Cambridge to bring in new entrance exams following demise of AS levels

Fears that the changes could favour applicants from wealthy backgrounds who can afford to be coached

February 2, 2016
University of Cambridge campus surrounded by grass and trees

The University of Cambridge is to introduce written admissions tests as it tries to find new ways of assessing applicants following a shake-up of A levels.  

Applicants normally apply having already achieved a clutch of AS levels, but from this year, these will no longer count towards final A-level grades, meaning that many schools and colleges may scrap them.

Cambridge’s reforms, announced today, have sparked concerns that they could favour students from wealthier backgrounds by giving an advantage to those who can afford to be coached for the new exams.

Alan Milburn, former Labour minister and chair of the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, told The Guardian that the new Cambridge exam “clearly has the potential to raise a further barrier to equal access.

“Bright students from less advantaged backgrounds tend to miss out on the intensive tutoring their better-off peers receive,” he said.

In a letter to schools and colleges, Cambridge explained that it was “responding to teacher and student feedback, a desire to harmonise and simplify our existing use of written assessments and a need to develop new ways to maintain the effectiveness and fairness of our admissions system during ongoing qualification reform”.

The new exams, which will be “specifically tailored to each subject”, are to be put in place for 2017 entry onwards. For some subjects applicants will take the tests before interviews, while for others it will be at the same time. There will be no charge for the assessments for pupils taking the test in the UK, Cambridge said.

A number of highly selective universities already run additional tests for subjects including medicine, law and history.

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