US-style aptitude tests for university entry

Education: Colleges start trials of American SATs to improve recruitment of state school pupils
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The Independent Online

American-style tests for university admissions are likely to form part of a Government package to get more youngsters from disadvantaged backgrounds into higher education.

The move follows the damaging row over Bristol University's admissions policies. The university is accused of rejecting high-achieving teenagers from independent schools in favour of state school pupils.

The Secretary of State for Education, Charles Clarke, is understood to be sympathetic to the use of scholastic assessment tests (SATs), alongside A-levels, to give universities another tool to select the brightest children from all backgrounds, regardless of the standard of schooling.

Last week, he met Sir Cyril Taylor, chairman of the Specialist Schools Trust, which represents 2,000 state schools.

"A-levels are a good way of identifying ability," said Sir Cyril. "But they need to be supplemented with additional tools, especially tools which could give us a better indication of student potential."

Supporters of the American system say that the test of verbal and mathematical reasoning is a better indicator of academic ability than A-levels, which depend on memory and the quality of teaching.

Some universities are already conducting studies into the SAT. Bristol is making all first-year students in one department of each faculty sit the SAT. It will then be able to compare their performance in the test with their degree classification and A-level grades, and judge whether it is a useful predictor of academic potential.

Universities are inviting fewer and fewer applicants for interview, the traditional way of identifying students with potential. Bristol, with 40,000 applicants for 3,000 places, relies on predicted grades.

Admissions officers find that private schools coach pupils to impress at interview.

Dundee is using the SAT to spot bright pupils from poor backgrounds for its summer school, and Warwick is considering introducing the test, according to vice chancellor Professor David Vandelinde.

Sir George Bain, vice chancellor of Queen's University Belfast, said: "I am delighted that we are going to try to get something that measures students' potential rather than achievement."

Critics claim that the new SAT would be misleading because well-off parents would pay to coach their children to do well, as they do in the USA.

Peter Lampl of the Sutton Trust which is dedicated to inproving working class children's access to higher education says that coaching adds an average 5 per cent to a SAT score, but the benefit tails off after 10 hours' coaching.

The Independent on Sunday asked two A-level students, one from a state school and one from a private school, to sit part of the American aptitude test.

Laura, 18, attends Chichester High School for Girls in West Sussex. She is predicted to get three Bs in her French, geography and English literature A-levels. She scored 34 out of 55. "I haven't taken maths in about two years," she said.

Catriona, 17, has a scholarship at Kilgraston School, a small private school in Perthshire, and wants to study combined science at university. She is expected to get two As and a B in her chemistry, physics and higher biology A-levels. She scored 33 out of 55. "I didn't like English because there were a lot of complicated words and the multiple choice made it harder."

Additional reporting: Alyssa Cohen and Tamsin Hope Thomson

So, how would you do?

There are six sections to the American SATs for 17-year-olds – three maths and three verbal. The students have three hours to complete the test and their scores determine which universities will accept them. The average student scores around 60 per cent. How would you fare?


1. If one cup of olive oil is added to a three-cup mixture that is 2/5 salad mix and 3/5 olive oil, what percentage of the four-cup mixture is olive oil?

(A) 80%; (B) 75%; (C) 70%; (D) 65%; (E) 60%

2. Pieces of wood are glued together to form the edge of a cube, whose volume is 64 cubic inches. The number of inches of wood used is:

(A) 24; (B) 48; (C) 64; (D) 96; (E) 120

3. If shipping charges to a certain point are 62 cents for the first five ounces and 8 cents for each additional ounce, the weight of a package, in pounds, for which the charges are $1.66 is:

(A) 7/8; (B) 1; (C) 1 1/8; (D) 1 1/4; (E) 1 1/2

4. If Josh drank an espresso at a different coffee house in Seattle, it would take him more than 19 years to cover all of Seattle's coffee houses, assuming that he drank three espressos per day. On the basis of this information, the number of coffee houses in Seattle:

(A) exceeds 20,500

(B) is closer to 20,000 than 21,000

(C) exceeds 21,000

(D) exceeds 21,000 but does not exceed 21,500

(E) is less than 20,500

5. A salon charges $30 for a precision haircut, blow dry and standard body wave, but $42 for a precision haircut, blow dry and deluxe body wave. If the deluxe body wave costs four times as much as the standard body wave, how much does the standard body wave cost?

(A) $2; (B) $4; (C) $5; (D) $6; (E) $8


6. The judge's astute criticism of the law student's paper is due to his ability, as an attorney, advocate and judicial expert, to approach legal briefs as a/an:

(A) detractor; (B) veteran; (C) interpreter;

(D) practitioner (E) sage

7. More ---- than his wife, Señor Garces had a less ---- relationship with the household staff.

(A) apathetic – diffident

(B) cordial – venerable

(C) compassionate – empathetic

(D) frugal – penurious

(E) conciliatory – confrontational


(A) patriot : anarchy

(B) iconoclast : orthodoxy

(C) judge : penury

(D) researcher : theorem

(E) choreographer : entertainment


(A) outline : detailed

(B) cliché : colourful

(C) opera : melodious

(D) screenplay : entertaining

(E) prose : florid


(A) merciful : tyranny

(B) fractious : obedience

(C) reflective : vapidity

(D) proud : haughtiness

(E) cynical : fortitude