History Admissions Assessment (HAA)

This admissions test is taken for some Cambridge courses.
Last updated: 11 months, 1 week ago


The History Admissions Assessment tests your ability to work with unseen sources and isn’t dependent on you having any prior knowledge of the subject. It is a key part of the Cambridge admissions process but will be considered holistically as part of your application as a whole. This guide was put together with the help and advice of lots of current Cambridge students!

How to Prepare

Here are some general resources related to the History Admissions Assessment (HAA). Use this page as a hub to branch off and use other resources!

Who needs to take the HAA?

You will probably need to take the HAA if you are applying for History, History and Politics or History and Modern Languages, but different colleges have different requirements in relation to taking an Admissions Assessment - information about this can be found here 🔗 🌟.

The following colleges require candidates to sit the HAA: Clare, Christ’s, Emmanuel, Fitzwilliam, Gonville & Caius, Hughes Hall, Jesus, Lucy Cavendish, Magdalene, Murray Edwards, Newnham, Peterhouse, Queens’, Robinson, St Catharine’s, St Edmund's, St John’s, Sidney Sussex, and Trinity Hall.

The following colleges have their own required assessment: Wolfson.

The following colleges have no admissions assessment required: Churchill, Corpus Christi, Downing, Girton, Homerton, King's, and Trinity.

HAA Overview

The HAA is a 60-minute exam, where you will be presented with two historical sources, linked by a theme, that you are expected to compare and analyse. There is not usually a specific question to respond to, the task will be written as asking you to ‘compare and contrast’. There is no expectation of background knowledge, in fact, the texts may be selected to minimise the chance they have been studied before. The assessment is aiming to get an idea of whether a candidate can read critically, write clearly and convincingly, build an argument from scratch and select evidence to support this argument well. The key thing to remember is that the purpose of this assessment is ‘source criticism’, so your analytical skills will be the sole focus.

Getting Started

History Faculty guide 🔗 🌟 This is where all the information on Admissions Assessments from the Faculty of History are, including links to past papers.

Further information 🔗 This is the link to information about at-interview assessments and which subjects require which assessments, it also contains links to navigate to further information.

You DO NOT need to be registered, all information will be sent to you with the invitation to interview itself. The HAA will be taken on Thursday the 23rd of November 2023.

Taking the Plunge

HAA specimen papers: Specimen Paper 2017 🔗 | Specimen Paper 2018 🔗 | Specimen Paper 3 🔗

Many students have said they benefit most from working through past papers with teachers or mentors, so bear in mind having your work marked by a member of staff is definitely worthwhile.

Due to the recent changes to the History Admissions Assessment, there are not as many past papers available online as there have been in the past. If you have completed all Cambridge-issued material and still want to pursue more past paper practice, this is possible by finding source material yourself and analysing them as unseen sources. Below are several suggestions for how to do this.

Oxford HAT website 🔗 To practice on unseen sources, the Oxford History Aptitude Test website has many written sources similar to the level you can expect in the HAA. Bear in mind the exam format is completely different so only use this as a place to find new material with which to practice source criticism with.

Faculty of History primary sources 🔗The Faculty of History has a collection of primary source exercises designed to build up your analysis of sources in stages. The exercises cover several different topics so you’ll be able to find one you have no prior knowledge of.

InsideUni Mentorship Schemes guide 🔗 🌟 Ask a teacher/mentor to find two related sources for you to analyse, ensuring you practice your skills in comparing two sources side by side. There are several free Oxbridge mentoring schemes where you can be paired with current Oxbridge students, listed in our guide.

InsideUni History subject guide 🔗 🌟 Our page discusses different types of historical sources, where you might find them, and why they are interesting.

Been There, Done That

Here’s what current students who have sat the HAA had to say when we asked them about the whole experience:

What was the most effective method you used to prepare for the assessment?

‘Past papers in timed conditions, to get a flavour of how long to spend on each question, and to understand the layout of the test’

‘Going through past papers! I started by working on one section at a time, so I practised without timed conditions, marked myself, then started doing the rest under exam conditions. I left a couple of past papers so that I'd be able to have some practice of a full-length HAA before the real exam. I found that breaking the exam up into more manageable chunks like this really helped to make it less intimidating, and I learnt to enjoy it as an exploration of my subject rather than an admissions exam’

‘Timed exams & careful assessment of how critical or well-formulated the essay part was’

All of our students cited past papers as the most effective method of preparation!

What happened on the day of the exam? Did you feel prepared?

‘I felt like I'd done as much preparation as I could, but I think it's natural not to feel prepared before an exam! I think it's good to remember that the exam is not content-based, and the skills are building on what you'll be used to from A level/equivalent qualifications, so there's actually a lot of room for creativity of thought and everyone's in the same boat with regard to not knowing much or anything about the sources you're given.’

‘I did feel prepared, I’d done about 2.5 papers in prep and felt I understood the format. I had general exam stress, but that wasn’t really something I could change.’

‘You won’t ever feel fully prepared, you just need to be able to interpret new material- you’re not supposed to know it all, it’s just to test your ability to think.’

‘The exam itself went better than a lot of my practice, I had interesting sources to examine. The two longer sources went better than I thought as well because the texts weren't as complex or difficult to understand as some of the past paper texts.’

The general trend of responses was that no matter if people felt prepared or not, everyone knew it was their skills that were being tested so they could get a grasp on the exam. Most think the exam went better than they originally felt, some even enjoyed it!

If you could give a future applicant one piece of advice on the HAA, what would it be?

‘Spend longer on practising harder sources you don't understand right away and also don't use just A-level sources to prepare as they're often a bit too simple to analyse.’

‘You can't prepare for the content on the paper, but you can prepare your mindset. Please remember that they are testing how you think, not what you know. Have fun! The extracts they give are usually interesting, and try to read between the lines. Good luck :)’

‘Remember to plan for around 10 minutes (and not more than 15!)’

‘Relax, it's just one step in a very long and holistic applications process’

‘Don’t panic if the exam goes nothing like your practice papers because it will have been the same for everyone - everyone will have used the exact same resources to prepare so they’ll be just as surprised as you are!’

‘Don't pressure yourself! Remember why you love the subject, the Cambridge admissions process is holistic, so even if you slip up a bit, it's not the be-all and end-all.’

Most of the advice was either centred around preparing with past papers and not panicking and overthinking in the exam. Set yourself up now to approach the exam as just another thing you have to get done that day to keep your head cool. See here 🔗 🌟 for resources if you experience exam stress.

Tips and Tricks

Finally, here are some more practical tips for preparing and for the day of the exam :)

  • Keep an introduction short but make sure you include a proper conclusion
  • Plan how much time you’ll spend on reading, planning and writing in advance.
  • Learn some synonyms for key words, don’t repeat ‘shows’, ‘suggests’ or ‘this is because’, include a variety of explanatory or connective phrases. See here 🔗 for a guide.
  • Think about different themes or paragraphs you might be able to use for different types of sources, such as culture, religion, politics, class, race or gender.
  • Think about the strengths and weaknesses of different types of sources (eg: diaries, letters, official records) and how that could affect what the source can tell us.
  • Most paid resources are completely unnecessary. Expensive courses, online and in-person, are almost never worth it. Don’t spend money, spend time.
  • Double-check your arrangements for taking the exam, where you need to be at what time. Check your school/venue is also fully aware of what is happening and what they need to do or provide (if anything).
  • Prepare physically by consistently trying to get good sleep, eat healthily, drink water and talk to people if you’re finding yourself with runaway stress. You will probably have heard these things emphasised before, but that’s because they really are important!