Oxford pilots bias-free test

June 9, 2000

Oxford University is developing a test to identify students with life-long potential rather than the ability to pass exams.

About 150 sixth-formers from state and independent schools took part in a pilot scheme last year, which required students to complete a questionnaire in addition to the usual admissions procedure.

Jane Mellanby, a psychology fellow at St Hilda's College, said candidates from state schools achieved the same marks as pupils from independent schools, although their schools scored significantly lower at GCSE.

"We are trying to find a measure that is free of the bias towards the middle-class education system so we can find children from different backgrounds. Although we will still use interviews in admissions to measure motivation, this sort of test will to help us look for potential," Dr Mellanby said.

The subjects of the pilot tests will be reassessed after four years.

University College London is designing a pilot version of the Scholastic Aptitude Tests used in the United States, in collaboration with a specialist firm.

Vice-provost Michael Worton said: "We have been looking at ways to widen participation and we are still not quite sure that A levels are the best indicators of whether a student will do well. We need a way to identify a candidate's potential, flexibility and motivation."

USSATs identify bright students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Dr Mellanby said: "We know (SATs) are not good long-term predictors. We want to find a way to pick candidates with the potential to really understand their courses."

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