Magazine article Issues in Science and Technology

Needed: Achievement and Aptitude. (Forum)

Magazine article Issues in Science and Technology

Needed: Achievement and Aptitude. (Forum)

Article excerpt

In "Achievement Versus Aptitude in College Admissions" (Issues, Winter 2001-02), Richard C. Atkinson discusses the SAT I and II tests. But to say whether aptitude or achievement should be used as the criterion for university admission is too simplistic.

As an Admissions Tutor in Britain 15 years ago, I had a very simple aim: to admit students who had the capability to succeed in the course. To do this, we tutors looked at available evidence, including but not limited to examination results, using strategies that were adjusted to the subject.

In my particular case, chemical engineering, I looked for people who had knowledge of chemistry and aptitude in mathematics. The former was necessary so that they could understand the lectures from day one. The second was so that they could learn new tricks. At that time, school subjects were done at O (ordinary) and A (advanced) levels. When a student had not taken a subject at A level, the O-level grade could be used as some guide to aptitude but was a much lesser achievement.

Other subjects were different. Law basically required high grades at A level in any subjects. The degree assumed no prior knowledge but required clever people. To take a degree in French, you had to be fluent in that language (via A level or any other means). You could start studying Japanese or Arabic, providing you had already learned another foreign language (Welsh was acceptable).

In general, A level grades were found to be a fair predictor of success for some subjects studied at both school and university and a poor predictor when the degree was very different in style and/or content from the school subject. …

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