Oxford sets tests to weed out candidates
IT IS one of the most prestigious academic institutions in the world. And now demand at Oxford University has outstripped the number of places to such an extent that more than four-fifths of candidates are being asked to sit extra aptitude tests in order to get in.
The university’s undergraduate admissions director Mike Nicholson said “significant” increases in applications have meant the institution has to use additional measures besides looking at exam results to identify the best candidates.
He said that the institution is using the tests as a “sifting process” to give tutors additional information before deciding who to interview for places.
As a result, during the coming year, around 85 per cent of applicants will take “some form of aptitude test”, he said, which are used by 70 per cent of subjects offered by Oxford.
This has gone up from just under two-thirds of candidates, between 60 per cent and 65 per cent, three years ago, and could rise further.
“It’s predominantly been driven by the significant increase in applications that we’ve seen in the last five years,” Mr Nicholson said.
In a subject such as economics and management, there are now around 1,300 applicants for 96 or 97 places, whereas ten years ago there were half as many applications for the same number of places.
He said the tests are used to help compare candidates from different countries.
“Part of the value of the tests for our tutors is that it benchmarks the candidates against each other within a discipline, so we’re not having to try and make up complicated algorithms to offset what the German Abitur is against US SATs against the International Baccalaureate.”
Mr Nicholson admitted Oxford is not able to interview every applicant, with around 65 per cent being offered one – about 24,000 interviews in total.
“We need to have a sifting process that operates before we shortlist for interview, so the tests are part of the additional information tutors will have that allows them to make calls on the candidates who seem to have the greatest strength, the greatest potential for future success.”
He insisted the tests are “not the only measure” Oxford uses to identify students, as they are used to check candidates’ aptitude and suitability for a subject, rather than just what they already know or have learnt to pass exams.
“I think what it’s [the test] showing is, can a candidate engage in the sort of tutorial style-education that they’ll be exposed to at Oxford.
“We are not going to be in a situation where they’re effectively learning stuff then and in their weekly essay taking the information they’ve picked up in lectures and writing a fairly standard response.”
The tests are tailored to different subjects to check relevant skills.
While medicine has been using them for almost a decade to get a shortlist of around 425 candidates for about 150 places, other subjects such as English, humanities and science are now using them too.
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