On Tuesday, the Rector of a top UK university announced a new entrance test may be used to distinguish between applicants with high marks. Sir Richard Sykes, of Imperial College London, informed the Independent Schools Council’s annual conference that while applicants have four or five A-levels, “grade inflation” had “destroyed” the intended role A-levels have in measuring undergraduate acceptance. Surprisingly, 40% of those applicants receive private schooling, from a mere 7% of UK schools.
“We are doing this not because we don’t believe in A-level but we cannot use A-levels any more as a discriminatory factor.” –Sir Richard Sykes
A-levels have received much criticism over the past few years, and rightly so. From the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA)’s website, the Q&A section answers ‘How are A level grades set?’ with this:
“With great care. Criteria are set across particular grade boundaries and it is important that these criteria are met each year. Up until the mid-80s there were fixed percentages of students awarded grades with little variation from year to year… Whereas the system used since that time, called ‘criteria referencing’ is a much fairer system and it measures standards of achievement rather than fixed percentages.”
In the US, specialised postgraduate schools require an entry test based upon percentages. For example, the LSAT, and MCAT results state this percentage to distinguish the pupil’s rank in relation to their competition. Though undergraduate course quality will vary, individuals applying are expected to undertake a set coursework (pre-med, etc) and the tests. Furthermore, a report has been recently released by Reform demonstrating a significant decline in the standard of maths testing, with the steepest change since 1990.
Frankly, it’s about time a UK university started requiring entrance tests. Universities should not be forced to lower their expectations, nor bear any unnecessary risk for students whom are incapable of completing the coursework. The UK education system needs radical reform, including an open access scheme, much like the one proposed here. Until the government stops interfering and allows a rigorous school exaxmination system to develop independently, it will become increasingly common for applicants to be tested.