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We would love to hear from you if you have used or appreciated the CSAT and/or Practice[+] content. Please consider leaving a testimonial about your experience, outcome or opinion. Testimonials mean a lot for Climb Foundation members, who are donating substantial effort, and, importantly, they encourage users who read them!
Interviews are meant to bring a new challenge and test problem solving skills. If a problem is too familiar, it doesn’t matter how hard/easy it is. I saw the CSAT as a good supplement to the interview. Interviews had the issue of “bad luck”: they only ask a couple of questions so the candidate may not get a chance to prove themselves. The CSAT provides a much wider pool of problems to identify the different skills of candidates from varied backgrounds. It also provides “shy” candidates a different environment to perform. I appreciated that the CSAT required me to think more than anything and that it is non-standard. This made me much more relaxed and I felt it was a test of my skills, knowing I could rely on my own strengths. Standardised tests do not obtain the same results; as soon as a test becomes too standardised − e.g., by using multiple-choice questions, a very clear curriculum, very clear format etc − it becomes mechanised, and students can find shortcuts to optimise their grades.
I found Practice[+] to be a great way to prepare (I prepared for both computer science and pure maths applications, after a small career in sports). The hinting system is great. It definitely improved my problem solving ability and gave me more confidence handling unfamiliar problems. The model solutions were very nicely written, giving a clear idea of the level of reasoning and explanation to aspire to. I appreciated the CSAT questions being “exotic”, as it means they are difficult to prepare for in any kind of rote learning fashion, and favours aptitude rather than expensive training available only to the wealthy. It’s great to see such efforts towards equality of opportunity for applicants. Really impressed with all the effort of this foundation, please keep up the good work!
I know of current undergraduates who would have been rejected after interviews if it hadn’t been for the CSAT. Some even went on to top their cohort in their undergraduate years. These are only a couple of reasons why the CSAT was created and why we want to help you. There is no such thing as “failed the CSAT”. It’s not what you can’t do, but what you can do. And you can do well!
CSAT provides a good complement to the skills tested at interview. It has allowed us to gather valuable additional information about candidates’ academic ability and thus greatly improve selection, particularly at the pool stage. It has been a valuable additional way for us to assess capable candidates who may not necessarily shine at interview.
While applying to Cambridge I was most worried that I may get a very difficult interview question or not understand it at all. Thanks to the CSAT, I could choose questions from the set of 20 that best demonstrated my skills and not worry that I really have to excel at the one question I am going to get at the interview.
The CSAT really gives you a second chance. I prefer quietly thinking about questions rather than having to come up with an answer on the spot with two senior academics next to me. If i am stuck on a question, I could move to another question, returning to it when I have a new idea! Contrary to my expectations, the CSAT was a more pleasant experience than my interview and I’m glad I sat it. It also allowed me to have the reassurance that if either the interview or the CSAT goes poorly, I can demonstrate my ability at the other one, which has calmed down my nerves about the entire process overall.
The CSAT makes the admissions process fairer. Relying on interviews alone can lead to applicants who don’t do well in face-to-face conversations falling through the cracks. The CSAT gives those applicants an opportunity to show they have the right skills by showing insight in written answers. I believe it’s much better at this than other tests because we actually award marks for insight rather than perfect answers.
I believe the CSAT is a great opportunity for applicants to show their abilities in a longer written format and with questions they like. It’s not important whether the answer is wrong or right. We want to see how a candidate thinks about a problem. This allows us to identify the candidates who we believe deserve a place. It’s a very different format to the interviews. Having more information about each candidate means the admissions teams are less likely to miss an applicant who deserves a place!
When I was interviewed in 2015, my college didn’t require CSAT. Therefore, I never looked at it before coming to Cambridge. Having now discussed the CSAT with students from other colleges, and having looked at the questions myself, I wish I had. It’s not only great to show you’ll be good at the kinds of topics taught in the CompSci course, but it’s also a great way to check if those topics interest you - and that’s what matters, both for your degree but also for the CSAT marking criteria. Incorrect answers can still attain full marks, if the intuition is correct! Looking back, it probably would have been better for me if I’d taken the CSAT.
Mature Colleges such as Wolfson are especially keen on assessing applicants from as many different countries as possible, but it is not easy to keep track of what mathematical and computer science content our applicants may have been formally taught before we interview them. The CSAT is a great help in that regard − candidates choose questions that relate to material they are familiar with, which helps both them and us. While colleges work hard to ensure that our admissions process is fair, many applicants find the prospect of interviews quite daunting. Our interviewers are trained to help calm candidates down and guide them through the questions we ask, but we can only cover a limited amount of material in a 25 minute or 40 minute interview. By contrast, the CSAT lets applicants decide which questions to answer and in what order. The CSAT gives them much more time and opportunity to “shine” and impress us − not just by solving a range of questions they choose themselves but also by giving them a great deal of freedom in how they approach their answers.
The CSAT can be challenging but if you could do something during the CSAT, even the easiest question, it will present you in a better light than not sitting the CSAT. Also, unlike the interview, no one was staring at me during the CSAT, so I felt more comfortable and it helped me think better.
We design the CSAT because we want to get information about your true abilities. We look for your insights and abilities on questions that require thinking, not recipes or tricks, giving more applicants an equal footing. Having better data about you when making an admission decision can never disadvantage you. With only interview data, you will find yourself ranked in a group of k applicants with similar abilities, where decisions in the absence of better data become significantly more subjective. The CSAT is there to improve this.
Unlike the interview, the CSAT gives you control over the questions you want to answer. As long as you have the right idea then it rewards you even though you might make careless mistakes. I am more comfortable thinking in silence while solving questions, difficult or not, so the CSAT is definitely more appealing than the interview, during which I had to constantly speak my thoughts out loud.
I always enjoy setting questions, trying other people’s questions, and marking the responses we get. We aim for every question to be an opportunity for students to show us several different insights, and I especially like to see answers where someone has worked through the various steps. Even if they haven’t given the right answer, they’ve often shown us exactly the skills and ability we’re looking for, and it’s satisfying to be able to reward that. I hope that, despite all the stress, students manage to enjoy the questions in the same way I do trying them out and refining them to the finished article!
I found the CSAT very useful for the interviewers to go through it with me during the interview. This allowed me to discuss my strong solutions, explain which I had trouble with and why, and further demonstrate the problem solving ability to other questions I had not attempted. The choice in the test is also another very useful feature since not all interviewees will have had education in the same topics and this choice lets candidates attempt those questions most relevant to them. It works well alongside the interview since some candidates may not perform their best under the pressure of interviews. The CSAT can be a fallback and an enhancement.
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