History Aptitude Test (HAT)

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


The HAT forms a key part of the admissions process for History and joint honours courses including History at Oxford. It involves analysing a single historical source, often quite obscure. However, this shouldn’t be disheartening as no contextual knowledge is expected.

How to Prepare

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


The History Aptitude Test is a computer-based assessment in which you analyse one source over the course of an hour. The recommendation is that you spend about a third of your time planning and two-thirds writing.

You will need to take the HAT if you are applying for one of: History 🔗, History (Ancient and Modern) 🔗, History and Economics 🔗, History and English 🔗, History and Modern Languages 🔗, or History and Politics 🔗 at Oxford.

You need to be registered 🔗 🌟 - information can be found on the 'How do I register?' tab. The registration deadline is the 29th of September 2023, and the test date is the 20th of October 2023. Registration must either be done with your school or through a registered test centre. This is done separately to UCAS.

Test Structure and Content

The current HAT with a single question has been in place since 2018 and is similar to Question 3 on past papers from 2016 to 2017.

The HAT asks you to provide a considered analysis of a source and what it tells you without being aware of much background information. The assessment is therefore only of your skills, not your knowledge. It aims to test the skills of critical reading, source analysis, sticking to the question, choosing evidence to support arguments, working autonomously and writing clearly.
(Based on Source: Oxford HAT webpage 🔗 Accessed: 23/07/2023.)

Getting Started

HAT History Faculty Past Papers 🔗 🌟 This page has all the past papers for the HAT going back to 2013, alongside webinars.

HAT 2016 Past Paper 🔗 Try reading and annotating the source and question here.

‘HAT Walkthrough (2016)’ (UNIQ video) 🔗 🌟 Watch an Oxford tutor and three students going through the 2016 paper to help you think about the source. Take 20 minutes to plan the paragraphs, points and evidence you would use to write the essay and then 40 minutes to have a go at writing it.

HAT 2016 Mark Scheme 🔗 Have a read of the concepts raised in the mark scheme. Remember that you wouldn’t necessarily be expected to use all of these in your answer. Have a think about which band your first attempt might be in.

Taking the Plunge

Ultimately, the HAT is about primary source analysis, so practicing that in any context is helpful preparation. Source analysis is likely something you do a lot at school, but if it has been a while and you want to refresh your skills, here are some resources that might be helpful:

Cambridge History Faculty help with source analysis 🔗 🌟 Cambridge University History Faculty have a webpage which offers some advice on analysing sources and some exercises to help you practise those skills.

History Skills advice 🔗 🌟 This website has some pretty basic guidance on one approach to structuring source analysis.

National Archives questions 🔗 The National Archives website also has a quick bit of advice for students dealing with sources.

Pushing for Progress

The HAT is supposed to feel challenging, and may be unlike your other history exams. Using your own historical knowledge is explicitly not rewarded in the HAT. Rather, what matters is your ability to draw points from the source and structure your response to the question clearly. You can practice these skills and prepare for the format of the exam, but you can’t really revise (study) for this test like you might for normal academic exams.

It is important to analyse the source and its author or purpose (depending on the attribution given), not just describe what it says. Mark schemes generally refer to ‘answering the question directly’, ‘thematically-arranged paragraphs’, ‘selective use of quotations’ and ‘grasping unresolved tensions’ as higher-level indicators. (Based on past papers on the Oxford HAT webpage 🔗 Accessed: 23/07/2023)

The best preparation is likely to take past papers in timed conditions, or simply to annotate papers and then fully plan responses. You could ask a teacher if they would be willing to read through your response to a HAT and suggest improvements.

Here is some advice from students who have who sat the HAT:

Wojciech’s advice 🔗 This resource with some good general advice on structure is freely available, although the website also advertises paid tutoring which isn’t necessary for a successful application.

Advice for Teachers 🔗 Specific guidance from the same website using the 2013 past paper as an example, although written as if for a teacher.

Matilda’s advice 🔗 Similarly, this page with advice on how to plan your response is freely available, although the website also advertises paid tutoring which isn’t necessary for a successful application.

Charlie’s Experience 🔗 This video starts actually talking about the HAT at 2:40. It doesn’t have that much advice, but it might be useful to understand what the experience of taking the test is like.

Similar Questions

The HAT past papers available online will likely be more than enough practice material, but if you yearn for yet more you could try practising analysis of any primary sources such as those you have come across at school. You could even try writing essays for questions like ‘What does this source tell us about politics/society/culture in *century* in *country*?’ with sources similar to those in the past papers.

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

Tips and Tricks

Here are some more ideas that might be useful. But remember that they’re just personal opinions, so don’t take them too seriously :)

  • If you are short on time, practise just analysing a past paper source, or analysing a source and writing an introduction.
  • As an experiment, you could try taking a HAT paper with only the planning completed to time or only the writing done to time, to help you work out where your strengths are.
  • Plan how much time you’ll spend on reading, planning and writing different sections in advance.
  • Learn some synonyms for key words like interpretation and depiction - you'll likely use these a lot!
  • 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 family.
  • 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.
  • Prepare mentally by being aware that the HAT is difficult and intended to test your perseverance as well as your ability. However, the mark required for your application to continue to be considered is generally much lower than an A-level pass mark.
  • 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 have probably heard these things emphasised before, but that’s because they really are important!

Best of luck!