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Entrance Exams - Tilly's Tips


When I arrived at Oxford, I realised I'd totally underestimated how important the entrance exams were.

After one subject dinner, the Economics and Management students came out and told us that their tutors had told them the TSA was the deciding factor in inviting them to interview; then it was mainly a case of seeing whether they got on and wanted to work with them for the next three years.

I don't say this to freak you out but rather to encourage you to prepare as much as you can for them.

Now I know in many ways the whole point is that you can't really prepare; these exams are all about the unknown but, and this is a big BUT, what you can prepare for is the unknown itself.

So here are some of my top tips on what you can do:

* Practice looking at unseen material - open a random page in a book and analyse it, print off maths equations, graphs, tables, data and try to think about them and draw answers/conclusions, read newspaper articles, journals, textbooks.

* Whilst some tests are multiple choice, others are essays, so for essay subjects get into the habit of planning and structuring essays, so you can focus on the content on the day.

* Particularly for essay subjects, annotate your work, so when you come to writing the essay all of your ideas are on the page and you don't miss anything.

* Download past papers online to familiarise yourself with the sorts of questions which come up.

* Try doing some of these in timed conditions, to get used to working under pressure. 

* Critical thinking comes into lots of these papers - so print a few critical thinking papers from online too and give them a go.

* Absorb yourself in your subject - even though you can't predict exactly what will come up; the one thing you do know is that it will relate to your subject in some way, so have concepts, ideas, quotes, theories, criticisms at the front of your mind; in the exam you might find a way to link them to your answer.

* WHY? JUSTIFY! I've said this so many times, you're probably truly bored of hearing it but once again justify the points you make in the exam. For instance, if you're describing a piece of literature use quotes, analyse and evidence why you've come up with this particular idea. 

* THINK - now this probably sounds silly but it's easy to go into an exam, ignore the question and reel off a pre-prepared, regurgitated answer which isn't relevant. Don't fall into this trap; read the question carefully and give yourself some time to really think about what it's asking you, your answer will, no doubt, end up being far more original.

* Try not to panic - I know its easy for me to say but if you find you can't answer a particular question or really struggle with it, all is not lost. The exams aren't meant to be easy, they're meant to challenge you. So, take a deep breath and try to carry on.

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