A-level students to take US-style tests

Thousands of A-level students will be asked to take American-style aptitude tests next year in a radical shake-up designed to help universities pick the brightest candidates.

A major trial of the US Scholastic Aptitude Test is being planned for September 2004 in the UK, with 50,000 youngsters taking the test.

This follows complaints from university admissions officers who say the rise in A-grade passes means the A-level no longer distinguishes the brightest candidates for them. The number of A-grade passes has doubled in the past decade to 21.6 per cent this year. Several of the country's elite universities now back the idea of a widespread introduction of the tests in the UK.

The trial is the brainchild of millionaire philanthropist Sir Peter Lampl, who is also a member of a new taskforce set up to advise ministers on university admissions. Ministers hope it can put an end to accusations of elitism.

Sir Peter, who has run summer schools at Oxford and Cambridge to help youngsters from deprived backgrounds to obtain places at the two universities, told The Independent on Sunday: "While we must congratulate students on their achievements, there are so many students now achieving top grades that it is a lottery as to which of them gets into the top universities."

Supporters of the US system argue that the test is a better indicator of academic ability than A-level results, which often reflect the quality of the teaching at schools attended.

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