All students on the University Preparation Programme take the following courses:

Critical Thinking

All students choose two Critical Thinking Courses (see below) as part of the programme. These are designed to challenge the intellectual intuitions and arguments of sixth formers, exposing you to the academic rigour expected at the UK's very best universities.

The Critical Thinking Courses are designed to boost your performance at school, improve the quality of your application, and prepare you for a successful university career. We offer a range of courses to support the different skills required by each degree course.

Extension Lecture Series

The Extension Lecture Series, hosted at the London School of Economics, gives you unique access to some of the UK’s leading academics, who join us to debate a range of current issues. The panels are inter-disciplinary, giving students the chance to see how different disciplines approach each question. Recent topics have included: Space, Utopias, Consciousness, Brexit, Leadership and Big Data.

The debates are then brought to life in seminars with subject specialists, who challenge you to relate the discussion to your own discipline. The teaching in the seminars replicates the style of learning at Oxbridge and top Russell Group universities. Join us at the LSE or listen online.

Extension Reading Series

University applicants are expected to have read widely. The Extension Reading Series provides sixth formers with a structured way to research their chosen degree subject.

Each week you are provided with a reading, video lecture or podcast in a series that has been carefully curated by UK academics to introduce you to advanced topics and concepts.

If you are unsure what you want to read at university, you can enrol for more than one subject to find out what really interests you.

Tutor Group Meetings

Your personal statement tutor will meet with you and the rest of your tutor group throughout the programme. These sessions will review your research of relevant university courses, your reflections upon your weekly extension readings and the development of your personal statement. Your tutor will also highlight opportunities for you to explore.

Tutor groups provide you with an opportunity to benchmark your progress and to be inspired by the other talented sixth formers in your group.

Personal Statement Feedback

The personal statement on the UCAS form is a crucial part of your university application. Good personal statements produce offers and interviews. 

On the University Preparation Programme you are provided with 1-1 support by highly experienced Bonas MacFarlane specialist tutors.

Your tutor will provide individual written and video feedback on three/four drafts of your personal statement. This will help you to optimize the quality of your statement and effectively communicate your suitability for your choosen course.

Personal Statement Course

The programme begins with this course, led by senior Bonas MacFarlane University Advisors. A strong personal statement is a crucial component of your UCAS application. By the end of the course you will have a clear understanding of the work that will be required over the following 37 weeks for you to make the strongest possible university application.

In this introductory course you will also be given your Bonas MacFarlane Application Portfolio and assigned your personal tutor.


Students choose two critical thinking / problem solving courses. Use the selector below to find the courses supporting your pathway:

Advanced Maths

This course is aimed at prospective undergraduates going into studies that contain a significant mathematical component such as the natural sciences, mathematics, physics and computer science.

The course consists of four lecture style lessons in which students will be slowly introduced to mathematical concepts building on and then moving beyond the scope of A-level mathematics. In these lessons, the students will learn key skills in probability theory, model building, and analysis, linear algebra, and calculus through case studies that apply these skills to real-world research problems at the university level.

The course finishes with a lesson devoted to applying all of these new skills in an open-ended, research style problem that the students will have to solve collaboratively.

Advanced Reading

This course, designed by an Oxford academic, challenges prospective undergraduates to think on a more critical level and to improve their verbal reasoning. Its objective is to hone case-based argumentative skills.

Short extracts of reading will be assigned beforehand each week. An applied assessment, which will involve a piece of written work, will be sent to you after session 3. This assignment should be returned to me by session 4. It will be returned to you before lesson 5, when we will discuss any points or queries that have arisen from the assignment.

Advanced Writing

This course, designed by an academic tutor at Oxford develops your critical thinking in your writing and ensures you have a strong understanding of how to write a concise and critical university-level essay.

The course is delivered online by a university academic and includes follow-up written assignments. You will be expected to share your writing in sessions and to evaluate critically your own and others’ writing.

Biological Science Problems

This course will inspire prospective undergraduates to read beyond the syllabus and think outside the box. Rather than teaching the topics, students will be encouraged to determine answers for themselves and develop their critical thinking skills.

The first four lessons will centre on key areas in biology: evolution (week 1), genetics (week 2), physiology (week 3), pathology (week 4). It is important that scientists are not only able to do experiments and discover new facts but that they are also aware of the ethics that surrounds their work so we will be looking at this in our last lesson.

Core Skills Maths

This course is aimed at prospective undergraduates who may well not be studying a mathematics A-level but are going into studies that contain a significant mathematical or statistical component such as the social and natural sciences, computer science, architecture, and economics. The course consists of five lessons in which students will be slowly introduced to core mathematical concepts. 

During this course, you will learn:

  • How to translate problems into solvable mathematical statements;
  • Powerful new techniques using only what you have learned in A-level and GCSE mathematics;
  • How to work collaboratively on open-ended analytic problems with no right answer.

Key Study Skills for University

This course aims to give students the skills they need to make the most of their time at university. There is a great deal of difference between the way you learn and study at university and what you have been used to at school. You might have as little as five or six hours of lecture contact time a week, plus a couple of seminars or laboratory sessions and the rest of the time you're free! We discuss how to best structure your newfound freedom, how to approach lectures, as well as techniques for retaining knowledge as you progress through your course.

The second half of the course focuses on the challenges of planning and carrying out research and extended pieces of work, such as a group project or dissertation. We also discuss the access you will have to academic staff outside of lectures, how to make the most of the opportunities available, as well as considering the pastoral side of university life and mental health.

Physical Science Problems

In this module we focus on practical techniques, tools and ideas used throughout the physical sciences. This course aims to further hone your problem solving skills and provide building blocks on which any future career in the physical sciences can be built upon.

Through this course we will consider: back of the envelope calculations; basic data analysis; computer skills; ideas related to mathematical derivations, most importantly dimensional analysis; and finally thinking about experiments.

Scientific Method

This course aims to provide an insight into the multiple aspects of scientific thought, through five interactive lessons.

The aspects covered in this module include: the principle of the scientific method, constructing a scientific hypothesis, methods used to test hypotheses, displaying scientific results, how to think about scientific writing as an argument and the power of a conclusion.

These topics are explored through reading scientific articles and this will hone critical thinking and problem solving skills, enabling you to develop and write compelling scientific ideas. These skills will be useful for any future career in science.


The programme supports students applying for Oxbridge, Medicine & Law:

Interview Preparation

The UK’s most competitive courses and institutions will most likely interview you before making their decision. These interviews can be high stakes, high pressure situations. This introduction teaches you how to prepare for these occasions. You will understand what admissions tutors are looking for and have strategies for dealing with the questions that you may face.

Admissions Test Preparation

Law, Medicine and most Oxbridge applicants are expected take admissions tests prior to their interview. These are the world's most demanding pre-university assessments. Bonas MacFarlane has been preparing sixth formers for these tests for twenty-five years, providing specialist tutors for every UK course that employs an admissions test - find out more.

If your chosen degree course requires you to take an admissions test, a Bonas MacFarlane test preparation specialist will prepare you over a 5 week course for the challenging tasks that you will have to complete.

Oxbridge Applications

The challenge of applying to Oxford and Cambridge is unique. This course provides you with an introduction to the essentials that you need to know about the process, from admissions tests to the collegiate system, and also serves to break down any preconceived ideas about what might be expected of the typical university applicant.


Next year's programme will be published in February 2021

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