Pupils Face an Aptitude Test for University

Article excerpt

Byline: LAURA CLARK

PUPILS may be forced to take an extra test to get into university because so many are achieving the top grades at A-level.

Ministers yesterday launched a major trial of U.S.style aptitude tests amid collapsing confidence in the A-level 'gold standard'.

Dons have complained that because of the relentless rise in pass rates, the exams no longer allow them to identify the brightest candidates.

Rather than testing knowledge, scholastic aptitude tests (SATs) gauge pupils' verbal and mathematical reasoning skills.

The IQ-type tests are widely used in the U.S. but have so far failed to catch on in Britain after claims that students can be coached to pass them.

Now, after pressure from universities, ministers have agreed to commit [pounds sterling]800,000 to see whether the tests can predict university success. The rest of the [pounds sterling]1.6million cost of the trial will come from education charities and bodies.

The trial will involve 50,000 students and will run until 2010. All schools and colleges in England will be invited to contribute students.

One in five pupils sitting A-levels next summer will take the tests in November and will be told their results next spring. They will answer regular surveys online throughout their university careers.

The National Foundation for Educational Research will conduct the study, reporting to ministers.

Supporters of the tests claim they can help identify talented students let down by poor teaching, including working-class students concentrated in weak comprehensives.

They will also help universities choose between the ever-growing field of candidates with A and B grades in their GCSEs and A-levels.

Students applying for places on medicine and law courses at some universities currently face separate tests of their aptitude in those subjects.

The Government has already pledged to run a trial setting tougher questions in A-levels and to give universities a breakdown of students' grades in all their exams and coursework during their A-level studies.

Yesterday's announcement follows the publication of plans earlier this month to sweep away the system of awarding university places on the basis of predicted grades within three years.

A consultation paper said aptitude tests could eventually be used to help admissions tutors pick candidates for places alongside their results in AS-levels and GCSEs.

Higher Education Minister Bill Rammell said: 'We need to help universities differentiate between the most able students.' Ministers are also considering a rival aptitude test, the uniTEST, which is being developed by Cambridge Assessment.

Some 1,300 students are to take this test, which assesses reasoning and thinking skills, in a small-scale pilot this month.

Aptitude tests have been in use in the U.S. for more than 80 years. Around 1.5million students sit the three-hour test every year before applying to university. …