The Natural Sciences Admissions Assessment (NSAA) must be sat by all applicants for the Natural Sciences or Veterinary Medicine courses at Cambridge University. It was first used in 2016 and has been used every year since.


As of 2022, the NSAA consists of sections 1 and 2, and all questions are multiple choice. Section 1 has a time limit of 60 minutes and candidates must answer 20 maths questions as well as 20 questions from either chemistry, biology, or physics. Section 2 also has a limit of 60 minutes, and candidates must answer 20 questions from either chemistry, biology, or physics.

The table below summarises the format, as well as how the format changed in 2020.

From 2020In previous years
Section 160 minutes

4 parts, of which candidates should answer 2 (mathematics and one of the sciences). Each part contains 20 multiple-choice questions.
80 minutes

5 parts, of which candidates should answer 3. Each part contains 18 multiple-choice questions.
Section 260 minutes

3 parts, of which candidates should answer 1. Each part contains 20 multiple-choice questions.

• Marking solely based on answers on multiple choice answer sheet

Calculators not permitted
40 minutes

6 questions, of which candidates answer 2

Marking took account of working provided on question paper

Calculators permitted


There is an official specification for the NSAA. I would recommend that all applicants read this specification, and that they ensure they fully know and understand all the content for the sections of the NSAA that they intend to answer.

You can view or download the 2022 NSAA specification here, or find it on the official Natural Sciences website.

Past papers

There are a handful of past papers and specimen papers. Most are available on the Natural Sciences website, though note that the earlier papers have been removed. Below are all NSAA past papers and specimen papers. The answers keys are included in each file.

How to prepare

  • Go through the specification
    • Familiarise yourself with the format of the NSAA
    • Determine which questions you want to answer. You have to do maths, but you can then choose biology, chemistry, or physics. You may choose to do different subjects for different sections, e.g. biology for section 1 and chemistry for section 2. I would recommend choosing your strongest subject. You can also prepare for multiple subjects and decide later what to do.
    • Go through the specification for the subjects you want to answer and highlight any sections that you are not familiar with
    • Understand all the content in the specification that is relevant to you. Most content is equivalent to AS-level, but your syllabus may not cover the exact same content as the NSAA. For chemistry in particular, I would recommend chemguide as a resource.
    • Memorise content that requires memorisation. For example, for chemistry you should memorise the test for ions.
  • Do past papers
    • Start by going through the less recent past papers.
    • Go through the questions one by one and check your answers as you go. Take your time. Make sure you understand each question and learn from your mistakes
    • You probably want to go through section 1 first then section 2
    • Don’t use a calculator. As of 2022, you cannot use a calculator in the NSAA, and so you want to brush up on your mental maths.
    • Avoid using a periodic table. You won’t get one in the exam, and questions should include all the information you need to answer questions.
    • Keep in mind that the format of the past papers has changed over time. However, doing the old questions can still be good preparation.
    • Save the most recent past papers for later. They will be the best indicators of your progress.
    • When you’re ready, start doing the most recent past papers under exam conditions (i.e. timed, no notes, no calculator, no periodic table).
  • Know the exam technique
    • Timing is the hardest part of the NSAA. Don’t spend too much time on each question. For section 1, you have 60 minutes for 40 questions, so 1.5 minutes per question is something you should work towards. Some questions might take longer than others, e.g. maths might take longer than biology since the latter might involve more knowledge recall as opposed to calculations. In general, you should skip questions if you spend too long on them and then come back to them later if you have time.
    • Reread the questions. Many NSAA questions have tricks in them, e.g. a single word might completely change the answer. Reread each question to ensure you’re answering the right thing.
    • Choose which questions to do first. For section 1, you could do maths questions first or second. If you are confident that your application indicates your maths is strong, then you might want to focus on the science section by attempting it first. It is common to run out of time for the science section by spending too much time on the maths section.
    • Work smart. If you can eliminate answers, you might be able to save time.
    • Estimate. You will have to do calculations in many stages. Sometimes you can work out the answers by rounding and estimating numbers.


The NSAA is hard. The vast majority of applicants will struggle with time, and the admissions website suggests that the average applicant achieves 50% of marks. Below you can see the score distributions for the 2021 NSAA paper, as well as the raw mark conversion table.


Is the NSAA important?

The NSAA is one part of your application to Cambridge. Your school grades, references, personal statement, and interview performance (if you are invited) will be considered in addition to your NSAA score. Doing well in the NSAA does not guarantee you will get in, and doing badly does not guarantee rejection. So yes, it matters, but it is not the deciding factor in terms of getting accepted.

When is it?

The date and time of the NSAA will be advertised on the Natural Sciences website. Before 2022 it was at the start of November, but in 2022 (and maybe in the future) it was at the end of October.


This article was written by a student who graduated with a First in Natural Sciences from Cambridge in 2021.

Information in this article is based on content from the official Cambridge Natural Sciences website.