Thinking Skills Assessment Sample Essay

You will be asked to take the Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA) if you apply for:

  • Land Economy at the University of Cambridge;
  • European Social and Political Studies (ESPS) at UCL;
  • Chemistry, Economics and Management, Experimental Psychology, Geography, History and Economics, Human Sciences, Philosophy and Linguistics, Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE), Psychology and Linguistics or Psychology and Philosophy at the University of Oxford.

But what are thinking skills, and how do I get them, I hear you say! The short answer is that you already have thinking skills, you just might not be used to using them to answer the sorts of question asked in the TSA. Watch the video on this pageto understand what the TSA is testing and why…

The TSA is designed to test two kinds of thinking: problem-solving and critical thinking. Problem-solving is the process of finding solutions to difficult or complex issues. Critical thinking is the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgement. In the context of the TSA, problem-solving is basically non-verbal reasoning, and critical thinking is basically verbal reasoning. Both problem-solving and critical thinking are assessed by multiple-choice questions in the TSA S1 (the part of the TSA taken by all TSA entrants). The TSA S1 is a 90-minute test. The questions are presented in order of difficulty, with the different types of question interspersed throughout the test, so that you’ll be exposed to a fair balance of the different styles of question if you don’t finish the test in time.

The TSA Oxford (the version of the test you’ll need to take if you apply for Economics and Management, Experimental Psychology, Geography, Human Sciences, Philosophy and Linguistics, Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE), Psychology and Linguistics or Psychology and Philosophy at the University of Oxford) includes an additional 30-minute writing task.

Begin your preparation for the TSA S1 by consulting the TSA test specification. It explains what the TSA is testing, and sets out the types of question you will be asked. Take the time to read through the example questions and answers in detail.

The mathematical knowledge and skills needed for the problem-solving questions are listed on page 9 of the test specification; check you’re happy with concepts such as percentages, and with extracting information from graphs and tables, especially if you’re not doing Maths A level. You’ll be asked three kinds of problem-solving question in the TSA 1: relevant selection, finding procedures, and identifying similarity. In a relevant selection question, you’ll need to select the relevant information and use it to solve a problem. In a finding procedures question, you’ll need to find a procedure which you can use to solve a problem. In an identifying similarity question, you’ll be presented with a set of information and asked to identify if another set of data has a similar structure.

Page 10 of the test specification presents a method for understanding arguments based on reasons, conclusions, and assumptions. An argument is a good argument provided the conclusion follows from, or is supported by, the reasons. Sometimes a conclusion is introduced by words such as ‘so’ or ‘therefore’, but sometimes it is not. A conclusion can appear at the beginning, middle, or end of an argument. Some arguments may omit a stage in the reasoning – an assumption must be made in order for the conclusion to follow. You’ll need to be able to identify assumptions and reasoning errors in order to answer some of the critical thinking questions. You’ll be asked seven kinds of critical thinking question in the TSA 1: summarising the main conclusion, drawing a conclusion, identifying an assumption, assessing the impact of additional evidence, detecting reasoning errors, matching arguments, and applying principles.

Working through the specimen test, marking your work using the specimen answer sheet, and understanding why you made the mistakes you made using the specimen explained answers is the best way to prepare for the TSA. Work through the past papers provided here, until you’re familiar with the format and style of the test.

James C., a MyTutor tutor who is studying PPE at St Anne’s College, Oxford, explains how he prepared for the TSA S1:

“Ignore people who say you can’t prepare for the TSA – I definitely got better with practice. You’ll come across the same sorts of question in each test, so over time you’ll get the hang of what you need to do. Make sure you take the time to understand why you’re making the mistakes you’re making, so you can learn from them. It can be helpful to go through some past papers with someone else, because it’s not always easy to understand why one answer is right and another isn’t. I worked through the past papers with my mum, but someone who’s actually done the test might’ve been even better!”

Eleanor F., a MyTutor tutor who is studying PPE at Somerville College, Oxford, gives her top tips for preparing for the TSA:

“I enjoyed preparing for and doing the TSA – I’d never done anything quite like it, and it was really good fun! It’s not a test of what you know, so you have to think on your feet. When I tutor the TSA, I ask my student to do a paper before each tutorial, and then we discuss the questions they found hardest in the tutorial. It’s good to chat about the answers – that way, you can work out how to get through the paper at speed. For the essay, I think reading the headlines regularly is really important – you need to have a good understanding of what’s going on in the world. The essay is not like other essays – you don’t have much time at all, and it’s not subject-specific – so it’s a question of trial and error. It’s great to see how much – and how quickly – students can improve!”

If you apply for Economics and Management, Experimental Psychology, Geography, Human Sciences, Philosophy and Linguistics, Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE), Psychology and Linguistics or Psychology and Philosophy at the University of Oxford, you will do the TSA S1 and the TSA Oxford writing task.

The TSA Oxford writing task is designed to test your ability to select, develop and order your ideas in a clear and concise manner. There will be a choice of essay questions, none of which will be subject-specific. You’ll only have 30 minutes to write your essay – making planning all the more important. A concise and well-structured one-page answer may be more effective than a longer answer. It is essential to address the question directly – you don’t have time to go off-topic. Remember, the quality of your writing is being assessed!

Example questions include ‘In order to be a successful leader, is it better to be loved or feared?’ and ‘Why is vision so important to human beings?’. The questions don’t have right or wrong answers. Planning answers to past paper questions is one of the best ways to prepare.

Joe M., a MyTutor tutor who is studying PPE at St Catherine’s College, Oxford, spells out how to structure a TSA Oxford essay:

“Plan your essay before you start writing – otherwise, it’ll be difficult to structure your essay properly! The introduction is really important: clearly set out how you intend to answer the question. Hinting at your conclusion in the introduction will help you to stay focussed throughout the essay. Each paragraph in the main body of your essay should build on the paragraph before it. Begin each paragraph with a sentence that makes the point of the paragraph clear, and relates the subject of the paragraph back to the question. When presenting your argument, try to anticipate the counter-arguments, and set out why your conclusion is stronger than the alternatives.”

Sophie A., a MyTutor tutor who is studying PPE at Balliol College, Oxford, suggests asking yourself a few questions before starting to write your TSA essay:

“First of all, think about what you’d do if you had to answer Yes, No, or Maybe. This will help you structure your essay. If you answer Maybe, make sure that the main body of your essay doesn’t come across as non-committal, and that you have good reasons for not being able to give a Yes or No answer. One such reason would be that the answer to the question is highly contextual.”

Tom R., a MyTutor tutor who is doing an MPhil in Politics (Comparative Government) at St Anne’s College, Oxford, shares his top tips for writing a great TSA essay:

“Choose the question that interests you the most, not the question that you find the easiest. You’ll show off your academic potential best if you’re writing about something you really care about. Answer the question. Don’t go off on a tangent – you don’t have time, and Oxford tutors hate waffle (trust me!). Take a side. Show you’re aware that there are different points of view, but don’t let your essay become too descriptive. Use counter-arguments to bolster your own argument.”

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  1. Hey everyone, just been thinking about the TSA, and I've looked at some past papers and was thinking there needs to be a tsr thread for us.

    Does anyone have any advice on the essay section because I don't really understand what style we're meant to answer the essays in etc. ? If there were any model answers that would be perfect.

  2. I forgot about the essays for a while. But I'm also taking the TSA this year for PPE - what are you applying for? Model answers would be great but generally I think it's just a discursive/ argumentative essay where you put forward your point of view and I think it is 4 sides max (not entirely sure about that though).
    (Original post by Mez24)
    Hey everyone, just been thinking about the TSA, and I've looked at some past papers and was thinking there needs to be a tsr thread for us.

    Does anyone have any advice on the essay section because I don't really understand what style we're meant to answer the essays in etc. ? If there were any model answers that would be perfect.

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