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Oxford MAT Secrets: An In-depth Research

Table of Contents
Oxford MAT Secrets - An In-depth Research
Table of Contents

This article is included in the ‘Oxbridge Essentials® Mathematics Edition’ and ‘Computer Science Edition’.

Disclaimer: The examination points and difficulty coefficients used in the charts of this article are not official data from Oxford. They are the author’s summaries based on the Oxford MAT syllabus, past papers, and combined with many years of experience in developing written exam courses for Oxford and Cambridge. The data and viewpoints in this article are for reference only.

I.Overview of the Difficulty of the Oxford MAT

Previous publications of “Difficulty Analysis | Oxford MAT Mathematics Examination” have provided a detailed analysis of the difficulty and average scores of the Oxford MAT, with some key points summarized as follows:

1. Increasing Difficulty of Admission

The number of applicants for mathematics-related majors at Oxford has doubled compared to more than a decade ago, while the number of admissions has remained relatively stable. Consequently, both the interview shortlisting rate and offer rate have been halved, reaching their lowest in 2021 at 27% and 9.7%, respectively.

2. High Average Scores for Admitted Students

The average MAT scores of admitted students have remained high in recent years, and the gap between their scores and the average of all students has been widening. This indicates that the proportion and level of top students are increasing.

3. Yearly Increase in Overall Difficulty of the Exam

Distribution of difficulty in MAT multiple-choice questions

Distribution of difficulty in MAT short-answer questions

Despite a trend of decreasing difficulty in multiple-choice questions over the years, the difficulty of short-answer questions has increased significantly, leading to an overall increase in the difficulty of the exam each year.

“Difficulty Analysis | Oxford MAT Mathematics Examination” full article link:

II. Analysis of MAT Question Setting Trends

i. Overview of MAT Question Setting Trends Over the Past Decad

The graph below represents the distribution of topics and difficulty levels for the mathematics specialization exam (both multiple-choice and short-answer questions) from 2013-2022.

Trends in Question Setting Style

Over the past ten years, the MAT question setting style has seen steady changes:

  1. There’s an emphasis on secondary school mathematics fundamentals, weeding out students with weak basics.
  2. The exams test the ability to apply knowledge to solve new problems, which increases the gap between students of different levels.
  3. There’s a stronger emphasis on mathematical thinking, with a gradual increase in the proportion of textual reasoning, giving an advantage to students who excel at mathematical reasoning (typical of Western students), while diminishing the advantage of those skilled at problem-solving (typical of Chinese students).
  4. There’s a trend towards increasing the difficulty and points for questions related to competition mathematics, highlighting a competitive direction in MAT question setting.
  5. The number of short-answer questions has increased, guiding students towards a style of response that is even more STEP-like than STEP itself.

Trends in Distribution of Topics

The overall distribution of topics tends to be stable, with some minor adjustments:

  1. Each year 8-10 main topics are examined.
  2. The difficulty level of questions is fairly evenly distributed, with harder questions having the highest proportion among all difficulty levels.
  3. In recent years, there’s been a slight decrease in the proportion of hard and medium questions, while easy and very hard questions have seen a slight increase.
  4. The distribution of regular topics is fairly uniform, but the difficulty varies significantly from year to year. Topics like analytic geometry, function graphs, integration, etc., can be extremely hard in some years and almost like giveaway points in others.
  5. Every year, some topics are repeated and examined from multiple angles.
  6. In recent years, some less common knowledge points and competition mathematics topics have been presented as difficult questions.
  7. Most short-answer topics will be the same as in the previous one or two years, with a few topics changing.

ii. Brief Analysis of the 2022 MAT Question Setting Characteristics

The difficulty coefficient for the 2022 paper is 0.54, which is slightly lower than the sixteen-year average of 0.56, indicating that the paper is overall quite difficult. This difficulty level is between that of 2019 (0.49) and 2021 (0.58). Note: The lower the difficulty coefficient value, the greater the difficulty.

Topic Statistics Analysis

The graph below represents the topic statistics for the entire 2022 MAT mathematics specialization exam.

From the graph, it is evident that the harder and very hard questions are mainly concentrated in number theory, analytic geometry, and the final problem on game strategy. The multiple-choice questions are relatively easy, while the short-answer questions are generally difficult.

Paper Feature Analysis

From the analysis of the paper, the following points lead to the high difficulty of the 2022 MAT:

  1. The final question requires a large amount of reading and high demands for textual reasoning.
  2. Number theory questions are difficult, especially unfriendly to students who have not studied number theory or have not undergone competition mathematics training.
  3. Analytic geometry questions are very flexible, requiring a high degree of proficiency in the application of analytic geometry knowledge.
  4. There are many and fragmented short-answer questions, which are significantly different from the style of previous years, leading to some students’ maladjustment.

iii. Trend Analysis of Question Types Over the Past Five Years

The analysis of MAT papers over the past five years shows that the difficulty of the 2022 paper is second only to that of 2019 and is slightly more difficult than 2021.
Trends in Multiple-Choice Questions

  1. The average difficulty coefficient is 0.63, which is slightly higher than the average of 0.60 over the years, indicating that multiple-choice questions have generally been easier in recent years.
  2. Despite some fluctuations in difficulty coefficients for multiple-choice questions in the past five years, the overall trend has been towards easier questions.
  3. The range of knowledge points tested in multiple-choice questions is expanding.
  4. There is a certain continuity in the examination of most knowledge points.
  5. In recent years, the probability of encountering one or two obscure knowledge points has increased.

Trends in Short-Answer Questions

  1. The average difficulty coefficient is 0.41, which is slightly below the average of 0.45 over the years, suggesting that short-answer questions have been more difficult in recent years.
  2. The difficulty coefficient for short-answer questions in 2022 is 0.30, the lowest on record, with a particularly large increase in difficulty compared to previous years.
  3. The knowledge points examined in the previous years had strong continuity and clear patterns of questioning, but the range of knowledge points examined has changed more significantly in the last two years, with less regularity.
  4. The difficulty of short-answer questions has been continuously increasing. One of the reasons for this is the growing importance and volume of textual reasoning.

III. Strategies to Address the Changing Trends in Oxford MAT Questions

1. Is Practicing Past MAT Papers Sufficient?

Absolutely not.

This is not only about the quantity of past papers but also about their relevance to the current difficulty level of the MAT, which has significantly increased in recent years. Many students perform well on past papers, scoring over 80 or even 90, but they encounter a significant challenge when facing the actual exam.

2. Is Learning Mathematical Olympiad Knowledge Necessary?


As mentioned before, the MAT focuses on logical analysis and the ability to transfer mathematical knowledge. Even students without mathematical Olympiad experience can score high or get admitted if they possess strong abilities in these areas. The range of Olympiad-related topics covered in the MAT is very limited and can be managed with targeted preparation.

3. How Can Students Who Struggle with Textual Reasoning Improve?

They must practice!

Math education in China emphasizes calculation and techniques, with little focus on reasoning through text to solve mathematical problems. As a result, many students are adept at using mathematical formulas and techniques for derivation and problem-solving but struggle with textual reasoning, leading to significant losses on MAT short-answer questions. For most students, apart from seeking professional guidance, an effective way to address this issue is to study and emulate the official reasoning analyses, understanding and internalizing the logic.

4. Is Practicing STEP Questions Helpful?

Yes, it is.

The difficulty level of MAT short-answer questions is increasingly similar to STEP, so practicing STEP questions is undoubtedly an effective strategy. However, since STEP covers a wider syllabus than the MAT, it is essential to select appropriate questions to avoid wasting precious preparation time.

For more detailed MAT preparation strategies, planning suggestions, and recommended resources, refer to the following text:

IV. MAT 2023 Question Prediction Based on the trends in MA

Based on the trends in MAT question setting and topic changes discussed earlier, Mr. Xie Tao is expected to release “Question Prediction | Oxford MAT Mathematics Examination” about a week before the exam.

At the same time, MAT 2023 prediction questions, jointly developed by experienced teachers Mr. Xie Tao and Mr. Chen Han who have long studied the MAT written examination, will also be released about a week before the exam.

Oxford MAT Practice Training 2023 Latest Preparation Materials View Details More content related to the Oxford MAT Mathematics Examination

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