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Should I Prepare for Cambridge STEP or Oxford MAT?
Author’s Profile

Xie Tao

An independent teacher, Master of Engineering, Oxbridge tutor, with more than 17 years' teaching experiences on high school Maths and Physics and competitions. Helped more than 100 students engaged in Ivy League, Oxbridge and G5 universities, along with hundreds of students awarded with top awards from international Maths and Physics competitions by far.

STEP and MAT math exams are written entrance exams for mathematics, computer and other majors in top universities in the UK. This paper compares these two tests from multiple dimensions for the reference of students and parents.

I. Which Universities and Programs Require STEP and MAT?

The table below lists the requirements for the STEP and MAT exams at various universities, with the 4-letter and number combinations inside the parentheses being the UCAS course codes.




Cambridge University

Mathematics (G100)

Mathematical Physics (G100)

Engineering* (H100)

Not required

Oxford University

Not required

Mathematics (G100)

Mathematics and Computer Science (GG14)

Mathematics and Philosophy (GV15)

Mathematics and Statistics (GG13)

Computer Science (G400)

Computer Science and Philosophy (IV15)

Imperial College

Mathematics and Computer Science (GG14)

Mathematics and Computer Science (GG41)

Calculation (G400)

Calculation (G401)

Calculation (International Project) (G402)

Computing (Management and Finance) (G501)

Computing (Software Engineering) (G600)

Calculation (Safety and Reliability) (G610)

Computing (Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning) (G700)

Computing (Visual Computing and Robotics) (GG47)

Mathematics (G100)

Mathematics and Mathematical Calculation (G102)

Mathematics (G103)

Mathematics (one year overseas) (G104)

Mathematics (Pure Numbers) (G125)

Mathematics, Optimization and Statistics (GG31)

Mathematics and Applied Mathematics/Mathematical Physics (G1F3)

Mathematics and Statistics (G1G3)

Mathematics and Financial Statistics (G1GH)

Warwick University

Mathematics** (G100)

Mathematics **(G103)

Mathematics and Philosophy **(GV15)

Mathematics and Statistics **(GG13)

Mathematics and Statistics **(GGC3)



Data Science **(7G73)

Mathematics** (G100)

Mathematics **(G103)

*Peterhouse College may include STEP 2 score requirements in the conditional admission.

* * It is not mandatory to take STEP or MAT, but it is easier to be admitted with STEP, MAT or TMUA scores.

Some universities and majors also require STEP (or MAT, TMUA), including:

  • University College London

  • University of Bristol

  • University of Bath

  • King’s College London

These universities will specify on their official websites whether these exams are required for relevant programs and the scores or grades needed. Please refer to the specific admission policies for the respective programs in a given year.

A comprehensive interpretation of Cambridge STEP exam

II.Exam Key Dates

Key Exam Dates

Key Events



Registration Opens

Early March

September 1

Registration Deadline

Early May

October 15

Exam Dates


End of October, Early November

Results Announced

August 10

The following January

A comprehensive interpretation-Oxford MAT mathematics exam

III.Exam Format Comparison




Method of Answering

Written Exam

Offline paper test paper

Written Exam

Offline paper test paper


3 hours.

2.5 hours

Topic type

Short Answer Questions

Multiple Choice and Short Answer

Number of Questions

12 questions (choose 6)

10 multiple-choice questions

and 4 short-answer questions

Question Scores

20 points per question

4 points per multiple-choice question

15 points per short-answer question

Maximum Score 1

120 points

100 points

Formula Sheet

Not provided

Not provided


Not allowed

Not allowed

Cambridge STEP preparation guide

IV. Comparison of Examination Scope

To accommodate adjustments to the UK A Level Mathematics syllabus, significant changes were made to the STEP exam in 2019: the number of questions was reduced, and the syllabus underwent substantial revision. The MAT syllabus of 2018 only added or removed a few knowledge points based on the 2007 syllabus, with the overall scope of the knowledge tested remaining largely unchanged.

The table below compares the examination scopes of STEP and MAT.





Baseline Syllabus


Advanced mathematics


Advanced mathematics

A Level


Modules Included

Pure Mathematics



Pure Mathematics



Pure Mathematics

Superclass content *

logical inference

number theory

Proof method, etc

logical inference

number theory

Proof method, etc

logical inference

Algorithms, etc

* Knowledge points beyond GCSE mathematics and ALLEVEL mathematics (or advanced mathematics) syllabus.

It is especially noteworthy that the MAT exam for Computer Science includes topics such as trees, graphs, finite state machines, strings, algorithms, and more, which go far beyond the scope of A-Level Mathematics and Advanced Mathematics.

Preparation Guide-Oxford MAT Math Test

V. Comparison of Exam Difficulty

The table below is a reference for the difficulty comparison between mainstream international high school mathematics

Course or Exam


IB SL Mathematics

A Level Mathematics

IB HL Mathematics


AP Calculus


A Level Further Mathematics


Oxford MAT Mathematics


Cambridge STEP 2 Mathematics


Cambridge STEP 3 Mathematics


The difficulty of the STEP exam is definitely higher than that of the MAT. However, when comparing STEP 2 and 3, STEP 2 is considered slightly more challenging. Despite covering fewer topics than STEP 3, the questions in STEP 2 are more challenging, making it harder to achieve high scores (Grade S or 1). This is supported by data from past years’ STEP 2 results. For STEP’s performance data over the years, please refer to:

Oxbridge Essentials-Written Exam Results Data

VI. Comparison of Exam Features The exams focus on the following:




Question Setting Style

Emphasizes fundamental mathematical knowledge and derivation methods of basic theorems and formulas.

The range of knowledge tested is relatively fixed, and the problem-solving methods and techniques are quite similar. Guides students to apply known knowledge and methods to solve problems, testing students’ insight and transfer ability, and indirectly examining the students’ basic mathematical literacy.

The scope of knowledge is relatively fixed, and the methods and skills of solving problems are similar.

Short answer questions focus more on the examination of fundamental mathematical knowledge and basic theorems.

Focus Areas

Stresses logical analysis and reasoning abilities. Compared to MAT, it places more emphasis on the examination of fundamental mathematical ideas, methods, and theorems, highlighting the basic literacy and depth of thought in the mathematics discipline.

Places great importance on knowledge transfer abilities, logical reasoning abilities, and problem-solving abilities.

Difficulty Points

The amount of calculation is large, which requires considerable proficiency in mathematical operations.

Examine a wide range of knowledge. The strategy of topic selection has a significant impact on the on-the-spot performance and test scores.

There are requirements for writing norms and the rigor of reasoning process, which are easy to lose points.

The calculation amount is moderate.

Most multiple-choice questions are relatively simple. Individual multiple-choice questions are difficult and can dig holes.

The background knowledge of at least one short answer question is rarely contacted by candidates, even beyond the scope of knowledge learned in middle school mathematics. It is a key topic to widen the gap between students.

VII. Comparison of Preparation Periods



STEP 2+3


Preparation period

9-15 months

12-18 months

3-4 months

Target Scores

Grade 2

Or more than 1

Grade 2

Or more than 1

75 or more or increase by 25 points or more

Preparation course *

Select from 45 chapters

At least 33 chapters

Select from 60 chapters

At least 45 chapters

21-22 chapters

* Refer to Xie Tao’s Talking about Oxford MAT 2022 [5th Edition] and Xie Tao’s Talking about Cambridge STEP 2022 [5th Edition].


More content related to STEP and MAT exams

Oxbridge preparation-Cambridge STEP preparation course 2022
Oxbridge Preparation-Oxford MAT Preparation Courses 2022
Oxbridge Essentials- "Mathematics Volume" -2022
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