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Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 September, 2003, 15:33 GMT 16:33 UK
New test to find best students
students taking a test

Applicants to some of Cambridge's colleges are being given a new "thinking skills assessment".

The TSA test - which will be taken either online or in written form - is yet another attempt to differentiate between excellent candidates.

It has been developed by the University of Cambridge local examinations syndicate (Ucles).

The sample version on its website involves 50 multiple choice questions to be answered in 90 minutes.

Cambridge, Oxford and University College London, also use a different Ucles test called BMat (BioMedical Admissions Test) with subject-specific questions for applicants to medical courses.

Fairer access

Ucles said applicants for undergraduate places at Cambridge mostly had very high predicted grades in their school leaving examinations such as A-levels - typically up to 70% of them would be expecting three grade A passes.

There were usually more than three times as many applicants as places, so colleges needed something else to help in selecting people.

Sample questions from the new test were made available as the official taskforce chaired by Professor Steven Schwartz threw up its suggestions on making access to university fairer.

One of its suggestions was for aptitude tests, to discover more about students' abilities than their school qualifications provided.

Ucles says the TSA tests critical thinking and problem solving.


Problem solving - where even if you have selected all the relevant information, no solution presents itself, so you have to find a way to generate a solution.

Mr Jones has to renew the white lines on a 1km stretch of road. Each edge of the road is marked with a solid line and there is a "dashed" line in the centre. Drivers are warned of approaching bends by two curved arrows. Mr Jones will have to paint four curved arrows. The manufacturers have printed the following guidance on each 5-litre drum of paint:

Solid lines - 5 metres per litre
Dashed lines - 20 metres per litre
Curved lines - 3 litres each.

How many drums of paint will Mr Jones require?

A 53
B 92
C 93
D 103
E 462

The answer is C. The solid lines require 200 litres for each side of the road (1000 5 = 200). The dashed lines require 50 litres (1000 20 = 50). The arrows require 3 x 4 = 12 litres. The total amount of paint is 200 + 200 + 50 + 12 = 462 litres. Each drum contains 5 litres of paint; so 93 drums will be needed (462 5 = 92.4) 92 drums will not be enough so 93 will be needed. The final drum will be only partially used.

A assumed there is a solid line on only one side of the road.
B the calculations are correct but it has been assumed incorrectly that 92 drums would be sufficient.
D assumed there are two dashed lines rather than one.
E the total amount in litres has been calculated but not the number of drums required.

Critical thinking - where reasons are put forward as grounds for a conclusion.

Private airline companies say that they are now determined to operate a transport system that is as safe as it can be, while still remaining viable. But a private sector business can only be viable if it makes money for its owners. If for all flights and at all airports there were thorough foolproof screening for firearms and for explosives planted by terrorists, then the system would be safer; but really effective screening would preclude all possibility of profit.

Which one of the following conclusions is best supported by the passage above?

A A private airline which is not profitable will be safer than one that is.
B To stay in business, a private airline company has to sacrifice some safety.
C Even if airlines could afford the cost, effective screening against terrorist attacks would be impossible.
D Even if airlines could afford the cost, effective screening against terrorist attacks would be impossible.
E Those who run private airline companies are more interested in profit than in the safety of their passengers.

The answer B, because the passage makes it clear that if private airlines used screening procedures which guaranteed complete safety from terrorism, they would not make a profit, and that if they did not make a profit, they would not remain viable. It follows that if they are to remain in business, they must sacrifice some safety.

A does not follow from the passage, because A is making a general claim about the link between profitability and safety. Some airlines may be unprofitable because they are inefficient, rather than because they are spending a great amount on safety measures.
C does not follow from the passage, because the passage does not discuss the way in which private airlines have worked in the past.
D does not follow from the passage, because the passage says that effective screening would mean that no profits were made. This suggests that effective screening would be possible, but costly, rather than that it would be impossible.
E does not follow from the passage, because it is consistent with the passage that those who run private airline companies are interested first and foremost in passenger safety. The passage simply suggests that they would not be able to run a service at all if, despite their concern for safety, they did not aim for profit at the expense of some safety.

Source: Ucles

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