STEP is a compulsory aspect of all Mathematics offers for the University of Cambridge, and is sometimes required by Imperial College London for Computer Science applicants.
Widely considered the most difficult of all the admissions tests, STEP 2 and 3 consist of devious long-form questions designed to stretch students' understanding of mathematical concepts to the limit and broader problem solving skills. Taken later in the school year than the other admissions tests, success on STEP requires a more long-term preparation strategy.
Many universities will accept students with reduced A Level grades on the grounds of adequate performance on one or both STEP papers, which usually means a grade 2. Almost all offers to read Mathematics at the University of Cambridge require a grade 1 in both STEP 2 and STEP 3. In addition, Imperial College London sometimes requires Computer Science applicants to sit STEP 2 if they were unable to take the MAT. Many students also choose to take STEP for their own enrichment, and it provides fantastic preparation for undergraduate-level mathematics.
Both STEP 2 and 3 require students to be familiar with content from both years of A-Level Mathematics, plus first year A Level Further Mathematics. STEP 3 additionally requires knowledge of 2nd year A Level Further Mathematics.
For most students, STEP is the most daunting obstacle in the university admissions process, far surpassing any of their previous exams in difficulty and time pressure. With rigorous preparation and practice, students can reliably improve their score. The Vantage STEP programme provides comprehensive support and has led many students to admission at their first-choice university. Vantage courses consist of five key elements, which give students the best chance of success on STEP:
The STEP Primer Course is a live course of weekly (students taking STEP 2 and 3) or fortnightly (students taking STEP 2 only) sessions, designed to provide a comprehensive introduction to topics and themes which frequently recur in STEP questions. Sessions are led by Vantage founding director and university admissions expert Rowan Wright, and Maths Olympiad Medallist Carlo Scarian. Sample topics include integration, probability density functions, circular motion, and differential equations. Students are equipped with the knowledge to attempt every question on the STEP paper, including sections B and C, regardless of the options covered by their school. Each lesson has an accompanying worksheet, carefully designed to cover the quirks and difficulties that STEP questions pose. Students are encouraged to complete the worksheets and review the solutions to ensure mastery of the techniques, before applying them to past paper questions. Whilst the course is delivered live, students who are unable to attend every live session can still benefit from the course fully with access to the comprehensive lesson notes.
STEP questions often require multiple logical leaps to solve, so students are held to a particularly high standard in terms of the clarity of their written explanation. In our experience, most students can improve by 10-15 marks per paper solely by improving the presentation of their work: this can amount to more than half a grade boundary! Our mock marking service is provided exclusively by our team members who have worked as STEP 2 and 3 examiners with Cambridge Assessment. The style of presentation required for STEP is often contrary to the way students are taught to set out their work at school, but our actionable feedback enables Vantage students to perfect their written presentation.
Our STEP programme includes solution booklets to all STEP 2 and 3 papers since 2008. The solutions are authored by our founding director, Rowan Wright, and designed in consultation with our team of qualified teachers, admissions test examiners, and Oxbridge supervisors. Rather than merely presenting a method that works, the solutions focus on how a student can 'come up with' the right ideas and think through a problem systematically. This enables students benefit fully from past paper practice, coming away from each question with a complete understanding and ready to tackle variations in future. The solutions also take care to place questions in context, explaining how ideas might be varied in future questions. A sample solution booklet is provided to view below.
Many Vantage students opt to include individual tuition as part of their STEP preparation course. It is the most personalised support we offer and ensures any and all doubts can be addressed, whether they pertain to specific questions or broader topics and concepts. It also provides an opportunity for students to explore questions further, pursue their own interests, and, most importantly, ask questions. Beyond merely understanding a successful approach to a question, it’s very important for students to understand why their approach to a question didn’t work, which is uniquely well-served by one-to-one discussion.
All Vantage students have the benefit of regular mentoring sessions over the course of their exam preparation, ideally attended along with their parents/guardians. All meetings are held with our founding director, a STEP expert who has personally coached several students who have scored 115+ (out of 120) on STEP. These meetings are completely tailored to the student’s specific goals, with the aim of reviewing the student’s progress, addressing doubts or concerns, providing motivation, and creating actionable plans to resolve any difficulties. Personalised mentoring enables students to ensure they are staying on track for success and provides vital support over what is often a long process of preparation.
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"Rowan from Vantage is the real deal, a rare blend of being a sufficiently brilliant mathematician to have a complete, deep and intuitive grasp on the difficult problems set in admissions tests, but also a great teacher who is able to explain the thought process in a way students can understand. I cannot recommend him highly enough."