good practice for the style of the exam, and old style Section 2 questions can still give you an idea of the kinds of multi-step questions you will be asked in the new-style Section 2. Therefore I would still encourage you to give some old Section 2 NSAA past papers a try!

    You can also find NSAA Section 2 NSAA past paper questions on the Cambridge website here.

    2. Practice some questions under timed conditions

    Since your stock of NSAA past papers in the current style is really limited to the NSAA specimen paper, I would suggest maybe saving this paper to try under proper timed conditions, almost like a mini mock test. You are given lots of information per question which you need to be able to read, understand and pick the important info from quickly, so it’s a good idea to practice this before the real thing.

    3. Make sure you are happy with your units

    Being able to convert between units, for example, cubic centimetres and cubic decimetres quickly and accurately in your head is going to be important for all parts of this exam so get comfortable doing this without a calculator

    Hopefully, you now feel well prepared to take on the NSAA Section 2! If you want more information about the NSAA in general, including my NSAA top tips, check out the articles below:

    NSAA Top Tips

    What is the NSAA?

    And if you need a reminder of advice for Section 1, you can find it here: NSAA Section 1

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