Testing times for Cambridge types

December 12, 2003

Testing prospective students on their ability to think is proving better than A levels and interviews at predicting subsequent academic success, a conference heard this week, writes Alison Goddard.

Almost 2,000 applicants to Cambridge University, which introduced the tests in 2001, are expected to sit the tests this week and next. The tests, designed to assess problem-solving and critical thinking, include reasoning using numerical and spatial skills and everyday written language.

Robert Harding, of the Cambridge University Local Examinations Syndicate, told an access conference: "The evidence is that the test is a better predictor of performance than either A levels or interview scores.

"Although research is not complete, admissions tutors have become more convinced that the test is useful - hence the fourfold increase (in take-up, from 289 applicants in 2001 to about 1,800 in 2003). People are voting with their feet."

Dr Harding added that, as most applicants to Cambridge have straight As at A level, exam results were of limited use for predicting achievement at university.

The finding was received with interest by Steven Schwartz, vice-chancellor of Brunel University, who is leading a government taskforce on university admissions.

He told the conference: "Almost everyone would agree that admissions decisions should be based on merit. But the problem comes when we try to define it."

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