Physics Aptitude Test (PAT)

This admissions test is taken for some Oxford courses.
Last updated: 10 months ago


The Physics Aptitude Test is the entrance test for a number of STEM courses at Oxford, including Physics, Physics and Philosophy, Engineering Science, and Materials Science.

How to Prepare

Here are some general resources related to the Physics Aptitude Test (PAT). Use this page as a hub to branch off and use other resources!

The Basics

The exact style of the test changes reasonably regularly. This guide is updated frequently, however, for the most up-to-date information, check the Oxford undergraduate admissions website 🔗 and the Physics Faculty website 🔗 🌟.

The PAT is made up of 100 marks and is 2 hours long. There is a digital calculator included as part of the online test interface. Answers will be written in booklets. The paper is loosely divided into two sections.

Section 1: the first section is made up of twelve multiple choice questions. Each question is worth two marks, so this section is worth 24 marks in total. It is worth noting that although each question is worth the same number of marks, the questions do vary in difficulty across this section.

Section 2: the second section is made up of a number of longer-form questions. Each question is worth up to 10 marks each, and the entire section is worth a total of 76 marks.

Note that you must be registered at an authorised test centre in order to sit the PAT. Information about registering can be found here 🔗 on the "How do I register?" tab.

Getting Started

A general guide to admissions video 🔗 🌟 The tutor who speaks first (Dr Bulte) is an Engineering tutor for Engineering, so what he says may be especially applicable for the PAT.

PAT guide to preparation 🔗 There’s some really important information and advice to help you prepare for the PAT from Oxford.

PAT Syllabus 🔗 🌟 Go through the syllabus checking what you’ve covered already and what you might need to investigate yourself. There are lots of resources online which cover the physics and maths knowledge which you might not have learned in school/college yet.

PAT Past papers 🔗 🌟 Many students choose to focus their preparation on the past papers. The papers on the website go back as far as 2006. Oxford don’t release past paper solutions, but ‘Maths and Physics Tutor’ has worked solutions to every paper (see below).
You will also note that this website gives you access to examiners’ reports. If you’re interested, these can give you an idea of how scores were distributed in a given year. That said, don’t read into these too far. Remember that you should be aiming for the top mark you can achieve, not any specific score you ‘need’.

PAT Past paper solutions 🔗 🌟 These are really useful. You might find it useful to spend a significant amount of time with the solutions, as there is little point in going through them as quickly as you can and giving yourself a score for past papers. If you don’t understand a question, try to find out what went wrong and go over the topic until you feel you understand it. Also try doing a paper under timed conditions before you look at the solutions. These solutions aren’t compiled by Oxford, so there’s no guarantee they will be entirely correct, but they tend to be very good.

Learning New Content

Textbooks are a really important source of information when it comes to learning new content. All of the content for the PAT should fit into the A-Level (or equivalent) syllabus, but may not be something you would otherwise have covered by the time you sit the PAT.
When using textbooks, I find it useful to read through the section in their entirety, then make sure that you can understand (and justify if possible) any of the relevant ‘key points’ at the end of a section.

Online Resources
Isaac Physics 🔗 🌟 Isaac Physics is the resource Oxford recommends for learning the extra material in the syllabus. It’s comprehensive and divided into A-Level syllabus classifications.

Khan Academy 🔗 The Khan Academy have produced videos which detail a huge amount of senior-school and college physics. The website is American, so it won’t be tailored exactly to the A-Level syllabus, but the content is universal.

Pushing For Higher Marks

These resources should push you to think more creatively about the content, so I found them quite useful for the PAT. That said, the questions which will most resemble the questions you will face in the PAT will be the past papers provided by Oxford, so I would prioritise trying out those questions.

Our Favourite Resources
Professor Povey’s Perplexing Problems 🔗 🌟 This book is compiled by one of the tutors at University College, Oxford. The style is very similar to what you might see as a problem in an interview (in fact, page 72 shows you the question the author, Professor Povey, was asked at his Oxford interview). The book is useful in style for both PAT questions and in preparation for the interview.

iWantToStudyEngineering 🔗 🌟 This is another resource which is really useful for interviews (Engineering especially), but some of the problems will resemble some content in the PAT, so if you’re stuck for extra questions, look here.

The Stanford Maths Book 🔗 The standard is much more challenging than the type of questions you might find in the PAT, but useful if you’re looking for more practise.

Physics Olympiad Past Papers 🔗 This is another resource recommended by Oxford, although note that the questions tend to be more challenging and more obscure than the type of content tested in the PAT.

Tips and Tricks

You might see adverts for paid courses and PAT tutoring. These can be very expensive and they absolutely aren’t necessary to score well in the PAT.

The PAT is a time-pressured paper. This means that speed, as much as knowledge, is an important skill to develop. When preparing with past papers, try to complete them in the time given (and in exam conditions). Mark yourself after the allotted time, and then try to work through some more questions to see if you would have completed them with a little more time. Then practise until you get faster!

Working together with someone else through tricky problems is also a very useful way of prepping. Don’t worry if you don’t have someone to do this with though, it isn’t essential!

Graph sketching is one of the most important maths skills to have ready. These can be quite easy to try out, try thinking of a given function (a polynomial like x3+2x=y or a sinusoid like y=xsin(x)). Try to draw the function. Then, to see how close you were to the correct answer, input the function to an online graphing calculator 🔗