PAT 2021- Exam Pattern Analysis, Latest Updates, And More!! – Filo Blog
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PAT 2021- Exam Pattern Analysis, Latest Updates, and more!!

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In this comprehensive PAT Guide, we’ll go over everything you’ll need to know before taking the test.

The Physics Aptitude Test (PAT) might seem stressful at first. It’s important to remember that the concentrate is on problem-solving rather than an understanding of a topic when preparing. The PAT is the single most essential aspect of your application during the shortlisting process. GCSEs were not even utilized until 2019, instead of relying only on the PAT test!

What PAT is all about??

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The PAT consists of a combination of physics and math problems, and you must finish a large number of them in under 2 hours. While formula sheets, tables, and data books are not authorized, certain calculators are acceptable; please double-check that the calculator you intend to use is permitted. There is additional information on the University of Oxford website, in addition to the material on the Department of Physics page.

Key Takeaways:-

  • The PAT is a 2 hour, single-section evaluation.
  • The test covers math and physics, which is similar to the first year of A-level (however, because schools teach subjects in different ways, you should double-check and review anything you don’t understand before the test).
  • You are permitted to use a calculator, but it must adhere to a set of tight guidelines, therefore you may not be able to use your regular A-level calculator, especially if it is an expensive graphical calculator. The limitations may be found here.
  • There is 24 questions total, ranging from 2 mark multiple choice to 10 mark linked-calculation problems.


Key Pattern and Syllabus Analysis:

Elementary mathematics:

  • Knowledge of elementary mathematics, in particular topics in arithmetic, geometry including coordinate geometry, and probability, will be assumed. Questions may require the manipulation of mathematical expressions in a physical context:
  • Algebra:
  • Knowledge of the properties of polynomials, including the solution of quadratics either using a formula or by factorizing.
  • Graph sketching includes the use of differentiation to find stationary points.
  • Transformations of variables.
  • Solutions to inequalities.
  • Elementary trigonometry includes relationships between sine, cosine, and tangent (sum and difference formulae will be stated if required).
  • Properties of logarithms and exponentials and how to combine logarithms, e.g. log(a) + log(b) = log(ab)
  • Knowledge of the formulae for the sum of arithmetic and geometric progressions to n (or infinite) terms.
  • Use of the binomial expansion for expressions such as (a+bx)n, using only positive integer values of n.


  • Differentiation and integration of polynomials including fractional and negative powers.
  • Differentiation to find the slope of a curve, and the location of maxima and minima.
  • Integration as the reverse of differentiation and as finding the area under a curve.
  • Simplifying integrals by symmetry arguments including use of the properties of even and odd functions (where an even function has f(x)= f(-x), an odd function has f(-x)= – f(x)).

Physics content of Physics Aptitude Test

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  • Distance, velocity, speed, acceleration, and the relationships between them, e.g. velocity as the rate of change of distance with time, acceleration as rate of change of velocity with time. Understand the difference between vector quantities (e.g. velocity) and scalar quantities (e.g. speed). Knowledge and use of equations such as speed = distance/time, acceleration = change in velocity/time, or the SUVAT equations.
  • Interpretation of graphs, e.g. force-distance, distance-time, velocity-time graphs, and what the gradient of a curve or area underneath a curve represents.
  • Response of a system to multiple forces; Newton’s laws of motion; know the difference between weight (= mg) and mass; vector addition of forces.
  • Circular motion including equations for centripetal force (F=mω2r or F=mv2/r) and acceleration (a=v2/r or a=ω2r).
  • The meaning of the terms friction, air resistance, and terminal velocity and how they can be calculated.
  • Levers (including taking moments about a point on an object), pulleys (including calculating the tension in a rope or the overall motion in a system of ropes and pulleys), and other simple machines combining levers, springs, and pulleys.
  • Springs, including knowledge of Hooke’s law (Force = – k.X) and stored potential energy ( = 1/2 kx2 ).
  • Kinetic energy (= 1/2 mv2) and gravitational potential energy (= mgh in a constant gravitational field) and their inter-conversion; what other forms of energy exist (e.g. thermal, sound).
  • Conservation of energy and momentum (=mass x velocity); power ( = energy transfer/time) and work ( = force x distance moved in direction of force).

Waves and optics:

  • An understanding of the terms longitudinal and transverse waves; and that waves transfer energy without net movement of matter.
  • Be able to define the amplitude, frequency, period, wavelength, and speed of a wave. Knowledge and use of formulae for the wave speed = wavelength x frequency and frequency = 1 / period (with units of hertz, Hz).
  • Basic properties of the electromagnetic spectrum, e.g. identify and correctly order parts of the spectrum by wavelength or frequency (radio waves, microwaves, IR, visible light, UV, X rays, and gamma rays) and the nature and properties of electromagnetic waves (transverse, travel at the speed of light in a vacuum).
  • Description of reflection at plane mirrors, where the angle of incidence (the angle between the incident ray and the normal) = angle of reflection (angle between the reflected ray and the normal).
  • Refraction, including the definition of refractive index (n) as the ratio of the speed of light in a vacuum to the speed of light in a material and Snell’s law n1sinθ1=n2sinθ2. Elementary properties of prisms and optical fibres include total internal reflection, where total internal reflection occurs at an angle θc when sinθc=n2/n1
  • Qualitative understanding of how interference, diffraction, and standing waves can occur.

Electricity and magnetism:

  • Understanding of the terms current ( = charge / time), voltage (potential difference = energy / charge), charge, resistance ( = voltage / current) and links to energy and power (power = voltage x current, power = energy / time). Knowledge of transformers, including how the number of turns on the primary and secondary coils affect the voltage and current.
  • Understanding circuit diagrams including batteries, wires, resistors, filament lamps, diodes, capacitors, light-dependent resistors, and thermistors. Knowledge of current, voltage, and resistance rules for series and parallel circuits.
  • Knowledge of the force between two point charges (Force= kQ1Q2/r2 (where k is a constant)) and on a point charge in a constant electric field (Force = charge x electric field).
  • Understanding that current is a flow of electrons; the photoelectric effect, where photoelectrons are emitted if they are given sufficient energy to overcome the work function of the material, and how to find the energy of accelerated electron beams ( energy = charge x potential difference).

Natural world:

  • Atomic structure; that atoms consist of protons, neutrons, and electrons, the definition of the atomic number, Bohr model of the atom.
  • Basic knowledge of bodies in our Solar System, including planets, moons, comets, and asteroids. (Name and relative positions of the planets should be known but detailed knowledge of their physical parameters is not required).
  • Know what is meant by the phrases ‘phases of the moon’ and ‘eclipses’ and how the position of the observer on the Earth affects their view of these events.
  • Knowledge of circular orbits under gravity including orbital speed, radius, period, centripetal acceleration, and gravitational centripetal force. This may include equating the force between two masses due to gravity (F=GM1M2/r2) to the centripetal force of a smaller body orbiting a larger body (F=mω2r or F=mv2/r) and use of centripetal acceleration (a=v2/r or a=ω2r).
  • Understanding of the terms satellites; geostationary and polar orbits.


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  • Problems may be set which require problem-solving based on information provided rather than knowledge about a topic.

If there are parts of the syllabus which you think won’t be covered at school by the time of the PAT, we expect you to work on them by yourself. Your teachers might be able to advise you.

Who can apply?

The course is designed to help students improve their problem-solving abilities in preparation for the Physics Aptitude Test (PAT). The program is accessible to year 12 students from state-funded schools, academies, and colleges who are interested in going to the University of Oxford to study Physics, Physics, and Philosophy, Engineering, or Materials Science who have little or no history of successful applications. This course is meant to help students prepare for the PAT by improving their problem-solving and quantitative thinking abilities.

Sample and past year papers:

Changes to the PAT

  • The test in 2021 will follow the same format as previous years’ papers from 2018, 2019, and 2020, although the prior papers will still be useful in preparation.
  • Since 2018, calculators have been authorized.
  • Instead of having two separate parts in 2017, the physics and maths portions were combined in 2017.
  • Multiple-choice questions were phased out in 2015, only to be reinstated in 2017.
  • Long physics issues for 20 marks were phased out in 2015 instead of shorter questions for 10 marks

Note: For sample papers and past year papers visit the official website

When do I have to take the exam?

Cambridge Assessment Entrance Testing administers the University’s admissions assessments. Each year, a few weeks following the application deadline of October 15, these examinations are given on designated days. The following are the test dates:



We are aware that assessments may fall within school half terms, which vary from year to year depending on the location. Unfortunately, owing to the limited timescales for processing applications, this cannot be avoided. However, we hope that by providing ample notice of test dates, schools will be able to prepare for their students to take exams at their school or at an alternative test centre.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Q1. Is the physics aptitude exam difficult?
The exam is undoubtedly one of the most challenging university admissions examinations available, making it a difficult task for any aspiring physicist.

Q2. Are there any textbooks that recommend it?
Any textbook intended for GCSE and A-level students will be enough. We recommend that you practice old Physics Olympiad papers as a great method to become ready.

Q3. Is it necessary for me to show my working?
It is strongly advised that you display all of your working in the answer booklet so that some credit can be given even if the final solution is wrong.

Q4. What is the test’s passing score?
The exam does not have a pass mark, but there is a threshold below which candidates are unlikely to be placed on the interview shortlist. This grade will not be assigned until the test results are available.

Q5. What is the duration of the physics aptitude test?
The Physics Aptitude Test (PAT) is a subject-specific admissions test that takes two hours to complete and is timed. 

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