Cambridge University reinstates “entrance examination”

Punting on the Cam

Punting on the Cam

CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY is planning to introduce a universal entrance exam for the first time in a generation because the glut of top-grade A-levels is making it hard to identify the brightest. The ancient institution is considering reinstituting a university-wide test that would be taken by all applicants while still at school to provide evidence of academic performance.

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.

Academics said this weekend that the exam was being brought in because more information would be needed to help them choose between candidates when the AS-level is scrapped next September under government reforms. Last year five students, most predicted top grades at A-level, applied for each place.

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 school pupils, who would be less likely than their private school counterparts to get the appropriate coaching to prepare for it.Sir Richard Evans, regius professor of history at Cambridge and president of Wolfson college, said he was also concerned that it would put older students applying for a degree “at a severe disadvantage”.

The proportion of state school students admitted to study for a Cambridge degree has risen from about 50% to 60.6% since the university abolished the entrance exam in 1986. The university has been set a target of 69.4% 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 Sunday Times newspaper, reveal that many dons 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.

Sahakian said state school pupils were already at a disadvantage in interviews because they lacked confidence compared with their privately educated peers.

There were even problems with basic preparation, such as what they chose to wear, with state school pupils often turning up in jeans. “They don’t have to wear a suit, but I do expect a jacket and a smart pair of trousers, and a tie is impressive,” she said. “Privately educated students come with the right gear.”

A university spokesman said: “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].

“Whatever decision is taken, all applicants will continue to be assessed holistically.”


The above report was taken from the Sunday Times newspaper of 20 September 2015 and also widely reported in other newspapers and on the BBC website. One could argue all day about the relative merits of this method of selection but what I do find staggering are the comments I have underlined in the paragraph above.

Are we seriously to believe that state school young people aged 18 with the highest A level grades do not understand that when you attend for interview you turn up looking smart. If they turned up in jeans as is suggested above, why did their parents not lay the law down to them on their appearance. 

I left school in 1965 aged 16 (from a working class family) and knew then that I would be required to dress smartly for any job interview…………so why don’t young people today observe the business dress approach that employers / universities look for?

This entry was posted in Criticism, Education, Employability, Graduate rec ruitment policies, Graduates, Higher Education and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s