London: Cambridge University is planning to reintroduce a universal entrance exam after nearly two decades to make it easier to pick the brightest students.
One of the world's best known universities is considering bringing back its university-wide test that would be taken by all applicants while still at school to provide evidence of academic performance beyond just good final grades, The Sunday Times reported.
"The university is considering all options but has made no decisions. We already use admissions tests for some subjects and the option of introducing wider testing is part of discussions about how to adapt to (A-level reforms)," A university spokesperson said.
He added that, "Whatever decision is taken, all applicants will continue to be assessed holistically. The exam under discussion includes a language aptitude test and a thinking-skills assessment, with multiple choice questions, as well as a 45-minute essay."
The results would help select who is called to interview and chosen to start a degree, the paper said. Barbara Sahakian, professor of experimental psychiatry, said: "What people are concerned about is whether the A-level exam results still mean quite the same thing as they used to mean. There are a lot of students getting very high grades but not all of them would have got those grades in the past, so it is hard to discriminate between candidates".
Critics say a new exam would disadvantage state-funded school pupils, who would be less likely than their private school counterparts to get the appropriate coaching to prepare for it. The proportion of state school students admitted to study for a Cambridge degree has risen from about 50 percent to 60.6 percent since the university abolished the entrance exam in 1986.
The university has been set a target of 69.4 percent for state school entrants. The new exam would be taken in the first term of upper sixth, probably in November. Internal documents, seen by the paper, say that many professors have serious reservations about a return to a universal test, fearing it will put students from poorer backgrounds off applying, particularly for subjects such as classics and English.