Natural Sciences Admissions Assessment (NSAA)

This admissions test is taken for some Cambridge courses.
Last updated: 7 months ago


This assessment forms an additional part of your application to study Natural Sciences at Cambridge. It is an extra component to help Admissions Tutors distinguish between candidates who might look very similar on paper when they apply through UCAS. 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 Natural Sciences Admissions Assessment (NSAA). Use this page as a hub to branch off and use other resources!

The NSAA is designed to be challenging and time is fairly constrained, so don’t be put off if you find it hard! Although it is used to help build a bigger picture of you as an applicant, it is just one of many considerations that are taken into account so a bad performance in the NSAA doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t be invited for interview or be given an offer.

Information about the Assessment can be found on the University website here 🔗 (under “Entry Requirements” > “Admission Assessment”).

The deadline to register is the 29th of September 2023, and the assessment date is the 18th of October 2023. More information about dates can be found here 🔗)

It's important to note that the NSAA will no longer be used from 2024. The last time the NSAA will be sat is October 2023. More information about these reforms can be found here 🔗

Preparing for the NSAA webinar by Magdalene College, Cambridge and Corpus Christi College, Cambridge 🔗 🌟 In this webinar, Dr Michael Sutherland, Director of Studies in Natural Sciences (Physics) at Corpus Christi College, introduces the format of the NSAA and tactics for tackling the paper.

Who needs to take it?

Anyone applying for Natural Sciences (Biological or Physical) or Veterinary Medicine at Cambridge.

Please bear in mind that if you are applying for Natural Sciences at Magdalene or Trinity Colleges you will need to take at-interview assessments IN ADDITION TO THE NSAA.

1 hour written test taken over the same period as interview (i.e. you will be invited to sit the assessment if Magdalene invite you for interview after reviewing your application)
Section A: Maths skills (all applicants), Section B: Physical Natural Sciences Applicants and Section C: Biological Natural Sciences Applicants.
Example questions (from 2016) found here 🔗
Information from Magdalene can be found here 🔗 (under “Subject Requirements” > “Interviews and Written Assessments”)
*PANDEMIC UPDATE* When contacted in February 2021 Magdalene confirmed that this assessment took place in 2020, and was invigilated over Zoom.

30 minute Mathematical Fluency Test taken at-interview (for both Physical AND Biological Natural Sciences applicants)
More information and example questions here 🔗
*PANDEMIC UPDATE* When contacted in February 2021 Trinity confirmed that this assessment took place in 2020, and was invigilated over Zoom

How do I register and take the assessment?

Your test centre will need to register you for the NSAA by the 29th of September. If you are applying from your school/college, contact their exams department or speak to a teacher to find out if they are registered as an approved test centre (if they have had Oxbridge applicants in the past it is likely that they are but always check!).

If they are not registered, they can apply to become a test centre here 🔗, the deadline for registering as a centre is the 15th of September.

If you are NOT applying from a school/college or are unable to take the assessment there, you can use this page 🔗 to find a test centre near you (this shows test centres both inside and outside the UK). Bear in mind that if you take the test at an independent test centre you may be charged an administration fee by the centre.

What will be on the assessment and how is it structured?

The assessment is broadly based on GCSE and AS Level content (i.e. you shouldn’t need to learn new content for it). The 2023 Specification can be found here 🔗.

- Section 1:
60 minutes
Take two multiple choice sections, one in maths (which everyone must complete) and one in a science (choose between Biology, Chemistry or Physics)
Each Multiple Choice section has 20 questions (so in 60 minutes, you do 60 Multiple Choice Questions in total)

- Section 2*:
60 minutes
Extended Multiple Choice Questions in one of three sections (Biology, Chemistry or Physics)
Each section contains 10 questions (so you have 6 per question)
*IMPORTANT: the format of section 2 changed in 2020, previously it was made up of long-answer questions which have now been replaced by extended multiple choice.

How do I prepare?

Caution: do not spend money unnecessarily! According to the Cambridge Assessments website 🔗, “Anyone offering a paid service to help you pass your admissions test(s) will have no more knowledge than someone who has read this website and studied past papers. So while your performance at any test will improve with some familiarisation or practice, we would not advise you to pay for such help.”

1. Give yourself time to prepare.
Try to start doing a bit of revision at least a month before (but don’t start ridiculously early as past paper material is limited and you don’t want to run out too far in advance of the actual test).

2. Revise A-level (and GCSE) content.
Make sure you’re comfortable with GCSE-level Maths content, the Maths multiple choice is very time pressured with only 1 minute per question and you’re not allowed a calculator.

3. Work through the specification 🔗 and highlight topics you might feel less comfortable with. You may feel that you know most of it already but remember time is precious in the assessment so the less time you spend trying to recall material the better!

IsaacPhysics 🔗 - Covers for Physics, Mathematics and Chemistry
Physics & Maths Tutor 🔗 - Covers Physics, Mathematics, Chemistry and Biology

4. Do Past Papers
Familiarise yourself with the format and wording of the papers
Try to do as much timed practice as possible. You won’t know how hard you’ll find it under pressure until you test yourself, so do this early on so you can plan for how you will cope with this.

Section 1: Natural Sciences 2020 - Section 1 Question Paper 🔗
Natural Sciences 2020 - Section 1 Answer Sheet 🔗
Natural Sciences 2020 - Section 1 Answer Key 🔗
Natural Sciences 2020 - Section 1 Explained Answers 🔗
Section 2: Natural Sciences 2020 - Section 2 Question Paper 🔗
**IMPORTANT: This paper contains a reduced number of sample questions. In the full paper, there are 20 questions in each part, and the time to complete the paper is 60 minutes.
Natural Sciences 2020 - Section 2 Answer Key 🔗
Natural Sciences 2020 - Section 2 Answer Sheet 🔗
Natural Sciences 2020 - Section 2 Explained Answers 🔗

If you’ve been through all the NSAA past papers and are still looking for extra material to prepare, take a look at Section 2 (Scientific Knowledge and Application) of the BMAT past papers 🔗, they have a similar style and scope of content to the NSAA.

Final Advice…

- Work out how you want to allocate your time and in what order you want to tackle the questions.
You may want to start with the subject you feel most comfortable with to help ease yourself into the exam, or you might want to get the tougher bits out of the way as soon as possible. Again, practising the papers under timed conditions can help you establish what is the most effective way of tackling the assessment for you.

- Don’t get bogged down on a question if you get stuck! Just make your best guess, mark the page so you can come back to it later (i.e. dog-ear the page) and move on. There’s no point wasting time on one particularly rough question when you could spend it on questions where you can actually reach an answer.

- Don’t cram!! The NSAA is more about your ability to think clearly and logically than it is about learning actual content, so you’re better off getting a good night’s sleep and going into it well rested and relaxed (or as relaxed as you can be!). Similarly, make sure to get breakfast beforehand.

- If you’re going to a test centre you’ve never been to before, make sure you’re clear and on where you are going and leave plenty of time.

- It is really important to remember that the assessment is just one of many parts of your application. Many people who are invited to interview and subsequently receive offers come out of the assessment feeling like it was horrendous, so try not to overthink it. Cambridge states that typical applicants only achieve 50% of marks, and that very few get over 80%. It is designed to be challenging, so finding it difficult is not necessarily a bad sign!

- Finally, remember that regardless of whether you get an interview/offer or not, preparing for a challenging academic assessment alongside your A-level/ other studies is a massive achievement and shows real commitment.

“Be proud of yourself... psyching yourself up to do something as high pressure as an admissions assessment and putting in the work needed to feel confident in it at the same time as A levels is hard, and just by trying you have done something brave and should be proud of yourself for giving it your best shot.” - past NSAA applicant

“Just remember that the worst that can happen is you don't get in. There are plenty of other fantastic unis and Oxbridge isn't the be all and end all. Just try to enjoy the process and come at the exam as a challenge instead of an obstacle.” - past NSAA applicant

Good luck!