This admissions test is taken for some Oxford courses.
Last updated: 1 year, 11 months ago
The MAT paper is an important part of the application process for Mathematics and related degrees at Oxford (and can contribute to your applications at other universities too!) The paper is challenging, and probably quite different to what you’re used to, but with a bit of practice a decent mark shouldn’t seem impossible.
Here are some general resources related to the Mathematics Admissions Test (MAT). Use this page as a hub to branch off and use other resources!
The content you need to know for the MAT is only slightly more than the first year of A-level Mathematics, and so by the time you sit the paper in Autumn, this should mostly be very familiar. The key to doing well instead lies in lots of practice, being aware of timing, and not getting stressed during the exam. You may also need to give a question a healthy dose of creative problem solving.
Here’s an outline of what taking the MAT entails and how to prepare, as well as a few things to think about with regard to timing and marking of the paper.
There is a brief outline of the exact content that can appear on MAT papers on the Oxford MAT website 🔗 🌟, but essentially this is just the pure content of AS Mathematics, with a few additional topics from the full A-level (that is, Sequences and Series). You will likely have studied most - if not all - of this content in class by the time the paper comes around, but anything you haven’t yet learnt should be covered well in any standard A-level Maths textbook or online.
Bear in mind that some questions may rely on things you learnt at GCSE which aren’t explicitly covered at A-level, and so if there’s anything you think may be rusty then it might be wise to polish it up beforehand. Any issues should reveal themselves during practice, provided you do plenty of it!
The MAT is really a game of two halves. Question 1 is to be answered by candidates for all degrees and consists of 10 multiple-choice questions each worth 4 marks. You will then answer 4 longer questions. Exactly which questions you answer will depend on the degree you are applying for, and this is indicated clearly on the paper (so don’t worry about answering the wrong ones.)
This question is harder than it sounds. Although it is multiple choice, it will still take a fair amount of time and the answers are rarely obvious. The best way to approach these questions can vary. For some of them, it will be straightforward to just work out the answer and tick the right box (at the front of the paper). For others, it may be easier to start by ruling out answers that are clearly wrong to reduce the number of options to consider.
These questions are longer (being worth 15 marks each), likely harder, and certainly more interesting than any part of Question 1. You will answer 4 of them as indicated for your degree on the paper. Most of your time sitting the paper will be spent on these questions.
This section is designed to make you think and may need some of that creative problem solving. You really shouldn’t be disheartened if, when you first start practising, you can’t solve many of these questions. You also shouldn’t by any means expect yourself to complete them all in the actual exam. It’s best to read each of them before starting any of them, and choosing an order to answer them in which best suits your own strengths. You may even choose to answer the ones you think look the most interesting as a priority, as then you’ll be less likely to get distracted or stressed.
It is incredibly important that you are registered for the right exam before the deadline. You should speak to the appropriate staff member at your school or college (this may be the exams officer or a similar role) about this ASAP. Your school/college may need to register to become a test centre, and you must be entered by them. You can read the details at find out more here. 🔗 🌟
The only way to revise and prepare for this style of mathematics is to practise. There are 15 past and specimen papers 🔗 🌟. While it certainly sounds like a great idea to try and do all of these before the MAT, it’s important to remember that these papers are designed to take 2.5 hours each. Then you need to account for marking and reflection time - at least an hour per paper. There’s also a lot to be gained from not sitting the first few practice papers under timed conditions, but instead just working at them until you’ve done all you can do. This could add an extra 10 hours and before you know it you’ve scheduled yourself more work than is feasible, which can have very negative effects on your physical and mental health.
It’s far more important to look after your wellbeing and avoid burnout. So, instead of attempting all the papers, just pick out a subset of them or a few questions from each one. If you do find you have more time and would like to do more practice, try mixing it up with some STEP 1 questions such as the those found in the first 10-15 assignments on the STEP support programme 🔗 🌟
‘How to Prepare for the MAT YouTube video 🔗 🌟 Incredibly valuable tips and advice from the Admissions and Outreach Coordinator at the Mathematical Institute, Oxford.
MAT weekly livestreams 🔗 🌟 The same academic from the above video produced a series of livestreams in which he talks through MAT problems and solutions. All are available to catch up now!
‘MAT 2019 in 10 minutes or less’ video 🔗 Use to get familiar with what the paper will look like.
Top Tips from a Successful Applicant video 🔗 Some more insider insights!
Good timing is essential. There are no hard-and-fast rules as to how you should split up the time, but a sensible idea might be to assign time to marks proportionally. For example, Question 1 is worth 40% of the marks and so you may want to spend an hour (of the 2.5 hours given) on it. However, it may be wiser to allocate less time to Question 1 and give yourself longer to think about the more in-depth later questions.
The best way to find out how to time the papers is to do several timed practices. This will help you judge what works for you and what doesn’t, and give you experience of putting it into practice.
MAT papers are marked by Oxford graduate students, following a given mark scheme. Question 1 has little ambiguity and you will either get 0 or 4 marks for each part, depending on which answers you select. It’s important you mark your answers clearly in the designated section at the front of the paper; however, if mid-exam stress causes you to forget this, as long as your answers are clearly indicated (e.g. by circling in the paper), you’ll likely still get the marks.
Later questions are obviously much harder to mark, and it helps the markers greatly if you lay your answers out neatly and logically. While this is not specifically what they are marking, it helps them find the key parts of your answer as well as being good practice to develop the clarity and logical accuracy of your arguments. You should lay your working out line-by-line on the page, perhaps circling or underlining key parts of your answers. Rough working out should be done off to the side so as to not disrupt your main argument, and your work will also benefit greatly from a few words or short sentences to explain exactly what you’re doing.
As you’re probably aware, the paper is out of 100 marks. Grades are not awarded, and so only the raw mark counts. You really don’t need to be getting anywhere near full marks to be doing exceptionally well.
Furthermore, it’s often difficult to accurately predict how you’re doing or how you’ve done in an exam. You really shouldn’t dwell too much on or overthink how you’ve done.
Finally, it’s important to remember that this is just one step in a long application process, and your performance on the MAT – while significant – is not the sole determining factor. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to get top marks and try to enjoy the preparation (and even the exam!) You must be doing incredibly well to even be considering sitting the MAT, and you ought to be proud of your achievement of getting this far regardless of the outcome.
Best of luck!