What skills are HAT examiners looking for?

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The HAT's structure tells us a lot about Oxford's criteria for who they think will make excellent students. 10 marks are awarded for an exercise in boiling down the essence of a long paragraph to one succinct sentence; 20 marks are on offer for taking a historical argument and making it your own by rewriting it; 30 for deployment of relevant and useful knowledge in support of a well-considered argument. Finally, 40 marks, nearly half the sum value, rests on close and imaginative analysis of a source document. Remembering that History and Economics applicants substitute in a separate, more mathematical, section for the third question and we can see where the emphasis lies. The emphasis in sections 1 and 3, the only two that all candidates are expected to complete, is on the ability to cope with texts: condensing their arguments, reinforcing their messages in persuasive and powerful prose and finally and most importantly, uncovering insights into writers and societies from not only the content but the form and style of the document they have left behind. Given Oxford's pride in keeping its undergraduate course far more source-based than other universities, it is no surprise that two thirds of the paper are dedicated to judging candidates on their ability to decipher and make arguments out of unfamiliar texts.

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