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Comparison between Math entrance exams?

I was doing some MAT past papers (little prior practice), and found them really hard. I got 50 on my first attempt in good time, but I literally could not understand a couple questions.

Just finished the TMUA 2020 paper 1, and I found it really great (full marks).

I have done a few maths challenges, but never really did too well on them, and did much better in my a-level courses (Maths/FM).

With regards to STEP, is this a paper similar to TMUA/A-level, or more similar to Maths Challenges/MAT?
1) For the degree courses you want to apply for, which of these do they actually require. Stop trying to do all of them and focus on what you actually need.
2) STEP resources from Cambridge here - https://www.admissionstesting.org/for-test-takers/step/preparing-for-step/
3) TMUA resources from Cambridge here - https://www.admissionstesting.org/for-test-takers/test-of-mathematics-for-university-admission/
STEP is generally thought to be harder than the MAT and significantly harder than the TMUA, but is more similar to A-levels than maths challenges. I thought that MAT always had a more "logic-puzzle-y" spin to it that was reminiscent of the maths challenges, which STEP did not have. I don't know that much about the MAT (I've written solutions for some questions but never sat it myself) but I don't think 50 is a bad score to start.

It is not unusual to do two entrance exams. For example, you may apply to both Cambridge and universities that accept the TMUA. You may want to sit both the TMUA and STEP, so that if STEP does not go well, you will already have reduced offers by virtue of your TMUA score. You will obviously not be preparing for them at the same time (they're sat at the opposite ends of the year), so it's no big deal to sit STEP and either MAT or TMUA
(edited 1 year ago)
Original post by _gcx
STEP is generally thought to be harder than the MAT and significantly harder than the TMUA, but is more similar to A-levels than maths challenges. I thought that MAT always had a more "logic-puzzle-y" spin to it that was reminiscent of the maths challenges, which STEP did not have. I don't know that much about the MAT (I've written solutions for some questions but never sat it myself) but I don't think 50 is a bad score to start.

It is not unusual to do two entrance exams. For example, you may apply to both Cambridge and universities that accept the TMUA. You may want to sit both the TMUA and STEP, so that if STEP does not go well, you will already have reduced offers by virtue of your TMUA score. You will obviously not be preparing for them at the same time (they're sat at the opposite ends of the year), so it's no big deal to sit STEP and either MAT or TMUA

Thank you, I need the TMUA for one of my unis and MAT/STEP for Imperial/Warwick. I just haven't decided if I am going to apply to Oxford or Cambridge yet. If I go for Cambridge, I would have to submit by October, but Imperial state that they want the MAT if applying before then. Does this mean if I apply to Cambridge + Imperial + TMUA uni I would have to do all 3? That sounds quite stressful :confused:

I think I have to look into the STEP papers a bit more to decide. Perhaps I just haven't learnt the 'logic puzzle' thinking, but I feel like I would much prefer something more regimental. I made a commitment to complete the STEP even if I don't need it to better prepare myself for the next year.

Thanks again :smile:
Original post by McGinger
1) For the degree courses you want to apply for, which of these do they actually require. Stop trying to do all of them and focus on what you actually need.
2) STEP resources from Cambridge here - https://www.admissionstesting.org/for-test-takers/step/preparing-for-step/
3) TMUA resources from Cambridge here - https://www.admissionstesting.org/for-test-takers/test-of-mathematics-for-university-admission/


Thanks for the resources. I may need all 3 for the courses I am applying to, that's why I am doing them all.
Original post by pinkdoughnut11
Thank you, I need the TMUA for one of my unis and MAT/STEP for Imperial/Warwick. I just haven't decided if I am going to apply to Oxford or Cambridge yet. If I go for Cambridge, I would have to submit by October, but Imperial state that they want the MAT if applying before then. Does this mean if I apply to Cambridge + Imperial + TMUA uni I would have to do all 3? That sounds quite stressful :confused:

I think I have to look into the STEP papers a bit more to decide. Perhaps I just haven't learnt the 'logic puzzle' thinking, but I feel like I would much prefer something more regimental. I made a commitment to complete the STEP even if I don't need it to better prepare myself for the next year.

Thanks again :smile:

No. You can avoid having to sit the MAT for Imperial by putting in your UCAS application with just 4 options, and then adding Imperial as a choice the day after Oxbridge applications close. At that point they won't be able to tell you've sent off your application to other universities already, as far as they're aware you'll have only just applied. (they will only be told about your other choices when you firm/insure) Adding choices is not very hard to do and is a clear option on the UCAS dashboard, you might want to tell your school you plan on doing this in case they thought you omitted a 5th choice by mistake.
(edited 1 year ago)
Original post by _gcx
At that point they won't be able to tell you've sent off your application to other universities already, as far as they're aware you'll have only just applied.


Unis dont care what other Unis you might or might not have applied to - they dont have time to play silly games like that.
Just apply.
Original post by _gcx
No. You can avoid having to sit the MAT for Imperial by putting in your UCAS application with just 4 options, and then adding Imperial as a choice the day after Oxbridge applications close. At that point they won't be able to tell you've sent off your application to other universities already, as far as they're aware you'll have only just applied. (they will only be told about your other choices when you firm/insure) Adding choices is not very hard to do and is a clear option on the UCAS dashboard, you might want to tell your school you plan on doing this in case they thought you omitted a 5th choice by mistake.

Thats a nice little loophole, thank you :smile:
Original post by pinkdoughnut11
Thats a nice little loophole, thank you :smile:




Yes, you can add your other choices after the Oxbridge deadline, but Unis dont care what other Unis you might or might not have applied to - they dont have time to play silly games like that.
Original post by McGinger
Yes, you can add your other choices after the Oxbridge deadline, but Unis dont care what other Unis you might or might not have applied to - they dont have time to play silly games like that.

Yes, it just means I can avoid having to take the MAT for Imperial and can instead do STEP (assuming I get an offer) :smile:
perhaps the previous (deleted) reply was a bit curt: my point is that Imperial will not be able to find out you "dodged" doing the MAT, if you were worried they would discriminate on this

but yes it's also true they can't (not that they'd want to) discriminate on other choices you've made because they don't have access to this information
(edited 1 year ago)
Original post by pinkdoughnut11

With regards to STEP, is this a paper similar to TMUA/A-level, or more similar to Maths Challenges/MAT?
General consensus is that STEP is a fair bit harder than the MAT, but opinions vary and you will find people who find STEP easier.

As always, the best thing to do is look at some papers and see for yourself.

I'd also agree with gcx; 50 is not at all a bad score for your first MAT. It's a somewhat unusual format (the multiple choice section in particular) and practice definitely helps.
Original post by _gcx
You can avoid having to sit the MAT for Imperial by putting in your UCAS application with just 4 options, and then adding Imperial as a choice the day after Oxbridge applications close.

Can you double check that this is actually allowed? I vaguely remember hearing on an open day that they’ll only accept applications made without MAT if you can give extenuating circumstances that caused you to apply that late, although I may have misheard / misremembered.
Original post by yellowleaf23
Can you double check that this is actually allowed? I vaguely remember hearing on an open day that they’ll only accept applications made without MAT if you can give extenuating circumstances that caused you to apply that late, although I may have misheard / misremembered.

the website only says that the MAT is required for people who apply before the Oxbridge deadline (and my impression was that people have done as I said) but if you've been told that's essentially not the case I'll go back and change my post. I think the OP would be expected to sit STEP instead, which might negate their reason for applying to Imperial but would make a reasonable second-choice firm at least
(edited 1 year ago)
Original post by DFranklin
General consensus is that STEP is a fair bit harder than the MAT, but opinions vary and you will find people who find STEP easier.

As always, the best thing to do is look at some papers and see for yourself.

I'd also agree with gcx; 50 is not at all a bad score for your first MAT. It's a somewhat unusual format (the multiple choice section in particular) and practice definitely helps.


Thanks! I had a look at a couple STEP papers and I found some of the questions were not too bad. They looked challenging, but I immediately saw potential methods to try, as opposed to some of the longer MAT questions which completely dumbfounded me. I think I might prepare for the MAT for now, and decide later. I will still have plenty of time to study for STEP after the MAT as I'm on a GAP year, so there is no harm in leaving STEP for now.

With regards to practice - I am comfortable on the syllabus, other than doing the past papers, what else can I do to practice?

Thanks again :smile:
(edited 1 year ago)
Original post by pinkdoughnut11
Thanks! I had a look at a couple STEP papers and I found some of the questions were not too bad. They looked challenging, but I immediately saw potential methods to try, as opposed to some of the longer MAT questions which completely dumbfounded me. I think I might prepare for the MAT for now, and decide later. I will still have plenty of time to study for STEP after the MAT as I'm on a GAP year, so there is no harm in leaving STEP for now.

With regards to practice - I am comfortable on the syllabus, other than doing the past papers, what else can I do to practice?

Thanks again :smile:


Remember 50% miss their Cambridge offer on the STEP requirement and MAT only tests Year 12 content. I'd personally avoid Imperial as it's pretty toxic imho.
Original post by pinkdoughnut11
Thanks! I had a look at a couple STEP papers and I found some of the questions were not too bad. They looked challenging, but I immediately saw potential methods to try, as opposed to some of the longer MAT questions which completely dumbfounded me. I think I might prepare for the MAT for now, and decide later. I will still have plenty of time to study for STEP after the MAT as I'm on a GAP year, so there is no harm in leaving STEP for now.

With regards to practice - I am comfortable on the syllabus, other than doing the past papers, what else can I do to practice?

Thanks again :smile:

I can't really think of anything other than doing past papers. I'd suggest you save the most recent MAT (2021) for a mock; if you run out of papers, doing STEP papers is also reasonable preparation (back about 15 years ago, a bunch of (strong) TSR STEP candidates had a look at some MAT papers and found they could do pretty well without any specific preparation).

If you struggle to finish inside 2.5 hours, have a think about how to spend your time during the exam and in particular how to optimize the multiple choice section. My general impression of candidates (on TSR) is that they take too long on the MC section and this leaves them struggling to complete the long questions in the allotted time.
Original post by Muttley79
Remember 50% miss their Cambridge offer on the STEP requirement and MAT only tests Year 12 content. I'd personally avoid Imperial as it's pretty toxic imho.


Toxic as in high workload, or toxic as in competitive environment?
Original post by pinkdoughnut11
Toxic as in high workload, or toxic as in competitive environment?


It's not very supportive at all.

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