The Mathematical Admissions Test (MAT exam)

Empty University lecture hall

The Mathematical Admissions Test, (MAT exam) is designed to test the mathematical knowledge of students wishing to apply to Oxford, Imperial, and Warwick universities to study a mathematics orientated course. 

The results of the test decide who is shortlisted to be invited for interview and there is a strong and enduring correlation between scores achieved and subsequent offers for places.  It is held each year early in the November of year 13, allowing students to have accrued 4 terms’ worth of A-level knowledge.

Those of you attuned to such things may note the respect for the MAT that permeates this article. It is difficult to fully describe the sheer trickiness of the exam questions they manage to generate based solely around roughly one year’s A-level knowledge. 

All my students have agreed that it is the most difficult test – by far – that they have yet taken.  Considering that the first ten questions are multiple choice, some with the elegant simplicity of asking, “what is the largest number of the five choices below”, you might expect this to be rather easy – think again.


Preparation is essential


To prepare for the MAT test, being a child genius would definitely help, but failing that the website: has past papers, answers, and videos on working through sample questions.  It also has an excellent video by Dr. James Munroe on the process of the MAT exam and an explanation of the structure and the syllabus content, precisely detailing the subject areas they expect you to know when going into exam. Those of you following the major exam boards in England will almost certainly have covered the content, but please do take the time to have a look in advance of taking the test. It should be noted that you do not need any content from the further maths A-level course.

It is perhaps the style of the questions that most baffles students.  The test uses mathematics that they certainly recognise, just in a form that is likely to be unfamiliar.  It is easier to give an example, (here from the multiple-choice section of the MAT exam of 2014), rather than try to explain without using maths:

For all real numbers x, the function f (x) satisfies.

6+f( x) \ =2\ f( -x) \ +3x^{2}\begin{pmatrix}\int\nolimits _{-1}^{1} f( t) dt\end{pmatrix}

It follows that \int{}_{-1}^{1}f( x)dx equals

And then five numeric answers are offered.  Most students will know how to integrate but will not usually have met either an integral of an integral, (part of the solution – in case you hadn’t already guessed), or an integral that has functions with differing variables, (in this case x and t) presented in the same equation.  To solve these mathematical puzzles, it is not merely a question of using a practised method or a learnt example, a deep understanding of the underlying meaning of the mathematics must be applied.  For example, part of the answer from the previous question requires that you recognise the following:

\int{}_{-1}^{1} f( x) dx=\left(\int{}_{-1}^{1} f( -x) dx\right)

The minus reflects the graph in the y axis, leaving the area underneath the same.  And this is perhaps the essential beauty and the formidableness of the exam; to do well a fundamental understanding of the principles and concepts is essential, not just learnt techniques or pre-prepared solutions.  Studying for it will also certainly expand and deepen your understanding of mathematics and it is in many ways excellent practise for the A-level itself; as mentioned before, this exam follows the syllabus very closely.


How can TuitionWorks help?


Without a doubt you wouldn’t set off up Everest without an experienced guide, and navigating this exam alone is a daunting task.

  • Starting too early is inadvisable as considerable mathematical knowledge is a prerequisite.
  • Build your A-level maths knowledge before beginning A-level focused maths tuition around the end of August in the year you expect to take the exam.
  • Having a tutor helps develop a fundamental understanding of mathematical content, expanding on areas that time simply does not allow for in the classroom. It should also provide you with experience of thinking creatively about the concepts you have learned, as well as applying them to novel situations.

All of the above, as you will come to discover, is essential to securing that all important interview.



Student in an interview
Chris the tutor

Christopher C

Maths tutor at TuitionWorks

I have been tutoring privately for more than 10 years.  With a constantly changing mix of students – ranging from those I support in their efforts to gain entry to Oxbridge, (including help with personal statements, MAT exams and TSA papers), to those who lack confidence and just wish to pass their GCSE maths – I have developed a range of teaching methods directly suited to one-to-one tuition in my subjects.

Book Christopher today →

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