Readers' reactions

September 22, 2000

Last month in The THES...John Stein advocated the introduction of special selection tests

Nigel Probert Caerphilly

Universities should offer subjects for extended essay (2,500-3,000 words) to final-year sixth-formers. The topics should enable a deepening and broadening of A-level syllabuses. In English, for instance, it would be necessary to read the entire works of Jane Austen or Charlotte Bront and not just the set text. Those who submit an essay would be assured of an invitation to a viva voce.

This is a better test of the intelligence, sensibility and pertinacity, and hence a better predictor of success at university, than A-level results. If carried out in the autumn, it would not be a huge burden.

To anticipate the objection of unfair practice under non-examination conditions, candidates would be honour-bound to declare that the writing of the essay (and hence its articulateness) was solely their own. The compulsory viva would be a check on this. Candidates would be expected to have a file of notes enabling them to defend and amplify their arguments in an interview.

Such a scheme would be a much more reliable indicator of high abilities than the other proposed tests to measure "originality" of thought.

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