MAT Preparation: Your 6-Month MAT Preparation Timeline
Written by: Matt Amalfitano-Stroud
The Maths Admissions Test (MAT) is used by Oxford and a handful of other universities in the UK to help differentiate applicants for their various maths and computer science courses. To prepare for this exam, you’re going to need to do a lot more than read through your A-Level textbook, so we’ve created this 6-Month Preparation Timeline to act as the foundation for your own revision. With proper planning, you’ll be able to get the score you need easily, so let’s get started!
Understand the MAT Format
The MAT follows a fairly unusual structure when compared to other admissions tests. Take a look:
Please be aware that Question 7 in the MAT has been removed from papers as of 2023. Any current or future applicants will not find a Question 7 in their MAT paper.
The two and half hour exam only has 6 questions at first glance, with each applicant only needing to answer five of them. But on closer inspection, we can see that each question is actually pretty long, so you won’t be sitting around for an hour because you finished early. Each question is split into multiple “parts” which could each be seen as individual questions, especially in Question 1 where they literally are individual questions! You can learn more about this in our MAT Starter Guide.
This will likely be different from other maths tests you’ve taken so far, which tend to have a larger amount of smaller questions. Getting to grips with this change is going to be our first step to becoming an MAT pro.
The way we recommend doing this is by working through a past paper. At this stage, it’s not about trying to get a good score or improve your exam technique; it’s simply about understanding how the paper is laid out and what kind of questions are asked. Don’t worry about time limits or restrictions on calculators, just go through each question and try to answer them as best you can (although it’s still a good idea to note your score to track your progress).
The paper you choose will be important as there is a lot to pick from. Firstly, at this stage, you shouldn’t pick one older than 2007, as this is when the current format of the MAT was released. Looking at an older paper isn’t going to help you get to know the format of the paper you’ll be sitting for your application, so save those ones for now.
You also won’t want to use one that’s too recent, as you’ll want to save those for closer to the testing date to use for mock exams. The MAT syllabus was changed in 2018, so using a paper before then will allow you to save the most recent ones for more intense practice later on.
Other than the format of the exam, you’ll also need to be aware of the required knowledge for the test, which can be found within the MAT Syllabus. This document will essentially be your revision checklist, as you’ll have to make sure you can answer questions on all of the listed topics.
As well as these official materials, it will also be good to get insight from people who have actually taken and succeeded in the MAT. Have a look for guides, videos and forum threads discussing the test to see what other people have to say about it.
Creating an MAT Preparation Plan
Once you’ve gotten acquainted with the MAT, it’s time to start your preparation properly. The first part of this is to create the plan you’ll be working with for the next few months. This can be structured as a calendar, a to-do list or any other format, as long as you can get a clear idea of what you need to do and when.
If you’re creating a plan for six months, you’ll have a lot of time to work with that can be spread out fairly thin. Firstly you’ll want to consider all of the current obligations and immovable deadlines that will fall within this time. The MAT testing date is an obvious one, but you’ll also have exams at school, activities and trips over the summer holidays, etc. You’re not going to be working 24/7 from now until November, so dedicate plenty of time in the first few months to time away from the MAT.
This timeline should give you a good idea of how you should generally structure this plan, but the specifics will be down to you. It’s also not something that has to be set in stone, as you’ll likely have to adjust things as the months go on to suit your needs. As long as you have a sense of how you’ll be progressing though, it won’t be a problem!
You may be wondering why you should spend a whole six months preparing when you could potentially do it in one of two. These graphs help illustrate the benefits of doing this:
Essentially, it’s all about managing Time vs Work Done. Achieving a certain amount of work in small increments over the course of a few months will make the whole process easier and less draining, as well as give you time to adjust your strategy when needed. Doing it all in one large chunk may be possible, but it’s less flexible, much more tiring and gives you less time to retain all of the important information.
The last thing you’ll need to plan out is your resource usage. We suggest gathering as much as possible; anything you believe will help you through this process. Your maths textbooks are a good start, as everything covered in the MAT syllabus is found within A-Levels or equivalent.
For practice materials, you will need to gather all of the available past papers for the MAT, which is thankfully quite a lot! We would also suggest trying past papers from the TMUA and STEP, as while they don’t have the same format, they will give you more chances to practice your mathematics in an admissions test context.
If you’re looking for even more questions, finding an MAT question bank would be the best thing for you! Look out for a bank with the ability to customise your sessions, as well as ones that provide worked solutions for all questions.
The MAT.Ninja Preparation Platform offers all of these features, many of which can be accessed for free by just creating an account. If you want to make your preparation more convenient and effective, why not try it out today?
May was a bit of a slower month in terms of preparation, but now is the time to actually start working on the MAT. You’ve still got plenty of time at this point so you won’t need to be revising every day, but you should be working to your plan to start improving your MAT skills. To start with, you may want to take part in more traditional revision. You’ll still be attending maths classes at this point, so this time may be spent going over what you learnt and ensuring you understand the methods you’ll have to use.
If you’re an international student, you may want to check the syllabus for your maths class. All of the topics covered in the MAT should be covered in your school’s syllabus, but some may not be covered until late in your MAT preparation, or even after you sit the test. If this is the case, be sure to get ahead of the class and learn these bits in time for the MAT (you may be able to get help from a teacher or mentor).
Textbooks are certainly a good place to start, but you can always go further! You could find more advanced books that fall beyond your school’s reading list (including MAT-specific workbooks) or search for in-depth tutorials and videos online. And while reading is good, you will likely want to be a bit more hands-on after a while, so try looking for resources with worked examples and practice questions. These likely won’t be in the same format as the MAT but will allow you to learn the practical elements needed to work through the MAT questions later on.
From now until October, we would recommend taking one past paper at the end of each month under exam conditions. Of course, you’re not going to do particularly well for the first couple of months, but the idea is to create firm anchor points at which you can monitor your progress. By the end of your prep time you’ll be sitting past papers more frequently, but right now is a time to try them out seriously without the stress of the looming deadline.
By the end of this month, you’ll be getting to the halfway point of your preparation, so things will be getting more intense as you continue. While continuing with your regular revision, it’s also time to start getting more practical with your preparation:
MAT Practice Questions
As with almost any admissions test, the best way to effectively revise is with practice questions that demonstrate the same difficulty, format and required knowledge as the real thing. Whether it’s through books or online question banks, having a large selection of questions to work through will help you perfect your understanding of how the questions in the MAT work.
Bear in mind that these questions should generally be separate from past papers, as those are more helpful when taken in exam conditions rather than picking and choosing questions. There are expansive MAT question banks available for free online, so don’t worry if you aren’t looking to invest in a paid service.
One thing that will be a huge benefit to your studies is worked solutions. While you’ll easily be able to see if you got the question right in most banks, having a worked solution alongside it will help you to understand exactly how the question is answered. This is especially helpful for the MAT, where you will be marked on your method in Questions 2 – 6. Even if you get the answer correct, you may miss marks if you don’t demonstrate the full process of solving the question, so worked solutions will show you each step and where the marks come from.
MAT Practice Questions
Since there are two different question types in the exam, you may find it easier to take them one at a time to start with. Question 1 is the simplest of the two types, as it contains relatively simple multiple-choice questions. These are much easier to practice, as you are only scored on your answer and not your working out. You’ll be able to work through a good amount of these in a relatively short amount of time and should quickly become more confident in your abilities as you go.
If you’re looking for additional practice questions to try when revising Question 1, why not try out a couple of TMUA past papers? Even if you don’t try to do it in exam conditions, it can still be handy to pick questions out to try. Focus on Paper 1 of the TMUA, as these are the questions that are based on pure mathematics, while Paper 2 is more about thinking skills in the context of maths.
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For most applicants, this month is your summer holidays, which has both perks and drawbacks to your revision. You won’t be at school each day so you’ll have more time to focus on your prep, but you’re also likely to have a lot of stuff planned throughout the month. There’s nothing wrong with this so always be sure to enjoy yourself over the holidays. However, just remember to set time aside when you’re free to carry on with your MAT practice.
MAT Questions 2 - 6
By now, you should be pretty good at MCQs, so it’s time to move on to the other questions of the MAT, which are all fully written questions. These will require more time to perfect, as you’ll be learning how to write your answers in a way that will maximise your marks without spending too much time.
Before you start, be sure to check which questions you’ll be answering in the MAT, as applicants from different courses answer different questions. If you’re applying to Mathematics at Oxford or any other MAT university, you’ll need to answer Questions 2,3,4, and 5. If you’re applying to Computer Science with or without joint honours at Oxford, you will be answering Question 6 instead of Question 4 (this should be stated on your question paper but remember it in advance).
One topic that is usually covered in Question 6 is Sequence and Series. While it will still be good to revise this for the sake of having the knowledge, these questions likely won’t come up in the paper if you’re answering Questions 2 – 5. If you are required to answer one of those questions, then you’re going to have to revise it regardless!
As to how you want to approach these practice questions, there are multiple ways you could go:
Split your practice questions into their question numbers (Question 2, Question 3)
Split them by topic or subtopic (Algebra, Geometry, etc)
Work through them randomly
Any method should let you experience every type of question you could be asked in the exam. The difficulty of each question isn’t something that is formally measured, so you’ll likely fluctuate from easier to harder regularly, although they are all designed to still be fair.
While not everyone will have this opportunity, it can be helpful to show your answers to someone who understands mathematics to get their take. Let them mark it honestly and see where you may have missed things or made mistakes in your work. While practising with automatic marking and worked solutions will help you build up your skills, it’s also good to go back to traditional methods every now and then to make sure your style of work actually makes sense to humans!
Extra MAT Revision Tips
Don’t be afraid to skip questions when you really aren’t sure of something. Later in your revision, you should avoid using calculators and other banned items, even if you’re stuck, so if you don’t know, flag the question and try it again later. This also applies to past papers and the actual exam to some extent. If you’re stuck on a question, there’s no point in spending all your time struggling with it. Move on and come back at the end.
You should have created some major milestones for yourself in your initial preparation plan, but you may find it more motivating to create smaller goals to reach throughout your practice. These could be weekly or even daily goals that you can reach more easily. Including rewards for reaching these goals will help with motivation even further.
You’re likely going to be spending most of your time practising the written questions of the MAT, but don’t forget to take a look at some MCQs from time to time. Even if it’s just 10 or so a week, it’s important to keep your skills sharp as these will be the questions where you have to move faster.
The MAT is getting closer now, so it’s time to start taking everything you’ve learnt into a more realistic context!
Taking MAT Past Papers
This is the time to start taking serious mock exams with MAT past papers to improve your exam skills and ensure that you know how to perform well in the real thing. There’s only a limited number of papers to take so you shouldn’t rush through them all in one week. You need to pace yourself somewhat slowly at the start, taking on two past papers per week at the very most. This is all about quality rather than quantity, so you need to ensure you’re getting the most out of each past paper.
Hold on to the most recent papers until next month and focus on the older ones for now. They may not be an accurate representation of the real test, but they will still give you a good idea of how to manage your time and approach your answers. Here are a few tips to help you through your mock exams:
When marking your papers, keep an eye out for topics or question types that you consistently get wrong. Everyone has weaknesses and while you don’t need to be perfect here, recognising these issues will help you focus your revision and try to improve. Even if you only gain a couple of extra marks from revising the more difficult topics, you will still have benefited from it!
Registration for the MAT begins on September 1st and runs for the whole month until September 30th. Registering for the test is vital as you will not be able to sit it otherwise, so be sure you know how the process works:
- You will first need to find out if your place of education is a registered testing centre. If not, you will need to find your local testing centre before you register, this can be done on the Cambridge Assessments Admissions Testing (CAAT) website (which administers the MAT).
- You will next need to speak with your school/college’s exams officer, who will begin the process of registration for you. You’ll need to provide them with some personal details, including your name, date of birth and UCAS number, as well as your course details.
- When this process is completed, your exams officer will provide you with an MAT number which you must keep safe for the testing date.
If you wish for your place of education to become a testing centre, this can be done on the CAAT website before September 16th. If you require a modified paper, this must also be requested by September 16th.
This is it, the final month of your preparation (plus a few days). While it’s not your only priority, you should be spending this time going through as many past papers as possible and perfecting your skills in time for the big day. By the end of October, you should be feeling confident that you can get a good or even great score in the real MAT.
UCAS Application Deadline
If you’re applying to Oxford, the deadline for your UCAS Application is October 15th. This means that by this date, you must submit all of your university choices, references and your personal statement. This is all going to take a while to complete, so the MAT may not be your highest priority at the start of the month. Try to get all this in before the final due date as it will free up more time to continue with your preparation and will relieve a lot of stress.
If you aren’t applying for Oxford or Cambridge, you won’t have to worry about all of this until January. While it’s good to get started with your personal statement around this time, the MAT should be your biggest focus right now, so make the most of your time.
Last Minute MAT Revision
As you get to the last few weeks and days of your preparation, the pressure is likely starting to sink in and you’ll be looking for ways to ensure that you’re going to perform as well as possible. Try out these tips to make the most of your time:
Aim to sit a past paper every couple of days or so. These will need to be in full exam conditions, so be strict with yourself.
Most of your spare prep time should be spent on your weakest areas, but don’t get arrogant and ignore your strengths. Look for questions that challenge you and try to solve them quickly.
Avoid unnecessary stress where possible outside of preparation. Taking regular breaks and assigning days off will help you avoid burning out and losing motivation.
MAT Testing Day
The day before the MAT should be all about R&R. You may want to take a look at a few practice questions to keep your mind sharp, but the rest of the day should be about getting yourself mentally prepared for the challenge you face tomorrow. Whether it’s through activities or relaxation, find something to help you feel calm so that you aren’t a nervous wreck before the exam!
On the day of your exam, getting to the testing centre and feeling prepared can be a challenge in itself, so make sure you’ve considered everything before going:
If you have all of this ready, the day should go off without a hitch! Once the MAT is behind you, you’ve definitely earned a treat, whether it be a fun evening out or a takeaway at home!
If you want to have the best chance of doing well in the MAT, creating a preparation plan like this will certainly put you on the right track. Remember though that it’s not all about the planning but the execution as well. Follow your plan closely and make alterations when you feel you could be doing things more effectively. No matter your approach, the important thing is that you enter that exam hall confident in your abilities.
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