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Cambridge snubs new selection test

A new test to allow universities to identify the brightest sixth-formers is facing a battle for credibility after Cambridge said it had no plans to use it.

The Unitest, a 60-question assessment in reasoning, is designed to help admissions tutors to select the brightest students irrespective of their background and subject specialisms. It is being piloted in 40 schools this September and is expected to be launched nationally in 2007.

If trials prove successful, the test, developed by the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate (UCLES) and the Australian Council for Educational Research, could become the main entrance exam for higher education. However, The TES has learned that Cambridge has a string of concerns, including that the test is not sufficiently difficult to enable it to differentiate between high-achieving applicants.

It is designed to be taken by students applying in every subject for every university, after the Government's Schwartz inquiry into university admissions recommended a single national entrance test.

Geoff Parks, Cambridge's director of admissions and a director of UCLES, said: "It looks like a very good test in terms of what it aims to do. I just do not think it will be of value to the University of Cambridge in its admissions."

The 90-minute test is divided into three categories, one emphasising quantitative and formal reasoning, a second favouring verbal reasoning, and a third category of "critical" reasoning. Admissions tutors will get a breakdown of students' scores in each of these areas. Those from scientific subjects are more likely to favour the first category, while those in arts might stress the second.

Leading universities have been struggling to differentiate between high-flying students with many A grades at A-level. The test could also be used to identify students from poorer backgrounds who have good reasoning skills.

A spokesman for UCLES said: "There are more than 100 UK universities. Our pilots are designed to persuade all of them that the test is the way forward."


Sample questions:

1 (First element of a three-part question) Dale, a plumber, charges for work done in people's homes as follows: pound;60 to go to the home, which includes a maximum of 15 minutes' work; plus pound;15 for any part of each 15 minutes' work after the first 15 minutes.

Dale calls at Mrs Acorn's home and does an hour and twenty minutes' work.

His charge will be: a) pound;75 b) pound;90 c) pound;120 d) pound;135 e) pound;150

2 Several large-scale trials have shown, at a very high level of statistical significance, that those who take no alcoholic drinks are more likely to suffer from heart disease than those who drink moderate amounts of alcohol. The researchers have concluded that a moderate amount of alcohol protects the body against heart disease.

Which one of the following is a reason why this conclusion might be unsafe?

a) If enough trials are carried out, some will show statistical significance purely by chance.

b) Those people drinking no alcohol may have other factors in their diet or lifestyle which increases their susceptibility to heart disease.

c) A significant number of people refuse to answer questions about alcohol consumption.

d) By-products of alcohol production other than alcohol itself may be the reason for the protection against heart disease.

3 "I want to be what I was when I wanted to be what I am now." (London graffiti).

This statement expresses: a) longing for the past.

b) acceptance of one's destiny.

c) excitement about the future.

d) satisfaction with the present.

Answers: 1d, 2b, 3a.

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