Australian students could soon be taking a general skills test both after enrolment and before graduation.
The Graduate Skills Assessment test will help monitor student progress, provide additional information for potential employers and selectors for postgraduate courses, and allow assessment of college courses and teaching methods.
The test has been developed by the Australian Council for Educational Research on behalf of the federal education department. It consists of a multiple-choice examination and a writing test.
It is designed to measure students' critical thinking and problem-solving skills, as well as their written communication and their "interpersonal understandings". The last is the ability to show insight into the feelings, motivations and behaviour of other people and to recognise how such insights can be used to help or work with others.
The testing of "people skills" distinguishes the ACER test from those used in other countries.
In March, 1,000 students from ten universities across Australia sat a trial version of the exam. Next month, a further 6,000 students from 19 universities will take the test before graduating. Next year, 6,000 new students will sit the entry test.
The exam is intended to provide an indication of certain generic skills students possess at the beginning and end of their courses. The ACER says that universities will be able to use the entry test to identify students who have difficulty with writing, critical thinking or problem-solving. Those students can then be offered extra assistance.
Students who perform exceptionally well in the tests could be given more challenging tasks or accelerated programmes.
Universities would also be able to identify those courses where students show the most improvement between entry and graduation and, therefore, ascertain the best teaching and learning methods.
The test results for new graduates could provide employers with an indication of the generic skills a job applicant possesses. Or they could be used as additional criterion for entry to a postgraduate course.
Federal education minister David Kemp said the test would, for the first time, provide students, employers and the wider community with detailed information on how much value each university added to their students' education. He implied that eventually the test results would allow national comparisons of the performance of universities in preparing their students for work.