Preparing for the Physics Aptitude Test (PAT)

Preparing for the PAT

The Physics Aptitude Test (PAT) is different to most other exams you will take. It is a mixture of both physics and maths and you have to complete a lot of questions in only 2 hours. It can therefore seem quite daunting to know how to prepare for it.

Our top tips for preparation are:

  1. Do some past papers. These can be found here along with reports for every paper. The report contains information such as the average mark on the paper and the mark students needed to achieve an interview. Do not expect to get all of it correct – most years the average is 50-60%.
  2. Check the syllabus found here. The material is aimed at AS level maths and physics plus knowledge of material covered at GCSE. However we cannot guarantee when the material will be covered in your school so you might find you need to teach yourself a few topics before the exam.
  3. Get practice doing some problem solving/hard physics questions which are not A level questions. It is advisable to do questions from a range of other sources, not just A level type questions which can be more structured in nature than the PAT. We have links below to other websites/material which you might find helpful.
  4. Try doing some questions under timed conditions. One of the things which students who have taken the test say is hard is the number of questions you need to do in only 2 hours. Practising some questions under timed conditions near the date of the exam will mean you are more likely to get to the end of the paper.

General comments
We do not generally provide solutions to the past papers. When marking the PAT all suitable methods for solving the questions are allowed and we would not want you to feel only one specific way of solving the problem will gain you marks. Sample solutions to the 2009 paper can be found here and sample solutions to the 2010 paper can be found here.

Some useful websites and resources

Preparing for the PAT course
Oxford Physics runs an online 'Preparing for the PAT' course, which features a mix of tuition by teachers and mentoring by current students. This course is for year 12 students from UK state-funded schools, academies and colleges with little or no history of successful applications to the University of Oxford. More information about the course is here.

Isaac Physics
This website contains lots of maths and physics problem solving questions. We suggest you either look through the A level book and try a few questions on topics you find tricky or select your own questions (click on , select ‘Problem solving’ and click on Physics or maths and the level of question you want.) Questions at the same level as the PAT tend to be around level 4-5. Remember to register/log in so the website records your progress. The page also contains lots of questions which are suitable as university entrance preparation (e.g. for interviews).

British Physics Olympiad
This website contains lots of past papers and solutions of problem solving type questions. Click on the Question bank ( and find topics on AS and A2 challenge questions you find interesting or want some practise with. Solutions can also be found on the website (click on ‘past papers’ and find the relevant paper the question you are interested in is from).

Next time
This website contains some quite fun questions designed to make you think about physical concepts. They are often multiple choice or yes/no questions, and there is usually not much maths involved. The original idea was that the teacher would ask the question at the end of a lesson and answer it 'next time'.

Questions are grouped into topics, and each question has a title that is a link to a pdf that includes the question on one page and the solution on a second. Some of the questions are probably more relevant for interview questions than the PAT as they might not contain the level of maths required in the PAT but it can be useful for checking your understanding of general concepts.

I want to study Engineering
This website is just as useful for all applicants not just those applying to engineering.

On the first page there is a choice of level of question; you should be looking at the 'mathematics and physics questions at the level of university engineering admissions interviews' for preparation for the PAT or university interview practice. This section then has an index of problems, divided into smaller groups of about 10-20 questions by topic. Each question has a multiple choice answer, plus hints for a solution strategy and summaries of relevant bits of theory. There is also a (usually concise and mathematical) solution, plus little videos to help with understanding. You might need a paper and pen to work out some of the problems and some of the material is beyond the PAT syllabus – you should double check if you are in doubt.
This website has some resources to test your mathematical and physics knowledge. Questions are usually answered via multiple choice and one of the nice aspects of this website is that you can see how many other people have got the question right or wrong. The ‘Daily Challenges’ on the home page are always free but quite a large part of the website requires a subscription to get full access. Try the ‘Practice’ section of the website for some free questions on maths, electricity and magnetism and classical mechanics.