Tests 'show ability'

September 7, 2007

Controversial university admissions tests will be given a ringing endorsement in new research to be presented this week.

The first validity testing of the entrance assessments, which are increasingly used to select university students, shows that they are a good indicator of the future success of candidates and can highlight important differences between applicants with the same A-level grades.

Researchers at Cambridge Assessment, Cambridge University's examinations board, matched students' scores in the Thinking Skills Assessment, an aptitude test used by the majority of Cambridge University colleges, and BMAT (BioMedical Admissions Test), designed for applicants to medicine and veterinary medicine, against the students' eventual degree results.

The results show strong correlations and prove there are important differences between candidates with the same high A-level grades, with these differences predicting the chances of success on a student's future course of study, the researchers say.

Joanne Emery, a research officer in statistics at Cambridge Assessment who did the validity work, said: "The test scores bear a strong resemblance to the probability of doing really well in your degree."

The future use of these admissions tests has been called into question since the Government confirmed that a new A* grade at A level and tougher exam questions are to be introduced to help universities distinguish between the 25 per cent of A-level students who now receive A grades.

Geoff Parks, director of admissions for the Cambridge colleges, said the university might scale back its use of admissions tests. But Tim Oates, head of research at Cambridge Assessment, said universities will continue to find the tests useful. "A-level results give information about subject-based attainment, whereas admissions tests are designed to produce information about a person's capacity to benefit from higher education," he said.

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