Sifting great students from the very good

August 12, 2010

The fear that state-school students, or pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, will be overlooked by top universities is not a new concern brought about by the introduction of A* grades at A level.

It is true that the growing number of students achieving top grades makes it more difficult for universities to find the brightest candidates. Split grades may help in this regard, but only if we can ensure that A* grades are not disproportionately achieved by those from privileged backgrounds.

What is needed is what we, a group of the UK's leading university law schools, implemented six years ago: an admissions test running in parallel with the A-level system that gives real results rather than predicted grades; a test that measures raw ability rather than the quality of coaching and education that applicants have received; a test that successfully separates the very best from the very good, regardless of education, background or coaching.

The National Admissions Test for Law - or LNAT - has been proven to do this job for law schools that are part of the scheme. Results are based not on knowledge but on key skills such as the ability to critically analyse a text and draw conclusions purely from the evidence. As a result, successful applications are not decided by expensive coaching, a privileged education or exposure to the legal profession.

We have conducted extensive research on the LNAT over the past six years that shows its results are far less influenced by the educational or social backgrounds of applicants than A levels or GCSEs. The LNAT has made a genuine contribution to widening participation to law and the legal profession more generally.

The more universities use tests such as the LNAT, the better.

Liora Lazarus, LNAT chair, Fellow, St Anne's College, Oxford.

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