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A-levels not enough for maths high-fliers

Warwick University is so swamped with applicants for its prestigious maths courses that it has asked all candidates to sit an extra exam on top of A-levels.

Along with Oxford and Cambridge, Warwick has too many good applicants to be able to select them on the basis of A-levels alone. (This year, the university received 1,400 applications for 180 places.) So it is asking them to take one of two additional papers: either the Sixth Term Examination Paper (Step) originally devised for Cambridge after it dropped its special entrance exam in the 1980s or the Special paper offered by some exam boards.

Successful applicants will have to get at least grade 2 in the Step or Special paper, as well as As at A-level in maths and one other subject, and a B in a third subject.

Dr Mario Micallef, reader in mathematics at Warwick, said the new requirement did not indicate that A-level standards were falling but that the nature of maths A-level had changed.

"We are no longer able to distinguish between people who are competent at maths - at following a set of instructions - and people who have natural ability," he said. "The typical A-level question is short and highly structured whereas the Step or Special paper question is typically longer and requires candidates to put several different aspects of maths to use in solving a problem."

* Evidence that employers are targeting a narrow band of universities during graduate recruitment emerged last week in a survey by Cardiff University researchers. It found that one in four employers specified particular universities, while 41 per cent used a "mix-and-match" method depending on their seasonal requirements.

They clearly preferred universities that command high A-level scores and traditional universities like Oxford, Cambridge and Durham. But they rarely targeted former polytechnics.

The report raised the issue of whether students will be prepared to pay a pound;1,000 tuition fee at institutions where their prospects of future employment may be poor.

Graduate employment and training towards the millennium, Hobsons Publishing, 159-173 St John's Street, London EC1B 4DR, pound;45.

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