NSAA Preparation – What is the Natural Sciences Admissions Assessment?

The Natural Sciences Admissions Assessment (NSAA) is entrance exam carried out by the University of Cambridge in order to assess prospective undergraduates hoping to study with them in the following subject areas: Natural Sciences, Veterinary Science, and Chemical Engineering (via Natural Sciences). According to the university, this exam is carried out in order to “differentiate effectively between able applicants”, in a way that school examinations possibly cannot. It is for this reason that NSAA preparation is very important.

Those applying to the above courses will undergo this assessment before the interview stage, should they make it that far. Indeed, a candidate’s results in the exam will be taken into account alongside the rest of their application, including personal statement and predicted grades, when making the decision on whether to ask them to interview or not.

So, there is no ‘pass mark’ for the exam – your results are simply there to influence a subjective decision made by admissions staff, who will make a call on whether to advance you based on all elements of your application. Luckily, however, details of the timings and number of marks have been clearly specified. Let’s look now at the structure of the exam as supplied by the university.

NSAA Preparation: What does the exam consist of?

The NSAA is made up of two ‘Sections’, which in turn are made up of several parts. Over the course of the whole exam, you’ll be faced with questions on maths, physics, chemistry, and biology. Within this, maths and physics are given special dispensation; you may choose to answer specialised ‘Advanced’ questions on these subjects. See below for how it all works.

Section 1 – 5 parts

A – Maths
B – Physics
C – Chemistry
D – Biology
E – Advanced Maths and Advanced Physics

Parts A-E contain 18 multiple-choice questions each. In total, you will need to undergo three out of these five parts, meaning you will face 54 questions by the end. This of course equates to the section being worth 54 marks. Importantly, the only obligatory one is part A – maths, so you need to make a choice as to which two of the remaining four you will answer.

Other essential information includes that fact that you will have 80 minutes to complete these 54 questions, and that calculators are not allowed. It is said that parts A-D are mostly designed to be at a similar difficulty to GCSE level, and that part E is more similar to that of AS.

Section 2 – 6 questions

In section 2, you will be presented with six questions which are all to do with science. That is to say, two of them will be physics questions, two will be chemistry, and two will be biology. You must answer any two of these questions. This time, you will have 40 minutes to complete the section. Also, calculators are permitted in this section.

Also unlike section 1, the questions in section 2 are not multiple choice. Their style and format will also vary – you may be required to draw diagrams and graphs as well as carry out longer writing tasks. The difficulty of the section 2 questions are comparable to that of AS level questions.

In this section, each question is worth 25 marks, meaning the section is marked out of 50. This means that both section 1 (worth 54 marks) and section 2 together add up to 104 marks being available.

NSAA preparation – More resources

For more resources to help with NSAA preparation, follow this link for GCSE Maths is Easy – a revision guide to help you nail the basics.

nsaa preparation

2 thoughts on “NSAA Preparation – What is the Natural Sciences Admissions Assessment?

  1. Nsaa tutor says:

    Hi there…I would just like to clarify whether you could answer one question from each science in the NSAA section 2 paper? E.g. one from biology and one from physics?

    • Jordan Cooke says:

      Hi there,

      Thanks for your query. In regards to the exact questions that you would need to answer during the NSAA selection process, the best thing to do would be contact them directly. It’s entirely possible that the format could have changed as of late, and that they might mix things up from year to year.


      The How2Become Team

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