MAT (Mathematics Admissions Test) and STEP (Sixth Term Examination Paper) are used by leading universities to help them assess students applying to read Maths courses.
Candidates for the University of Oxford and Imperial College London are required to take the MAT in early November prior to being selected for interview. It consists of a single 2.5 hour paper. There is no official grading of MAT, though clearly students achieving higher marks are more likely to be short-listed.
Candidates for the University of Cambridge and University of Warwick are usually required to take two of the three STEP papers in June. Each paper is three hours long and divided into sections on Pure Maths (eight questions), Mechanics (three questions) and Probability and Statistics (two questions). All questions carry equal marks but only the best five answers count towards the Grades which are often form part of a conditional offer.
So what are the differences?
On the face of it MAT is more approachable by all students, including those who may not be taking Further Maths or are from other educational systems. One could say it aims to test aptitude rather than the highest knowledge. On review students are likely to find it less daunting than STEP.
In contrast STEP is more demanding in both the mathematical knowledge required and its applications. It is more akin to the type of examination students would sit at leading universities. It is noted that while only Cambridge and Warwick usually require students to sit STEP, many other leading universities encourage applicants to sit the exams as preparation for their courses.
But regardless of which (or both) exams students take focused preparation is vital to achieving outstanding performance. Specialised assistance either within the school and/or through external tutoring is recommended.