Format and Structure of TSA

Important information about TSA Oxford and Cambridge's format and content, including a review of question types. Prepare and practice with JobTestPrep.

  • Access total preparation for tests used by Cambridge, Oxford, and UCL
  • Outscore the competition using our exclusive PrepPacks™


The Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA) has two popular formats which contain overlapping sections, used by three separate academic institutions: Cambridge, Oxford, and UCL. TSA Cambridge and UCL are 90-minute tests that contain 50 multiple-choice questions, divided evenly between two main question types: Problem solving and critical thinking. TSA Oxford adds a 30 minute writing task where candidates must choose one essay from a choice of four. This is designed to assess a candidate’s ability to express and organise their ideas in a clear and concise manner.

TSA Test structure

The multiple choice paper of the TSA is actually composed of two distinct sections; problem solving and critical thinking skills. Both are considered to be important in higher education. The questions are scattered evenly throughout the test so that the examinees encounter a mix of both types and sub-types in no particular order. As mentioned above, those who will sit TSA Oxford/Cambridge/UCL will encounter these questions.

Problem solving questions

The test contains 25 problem solving questions. The examinee is presented with questions that require reasoning through numerical and spatial skills. This portion of the test is divided into three groups, all of which represent novel problems to which there are no simple ready-made solutions. The three types are:

Relevant Selection – This type of question stresses the importance of isolating the desired information needed to solve the question from a wealth of data supplied in the question. This is done by either a graph or a table. It may be that the question has presented you with information which is not important, perhaps redundant, and possibly distracting. This kind of question demands that the examinee selects pieces of information that are directly relevant to the question.

Finding Procedures – The second type of problem solving question requires the examinee to face a problem and devise a method with which to use the information before him to find a solution. Typically, there are at least 3 different points of data that will have to be operated on to find the answer.

Identifying Similarity – Finally, this type of question presents the examinee with a situation and then asks him/her to choose from the provided options the situation that has a similar structure to the original question.

Skills required

Basic mathematical knowledge such as arithmetic operations, simple fractions, basic number theory, percentages, etc. The test stresses the importance of knowing how to work with real life numbers such as dates and time, money, and the basic measurements of weight, height, area, and volume as well as the conversion between them. Table and graph analysis is also included in this section of the test.

Critical thinking questions

These questions evaluate critical thinking skills through analysis of text passages. The skill of critical thinking is basic to any academic study and often involves considering an argument put forward to promote or defend a particular point of view.

Each question is preceded by an informative passage of 120-150 words. The question relates the passage to the options in seven different ways: 

1. Summarising the Main Conclusion

“Which of the following best expresses the main conclusion of the above argument?”

The first type poses the question which of the five options provides the best summation to the argument presented in the passage. The answer is found by reading the entire argument, extracting its meaning and then searching the options for the one with the closest meaning.

Important points for this type of question are that conclusions can appear anywhere within an argument and not necessarily at the end. Keep in mind that you are searching for the statement which follows from or is supported by the argument.

2. Drawing a Conclusion

“Which one of the following conclusions is best supported by the passage above?”

In this type of question you are asked which conclusion, among those appearing as the options, follows from the passage given in the question. To solve this question you must consider each of the options against the question in order to decide if it is justified and follows from the passage, and therefore the correct answer. 

3. Identifying an Assumption

“Which of the following is an underlying assumption of the argument above?”

The third type of critical thinking question asks which option is an assumption that underlies the argument presented in the passage. As an assumption is something that is not stated directly in an argument, but is rather something taken for granted to draw the conclusion, you must first find out the conclusion of the argument.

This is done by drawing the main point of the argument and then deciding, searching for the reasoning it gives to support this conclusion. Focus on any important points which are not actually stated in the reasoning.

4. Assessing the Impact of Additional Evidence

“Which of the following, if true, would most weaken the above argument?”

This type of question asks which of the statements provided in the options would weaken the argument presented in the passage. 
Approach this question by first clearly understanding what the argument is and then evaluating the effect each of the options would have on it.The statement which weakens the argument will be the correct answer.

5.Detecting Reasoning Errors

“Which of the following is the best statement of the flaw in the argument above?”

In the fifth type of questions you are presented with a flawed argument, and must choose from the options the statement that most accurately points out the flaws. To solve this question we should analyse the argument and figure out why the conclusion does not follow from the argument. Then we can approach the options and find the one directed at the same flaw.

6. Matching Arguments

“Which of the following most closely parallels the reasoning used in the above argument?”

This type of question presents an argument, and asks which option is the closest parallel to it. The similarity of the arguments is not centered on topic, but on the structure or pattern of the argument. We can simplify this question by extracting the basic structure of the argument by exchanging the subjects to single letters, since the content of the argument is not important. Once we have the structure of the argument we can match it to the options and find the correct answer. Note that the options in this type of question will be longer since they must pose an argument as well.

7. Applying Principles

“Which one of the following best illustrates the principle underlying the argument above?”

In the final type we must choose the option that most clearly illustrates the principle underlying the argument. This means that we must first identify the principle of the argument by summarizing the passage, and then searching through the options for one that matches with the same underlying principle.

The proper course for an argument is reaching a conclusion based on well founded reasons. An argument is considered strong or good if the conclusion directly follows from the reasons provided, or in other words, should the reasons be accepted, so must the conclusion. Some arguments lack an important component of the reasoning phase – the assumption. This is an integral part to the conclusion, and must be present for it to be correct.