Pilot study will use SATs as an admissions tool

April 16, 2004

Some 50,000 students will sit US-style university admissions tests from autumn 2005 in the biggest pilot study of its kind, supported by the Sutton Trust charity.

The aptitude tests aim to allow universities to identify talented students who perform badly at A level - often because they attended a school that failed to develop their potential. The trust estimates that as many as one in 20 students falls into this category.

Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust, said: "In an earlier trial, in below-average performing schools, 30 students - 5 per cent of the sample - scored well enough on the SAT to be considered by a top US university.

Yet only one of them achieved the three A grades at A level required by our most selective universities.

"Internationally, the SAT is the most recognised and administered test for university entry. It surely makes sense for us to adopt the oldest and most widely-used test."

Last week, the review of fair admissions to higher education, headed by Steven Schwartz, vice-chancellor of Brunel University, backed the development of US-style SATs as a potential single common-entry test for UK universities.

The Schwartz group is alarmed by the proliferation of a number of different additional tests being introduced for university entrance, as the cost of sitting such tests could deter students from poor backgrounds.

The Sutton Trust is now deliberating whether to conduct blind trials as part of the study. This would mean that university applicants would sit the tests, but the results would not be disclosed until after their graduation - when the success of SATs in predicting degree success could be evaluated.

Alternatively, universities could take account of the test results when making offers to applicants. A combined scheme, under which some universities used the results and others didn't, would also be possible.

School pupils would sit the tests in the September of their upper sixth year - before the October 15 deadline for admissions to Oxford and Cambridge universities and medical schools worldwide - or simultaneously with AS levels at the end of the lower-sixth year.

Sir Peter also welcomed the Schwartz recommendation that universities should judge pupils on their actual A-level results, rather than predicted grades.

But a post-qualifications admissions system remains controversial. At its annual meeting in Llandudno, the National Association of Schoolmasters and the Union of Women Teachers reaffirmed its opposition to reorganisations of the school year to accommodate the new system and voted to hold industrial action ballots if local education authorities switch to six-term years.

The teaching union is concerned that the reforms would be implemented in some areas but not others, causing confusion and overlapping school terms.

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