Oxbridge tries outUS aptitude tests

21st March 2003 at 00:00
Top universities use new exam to find medics from all backgrounds, reports Biddy Passmore.

A pioneering test that could herald American-style exams to help universities select applicants for popular courses was launched yesterday.

The test - to be piloted this November - will assess candidates' aptitude for medical and other biomedical courses at Oxford, Cambridge and University College, London.

Called the BMAT (Biomedical Admissions Test), it aims to help admissions tutors pick out the most able candidates regardless of background, enabling them to distinguish those with real potential from those who have just been well coached. The test will not require any specific subject knowledge beyond GCSE-level science and mathematics.

Admissions tutors will consider the results alongside actual or predicted A-level results, references and interviews.

Four thousand students currently apply for the 800 places in medicine and veterinary science at Oxford, Cambridge and University College London.

The test, developed by the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate (UCLES), will be available for more widespread use next year. At least five other leading medical schools have expressed an interest in adopting it.

It has three elements: a 60-minute test of aptitude and skills; a 30-minute test of scientific knowledge and applications; and a 30-minute writing task (see examples above). The first two will be scored by UCLES but the writing task will be sent to the university for evaluation and may form the basis for a discussion at interview.

Candidates will be able to take the test in November, in their own school or college. A test specification and sample test will be available on the web to enable them to practise.

Oxford and Cambridge already use extra admissions tests as well as exam results, references and interviews to help them distinguish among the bewildering number of good applicants for places on biomedical courses.

UCLES, which has developed the test, is one of the constituent boards of OCR but offers its own academic and vocational qualifications which are used in more than 165 countries. It has produced the current Cambridge test for medical students since 1999.

UCLES would not say if similar tests to assess potential in other subjects were being developed.

But a spokesman said the board was "ready to discuss with any university faculties ways in which wider access to higher education can be facilitated".

The BMAT could be adapted to other subjects, he added.

Students applying to the Royal Free and University College London medical school, the medical schools of Oxford and Cambridge universities, the Cambridge veterinary school and the Oxford physiological science course will all pilot take the BMAT this autumn for entry in October 2004.


1. Two buses, the Zipper and the Metbus, each pass my stop hourly, and I catch either one. I have no regular times for travelling and I can never remember the bus times. I just go to the stop and catch the first bus that comes along. Yet I discover, over the year, that the Zipper is more likely to come along first than the Metbus.

The Zipper passes the stop at * minutes past every hour and the Metbus passes at m minutes past. If the Zipper passes the stop in the first half of the hour, which of the following would explain the higher probability of the Zipper coming along first?

A z

m. B m


3. Science teaches us to question established knowledge.

What does the statement above imply? Can you suggest examples where science might not encourage us to question established knowledge? If so, what determines when science teaches us to question established knowledge and when it does not?

4. Plants do not have brains because they cannot walk.

Summarise the argument by which this statement might be justified. How might one argue against it? Can any such arguments by verified by experiment?

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