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The Problem Solving Matters Programme (2016 – ongoing)

Problem Solving Matters is a course developed by MEI for students from state-funded schools and colleges who are preparing to take admissions tests for entrance to mathematics degree courses.


Several leading university Mathematics departments, including Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial College, Durham and Warwick, require students to take extra mathematics admissions tests, in addition to A levels, as part of their undergraduate selection process. There are three different tests, the Cambridge sixth term examination paper (STEP), Oxford’s Mathematics Admissions Test (MAT) and the new Test of Mathematics for University Admission (TMUA).

The tests require students to demonstrate high level mathematical problem solving skills using their knowledge of A level Mathematics. Many independent schools are able to provide specific, specialised support for students taking these tests, but most state-educated students cannot access the specialist help required to enable them to succeed.


MEI has worked with Cambridge University for several years to provide online tuition and resources to support students taking STEP. In 2016 MEI was approached by an Oxford alumnus who was interested in helping more state-educated students to access leading university Mathematics degree courses through the Oxford MAT. With initial funding generously donated by the alumnus, MEI developed its Problem Solving Matters programme specifically for these students.


The programme was delivered partly through online support, and partly through face-to-face days hosted at Oxford University and Imperial College. Such was its success that in 2017 it was expanded to include the universities of Warwick and Durham, and incorporate support for students preparing to take the TMUA. For the academic year 2018/19 through contributions from university outreach funding, and a nominal fee to schools/students, it is anticipated that the programme will become sustainable without further charitable funding.


The programme allowed students from a wide variety of backgrounds to feel able to apply for places on Mathematics courses at universities that require additional tests.

The feedback from students was very good indeed. In response to the question “Did the course give you more confidence when applying for a university course?” 91% of the pilot cohort and 92% of the 2017 cohort replied “yes”.

Oxford University analysed the outcomes of students who attended the course and applied for places to study Mathematics, Computer Science or a related degree at Oxford. They found that female students who attended the course achieved substantially better MAT scores than female students who did not, and better than UK-educated female students overall. They also found a substantial improvement in MAT scores for students from socio-economically deprived backgrounds and from areas with low participation rates in higher education, compared to the total cohort of applicants from these backgrounds and to those who did not gain a place on the programme.

“I just want to say thank you so much for this course!! It seems such incredible value, I can’t believe all the support we get from it! I would have been a bit stuck without it as support from college hasn’t been anywhere near this good 🙂 So thanks again for all the work that’s been put into the resources – I really appreciate it!”

A student who took part in the 2016 pilot of the course

“We’ve done really well in admissions this year, and the course must have helped a lot!”

Samir Siksek, Admissions Tutor for the University of Warwick