History Aptitude test

The Colleges of Oxford University have introduced a History Aptitude Test (HAT) for use in the selection of candidates for all degree courses involving History. This test, which aims to examine the skills and potentialities required for the study of History at university, gives us an objective basis for comparing candidates from different backgrounds, including mature applicants and those from different countries. It is designed to be challenging, in order to differentiate effectively between the most able applicants for university courses, including those who may have achieved or can be expected to achieve the highest possible grades in their examinations.

The Faculty of History is working in partnership with Admissions Testing Service (formerly Cambridge Assessments) to administer the History Aptitude Test. As in the previous 3 years,  in addition to their application to the University, candidates will need to be registered for the History Aptitude Test (HAT) by 5pm BST on Saturday 15th October 2016 via Admissions Testing Service's secure Entries Extranet.  Further information will be available on Admissions Testing Service's admissions tests website-www.hatoxford.org.uk

Please see the PDF documents below and our HAT video for details of how and when to register candidates.

What is the nature of the test?

The HAT is a two-hour test, which requires candidates to read two extracts and answer a total of four questions about them. One of the extracts will be from a work of History; candidates will be asked questions to test their comprehension of the arguments and ideas in it, their capacity to apply those ideas to historical situations they know about, and their ability to think and make judgments about the extract as a piece of historical writing. The other extract will be from a primary source, and candidates will be asked to offer thoughtful interpretations of its content without knowing anything about its context.

The HAT is a test of skills, not substantive historical knowledge. It is designed so that candidates should find it equally challenging, regardless of what period(s) they have studied or what school examinations they are taking.


The test has three elements: a series of questions based on a short piece of historical writing; a short essay; and a single question, based on a primary source. The duration of the test is two hours. Candidates are advised to spend about 40 minutes on reading the texts, thinking about them and planning their answers. The rest of the time they should spend on writing. Guidance is given about the form and length of each answer. HAT papers from 2005 onwards have one less question than the original specimen paper and the 2004 paper, to allow candidates more reading and thinking time.

This section comprises two questions and is worth 30/100 marks:

  •  Definition Exercise: Understanding and defining terms drawn from the text. Relates to careful and critical reading; precision in the handling of concepts; precision, clarity, and facility of writing. (10/100 marks)
  • Explanation Exercise: Analysing and explaining terms drawn from the text. Relates to: careful and critical reading; analytical approach; precision in the handling of concepts; precision, clarity, and facility of writing. (20/100 marks)

This section comprises one question and is worth 30/100 marks

  • Essay Exercise: Applying in a concept/hypothesis from the text to a historical situation; writing cogently at length. Relates to analytical approach; coherent argument; precision in the handling of concepts and selection of evidence; relevance to the question; historical imagination; originality; precision; clarity and facility of writing.

This section comprises one question and is worth 40/100 marks

  • Interpretation Exercise: Interpretative response to primary source. Relates to: careful and critical reading; historical imagination; originality; precision; clarity and facility of writing.

This section comprises one question and is worth 30/100 marks

  • This question is ONLY for History and Economics applicants, and is designed to test candidates' comprehension, writing and problem-solving skills. History and Economics applicants must answer Question Four INSTEAD OF Question Two.

The HAT will be marked anonymously in Oxford, according to a common scheme circulated to all markers.

Qualities to be assessed

The HAT tests the following skills and attributes:

  • the ability to read carefully and critically
  • the adoption of an analytical approach
  • the ability to answer a question relevantly
  • the ability to offer a coherent argument
  • precision, in the handling of concepts and in the selection of evidence presented to support points
  • historical imagination
  • originality
  • precision, clarity and facility of writing

In order to test some of these, the HAT requires candidates to deploy a small amount of their own historical knowledge to illustrate and develop concepts or hypotheses contained within the first part of the test paper. Depth of knowledge will not be tested, and no special preparation is required. As History is a subject that often requires the deployment of several abilities at once, each question will test a range of skills and attributes, as described below.

When and where will the test take place?

The test will be sat on the morning of Wednesday 2nd November 2016, by all candidates applying to Oxford for History and its joint schools (Ancient and Modern History, History and Economics, History and English, History and Modern Languages, and History and Politics). Most UK candidates in full-time education will be able to take the test at their own schools or colleges. Mature candidates may take the test in Oxford or at a regional test centre of their own choosing. International candidates will normally be able to take the test in their own schools or similar institutions, but may need to contact a local test centre. The tests will be marked anonymously in Oxford and successful candidates will receive invitations to interview within three to four weeks.

How do candidates prepare for the HAT?

Since the HAT is aiming to test skills that candidates will be developing anyway, the best form of preparation is to advise students to get on with their normal work. One question in the paper will ask candidates to apply ideas or propositions from the texts to a historical situation that they know about, and they may therefore find it helpful to refresh their memory of the various topics they have studied in the last year or so. Even so, in answering this question, candidates will not be judged on the depth or detail of their knowledge, but on the skills listed on this page. The test will not look easy – indeed, it will not be easy – but candidates are given plenty of time to read and re-read the texts, to think about them, and to plan their answers. Candidates should not worry, therefore, if the specimen paper looks difficult. It probably looks difficult to everyone else too. We hope that candidates will find the test interesting as well as tough.

What if I can't take the HAT at the scheduled time?

We hope that almost all candidates will be able to take the HAT at the scheduled time. If you think that it will be impossible for you to arrange to take it, please write in advance, stating your reasons, to:

The Organising Secretary for History, Faculty of History, George Street, Oxford OX1 2RL (schools.liaison@history.ox.ac.uk).

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