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How can I apply?

Please complete the online registration form (the link is on our home page). In September you will receive the first assignment and an invite to the first webinar. Registration remains open until a week before the first homework deadline in mid-October. 


How many places do you have in the programme?

We have planned for more than 500 places in the programme 2024-25, which we hope will allow us to accommodate every deserving candidate. COMPOS is an inclusive programme, we encourage applications from students of all backgrounds and offer additional support to students who attend schools in disadvantaged areas or have challenging family circumstances.


Does everyone get in?

We have a fixed number of places each year, and more initial applications than places, so no not everyone gets in. Last year we gave places to 40% of students who submitted work for the first assignment. There is an application to acceptance ratio of about 2.5 : 1. Acceptance is based on how much of the first assignment you complete and submit, last year a score of over 50% in the physics assignment earned you a place.


What can I do if I don't get in?

We have a follow-along course in each year group, where the assignments and solutions are issued via a mailing list and you are sent links to watch the webinars. The difference between the follow-along programme and the main programme is you don't have a tutor and individual feedback nor can you access our learning platform and forums. The follow-along programme is available for anyone who didn't get a place on the main course, or those who want to attempt the assignments independently without fixed submission deadlines. You can request to join if you are not offered a place and it is free also.


How much does it cost?

COMPOS is free of charge to state school students in the UK. The costs are covered by a philanthropic donation from Axiom Maths, to whom we are supremely grateful. Private-school and non-UK students are charged a small fee to cover costs, currently £25 per week. The application process is the same, indicated on our main page. COMPOS Foundation is organised with the help of our partner, WeSolveProblems.

Will you prepare me for Oxbridge admission tests, A-Level examinations, or Olympiads?

Our goal is not to prepare you for a pilot license test, but to teach you how to fly! We don't target any specific tests, but the knowledge and problem-solving skills you get from COMPOS will help you in all of these situations. The topics we cover are the same as, or complementary to, the school curriculum. Our leavers achieve excellent A Level results and 100% secured a place at a Russell Group university.


Will you prepare me for higher education in maths and physics?

You will get a strong foundation of knowledge, to take you forwards into higher education. We also hope that you gain a good idea of what everyday work in science is like and the confidence to know that you could be one of the next generation of STEM graduates. COMPOS encourages the development of independent study skills which will be extremely useful to you in higher education.


Can I take only maths or only physics at COMPOS?

No: the two parts of the program are deeply interconnected, so all our students study both subjects. There is no maths only or physics only option.


Is this going to be really difficult?

Our students score an average of about 67% across all assignments. We want to provide enough challenge to more able students and teach you how to tackle harder problems than those you come across in school, without making the assignments impossible. Not all the questions are really hard, some go over the basics, some look at familiar problems in new ways, and the ones which we mark with * or ** are more challenging.


Do I have to score a certain amount to stay on?

You are not expected to achieve a certain level of attainment to stay on the programme, this is not an assessment. Our students have a range of ability, but with regular attendance at tutorials and consistent effort, all students make progress across the year and we are happy to have them at whatever level. You are expected to regularly submit work and attend tutorials.

How much time do I have to commit to the program?

In addition to the weekly tutorials, you will need to plan to read up on the topics and work on the assignments for a few hours per week. This is a serious time commitment; you may have to schedule partying, sports, dating, and other fun activities to fit around COMPOS! Please think carefully what you are signing up for. We can and do remove students who do not submit work or attend tutorials.


How long does the programme run for?

For Years 10 and 12 who do not sit external examinations, COMPOS runs from October to July. For the examined year groups 11 and 13, the programme is shorter and finishes in mid-February.


Do I need a tablet for the tutorials?

This is helpful but not compulsory. A stylus-enabled tablet means your tutor can teach on a shared online whiteboard and the whole group can write on it at the same time. However, there are inexpensive alternatives such as stylus pads. You can also contribute to discussions in group chats, verbally or by using your phone or laptop camera.


I cannot attend on a specific day of the week.

There will be multiple groups with different tutors on different days, so we find you a group that meets your needs. We try to be as flexible as possible.


What if I am sick or have school or family activities?

Just as with any other club, team or activity, you may need to take a week off because you are ill or have a clash with another event - just let your tutor know. If you are frequently not attending because "I have homework/revision/exams/coursework..." your place may be at risk. You need to manage your time to be able to attend tutorials.

Will I get a certificate in the end?

We can issue a Letter of Completion to anyone who has handed in 75% of the assignments. Our tutors and administrators keep track of the submissions from each student. However, such a letter is not of much use for university admissions. At the University of Oxford for example, we wouldn't usually ask for this sort of paperwork, but we do test students' knowledge and problem-solving skills. These are your true certificates, and they will stay with you forever.

Can I talk about COMPOS on my UCAS application?

Yes of course, it's a valid out-of-school activity and shows your interest in STEM.


Can you write me a reference?

Not usually, as we have so many students! In some rare circumstances (a student applying to an oversea university programme mid-way through the course) we have written a letter acknowledging participation in COMPOS. Also, the letter of completion (see above) is in the form of a reference.

How does COMPOS work?

We advertise over the summer by mailing all UK schools and sixth forms. Teachers let their students know about the programme and point them to our website to register. We also promote the programme on the University of Oxford website and through our social media channels. Registration is open from spring up until one week before the submission deadline for the first assignment.

At the start of September, you will receive the first assignment which consists of two sets of notes and problems, one on maths and one on physics. The notes and links to online resources which we provide, along with typical school science teaching, give enough information to tackle the problems.

You have a go at the problems. You can write the answers down on paper and upload a photo or scan of the work you have done which is returned via our virtual learning environment. You are required to complete both parts of the assignment, physics and maths. We'll send you info on how to upload your work, and the first assignment is marked by a tutor. In previous years we have been able to offer a place to students who scored over half the marks, however this is dependent upon the number of applicants and spaces.


Through the year
If you are accepted, you will be assigned to a tutorial group which meets online once a week. Tutorials are 90mins and your tutor is trained to make sure the tutorials are interactive and helpful, breaking down examples of the problems and helping you to learn how to solve them. Y10 and Y12 students receive 27 tutorials, Y11 and Y13 students receive 15 tutorials. Every 3-4 weeks a new assignment is released and you have your tutorial time, the webinars and the resources provided to help you work your way through the next set. Our students have access to a moderated community forum and can ask the staff and each other for tips and ideas to help them solve the problems.

The goal is not to get every problem correct, COMPOS is not an assessment. We don't award prizes for getting the most questions right, we reward consistency. No matter what level you are at in maths or physics, if you complete 75% of the assignments, returning at least 50% of the problems from each assignment to your tutor, you have completed the course and can move on to the following year.

See sample assignments.


Who can join
You do not have to be brilliant or top of the class to join. COMPOS is available to any UK student, regardless of gender or background. It is free to students in state schools, and is available at a small fee (this year it was £25 per week) to private school and overseas students.

We strongly support applicants who have faced difficulties breaking into STEM fields or accessing enrichment opportunities due to their location, ethnicity, gender or family background. We have a target of at least  30% of students to be female or non-binary and 20% to have received some form of financial support through the pupil premium, free school meals or an educational maintenance allowance. STEM education benefits the whole country as well as the prospects of individuals, and social mobility through education is one of the core principles of our funder, Axiom Maths.

Further questions?

If you have any questions not answered here or on our webpage, please get in touch with Dr Hawkins by email via compos[at]physics.ox.ac.uk