PAT Preparation: Your 6-Month PAT Preparation Timeline
Written by: Matt Amalfitano-Stroud
Welcome to Exams.Ninja’s 6-Month Preparation Timeline for the PAT.
The Physics Aptitude Test (PAT) is the admissions test that you will be taking if you’re applying to Oxford Physics or Oxford Physics and Philosophy. This test is one of the major milestones in your application and the results from it will have a lasting effect on whether the admissions team sees you as a credible candidate. Therefore, you need to make sure you’re well prepared, which is exactly what this guide is here to help you with! Alongside an Oxford Physics Graduate and PAT expert, let’s take a deep dive into how you can use the six months before the test date to boost your chances of success!
Understand the PAT Format
The first thing anyone should do when preparing for an exam is to inform themselves about how the exam actually works. Luckily, the PAT isn’t too complicated. This table explains the basics of how the paper is laid out:
Beyond this, you’re going to need to read through the PAT Syllabus and PAT Past Papers to get a good understanding of what kinds of questions the PAT will be asking. The syllabus hasn’t been altered in a few years, but you should always double-check to make sure no alterations have been made for the year you will be sitting the exam. For more perspective from former applicants, you can find many videos, blogs and websites (like The Student Room) made by people with first-hand experience of the situation you’re in.
Creating a Preparation Plan
This next step is super important. Going into your revision with no clear schedule or goals beyond ‘doing well’ is going to result in much less effective use of your time. But preparing for six full months of revision seems like a lot, doesn’t it?
When you hear ‘six-month revision plan’ you may instantly think that you’re going to have to plan out every last second in order to optimise your time, but that just isn’t possible or necessary. Your plan simply needs to give an idea of what days you want to spend working and how long you want to spend doing it. It’s extremely beneficial to plan smaller things out like breaks, but that’s just a matter of stating how many you want and how long for.
It’s also a good idea to plan out what you’ll be studying and when. This, of course, is going to be tricky to do at this point. You may not know where your strengths and weaknesses lie yet, but this is something you’ll discover as you work through the syllabus. Therefore, your plan at this stage could be more general (for example, saving study time for ‘undefined weak topics‘ and filling in the gaps later on when you have a better idea of what you need to work on).
Through all this, don’t forget about your other responsibilities. You have school work to complete, your UCAS application and personal statement to write and you need to continue living your life outside of all this! So basically, you’re going to be busy! None of these can afford to lag behind, so your schedule needs to account for the time needed to do these things.
Take a look at these two graphs below and think about what they’re depicting:
While extremely simplified, these graphs simply show two separate ways of doing work. These could apply to anything really and there isn’t one that is generally better than the other. Some tasks may need to be done in one go rather than spreading them out over a long period of time. But then many other tasks benefit from taking them in steps. Revision is one of these tasks.
Exam preparation is such a massive undertaking as there are so many things to remember and so many kinds of questions that you have to be comfortable with. It’s impossible for most people to be able to retain all of that knowledge and skill over the course of a single month of work, hence why the first style of working isn’t going to work here. By utilising the full amount of time you have available before the PAT, you’re taking on your preparation one small step at a time, which is so much more manageable and will help you greatly. in the long run!
The Early Stages of Revision
As we said, you’re not going to be able to plan your revision to the last detail yet, but there are still plenty of places where you can start. One of our key recommendations is to study maths and physics separately. Physics does use a lot of mathematics but the equations that you’ll be learning are completely different. Trying to cram two separate sets of equations and principles in your head at once just isn’t going to end well, so dedicate a month to each subject so everything is clearly defined and less confusing.
You’re also going to want to take stock of your resources at this time. Having everything that you’ll be using in front of you early on will help you make the most of what they offer. This can include textbooks, online past papers and any helpful websites you’ve found online. If you’re thinking about going the extra mile and using a preparation service (such as Exams.Ninja’s PAT Preparation Platform), it would be a good idea to make the investment early so you can get the most value for your money!
With the foundations laid, it’s time to truly begin your preparation journey!
As we said before, you’re going to want to separate your initial revision for the two question types of the PAT, mathematics and physics, between the next two months. It’s really down to preference as to which of the two you want to take on first. Once you’re ready to start though, the first steps you should take are pretty similar for each subject.
By now you should be very familiar with the PAT syllabus, so you may already have some idea of where your strengths and weaknesses lie. If this is the case, you can begin to fill in those gaps we mentioned earlier to allow yourself more time to revise the weaker topics. If you really don’t know, then you can just tackle your revision in the order of the syllabus to start off.
So with that, let’s begin the revision! As we said, you could start with either subject this month, but we’ll be starting with mathematics. Let’s look at a few things you can do to perfect your preparation techniques!
PAT Maths Revision
To start off with, let’s acknowledge something about your PAT revision. Your maths and physics revision are probably going to end up being pretty different. While physics is heavily based on content knowledge (facts, context, theories, etc), mathematics is almost purely about the methods you use to answer the questions. Not much can read about maths from a textbook besides how to use different rules and principles to solve problems. Therefore, the vast majority of your maths preparation is going to be spent answering practice questions.
The key here is to take it in steps. Firstly, if you don’t actually know how to use a method, then you’ll want to read about it and check out worked examples to help you get to grips with it. One very helpful thing you can do is to take notes based on what you’ve read, even if it’s just repeating what is written in the book. This is doubly true if you’re still attending classes at this point, the notes you take while listening to your teacher may become some of your best resources!
From there, you can try to answer simpler examples, perhaps those featured within your textbook. At this point, don’t feel the need to time yourself or restrict yourself to PAT specific questions. Just try your best to answer the questions, whether you need help from your resources or not. As you begin to increase your understanding, you’ll find yourself relying less and less on your books or notes until you can confidently find the solution without any help!
From our PAT Expert:
At this stage in my revision, I made one huge mistake that set me back later on; using a calculator. I’m sure it goes without saying that calculators are not allowed in the PAT. I figured that since I was just revising casually at this point, the calculator would just be a handy tool to have when I got stuck. I, unfortunately, got stuck quite a lot, and while the calculator would help me solve the question, I wasn’t learning to solve these issues on my own like you will have to do in the actual exam.
Eventually I realised that this wasn’t helping me prepare, so I went cold turkey and removed the calculator from my work space to avoid temptation. The TLDR here is; Don’t Use a Calculator!!
One advantage you’ll have when revising maths compared to other subjects is that the content is pretty much universal across all exams and specifications. Therefore, you aren’t limited to specific PAT resources, you can use any kind of mathematics guide that you can find! If you find that your PAT resources are running a bit thin, don’t be afraid to explore and see what else is available.
Want to learn more about calculus in the PAT? Then our PAT Calculus Guide is perfect for you!
PAT Physics Revision
With a new month upon you, it’s time to shift your focus to PAT Physics. It’s true that physics is probably the most ‘mathematical’ of the three core sciences, but there’s still a lot more surrounding it that you’re going to need to learn. This month is going to be focused a lot more on reading textbooks and making notes.
Unfortunately, some people just find it difficult to revise in this manner. There are a few things you can do to make it easier such as splitting the work into manageable chunks or taking on questions in between sections. Overall though, it’s all about your concentration and ability to retain information.
For some, the format in which textbooks present information may not be the most effective for their revision for a number of reasons. In cases like this, online resources may be a better way to go. Whether it be articles, videos or dedicated platforms, these less traditional resources seek to make revision easier for those that may not get along with textbooks as much. For example, the PAT Preparation Platform splits the PAT syllabus into over 100 easy to digest chunks, as well as providing convenient access to practice questions to take on when you understand the topic better.
From our PAT Expert:
One thing you need to check is whether your school’s syllabus is covering everything that you need in time for the PAT. As an international student, my school was set to cover a few key physics topics in December and January, which is obviously past the PAT testing date. Therefore, I had to teach myself the subject instead. It wasn’t too much different from revising, but I had to dedicate more time in my revision schedule to make sure I fully understood it. My summer holiday was very busy due to this, but I made sure not to burn out!
Extra PAT Revision Tips
Here are a few extra tips that will help the early stage of your revision be as pain free as possible!
Make sure you monitor how you’re doing. If something’s not working right, then it’s best to catch it in the early stages of your prep while there’s still time to fix it. Even more so, make sure you acknowledge when things are going well and reward yourself when milestones are hit!
You may find yourself hitting roadblocks as your progress. This is frustrating for sure, but seeking help from a teacher, mentor or friend could be just what you need to get back on track!
Don’t fixate on a topic for too long if you’re not getting it straight away. You know that feeling when you repeat a work constantly in your head until it no longer makes any sense? The same can apply here, so don’t be afraid to move on to something else. Sometimes you just aren’t in the right headspace to tackle something tricky.
It’s time to take your PAT revision to the next level!
With the PAT Preparation Platform, you’ll have enough resources to see you right through to the day of the exam! With tutorials, practice questions of past papers all available to you instantly, there’s no better way to perfect your PAT strategy!
PAT Practice Questions
By now, it’s pretty easy to begin getting bored of revision. The good news is that it’s time to start practising our PAT exam techniques!
Before jumping into full PAT past papers and trying to simulate what it will be like to sit the exam, you should start off with individual practice questions. These will help you get to grips with the PAT question format and the types of things you will be asked.
The PAT is entirely multiple-choice, which is one thing that you may not have encountered much so far in your revision. Many textbooks prefer to ask more traditional questions rather than giving options, although this isn’t always the case. Either way, you should stick to multiple choice practice questions from now on, as using the potential answers for problem-solving is essential in some cases.
At this stage, we would also recommend choosing your questions a bit more loosely. The PAT has no set sections, so the questions in the paper are spread somewhat randomly (although the difficulty is taken into account). Therefore, we believe it’s a good idea to embrace the chaos and choose practice questions in a less meticulous fashion! As you do this, you’ll discover topics that you still aren’t as confident with. You should note these down so you can dedicate more time to them in your schedule.
At this stage, you may be thinking about using past papers as a source of practice questions. However, we would say that you should always hold onto the past papers until you’re ready to take serious mock exams. There’s a limited number of these available, so you don’t want to find all the answers to the questions before you have a chance to try them out in exam conditions. Sitting a mock exam with questions you’ve already answered is not going to benefit you very much at all!
If you’re struggling to find other sources of questions, it may be worth looking into online question banks. Our PAT Preparation Platform includes a question bank with over 900 questions to take on. Each one even comes with a worked solution, which is another resource we would recommend when taking on practice questions!
Once you’re more confident in your techniques, it will be time to start timing yourself. This is important because, of course, time is limited in the PAT. Spending too long on one question could cost you points on the questions that follow, so you need to be able to use your time wisely.
The number of PAT questions vary from year to year, but you can typically expect around 24-26. The time limit is always two hours, which means you’ll have about five minutes on average per question. That sounds like plenty of time, especially considering they’re multiple-choice, but the questions themselves are tough and will require a lot of working out in order to determine the correct answer. Also, keep in mind that you’re going to want to keep some time available at the end to check all your answers.
Answering questions in isolation under this time limit may be easy enough but the real challenge comes with sitting an actual mock paper. So let’s look into that.
Taking PAT Past Papers
The PAT thankfully has a lot of official past papers published online, dating all the back to 2006. So you’re going to have a busy couple of months ahead of you! As we’ve already discussed, it’s best to go into these papers fresh, with no prior knowledge of what the questions are. This will give you the most authentic exam experience, alongside the two-hour time limit and removal of aiding resources.
Here are a few key points to consider when taking past papers:
Don’t be disheartened if you’re first few attempts don’t go well, that’s why you’re practising! Try to see where you went wrong and what you can do to improve things. The more you work on it, the more you’ll get used to the limitations that the PAT enforces.
PAT Registration Opens
From September 1st, registration for PAT will begin. This process is not automatic, so there are some steps you’ll need to take.
The PAT is administered by Cambridge Assessment Admissions Testing(CAAT), despite being exclusively used for Oxford Physics courses (confusing, we know). To register for the test, however, you will need to speak with your school/college exams officer to get the ball rolling. You can find out more about the process on Oxford’s website.
The key thing to note is that registration closes on October 15th (the same day as the UCAS deadline) while the test is sat at your local test centre in early November.
Here is how you register for the exam via your school:
- First, you will have to find your nearest test centre. This could be your school/college, but you can check for your nearest location here. You can apply for your place of education to become a test centre via the CAAT website.
- Secondly, you will need to talk with your school’s exam officer and provide some personal details. These include your name, date of birth and UCAS number, as well as confirming which course you’re applying for.
- After you’ve been registered, you’ll receive a unique candidate entry number. This will be essential for confirming your place in the PAT so ensure you’ve received one before October 15th.
PAT Registration Closes
Registration for the PAT ends on October 15th officially. However, some test centres may close applications sooner, so you need to start the process as soon as applications open ideally.
And remember, your UCAS application and personal statement are due on the same day. Ideally, these should have been submitted before this deadline, but after this date, your application won’t be considered. If you miss this deadline, or if the application is rushed and of poor quality, then all of this preparation would have been for nothing, so you need to remember to dedicate the time to make it great!
Final Weeks of Revision
With just a few weeks left, you’re probably getting tired and tempted to phone it in. However, these last weeks are crucial to your development. This time is likely going to be spent strengthening your weakest subjects, which is extremely important if you want to avoid needlessly losing points. Here are a few final tips to get you through October:
Don’t limit yourself to PAT papers. Should you need more resources, there are plenty of other physics-based tests around that offer very similar questions. Two to try would be the Physics Olympiad and ENGAA.
If you’ve been highlighting areas that you’ve had difficulty with throughout your practice, then this is the perfect time to take things back to the beginning and revise these topics as you had done at the start. Perhaps try some different techniques that will help you understand things better.
This is a stressful time for many, so the last thing you want to do is burn out. Approach things calmly and avoid getting too worked up over any failure you may encounter. If you feel your stress levels rising, take a step back and return to it later. This is especially true for the other aspects of your life outside of revision. Keep things as stress-free as possible and avoid taking. too much on before the big day!
PAT Testing Day
By November, you should be more than ready to take on the test provided you used your prep time effectively! But revision is one thing, taking on the actual thing is another! To make the process as easy as possible, follow the following tips before you sit the exam:
This isn’t going to make the actual paper easier, but it will get you in the right mindset for PAT success!
A final word from our PAT expert:
I can’t pretend that I wasn’t nervous when I got to the testing centre, but I also went in confident knowing that I did everything I could to ensure my success. In the end, I am so grateful that I went about my preparation the way I did! It was hard at times, but I felt like I knew the PAT inside and out! I hope that the advice given here will help you to achieve the same success that I did, and I wish you all the best of luck!
Starting revision always seems to be the hardest step, especially when you know the process is going to take as long as this does. But at the end of the day, you’ve got to look towards the destination rather than the journey here. It’s going to take a lot of hard work to guarantee yourself PAT success, but the alternative is not putting the work in and giving yourself a much slimmer chance of achieving that success.
Our hope here is that we have given you the tools and ideas that you’ll need to create your own success plan. Everyone learns differently, so the schedule we’ve presented doesn’t need to be followed to the last detail. As long as you’re learning in a way that feels meaningful to you, your chances of success will be growing with each step you take!
There’s no need to stop here though, we have even more resources to help you with the next steps of your plan, starting with our Definitive PAT Guide!
Don’t start late, get ready for the PAT now!
With the PAT Preparation Platform, you’ll have everything you could need to achieve PAT success. You’ll get instant access to all of these amazing components:
Training Temple- Your revision plan will be sorted with over 100 expert tutorials to go through, along with plenty of exam tips.
Practice Dojo- With over 900 practice questions to take on, you’ll be able to practice all the way through to the exam date! Each question even comes with a fully explained solution to ensure you’ll get it right in future!
Exam Arena- Get access to 5 full PAT Past Papers, each with realistic exam conditions, full marking and worked solutions for every question!
Sign up today to try the PAT Preparation Platform for free!