The changing landscape for UCAS & Oxbridge admissions

Words by Quintessentially Education

21 September 2023


Uncover the latest changes to the UCAS and Oxbridge admission landscape for the 2023/24 cycle.

As first-year students around the UK settle into their new university, we look ahead to this year's admissions cycle and the industry changes being implemented. From reformed academic references to scrapped admissions assessments at the University of Oxford, there are some significant changes this year for the 2023/24 cycle.

UCAS references

UCAS references allow school advisors to reinforce the student’s completion of the application form. Previously, referees could write a reference for the applicant in free text format. However, a review of the UCAS undergraduate reference process found that universities and colleges reported that 'it's becoming challenging to meaningfully compare applicants' academic references,' as 'there is considerable variation in what is included.'

Consequently, UCAS has changed the reference format to include three different sections in the hope that this will be fairer to all applicants. The reformed structure will include the following sections:

  • Provide a general statement about your school or college.
  • If applicable, share details regarding any exceptional circumstances that may have influenced the applicant's academic journey and accomplishments.
  • Outline any additional information about the applicant that is directly related to the applied course(s) and should be brought to the attention of universities or colleges.

Whilst these changes will make references more prescriptive, it should also become easier for universities and colleges to quickly find the information required to make an informed selection decision. Additionally, this will benefit the referees, as they will have confidence that they are providing insightful and valuable information about the prospective student in a shorter, concise way.

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Admissions tests

Cambridge Assessment Admissions Testing (CAAT) is a company that produces and delivers a range of pre-registration assessments required for several undergraduate courses at the University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford. Despite its namesake, the company is a separate entity from the University of Cambridge.

Earlier this year, CAAT released a statement stating that their working relationship with the University of Oxford will change in the forthcoming years. For the current application cycle (2023/24), CAAT will no longer deliver the following tests on behalf of the University of Oxford: Classics Admissions Test (CAT), English Literature Admissions Test (ELAT), Modern Languages Admissions Test (MLAT), Oriental Languages Aptitude Test (OLAT), Mathematics Admissions Test (MAT), Physics Aptitude Test (PAT), History Aptitude Test (HAT), and the Philosophy Test.

This will affect applicants pursuing undergraduate studies in mathematics, English, classics, history, languages, Asian and Middle Eastern studies, physics, and philosophy (and related subjects). The University of Oxford has recently announced that Tata Consulting Services (TCS) will assume responsibility for producing and delivering most of their admissions tests in the upcoming year, including tests that CAAT will no longer be running.

The registration deadline for most of the Oxbridge-specific admissions tests is Friday 29th September, with the assessments taking place on the following dates:

  • Thursday 19th October: CAT, ELAT, GAT, MAT, and AMELAT
  • Friday 20th October: HAT, MLAT, PAT, and Philosophy Test

By contrast, CAAT has confirmed that they will continue to administer the TSA (Thinking Skills Assessment) and BMAT (Biomedical Admissions Test) for applicants pursuing biomedical sciences or medicine, economics and management, history and economics, geography, human sciences, PPE, psychology, or PPL programmes.

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Online interviews

Interviews are essential to the selection process for undergraduate courses at highly competitive universities. They help interviewers gauge an applicant's suitability for the rigorous academic environment and assess their ability to think critically and independently. Additionally, applicants can share their passion and motivations for studying their chosen subject.

Whilst the University of Oxford has a long-standing tradition of conducting in-person interviews, they have decided to hold all interviews online in 2023 for 2024 entry. 24 colleges supported this decision and will follow the same model developed during the pandemic.

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Looking ahead

Looking ahead to the 2024/25 application cycle, expect to see further industry changes as CAAT plans to withdraw the BMAT (medicine) test, as well as the ENGAA (engineering), NSAA (natural sciences), and TMUA (mathematics) admissions tests on behalf of the University of Cambridge. Additionally, we anticipate further updates regarding the highly anticipated UCAS personal statement reforms.

If you require test preparation support from a specialist admissions assessment tutor, would like support preparing for Oxbridge interviews, or are interested in finding out more about the changes to the UK undergraduate application process this year, please email [email protected] or phone +44 (0)20 3073 6839.

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