Computer Science Admissions Test (CSAT)
If you are shortlisted for interview then you will need to sit the CSAT on the day of your interview. No prior registration is required, the College will inform you of the process. The CSAT is a test designed at the Computer Laboratory with a twofold purpose:
First, it is there to help you (not to catch you out). It gives you another opportunity to shine besides the interview. We are interested in what you can do (not what you can't). See the FAQ section on how the CSAT is used as part of your application.
Second, it gives an indication of your mathematical and problem solving skills in a variety of topics, with questions of your choosing.
You are asked to answer only a subset of questions from the total, and you can choose which questions to answer; in other words, the questions you feel most comfortable with. This enables you to show - and us to see - what you enjoy most and what your strengths are.
For instance, you don't have to answer algorithm questions if you enjoy pure maths more, or vice versa. We think freedom of choice is important as computer science is a very broad subject: candidates with different strengths (e.g. pure maths vs algorithmic thinking) can equally excel in different computer science areas.
Structure and samples
Take a moment to look at some CSAT sample tests:
The CSAT 2016 has two sections (the second section being more challenging). From each section, your best 5 questions of those you chose are considered. A blank work booklet will be provided to solve questions on. All answers must be justified, but your solutions need not be extremely thorough, so that you can solve more questions without rushing them. They must be sufficiently clear to the Examiner though, e.g. take care to write the key equations. Electronic devices, including watches or smart-glasses, or your own paper, are not permitted.
Do not discuss any of the questions with others after the test. See why.
The knowledge required is from syllabus typically covered by students by the time they are interviewed at Cambridge. Section A questions may resemble the year-11/12 UK A-level questions, but with a greater variety of difficulty and topics. Section B questions are more challenging and may seem more exotic than questions typically encountered in school. Given the great variety in international school curricula, if you believe a question relies on material you haven't yet covered then choose a different one.
The CSAT questions typically require you to think rather than apply mathematical recipes, and are more variate than typical school exams. We are interested in the depth of your skills, rather than the breath of your knowledge.
Don't worry if at first some questions seem exotic. The CSAT is not meant to be an easy test or a general aptitude test. This is in fact to your advantage: easy tests are less able to reveal good candidates, while general aptitude tests do not go sufficiently in depth into relevant skills. The CSAT offers suitable candidates an extra chance to shine in a more focused area and with questions of their choosing.
Frequently Asked Questions
If I do well in the interview but less so in the CSAT, or vice versa, would I be unlikely to receive an offer? Must I ace both?
The CSAT was designed to help suitable candidates for the Cambridge course, not stop them. We want you to do well, not badly, and it as an opportunity, not an obstacle. We know how stressful interviews are, and that they are not the perfect evaluation tool: there is too little time and you are all very nervous.
The CSAT aims to be inline with the Cambridge course, to allow you to show more strengths in a different yet relevant setting, with questions of your choosing. If you do well on the CSAT but less so in the interview, or vice versa, the College may be inclined to at least pool you, or even ignore the low performance and make a direct offer.
While the above is not a guarantee, we do guarantee that we consider all positive aspects in view of making an offer. The CSAT is there to allow you to show more of those.
How many CSAT questions can I mess up before messing up my chances of receiving an offer?
That's not how it works and it's the wrong way to think about it. You will be evaluated on what you can do, not what you can't or what you did wrong. The CSAT also allows you to choose which questions to answer. It is there to offer you another chance to shine besides the interview, and in a less stressful setting. It's not there to catch you out, on the contrary. We consider the positive aspects of your application, and of your CSAT and interview performances when making an offer.
Is there a minimum CSAT score for being considered for an offer?
There is no passing mark. Each CSAT script is considered individually, similar to the interview. A colleges ranks their candidates after taking into account all elements of each application individually. Most colleges have already been using various written tests in the past. The CSAT helps us by providing a more relevant and standardized comparison, but most importantly it is there to help you.
Must I cover advanced material not seen in school?
No. Neither do we expect you to. All CSAT questions' solutions can be worked out using school level knowledge. In fact, we encourage you to sharpen your current skills rather than learn new, university level concepts before applying. We teach those anyway.
How can I prepare for the CSAT?
The CSAT questions are very diverse and require reasoning rather than exercising knowledge. Some Section A questions in the CSAT 2016 may resemble those from year-11/12 UK A-level (past papers here, here and here), though with a greater variety of difficulty and topics, as well the first questions in the Oxford MAT (past papers here).
For section B, practising on questions from further competitions or exams is a good idea. Besides the sample tests above, helpful resources include past papers available at UKMT (e.g. start with the IMOK and Senior Kangaroo and work your way towards the MOG or BMO), the MAT, the "warm down" questions at the end of each assignment of the STEP Correspondence Course, and the STEP. Note that STEP questions have a different style and are longer, but they do build solid mathematical skills.
Why shouldn't I discuss the CSAT questions with anyone else?
Interviews at all colleges happen over a few weeks in December, then also in January and March, and many colleges spread their interviews over multiple days. Thus, most candidates sit the CSAT on different days. Decisions are made in January, and colleges have access to the CSAT results of both their own candidates and other Colleges' candidates. Discussing the questions with someone else (in or outside Cambridge, on the Internet etc) will help other candidates to get higher scores than yours. In other words, discussing the CSAT questions with others will harm your own prospects.
Contact and special provisions
The College that shortlisted you for an interview will provide more information closer to the date about access, schedule and venue. Special provisions will be made available by the College for candidates with disabilities or special circumstances. These will be communicated at the time depending on the nature of the disability or special circumstance described in the UCAS application, and will normally be similar to what those candidates receive in school for exams.