YOUR ULTIMATE GUIDE
The Definitive Guide To The PAT Exam
In this definitive PAT Guide we will go through all of the information that you’ll need to know before taking the exam.
At first, the Physics Aptitude Test (PAT) can seem a bit intimidating. The focus is on problem solving than knowledge about a topic, so it’s worth bearing that in mind when preparing. In the shortlisting process the PAT is the single most important part of your application. Up until 2019, GCSEs weren’t even used, it was just the PAT test!
We’ll go through the essential test information, the different sections of the PAT (and how to prepare for them), along with some practice questions that should give you an idea of what to expect.
ESSENTIAL INFORMATION
HERE'S WHAT YOU NEED
TO KNOW ABOUT THE PAT
What is the PAT?
The Physics Aptitude Test is an exam, set by academics at the University of Oxford, which forms part of your application.
- The PAT is a 2 hour, single section assessment.
- The test includes maths and physics which is equivalent to the first year of A-level (although as schools all teach content in different orders you must check and revise anything you’re unfamiliar with before the test.
- You are allowed a calculator but it has to follow a pretty strict set of rules to be allowed so you may not be able to use your usual A-level calculator, particularly if it’s an expensive graphical calculator. You can check the restrictions here.
- There are 24 questions which include everything from 2 mark multiple choice questions to 10 mark linked-calculations.
What is the structure of the PAT?
You’ll have one section with mixed questions. This means that there is no specific order in which the topics of Physics and Maths will be covered. So, in total, you have 2 hours to solve 24 questions. The good news is that some of these will be multiple-choice questions!
You have to study a whole range of topics within Maths and Physics which might seem scary at first. But do not fear, we have looked at the syllabus and we’ll go through it in detail later on in this guide. However, if you want to take a look at it now, just click here!
Who has to sit the PAT?
It has to be taken by all students applying to The University of Oxford for courses including Physics, Physics ‘joint schools’ (any courses with a title of ‘Physics and something else’, e.g. Physics and Philosophy), Engineering Science (Oxford’s only undergraduate engineering course), and Materials Science.
The test taken for all subjects is exactly the same – so don’t worry about trying to find the ‘engineering version of the PAT’ or anything like that!
Why do you have to sit the PAT?
Most UK university applications only involve completing the UCAS form, which includes a lot of information already, including your personal statement, predicted grades, GCSE (or equivalent) grades, and teacher references. However, for Oxford, competition is very high, and so they try to collect as much information as possible before deciding who to give their places to – that’s why the aptitude test and the interviews exist. It’s best to think of it as another opportunity to show the admissions tutors how impressive your maths and physics skills are, rather than as another hurdle to get over!
What date is the PAT test taken on?
The test takes place in early November, usually on the first Wednesday of the month.
Your school or college has to arrange to enter you to sit the PAT prior to the deadline of 15^{th} October, so you must let them know that you are intending to apply for a subject that requires the PAT, so that they can register you. You cannot register yourself, so if you’re an external applicant you must find an assessment centre which is willing to let you sit the test there (you can find details of this on the admissions assessment website, here).
There is no charge for entering for the PAT, but if you’re an external applicant, or you’re at a school where very few students are sitting admissions tests, you may be charged an admin fee. This admin fee is set by the centre you’re sitting the test at to cover the costs of invigilation, and is therefore variable.
The dates below are for the 2020 registration deadline and exam date, respectively.
How is the PAT used?
Different admissions tutors, and different subjects, will use the PAT in different ways post-interview – so there is no hard and fast rule for what score you ought to be aiming for to get an offer. The main aim of the PAT is to take the number of applicants applying (in 2019 there were 8.8 applicants per place in physics), and narrow it down to a more reasonable 2.5 applicants per place who will be offered an interview.
In this shortlisting process the PAT is the single most important part of your application. Up until 2019, GCSEs weren’t even used, it was just the PAT test!
Because the PAT is only used by the University of Oxford departments and colleges considering your application, you won’t receive your results automatically. You can request them through the college once you’ve had the outcome of your application (which is something we wish we’d realised at the time we took the test!), and then they’ll send them to you.
Arranging to take the PAT
Your school or college has to arrange to enter you to sit the PAT prior to the deadline of 15^{th} October, so you must let them know that you are intending to apply for a subject that requires the PAT, so that they can register you. You cannot register yourself, so if you’re an external applicant you must find an assessment centre which is willing to let you sit the test there (you can find details of this on the admissions assessment website, here).
There is no charge for entering for the PAT, but if you’re an external applicant, or you’re at a school where very few students are sitting admissions tests, you may be charged an admin fee. This admin fee is set by the centre you’re sitting the test at to cover the costs of invigilation, and is therefore variable.
What do I have to study for the PAT?
As you will (hopefully!) be expecting, the PAT is first and foremost a test of physics but there’s also a large amount of maths which they will try to test too. You can find a syllabus which lists all the mathematics and physics content on the PAT within this guide. We’ve also been through and summarised all the different topics with a load of hints and worked questions, which is generally a bit more helpful than staring at a list! We have used the Oxford website as our source so you’ll know the information is accurate.
How difficult is the PAT?
All the content is carefully checked to make sure that it’s at the standard you’ll already be working at, so you don’t need to do a lot of extra work or teach yourself anything new just for your application. The only thing we wanted to highlight here is that your school may not be teaching you maths and physics in the exact order that Oxford expect you to be taught them. This means you do need to work through the syllabus and make sure that you have seen everything, and pick up any bits that you haven’t seen yourself (there are notes on everything in the Training Temple which can help with this!). Other than this, it’s really not worth revising all of A-level maths and physics prior to the test, because they know you won’t have done everything by November!
The main thing to remember when looking at the syllabus is that knowing the content is only half the challenge. What sets the PAT apart (and makes it more useful to the admissions tutors than just looking at your GCSE and mock results) is the way it asks you to apply the content in new or unusual contexts. If you’ve ever taken a maths challenge or physics Olympiad paper at school, you’ll be used to the type of lateral thinking you need to be able to do. This is why practicing with questions and past papers (until you’ve done all of them twice!) is so important as part of your preparation.
How is the PAT marked?
All scoring in the PAT is based on the principle of ‘positive marking’. This is the way exams are typically marked in the UK, but if you’re applying from overseas (or also applying to US universities who may do things differently) it’s worth being aware of. Essentially, you are not marked down for incorrect answers.
The other thing to bear in mind, is that the PAT does not have a strict mark scheme. Getting the right answer is obviously the aim, but if you get the wrong answer in a particularly interesting way, you may be given partial credit for the creative thinking involved. Likewise, half marks may be given if you get most of the way but not quite there. This means you should avoid erasing your working in almost all cases (unless you’ve done something really obviously wrong!) – your working may have value (particularly in the 2 mark multiple choice questions) even if you don’t get the right answer.
What score do I need on the PAT?
In total you have 24 questions totalling 100 marks , and 120 minutes in which to get them. So, if you want to leave yourself time to read questions thoroughly, review your solutions and any skipped questions at the end, you should be aiming for about two and half minutes spent on each question. Of course, this is not exact science and you should always take the ‘common sense’ approach: if a question is worth 1 mark is very likely that it won’t require as much effort as a question worth 4 marks.
Most students taking the PAT will be used to getting 80%+, and it can be really weird when you start doing PAT papers and suddenly 80% seems almost impossible! You should expect lower marks, particularly early in your preparation, and not let that demoralise you!
For a bit of context, the scores on the PAT in the last 3 years looked like this:
In general, you want to be in the top 1/3^{rd} of applicants to make sure you get through to interview, so you’re aiming to score 60 or more most years (although as you can see by the massive drop in average score in 2019, some papers are trickier than others).
You can find all the data we used for the info above here – but we’d recommend not obsessing over the numbers in time you could spend revising – it’s a bit of a rabbit hole!
Extra details you should know about the PAT
Can I resit the PAT? Sadly, you can’t. If you don’t do as well as you need to, and aren’t offered an interview, the only way to get a place is to take a year out and reapply the following year.
If you reapply you’d need to resit the PAT (your PAT from the previous year won’t be a factor in a second application).
If you’re ill on the day, or there are other factors which affect your ability to do as well as you would have expected to do then make sure you tell the invigilators and the school as soon as possible. Oxford will take into account mitigating factors which are registered through the school (but won’t accept your mum ringing the college saying they really ought to give you a chance because you’re sick).
What should I bring on the day? The PAT should be no different to any other exam you’ve taken at that test centre/school. You should take with you a spare pen (and make sure not to use the awesome ‘friction erasable’ pens you can get, because they can disappear if your test paper gets stored in a warm place). You also will need your calculator, pencil, ruler, maths instruments, and any ID or water or anything else you have to take to exams normally. It’s worth checking the specifications for calculators allowed in the exam here.
If you’re eligible for extra time in your normal exams, you can normally apply for special consideration for the PAT as well – but you have to do this in advance so talk to your school about it!
MATHS OVERVIEW
SYLLABUS FOR THE PAT
MATHEMATICS CONTENT
As we mentioned earlier, the purpose of the PAT is not simply to test your maths and physics knowledge – if it was, they wouldn’t be getting any information that your A-level or IB exams couldn’t give them, which would be a bit pointless. That being said, the knowledge is obviously an important part of doing well!
Ultimately, you could just grab the syllabus off the Oxford Physics website (here), but we’ve been through it and added comments and examples to make it a bit easier to understand!
Elementary Mathematics
This is all the stuff you did at GCSE (or equivalent) level. Don’t assume that just because you’ve moved onto bigger and better things that it can all be forgotten! The official syllabus mentions arithmetic (mental maths and the ‘numbers’ topics in most exam specifications), geometry and coordinate geometry, as well as probability – so make sure to prioritise these, but if you get a chance revise it all!
For most students this generally means going back and revising loads of geometry which they haven’t seen in nearly two years – don’t let the easy stuff catch you out! Although none of this is likely to be a standalone question, there are often steps in bigger questions which rely on you being able to use geometrical relations, or find probabilities at the drop of a hat – if you can’t remember the rules it can stop you dead in your tracks.
Take a look at the following questions – could you answer them?
- How would you work out the interior angles in an n-sided polygon?
- What’s the equation for area of a trapezium?
- What does the alternate segment theorem say? Could you spot it in a question?
- If I want to find the probability of one event AND another event happening, how does that differ from the probability of one event OR the other? What happens if the events aren’t mutually exclusive?
- If you’re stuck on probability questions remember that the old method of drawing 2-way tables or tree diagrams is helpful for visualising what’s going on.
- When looking at a block on an inclined plane – why is the parallel component of the weight found using sin(x)? Can you show this convincingly?
The other part of elementary mathematics which is often overlooked is your mental maths ability. While it’s not important in the PAT as in other aptitude tests which don’t have a calculator (good choice!), your ability to estimate, and as a result spot ‘silly’ calculation errors is so important in making every mark count. It’s also really helpful if you’re trying to factorise slightly awkward quadratics quickly.
Algebra
Polynomials. You need to be able to solve quadratics by factorising, by completing the square, and by using the quadratic formula.
- If you’re asked for an exact value make sure you keep your answer in terms of surds, and don’t calculate decimals of irrational numbers – they’re not ‘exact’.
- If you can skip solving the entire question by just using or similar to find the information you need and nothing else – you should always cut whatever corners you can!
- For many students it’s worth looking ahead at the factor theorem (and the remainder theorem) if you haven’t seen them, as they can really speed up your ability to find solutions to equations larger than quadratics. ‘Common sense’ approaches, like finding the factors of the ‘constant’ value at the end of the equation to inform the values you true, are also good to practice.
Graph Sketching. You need to know the shapes of common graphs, and how to sketch versions of these graphs which have been transformed. The main graphs you should know without calculation are:
Sin(x), cos(x), tan(x) – don’t worry about any other trig you may have learnt about beyond this.
Graph Sketching. You need to know the shapes of common graphs, and how to sketch versions of these graphs which have been transformed. The main graphs you should know without calculation are polynomial graphs, reciprocals, roots, exponentials
You should also be able to use differentiating and setting equal to zero to find stationary points, and differentiating a second time to find the ‘nature’ of the stationary point (i.e. Whether it’s a maxima, minima, or point of inflection).
- One of the main ways graph sketching can be complicated is by writing the expression in an unusual format – make sure you remember your GCSE techniques for dealing with this.
- Make sure you know how asymptotes work. Although they’re often (incorrectly) defined as ‘lines which a curve tends toward but never meets or crosses, this is not strictly true, which causes issues for some students. The graph below has an asymptote along the x-axis, and yet it crosses it at x=2, prior to tending back towards y=0 as it tends to infinity.
Transformation of Variables.
‘Transformations’ are hopefully quite familiar in times of graphs, but do make sure to revise translations, expansions, and reflections (and how they differ in the ‘x’ and ‘y’ direction). These are more likely to arise in questions where you’re not told the actual function ‘f(x)’, but given a graph with a minimum or maximum point labelled, and asked to figure out where that point will be on a transformed version.
This is not the only meaning of ‘transformation’ though. You may also be asked to transform variables in order to make an equation easier to solve. Some of you may already have seen ‘integration by substitution’ which is an example of the benefits of this. For everyone else, transformation of variables is probably most familiar from ‘quadratics in disguise’ at GCSE. It’s pretty tricky to figure out where to start, when figuring out the solutions to the equation below, without substituting in another variable to help solve it – have a go!
Solutions to inequalities. The good thing about inequalities is that by the time you’ve made it to the PAT you’ve finally escaped from ‘draw the following inequality on a number line’ questions! You do need to be able to solve inequalities though, including ones which contain quadratics.
- If you’re solving a quadratic inequality always draw a graph – it takes 2 seconds to draw a rough sketch, and it’s not worth risking losing the marks by trying to hold it all in your head. (In fact, if we could have a single mantra for every maths and physics exam you ever sit it would be draw a diagram!).
- Remember that if you multiply or divide by a negative number you must change the direction of the inequality sign.
- This is why you should never multiply or divide by ‘x’ (or whichever variable you’re using) in these questions – what if one of the values of ‘x’ is negative and you don’t know? Factorise out if you need to, but if you divide before you know what ‘x’ is you’re risking ending up with the inequality sign completely backwards.
- Always combine inequalities as early as you can. The easiest way to do this is often to sketch a number line rather than trying to hold all the equations in your head (you can’t completely escape them).
Elementary trigonometry. Trig in the PAT is all stuff you’ve been doing for a while now. A lot of students will have recently learnt about a whole load of more complicated trigonometry such as expressing sin(A+B) in terms of sin and cos, or the definitions of new expressions such as secant, cosecant, and cotangent (?!?!). The good thing about the PAT is that you can forget all of this! You need to know your ‘SOHCAHTOA’, and how you link sin, cos, and tan, as well as the trig identity for the squares of sine and cosine. And that’s it! None of the new stuff!
Logarithms and Exponentials. You should know what exponentials and logarithms are, and how they relate to each other in solving equations. You must also know your ‘log laws’, including how to change the base of a logarithm, this is something which is not included in most A-level specifications but does come up on the PAT occasionally – so make sure you know how to do it.
Sequences and Series. Make sure to familiarise yourself with the definitions (and nth-term formulae) for both geometric and arithmetic sequences and series.
- You won’t be provided with the equations for the sum to n terms, or the sum to infinity of sequences and series, so if you’re used to looking them up on the formula sheet in your other exams, you must memorise them for the PAT (sorry!)
- You should also be aware that you may need to spot sequences in unfamiliar contexts (for example, let’s say you have a spring oscillating around an equilibrium position, and it’s dissipating a set percentage of kinetic energy each time it oscillates – it’s kinetic energy will form a geometric series, and this may be the way to solve the question. Remember what we said earlier about ‘maths’ techniques cropping up to simplify ‘physics’ questions!).
Binomial Expansions. This is probably the bit that people most struggle with in the entire specification. Fortunately it doesn’t come up in questions that often.
- You should, however, make sure that you could expand something like (2 + 3x)^7;
- You should also bear in mind that it may be easier to ‘expand’ brackets (or combine them) prior to using a binomial expansion. For example, in this question – which can easily take much longer than it needs to if you don’t spot the ‘trick’- what is the coefficient of x^3 in the expansion of (1 – 2x)^5(1 + 2x)^5 ;
Calculus
Differentiation & Integration. Make sure you know how to calculate all of the following:
Differentiate and Integrate:
Other rules about calculus ‘in practice’ which you will hopefully be familiar with already:
- Integration is the reverse of differentiation (as a hint – this means if you’re told how to differentiate something unfamiliar, then you can figure out how to integrate by running the instructions in reverse. E.g. ‘multiply by the differential, multiply by the power, reduce the power by one’ becomes ‘add one to the power, divide by the power, divide by the differential);
- You can find the slope of a curve, the location of turning points, and the nature of turning points using differentiation (make sure you know how to do this);
- You can find the area under a curve using integration;
- You can simplify integration by noticing areas which ‘cancel’ each other out as they’re odd or even functions.
- A clear graphical understanding of integration (and what the limits represent) is essential for questions like this one:
For a particular function f(X), it is given that
And also,
Find the value of:
PHYSICS OVERVIEW
SYLLABUS FOR THE PAT
PHYSICS CONTENT
As we mentioned earlier, the purpose of the PAT is not simply to test your maths and physics knowledge – if it was, they wouldn’t be getting any information that your A-level or IB exams couldn’t give them, which would be a bit pointless. That being said, the knowledge is obviously an important part of doing well!
Ultimately, you could just grab the syllabus off the Oxford Physics website (here), but we’ve been through it and added comments and examples to make it a bit easier to understand!
Mechanics
Distance, Speed, Velocity, and Acceleration. You must understand the difference between scalars and vectors, and be able to use that when dealing with the relationship between speed and velocity, or when considering velocity as the rate of change of displacement, etc…
You also need to memorise your SUVAT equations and be able to spot the situations in which they’d be inappropriate to use.
- It’s almost always best to start any SUVAT question by drawing a diagram in which you define which direction is positive, and which is negative. It’s so easy to make arithmetic mistakes on otherwise straightforward questions if you don’t!
- You may also need to go back and revise the graphs of velocity, acceleration, and displacement which you looked at during GCSE. What is the area under a velocity-time graph? What about the gradient?
- This may be developed further in situations which wouldn’t suit SUVAT equations, for example, if you were given an expression for velocity in terms of time and asked to find acceleration, you would need to find rate of change by differentiating.
Newton’s Laws of Motion. You need to know how to use (not how to quote) the 3 laws of motion, you should be able to convert between weight and mass using ‘g’ (which you can approximate to 10 in some questions, so always double check on a case-by case basis).
Circular Motion. You should know the following circular motion equations:
Common Forces. You should know what friction is (but don’t worry about anything you may have done about ‘coefficients of friction’ in maths for the PAT), you should know about air resistance, and the fact it’s proportional to the square of the velocity. The fact that air resistance is proportional to a function of velocity is part of the explanation for terminal velocity, and you should be able to form equations (by setting equal to ) in order to calculate variables related to this.
Moments. Not only do you need to know how moments can be calculated (always remembering that it’s perpendicular distance, not just ‘distance, between the pivot and force), you should also be able to apply this to systems of levers, pulleys, or strings.
The key thing to bear in mind with these questions is that you can always break down complex systems into constituent parts. As long as the only forces ‘visible’ once the bits have been put back together are the external forces, you can create as many ‘internal’ forces (e.g. tension in ropes, or in linkages between train carts) as you need to do your calculations.
Springs. This, fortunately, is difficult for them to ask in an ‘interesting’ way – so it’s just a case of knowing and being able to apply:
Energy. Never forget your GCSE (or equivalent) topics!
Momentum. You must also be able to apply conservation of momentum, as well as conservation of energy. Impulse is very unlikely to arise, but if this was an area you struggled with at GCSE it’s worth making sure that just seeing the word doesn’t cause a panic!
Waves & Optics
Wave ‘Basics’. You must know the definitions (and units, if applicable), for all of these:
- Longitudinal.
- Transverse.
- Amplitude.
- Frequency.
- Time Period.
- Wavelength.
- Speed of a wave (the wave front!).
Electromagnetic Spectrum. You should be aware of the nature and properties of electromagnetic waves in general, the really simple stuff like the fact they’re all transverse, and they all travel at the speed of light.
You should also be able to identify parts of the EM spectrum. Most students don’t have to learn the actual wavelengths of the EM spectrum for their A-levels, and so can put the spectrum in order, but couldn’t actually identify what kind of light might have a wavelength of 450nm, for example (it’d be visible!). For the PAT, make sure that you know the approximate bounds for the electromagnetic spectrum so that you can make ‘common sense’ estimates of what answer you’re expecting in the case of tricky questions, which helps you spot errors. Also, at interview this is one of those things they sometimes expect to be ‘common sense’ (we don’t understand how, either!).
Reflection. As well as the standard reflection equations (angle of incidence = angle of reflection), you should also be able to explain how total internal reflection works (which is actually based on refraction equations!).
Refraction. Learn and use Snell’s law, and make sure you remember that ‘n’ of air can be approximated as ‘1’, because n is the ratio between the speed of light in the material, and the speed of light in a vacuum. Make sure you can move from Snell’s law to the equation for total internal reflection. You should also be able to apply both of these to real-life applications such as prisms and optical fibres.
Standing Waves. Standing (or stationary) waves are one of the bits of physics which most students find to be incredibly tricky to imagine. Fortunately, you don’t need to know that much about them for the PAT! You should be able to explain how they form, and you should know how to relate the number of nodes to the wavelength and the length of the medium they’re forming in (or on). So for example, if I see the first harmonic of a wave on a string of length 1m, then the wavelength is 2m (because the first harmonic is one ‘loop’, or half the wavelength).
Electricity & Magnetism
Circuit Basics. Common lower-mark questions will include finding equivalent resistance in parallel and series circuits, or calculating current or voltage with a need to find an equivalent resistance first. You should practice so that you’re able to do questions like this one from the 2009 paper as quickly as possible:
Make sure you can use all of the equations for current, voltage, power, resistance, and charge. It’s also important to be able to recognise all the common circuit symbols: batteries, resistors, lamps, diodes, capacitors, light dependent resistors, and thermistors.
- If you haven’t been taught about capacitors and capacitance yet at school you should revise this before the PAT!
- Make sure to learn how you combine capacitors in series and parallel, which is the same as resistors just in reverse (you add them together when they’re in parallel, and do the weird reciprocal equation when they’re in series)
You should also make sure you remember how to add and divide voltages and currents in series and parallel sections of circuits, including understanding why you might set up a circuit in parallel (e.g. the lights in your house), rather than in series. If you’re not sure, think about what would happen if one of the bulbs broke and stopped letting current through.
Fields. You should know the equation for finding the force between two point charges, and the force on a point charge in a uniform electric field (is the one everyone forgets!).
- You may see some questions (for example the last question on the 2013 paper) which also look at magnetic fields. According to the current version of the syllabus you do not need to know about magnetism, however if you have time it wouldn’t hurt to look ahead at this particular topic given how often it has come up in the past.
Photoelectric Effect. The PAT syllabus includes the ‘photoelectric effect’ as a topic you must know about – however the way it’s worded gives you a few hints at what sort of questions they might ask:
“photoelectrons are emitted if they are given sufficient energy to overcome the work function of the material, and how to find the energy of accelerated electron beams”
You’re actually quite unlikely to be asked anything about how the photoelectric effect supports the theory of wave-particle duality, because they’re concerned with much more practical things, like particle accelerators! The main equation you need here goes all the way back to your definition of voltage, and says that:
- Energy = Charge x Potential Difference
Natural World
Atomic Structure. This is all stuff you’ve been doing for years now! Plus a bit of revision to make sure you can define ions, isotopes, and the three types of radiation.
Space. This is where the PAT goes back to primary school! You need to know the order, and names, of the planets (which now excludes Pluto ☹ ). You also need to know what planets, moons, comets, and asteroids are (in very simple terms).
In general, this comes up in questions about eclipses, in which you’ll be given the diameter of the moon and sun, as well as the distance to one of them, and you’ll need to use ‘similar triangles’ (another GCSE topic) to be able to work out the missing dimension. This means you need to know that a solar eclipse is one where the moon gets in between the Earth and the Sun (so you can’t see the Sun), whereas a lunar eclipse is one where the Earth is directly between the Sun and the moon (so the moon is in shadow).
Satellites. Most of the stuff you need to know about satellites, is actually just circular motion but in a space-y context. Remember, that orbits can be circular or elliptical, but straight lines while in a radial gravitational fields wouldn’t work, unless the object was heading along a ‘radius’ (without some external force being applied to keep travelling in a straight line).
You should be familiar with the difference between a polar orbit (which is really low, and goes over the poles), and a geostationary orbit (which is quite high up, and over the equator). You also should be able to explain why you couldn’t make a geostationary orbit that was directly over Oxford, for example, using your knowledge of forces in circular motion.
WRAPPING IT ALL UP
CONCLUSION
Remember to bear in mind this rather ominous statement which is left at the very bottom of the PAT syllabus:
“Problems may be set which require problem solving based on information provided rather than knowledge about a topic”
Without practicing questions and past papers (and leaving time to review and learn from the questions you got wrong!) – the knowledge about a topic will only go so far.
If you look at this question from the 2018 paper, you can see that you will sometimes be asked to learn a brand new way of working, and then to use that in the rest of the question.
This isn’t a reason to panic, because they will always have given you the information you need! If we look at the rules we were given in the question above, our options are either than h + k + l must be positive for all the bracketed values (which it isn’t), or h, k, l must be all even or all odd (which is true!). So, based on the rules we can state that it’s face centred cubic really quickly – without knowing anything about that before we start the question!
It’s therefore a good idea to find a way of ‘actively reading’ the question, and making notes so that you don’t have to keep reading such large amounts of information over and over again. For those of you who looked at the first sentence of the question above and began panicking, you’re not alone! Most of us have similar responses, and we’ve actually finished our Oxford degrees! The key is to just take it a line, or even a word at a time, and don’t worry about figuring out ‘why’ something is if you don’t need to.
Make sure to put our ‘test tips’ into practice during your preparation, don’t be scared of using ‘maths methods’ in ‘physics questions’ and vice versa, and practice, practice, practice!
And finally, possibly the most important piece of advice we have to give you:
Don’t overcomplicate things!
The PAT is tough, they ask things in a weird way which is not terribly familiar unless you’ve done lots of practice. That being said, it’s not supposed to be impossible. We’ll often see students who spend far too much time on questions because they’re worried about doing something which seems too ‘easy’. Don’t second-guess the examiners! Sometimes the 2 mark questions are just 2 mark questions 😊
So there you go, you made it to the end of the guide – congratulations! We know it was a long read but we’re confident if you follow all the tips and tricks we’ve shared in this definitive guide, you’ll score higher than you normally would on the PAT.
You made it to the end of the guide – congratulations! We know it was a long read but we’re confident if you follow all the tips and tricks we’ve shared in this definitive guide, you’ll score higher than you normally would on the PAT. Good luck!
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