2 November 2003




Faced with too many A-grade applicants, Britain’s top university is piloting a test to help it select the best.  Malaysian students are welcome to try it out. 

By the deadline about two weeks ago, at least 25,000 students had applied for around 7,000 undergraduate places at Oxford or Cambridge in the United Kingdom.  Both universities – overwhelmed by A-grade A-level candidates are under pressure to prove they are trying to spot gifted but disadvantaged students – are using tests to probe students’ potential to do well in a degree. 

Cambridge is piloting a test at 22 colleges for candidates in economics, engineering, computer science and natural sciences.

The Thinking Skills Assessment (sample questions below) tests critical thinking and problem-solving.

It will be taken by students interviewed this autumn and will be used at tutors’ discretion as an additional selection tool alongside measures such as predicted A-level grades. 

Oxford has tests for interviewees in subjects such as classics and maths. 

So, how would you get on in Cambridge’s test?  Try it out.



Q1.      In order to succeed in academic examinations, it is necessary to study.  Therefore, if a student works hard in a particular subject, he or she should do well when it comes to the examination.  Which of the following best describes the flaw in the argument? 

A.        It assumes that it is necessary to study in order to succeed.

B.         It overestimates the value of studying in preparation for exams.

C.        It ignore the fact some subjects are more academic than others.

D.        It assumes that studying hard is sufficient condition for academic success.

E.         It ignores the fact that some students do not need to study very much in order to succeed.


Q2.      A solid cube has twelve edges.  If all eight corners are sliced away, while leaving part of each original edge intact, how many edges has the new solid? 

            A.        12

            B.         24

            C.        32

            D.        36

            E.         44 


Q3.      The diagram shows a small village charge.  There is a door in the west end, seen in the diagram.  There is a tower at the east end of the church with a window set in its east wall.  This wall is hidden in the diagram.  There is also a door in the tower. 



            Which of these is most likely to be the view of the eastern end of the church?

            A.                                       B.                                    C.   

            D.                                        E.


Q4.      One in 1,000 people in Britain is estimated to be a carrier of the potentially fatal liver disease hepatitis B, although this estimate is likely to be far too low.  There should be a mass vaccination program to eradicate this disease. 

            Seventy five countries carry out such a program and including hepatitis B in Britain’s existing vaccination program would be a simple matter. 

            The main objection has been the cost.  Each shot of the vaccine costs at present £5 (RM32) and the total cost of a mass campaign at this price would be more than £20m.  However, this cost would be substantially reduced if mass vaccination was introduced because the manufacturers would supply the vaccine at a much lower price for bulk purchase.


            Which of the flowing best expresses the main conclusion of the above argument? 

A.        Mass vaccination against hepatitis B would not be difficult to provide.

B.         A program of mass vaccination against hepatitis B should be introduced.

C.        The only way to eradicate hepatitis B is by a program of mass vaccination.

D.        The cost of a program of mass vaccination against hepatitis B would not be too expensive.

E.         Unless the manufacturers of the hepatitis B vaccine agree to a low price, a vaccination program is not possible. 


Q5.      The picture to the right shows a cube that I have made.


            Which one of the shapes below, if cut out and folded could make a cube the same as mine?




















































































































































































































































Q6.      A fear of spiders could be justified in that the bite of all spiders is to some extent venomous. 

            However, we need to put this justification into perspective. 

            In the US, which ahs more than its fair share of hard-biting spiders, only three people die from spider bites each year and they are usually small children or the frail elderly. 

            Furthermore a good rule is that if a spider spins a web, as all British spiders do, its jaws are unlikely to be strong enough to penetrate human skin.  Even when a web spider does bite humans, venom is unlikely to be dangerous. 

            Clearly, people in Britain have no good reason to fear spiders. 

            Which one of the following is an underlying assumption of the above argument? 

A.        Very few British spiders have a venomous bite.

B.         Most people in Britain are unlikely to be afraid of spiders.

C.        Most spiders that do not spin webs can bite through human skin.

D.        The only way in which spiders can harm people is by biting them.

E.         It is only very small children and the frail elderly who are affected by the venom of spiders. 


Q7.      No electoral system will ever produce the right leaders. 

            From ancient times it has been recognized that the kind of people with the qualities needed to win high office have, by the same token, measures of personal ambition and single-mindedness quite undesirable in a responsible leader. 

            Conversely, those with less dubious virtues, such as humility and an open mind, would neither emerge as leaders nor survive as leaders under a selection system that is so inherently competitive. 

            Which of the following best expresses the main conclusion of the argument above? 

A.        Personal ambition and single-mindedness are necessary in a leader.

B.         Humility and open-mindedness are not electoral assets.

C.        People who win elections are never the right leaders.

D.        Humble and open-minded individuals are desirable as leaders.

E.         What is wrong with the electoral system is its competitiveness. 


Q8.      It is said that lightning never strikes twice in the same place. 

            Of course this is an old adage and should not be taken literally:  there are documented facts showing that some places and some people, have been struck two or more times. 

            If the sayings were true, then the safest place to stand during a thunder storm would be somewhere that was known to have been hit by lightning in the past.  

            But as it is clearly untrue, a safer place by far is one that has never been struck before. 

            Which of the following is the best statement of the flaw in the argument above? 

A.        The fact that lightning sometimes strikes the same place twice does not mean that it will do it a third time.

B.         The fact that some people have been struck more than once is irrelevant because the strikes probably happened in different places.

C.        The fact that a saying is an old adage does not automatically mean that there is no truth in it.

D.        The fact that one place is unsafe does not automatically meant that other places are safer.

E.         The fact that lightning travels at enormous speed makes it impossible to document exactly where it strikes every time.              


 Q9.      The training times for two groups from the local swimming pool are shown below.  Zoe swims with the “A” group and her younger brother, John, with the “B” group.  Their father thinks it is not worth taking John unless Zoe is also swimming. 


“A” Group

“B” Group


6-7.30 am

6-8 pm

7-8 pm


7-8 pm

7-8 pm


6-8 pm

7-8 pm


6-7.30 am

7-8 pm

6-7.30 am

6-7 pm


6-7.30 am

6-7 pm


10-12 am

11-12 am

             If Zoe swims at all times she can, how many hours will John swim in a week? 

            A.        5.5 hours                      B.         6.5                   C.        7

            D.        7.5                               E.         12.5


Q10.    The Lemming Society has unusual membership qualifications.  New members can only be introduced at an annual general meeting (AGM) and to be allowed to continue one’s membership for the next year a current member must attend the AGM. 

            However, to attend the AGM, a current member must bring along one new member to be introduced into the society at the meeting.  Last year, the society had 240 members.  This year, it has 380 members.  How many new members were introduced at the last AGM? 

            A.        50

            B.         70

            C.        120

            D.        140

            E.         190 


  The Thinking Skills Assessment is devised by the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate (UCLES) – The Times.