From welding to law

August 13, 2004

While some universities welcome admissions tests, others fear they will exclude students from poor backgrounds. Alan Thomson looks at the arguments

Billy Watt, an apprentice welder-turned-law-student, is living proof that aptitude testing can spot those with academic potential who, for whatever reason, fail to pass exams at school, writes Olga Wojtas.

Mr Watt, 28, who has just finished the second year of a law degree at Dundee University, ended up sitting a scholastic aptitude test (SAT) when he volunteered to help a research project the day before he started Dundee's access summer school.

He found that he had signed up for a two-and-a-half hour SAT on mathematical and verbal skills.

The test results were part of a research project to assess the value of SATs in identifying academic potential. The marks would have no bearing on whether Mr Watt got on the law course.

Mr Watt said: "Faced with this exam, I thought: 'Oh, my God'. I didn't really know how I'd done because I had nothing to set it against. The format was very different from anything I'd ever seen before - kind of multiple choice, like filling in your lottery card. I thought, have I failed already?"

But his fears were unfounded because he ended up scoring 67 per cent in maths and 90 per cent in English.

His SAT marks did not determine his entry to the law course - he achieved this by being one of the top three students at the summer school. But they do, in this case, indicate that aptitude testing can be an accurate measure of academic ability.

Mr Watt's success in the SAT would also seem to have been a good predictor of his future success on the law degree, as he passed all 14 subjects in his second year, four of them with merit.

The three-year investigation into whether SATs can help assess the academic potential of access students is supported by The Sutton Trust.

In 2002, the SAT results accurately predicted in 63 per cent of cases whether students' results would be below or above the summer school average.

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