Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

Entrance exams explained

Entrance exams explainedDepending on where you apply and what you study, you might need to take an extra exam to secure your place at university. Read on to find out more.

Entrance exams are normally used when there are too many people applying for a course for the university to decide who to take based on A-level results alone.

If you're applying for a subject you haven't studied at school, like medicine, the exam will usually be designed to test skills that aren't covered by your A-level courses. If it's something you're studying already, like maths, expect much more of a challenge than the A-level exams

Medicine: UKCAT, BMAT and HPAT

There are two main entrance exams for medicine: the UKCAT and the BMAT. You can find out more about these using our guides:

There's also the Health Professions Admissions Test (HPAT). This is mainly used for courses in the Republic of Ireland, but it's also used if you apply to study medicine at the University of Ulster.

Finally, if you want to take a graduate degree in medicine after getting a degree in another subject, you might have to take the GAMSAT. This stands for Graduate Australian Medical School Admissions Test, but it's used in Britain and Ireland as well as Australia.

Maths: Sixth Term Examination Paper (STEP)

The STEP exam is used by Cambridge and Warwick universities for students applying to study maths. However, you won't have to take the exam until you've had an interview: it will be part of your conditional offer. You might also be asked to take it if you apply to study maths at Oxford, Bath or Imperial College London.

The STEP is made up of three maths papers, but you'll usually only have to take two of them. Each paper asks you to answer six questions from a choice of 13.

Law: National Admissions Test for Law (LNAT)

The National Admissions Test for Law (LNAT) is used by some universities to pick out the best potential law students. It's based on reasoning skills rather than knowledge, so practice is more important than revision. You can find out lots more about the LNAT in our article The lowdown on LNAT.

Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA)

There are two exams called the Thinking Skills Assessment: one at Cambridge, and one at Oxford. The Cambridge TSA is for students applying for:

  • Computer Science
  • Economics
  • Engineering
  • Land Economy
  • Natural Sciences (Physical and Biological)
  • Politics, Psychology and Sociology (PPS)

It's a multiple-choice test which you'll take either on paper or online. Depending on which college you apply to, you might not have to take it.

The Oxford TSA is for students applying for:

  • Economics and Management
  • Experimental Psychology
  • Geography
  • Human Sciences 
  • Philosophy and Linguistics
  • Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE)
  • Psychology and Linguistics
  • Psychology and Philosophy.

It's a two hour test including a multiple-choice section and an essay question, which you'll probably take at your school or college.

The tests are very similar, and as the name suggests they test how you think rather than your knowledge. 

English: English Literature Admissions Test (ELAT)

The ELAT is only used at Oxford University for students applying for English courses. It's a 90 minute test, and requires you to write an essay based on two or three passages of text. Most of the time, you'll take it at your school or college.

Tests at interview

Even if there isn't a formal exam for your course, if you're asked to go to an interview at one of your universities, you may also have to complete a written test. For example, for English you might have to write an essay about a poem you haven't seen before.

The university should tell you in advance of the interview if you will be taking an additional test, but don't be afraid to ask them to confirm if you're not sure.

Remember that the test might be discussed in the interview itself – so make sure you remember what you wrote in it!

Related links