Most universities are forced to put new undergraduates through remedial courses to give them the basic skills they need, a conference will be told today.
A survey conducted by Cambridge Assessment reveals that 60 per cent of higher education institutions are having to offer extra courses – particularly in literacy and numeracy – for their new students.
More than half of the lecturers who responded to the survey said they believed students were underprepared. Their main weaknesses, according to the survey, were in critical thinking and academic writing.
According to the lecturers, the main reason was too much "teaching to the test" at school. As a result, many did not fully understand what they had learnt. One academic said: "We realise in our department that students will experience a culture shock in moving from A-levels to university and we try our best to help them make the transition from being spoon-fed to being able to design the spoon and 'feed' themselves."
The research concluded that A-levels should include more advanced content for more able students, cover core subject areas in more depth and include more essay-style exam questions.
The research is to be presented to a conference in Birmingham organised by Ucas on the future of exams. Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, who has ordered a review of the system, wants university academics to play a greater role in setting questions.