Select Page


Independent Teacher

How to prepare for ESAT

Table of Contents
How to prepare for ESAT
Table of Contents


Joy and Sara, two excellent teachers of Chemistry and Biology, gave me great support and help while writing this blog. Like me, the two teachers have rich teaching experience not only in Oxbridge admission tests and competitions but also in A Level, AP, IB and corresponding subjects in domestic high schools. One of them is also an expert in setting questions for the Chinese college entrance examination. We have organized many teaching and research activities, studied the ESAT syllabus, and designed preparation courses, resulting in this detailed and comprehensive ESAT preparation guide. Here, I would like to express my gratitude to Joy and Sara!

After confirming the university and course you apply for require you to sit the ESAT test and start preparing for ESAT, you must wonder how to prepare for this admission test that will be held for the first time in 2024 and hoping to get guidance from professional teachers – how to plan your preparation time and which preparation method is more effective. Here, this blog will help you with the questions.

I. Before you start preparing for ESAT

Firstly, learning the basic information about ESAT is important, which may include:

  • Test date
  • Which courses require the ESAT test
  • Test format
  • Scoring method
  • Scope of the ESAT test

Secondly, download the latest preparation resources from the ESAT official page, including:

  • The latest ESAT specification
  • Past papers and solutions
  • Sample materials like sample questions

What’s more, it is necessary for you to know the latest test policies to avoid misunderstanding the test format, scoring method and test scope, so as to improve efficiency when you prepare for ESAT test.
In addition, two key points you should know:

  • ESAT replaces the previous ENGAA and NSAA exams. It will be organized by UAT-UK since 2024, and Pearson VUE will deliver the online computer-based test. Therefore, the ENGAA and NSAA past papers from previous years are important reference materials for preparing for ESAT.
  • I compared the syllabus of ESAT and ENGAA/NSAA and also studied the latest TMUA specification for 2024. I found that ESAT inherited and revised the syllabus of ENGAA/NSAA, while the syllabus of the mathematics part was exactly the same as the specification of TMUA Paper I.
UE Oxbridge Prep – Cambridge ENGAA Past Papers (2016-2023)
UE Oxbridge Prep – Cambridge NSAA Past Papers (2016-2023)

You may download our collections of past papers via the test prep page as follows.

For more information and further understanding about the ESAT test, please refer to the blog “ESAT Test: A Comprehensive Guide”.

II. What knowledge is required when preparing for ESAT test?

The five parts of ESAT test knowledge in four subjects: mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology. However, according to the test policy and the requirements of your chosen course, in addition to the required part of Mathematics 1, you need to choose at most two parts from physics, chemistry and biology. The following is an interpretation of the four subject knowledge of the three major mainstream curriculum systems, A Level, AP and IB, in comparison with the test scope of ESAT.

1. Regular secondary school maths courses can fully cover Mathematics 1

The knowledge of numbers, algebra, geometry, statistics and probability covered in the Mathematics 1 specification is equivalent to the junior high school mathematics courses. This knowledge is simple and basic for students applying for engineering and science-related courses.

2. What knowledge is required for the four optional parts? Is there any knowledge that needs to be learned in advance?

This question should be answered based on the curriculum system and elective subjects you have studied. Our three teachers have combined our more than ten years of research and teaching experience in subjects related to various curriculum systems to answer this question in the most concise way. The following table roughly lists the correspondence between the four elective parts, the three major international courses, and domestic high school curriculum systems. It also gives some suggestions for the relevant knowledge that needs to be learned in advance.

ESAT Maths 2
ESAT Physics

A Level

Only A Level Mathematics knowledge is tested, not Further Mathematics. Not having studied Further Mathematics does not put students at a disadvantage.
Students must learn part of A2 physics knowledge in advance, such as ideal gas, electromagnetic spectrum, etc. Some knowledge has been learned in GCSE or IGCSE but will be tested according to the requirements of A2 physics.


Most of the knowledge will be studied in the Pre-Calc course, and Calculus AB or BC is enough to handle the calculus questions in Maths 2.

The combined Physics 2 + Physics C Mechanics course can fully cover the ESAT Physics.


SL Mathematics fully covers Maths 2 and does not require knowledge of HL Mathematics.
Although Core Physics already covers ESAT Physics, it is still recommended to learn some AHL Physics topics in advance. However, students do not need to learn the topics of Options Physics.

Chinese High School 

The required high school mathematics course covers most of the knowledge, but students also need to learn calculus.
Topics related to waves and physical calculation questions based on calculus are relatively weak and need targeted training.
ESAT Chemistry
ESAT Biology

A Level

Most of the knowledge can be covered after learning AS, and it is necessary to supplement the knowledge of material structure, chemical principles, and organic chemistry modules.
Most of the knowledge can be covered after completing GCSE/IGCSE and AS, and training in experimental analysis skills and mathematical application ability is necessary.


AP Chemistry basically covers all the test points of EAST.
It can cover almost all knowledge, and it’s necessary to strengthen experimental analysis and mathematical application capabilities.


SL can cover most of the test points, and students need to supplement the content of material structure, chemical principles, and organic chemistry modules.
Students need to strengthen their knowledge of physiology and mathematical thinking skills.

Chinese High School 

The test points can be covered after finishing the two required and three optional high school chemistry courses. However, some of the organic and experimental modules need to be supplemented.
After completing the high school content, the main focus is to supplement and strengthen English reading ability and experimental analysis skills.

3. Is the experience in competitions helpful to preparing for ESAT?

Based on the analysis above, we can tell that what is tested by ESAT is mainly high school knowledge. From the knowledge side, the knowledge accumulated during the preparation for competitions is helpful for ESAT preparation, but it is relatively limited. However, from the skill side, the skills and techniques trained during the preparation help improve ESAT answer speed and obtain higher scores.

III. What abilities are needed to get a high score on ESAT?

Most students and even teachers think the ESAT is quite easy and only tests some basic knowledge when only looking at the ESAT questions. This perception completely ignores the time limit of the test – 40 minutes to answer 27 questions, which causes the difficulty of the test to increase exponentially. To get three 9 on the test, you need not only a solid foundation in the subject but also strong mathematical calculation ability, flexible adaptability and ability to withstand stress.

1. Solid foundation in basic knowledge of the subject

This is easier said than done. I often ask students about basic concepts and formulas, which is not difficult for good students, but as I ask a few more questions, most students are stumped. In fact, many seemingly simple concepts and formulas often involve the most fundamental laws of various disciplines and the basic logic of problem-solving. If you don’t think deeply enough about basic concepts, problems or models, you will often be “trapped” when answering questions, especially Oxbridge admission tests. These “pitfalls” are the key to the gap between good and top students.

2. Excellent mathematical calculation ability

The ESAT test does not allow calculators, and students need to finish a large amount of calculations, which may equal the math calculation requirements for Gaokao or even the middle-level high school math competitions. Generally speaking, students from the domestic curriculum system can basically meet the requirements of the ESAT test. In contrast, many students under A Level, AP and IB curriculum systems cannot meet the requirements, affecting their problem-solving speed. Therefore, these students often need specialised training in calculation skills and speed.

3. Excellent and flexible adaptability

When solving ESAT multiple-choice questions, you must choose the correct answer quickly. Sometimes, you don’t have to calculate every question completely. Flexible use of multiple-choice answering techniques can often achieve twice the result with half the effort and save a lot of time. We can’t expect that all the questions in the test are familiar. When encountering a question type you have never seen before, the ability to adapt flexibly can help you effectively improve your ESAT score.

4. High resistance to stress

The test time is 40 minutes. Excluding the time for turning pages, loading question images, and scrolling up and down on the screen, the actual answering time is shortened to about 38 minutes. Questions in physics, chemistry, and biology require not only a lot of calculations but also a lot of reading. In addition, the long options for many questions may also waste a lot of time. Moreover, the further you go, the harder the questions become, and the tighter the time to answer them. This is the time that can best test students’ stress tolerance. Students with strong stress tolerance can still perform well at the last minute and solve as many questions as possible. Students who lack stress tolerance become increasingly nervous as time goes by, and they cannot concentrate. They make calculation errors and cannot get the answers in the options, leading to a mental breakdown.

IV. Suggestions for choosing the ESAT parts

From the students I teach now, students who choose biology, chemistry, medicine and other courses are hesitant when choosing the parts. Below, I analyze several typical situations and give relevant suggestions. Please refer to “ESAT Test: A Comprehensive Guide” for the basic test policies involved, which will not be repeated here.

1. Which is easier or harder among mathematics 2, physics, chemistry and biology?

I have to discuss this issue for at least 10 minutes. Our three experienced teachers also discussed it for more than half an hour during the teaching and research process.

First of all, the so-called difficulty is relative. If you think it is easy, everyone will think it is easy. Conversely, if you think it is difficult, everyone will think it is difficult. The final report of the results depends not entirely on your score but on your relative position in the same group. For example, the physics questions in the first test are difficult, and answering 18 questions correctly corresponds to a full score of 9 points. If you only answer 9 questions correctly, you may only get 4.5 points. In contrast, the physics questions in the second test are easy, and you need to answer 24 questions correctly to get 9 points, but you answer 12 questions correctly and may only get 4 points because other students answered better than you.

Secondly, it depends on what you are better at. Some students are good at English and reading but weak in math. In this case, it is highly recommended to choose physics, chemistry, and biology and then choose math. On the contrary, if the reading ability is average, but the mathematical thinking is strong, then choose Mathematics 2.

Some students may feel that their reading and math abilities are similar and are the most confused one when making the choice. It is difficult for me to give specific suggestions on subject selection in a short period of time. However, my suggestion is to train in maths during the preparation stage, which is extremely helpful for solving math, physics, and chemistry problems. Then, make an assessment based on the level of math science you have achieved and decide which subject to choose for the last part until the last stage of the preparation.

Due to space limitations, each student’s situation is different, and giving a particularly comprehensive suggestion is not realistic. I will only summarize the above points for the reference of students about to take the ESAT test. In general, choosing subjects is like Tian Ji horse racing. If you select the proper subjects, you may win unexpectedly.

2. Engineering course selection suggestions

According to the requirements of the Cambridge Engineering course, all students must take Mathematics 1, Mathematics 2, and Physics. Students who do not apply to Cambridge but only to Imperial College are recommended to take the second test in January. Mathematics 1, Mathematics 2, and Physics are still recommended.

3. Chemistry course selection suggestions

Chemistry is a must, and I recommend Physics and Math 2 for other parts. As for whether to choose Physics or Math 2, from the perspective of test preparation pressure, Math 2 is easier, and if you choose Physics, you need to learn some physics knowledge in advance and increase the amount of training. Of course, for students who have experience in physics competitions, these are not difficult. And you can also choose biology if you feel you are good at it.

4. Biology course selection suggestions

Most students who choose biology are not particularly good at physics, so they often struggle to select whether chemistry or mathematics 2. But there is a key point: chemistry questions require a lot of calculations and require calculation speed. If you find mathematics 2 difficult, you probably won’t find it easy to do ESAT chemistry questions. So, I strongly recommend strengthening your math training first, preparing for chemistry simultaneously, and then making a final decision in the final stage.

5. Medicine course selection suggestions

It is generally not recommended to choose Mathematics 2. Any two of Physics, Chemistry, and Biology are good combinations. The most straightforward basis for deciding which two subjects to select is which two subjects you usually spend the most time on.

V. 5 steps to set a reasonable goal for ESTA test

Setting a reasonable goal is the first step towards success. It is recommended to follow the steps:

1. Refer to Cambridge ENGAA and NSAA scores over the years

Although the ESAT will be taken for the first time in 2024, the scores of ENGAA and NSAA in previous years are still important for reference. The following is an example of a group of students applying for Cambridge Engineering in 2023:

  • 3% of the students achieved three 9 in ENGAA.
  • In recent years, the admission rate of Cambridge Engineering has fluctuated slightly around 15%.
  • The top 15% of ENGAA scores are roughly 6.5, 6.0, 6.5
  • For Chinese students, it will be more competitive if they ranked in the top 10%, and the corresponding scores are roughly 7.5, 7.0, 7.0.

2. Taking an assessment test

Most students have already mastered the basic mathematics knowledge required before preparing for ESAT. Through the test, they can diagnose the problems in the current learning process and make a preliminary assessment of their level. It is recommended to:

  1. Use past papers (ENGAA or NSAA) from three years ago instead of the last three years, as these will be used for pre-exam practice and are extremely valuable.
  2. If you can answer the questions online, try to do so. We provide a free diagnostic test link below.
  3. Simulate the actual exam scenario and complete it within the time limit required by the test.
  4. Score according to the answers or automatically by the online system.
  5. Keep the assessment test papers well to facilitate the teacher’s evaluation.

3. Evaluate your assessment test scores

View the score lines of ENGAA or NSAA tests in previous years through the link above and check which level you achieved on the assessment test. It is important to remember that your assessment test scores do not indicate the scores you can achieve when taking the real ESAT test. By working hard to prepare for ESAT test, you will be able to achieve a better score than the assessment test.

4. Understanding how difficult the test is and it's changing trends

After taking the assessment test, you may have a rough idea about the ESAT test’s difficulty and your current mathematics and physics level. At this time, you may also have a preliminary evaluation of how many scores you will achieve in the future.
But I still recommend you to have a further understanding of the difficulty of the ESAT test before setting your goals. I will answer this question in the next blog- “Difficulty Analysis | Will ESAT be difficult?” Follow my official account to read my latest research as soon as possible.

5. Improve your mindset and set a reasonable goal

What ESAT score is required to meet the admission requirements? Actually, there is no standard answer to this question, as the ESAT score is only one of the factors that determine whether you are admitted and the admission also depends on factors such as interview performance. However, one thing is certain – the higher the ESAT score, the more likely to be admitted.
Many students and parents still ask me to estimate the admission scores every year. I can only combine the admission cases of previous years and the analysis of ESAT scores over the years to give a set of ESAT score lines suitable for Chinese students:


ESAT minimum score (for reference)

7.5, 7.0, 7.0
7.0, 6.5, 6.5

The above score lines are non-official statistics and only represent my personal opinions.
As a teacher, I hope every student can get three 8 or even 9 on the test and then be admitted to Cambridge and Imperial College. But this is obviously unrealistic – only 10% or even less than 3% of students can get this score. Therefore, it is recommended to set a reasonable goal for ESAT based on your actual situation and the time and energy you can spend on preparing for ESAT test.
When you prepare for ESAT, excessively high goals will increase your frustration. In serious cases, students may doubt themselves and give up halfway. Reasonable goals can increase your fighting spirit and allow you to continuously make improvements in preparation until you finally achieve the goals.

VI. What are the strategies for preparing for ESAT?

There are no more than three ways to prepare for the test: systematic training, question practice , and mock exams. The usage scenarios and expected effects of these three methods are analyzed below.

1. Systematic training

This method is usually based on the requirements of the ESAT specification and systematically comprehends each knowledge block in a reasonable order. This method takes the longest time, but it is also the most basic and effective method when students prepare for ESAT and is suitable for those with enough time and reasonable planning.

2. Question practising

The question practice training method is to prepare for ESAT by practicing past papers and questions. The advantages of this method are obvious: quick familiarity with the test and saving preparation time. However, the results of using this method vary from person to person.
Several types of scenarios and expected effects using this method are as follows:

  • The exam is approaching, and the students only have a little time to prepare and practice, so they can only use this method. In this case, practicing questions can only help students familiarize themselves with the test format and question difficulty, but it will have little effect on improving their scores.
  • Some students who have participated in various international competitions and have considerable experience using this question practice training method may feel that mastering the core skills of the ESAT test can be easy by practicing past questions. For students with such point of view, rich experience in maths and physics competitions, and excellent competition results, this method is perfectly suitable, and the training effect is often immediate. Otherwise, using this method to prepare for ESAT is generally not recommended.
  • According to the scientific ESAT preparation time plan, after completing the first stage of systematic training, the question practice training method should be used for the second stage of the preparation. In this case, this method can help you achieve the best preparation results.

3. Taking mock exams

Undoubtedly, the mock exams are most suitable when there are 3-4 weeks before the test. It is generally recommended to arrange one mock exam every 1-2 weeks, and three exams in total. The mock exam must strictly simulate the actual exam scenario. Refrain from blindly pursuing high scores in the mock exam, and the main purpose is to find knowledge loopholes and adjust your mentality before the test.

4. Which preparation strategy is better for you?

When planning the preparation for the ESAT test, I will flexibly use a combination of the above methods according to the student’s preparation time:

  • For students with plenty of time to prepare for ESAT, using three methods of systematic training + question practice training + mock exams will lead to the best results.
  • However, most students have limited time but can also achieve good results by skipping the question practice part and using the methods of systematic training + mock exams.
  • For students with extremely limited time or high level of mathematics, it is advisable to use the methods of question practice training + mock exams.
  • There are still a few students who are crammed and have no choice but to use the question practice method and practice a few sets of past papers. As for the effect of such preparation, they can only leave it to fate.

5. Why is it not recommended to replace systematic training with question practice?

By this point, many students may still be confused – why can’t they prepare for ESAT by only practicing the ENGAA/NASS questions? It’s common to have this question due to a lack of understanding of these tests. In fact, there are many reasons, but I only need to point out one of them to convince you – there are only 8 sets of past papers for each ENGAA and NSAA, and many questions are repeated in both tests. In the end, each part has no more than 300 questions, and you can finish these questions in as fast as two days.

Therefore, you may wonder where to find more practice questions for ESAT preparation after realizing this problem. Finding a professional teacher can effectively solve your questions – you can click the link below to learn about the “ESAT Standard Course” (or “ESAT Question Practice”) written by me, which contains more than 1,700 exercise questions and multiple sets of simulation questions (all with complete solutions) in maths and physics, and is equipped with an online answering system.

VII. How to plan the time when you prepare for ESAT test?

Generally speaking, the longer the preparation time is and the more thorough the preparation is, the higher the ESAT scores will be. When to start the preparation depends on whether the student has experience in competitions and the curriculum system they have learned.

1. Have a solid foundation in competitions

If you have participated in various subject competitions, such as Physics Bowl and BPhO in physics, UKChO and USAChO in chemistry, BBO and USABO in biology, and can get the Top Gold or top award in one of these competitions, it is generally recommended to start preparing for ESAT no later than late July.

2. Having no competition foundation and studying A Level curriculum system

As mentioned above, you need to complete all A Level Mathematics and part of corresponding subject knowledge in A2 in advance. It is generally recommended to start preparing no later than mid-June.

3. Having no competition foundation and studying AP or IB curriculum system

You may have enough knowledge in mathematics, but have yet to learn some knowledge in physics, chemistry and biology. The specific time to start the preparation should consider the course or module you choose and make corresponding preparation plans. It is generally recommended to start preparing for ESAT in late May or early June, or immediately after all important school exams.

VIII. Conclusions

As a senior Oxbridge admission test preparation professor, I would like to emphasize that there are no shortcuts in preparing for ESAT test. In addition to long-term planning and scientific and efficient preparation strategies, getting a high score also requires persistence and hard work.
Still need more ESAT preparation resources? In addition to the “ESAT Standard Courses” and “ESAT Question Practice” written and developed by me, our blog “ESAT Preparation Resources Recommendations and Usage Suggestions” (soon to be released) will also give a detailed introduction.

error: Content is protected !!