Just came back from the Thinking skills assessment test at Hwa Chong JC. Just as anticipative as I was to receive the news of the test and the interview about 2 weeks ago, I can’t help but realize that the days do come by very fast and in no time, I am actually done with my TSA and my Cambridge interview only a few numbered days ago. The only thing on my mind these days is to focus on the interviews and stuff, so mind me if I am particularly disconnected these days.
The TSA is a 90 minute long test with 50 MCQs consisting of an even 25-25 mix of problem solving questions and critical thinking questions. Having done the sample papers on their website, its worthy to note that for Singapore applications (and though not shown on the TSA website), we have an additional 30 minute essay component on top of the already mental 1 and a half hour TSA itself- typical and rather similar to that of the Oxford TSA in comparison. My practice attempts were satisfactory, scoring about 70% ish and completing one of the sample 3 essays in half and hour. It was not until the post-revision with the answers that I see the bigger picture- I tend to fair better in problem solving questions, and there is a trend that I tend to get 2 out of the 7 types of critical thinking questions wrong or skipped simply because I just take too much time to get them done.
If I could do away with those questions I do badly in statistically (which in the sample, takes up about 5 of the questions in the test), I could actually put more time into those questions I could potentially score better in. So my strategy was to finish the first 20 questions I can answer straightway in the first 30 minutes, that leaves me 2 remaining blocks of 30 minutes to handle 15 questions each where the more time consuming critical thinking questions can be tackled. So that kinda helped, as there are no rules in place in the order of the questions you can do, though it is recommended to tackle the paper sequentially for the best mix of critical and problem solving questions. But ultimately, it is the final score out of 50 which still counts at the end, so that makes it pretty much said.
Some questions were a no-brainer and you can get the answer within seconds, some on the other hand requires little bit more time- like taking ages to answer a simple but irritatingly long manual multiplication/division question (no calculators are allowed) or watching not to let your mind run all over the place when thinking of assumptions. For critical thinking questions, reading the question after the excerpt helps as it allows you to determine what type of thinking question it is, saving you the need to re-read again.
I managed to answer about 40/50 questions. Surprisingly no one I see in the 300 odd strength hall managed to finish the paper on time at all. But I was confident that for every answer I put down in ink there was a 70% chance of it being correct (a balance between the slow but “in the bag” tactic or the “try and hit all you can” tactic), for me it was definitely not the latter. So that gives a rough estimate of a 60% score including the 0.2 probability of my other randomly filled answers being correct.
Glad there were no ambiguous questions as I encountered in the sample paper, which actually kept me rather worried and the implications of raising it to the examiner if I were to encounter on in-test. One instance was one a sample question asking for the rental fee to rent a bike for few hours, though the correct answer is just a simple summation of the product of 2 multiplications, I got it wrong as I added the refundable deposit fee into my chosen answer as we know, bike rentals in Singapore irregardless of hourly or full day rental all require a ($50) deposit or equivalent, so it pays to know abit of the assumptions. Knowing the conversion of some imperial units helps as well.
The single short essay was abit of an achilles heel for me, with 30 minutes to choose your question, get all your points, arguments and counter-arguments out and pen them down literally leaves you no time to even breathe. The writing task gives candidates an opportunity communicate effectively in writing, organising ideas and presenting them clearly and concisely. There will be a choice of three essay questions, on general subjects related to your course of study that do not require any specialised knowledge. So what you get is essentially a universal question sheet for all the subjects offered, and you are to answer one of the 3 in your section. Answering a question not related to your course if of course asking for a disaster. I wrote about 1 page and a half, more than what I expected, so technically I was just rushing to get my content out in a continuous scribble as the clocks menancingly (and mercilessly) tick away each precious minute in front of the crowd.
I never had time to fully read or edit what I’ve written, but I was glad I managed to put forward all my required points together with a fully structured 4 paragraphed essay comprising of an intro, 2 points and a complete conclusion respectively. Given that, I can’t accurately gauge how well I do for this part, neither I can conclude from the allocated time say that it will it have a third of the overall weightage as compared to the 50 MCQs.
Whether the TSA is used in the consideration of Cambridge applications is still largely a tale of its own. There had been myths of the TSA still under evaluation on whether it will form a reliable and predictable statistical gauge for ‘A’ level leavers being offered conditional offer based on expected grades. Whether that holds or not, I guess it’s for the admissions to know and for us to find out come January.
I guess my chance to either get or break my chance in entering Cambridge will depend on the last crucial one-to-one 30 minute interview next week wish me luck!