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Last Updated: Monday, 19 September 2005, 10:56 GMT 11:56 UK
Pupils try university entry exam
University doors
The study will look at the benefits of a university entrance test
Tens of thousands of A-level students are being invited to take part in a trial of a US-style university admissions test.

The use of a standardised test for university places is to be investigated in a five-year government-backed study.

Such an "SAT" test for universities has been suggested as one option for a fairer admissions system.

The study will look at whether such tests are better than A-level predicted grades for identifying able students.

"It will be an important part of wider work into admissions testing," said the Higher Education Minister Bill Rammell.

The 1.6m study, to be carried out by the National Foundation for Educational Research, will look at the potential benefits of a scholastic aptitude test (SAT).

Fairer admissions

Youngsters currently at school will be invited to take the SAT in November - and researchers will then follow their progress through A-levels and university to examine whether the SAT is an accurate and objective way of measuring ability.

The study, which hopes to recruit 50,000 students, is supported by the Department for Education and Skills, the Sutton Trust and the College Board, which owns the SAT which is widely used in college admission in the United States.

The SAT study, which will run alongside the current process of applications, will look at whether such a separate test would help universities to distinguish between the growing number of A-grade students.

There will also be research into whether an SAT would be a better way of finding talented youngsters from poorer backgrounds.

As part of its efforts to widen participation in higher education, the government has been examining ways to find a more efficient and fairer way for universities to select students.

At present, young people usually apply for university places before they take their A-levels - and universities depend on the predicted grades provided by schools.

There have been claims this can over-estimate the abilities of confident middle-class pupils from successful schools - and that a common university exam would provide a more level playing field.

Affluence

A map showing the proportion of young people going to university, based on parliamentary constituencies, showed the strong link between affluence and access to higher education. In a wealthy seat such as Kensington and Chelsea, 69% of youngsters went on to university - compared to only 8% in Sheffield Brightside.

There have also been warnings that with growing numbers of university applicants and a rising number with top grades that universities would have to introduce their own tests - raising the prospect of pupils having to take a whole series of separate university tests.

Earlier this month, a report from Sir Alan Wilson, director general for higher education in the DFES, said changing the exam timetable so that university applications were made after pupils have received their A-level grades would make it a fairer process.

Such a "post-qualification application" system was also backed by a report into fairer admissions produced by Professor Steven Schwartz.

Head teachers' leader, John Dunford, backed the study of the SAT system, saying that the current process was a "minefield" and "we welcome this move to investigate the potential of the SAT to add clarity and reinforce equity".

  • Some 1,300 pupils in 25 schools are trying a different entry test this week.

    Called Unitest, it has been developed by Cambridge Assessment and the Australian Council for Educational Research as a way of identifying talent in potential undergraduates.




  • SEE ALSO
    Student access inequality exposed
    19 Jan 05 |  Education
    University entry options set out
    09 Sep 05 |  Education
    'Toss a coin' to choose students
    25 Nov 04 |  Education

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