Use of an Aptitude Test in University Entrance: A validity study (Final report)

Catherine Kirkup, Rebecca Wheater, Jo Morrison, Ben Durbin, Marco Pomati

03 December 2010

Available to download from DERA

This study stemmed largely from issues raised by a steering group, chaired by Professor Steven Schwartz (Admissions to Higher Education Steering Group, 2004): the desire to widen participation in HE, to provide fair access and to improve the admissions system. It was recognised that for some students their true potential might not be reflected in their examination results due to social or educational disadvantages. A further issue was the increasing number of highly qualified applicants and the difficulties faced by some HE admissions departments in differentiating between them.

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Key Findings

  • In the absence of other data, the SAT® had some power to predict HE participation and outcomes but it did not offer any additional information, over and above that provided by GCSEs and A levels (or GCSEs alone), at a significantly useful level.
  • There was no evidence that the SAT® provides sufficient information to identify students with the potential to benefit from higher education whose ability is not adequately reflected in their prior attainment.
  • The SAT® did not distinguish helpfully between the most able applicants, for example those who had three or more A grades at A level. The SAT® Reading and Writing scores added some predictive power for some classes of degree for students at highly selective universities, but added very little information beyond that provided by prior attainment, in particular prior attainment at GCSE.

Other findings that emerged from the analysis of the graduate sample

  • Of the prior attainment measures, average A level points score was the best predictor of HE participation and degree class, followed by average GCSE points score. The inclusion of GCSE information added usefully to the predictive power of A levels.
  • The relationship between degree performance, prior attainment and school type suggests that students from comprehensive schools are likely to achieve higher classes of degree than students with similar attainment from grammar and independent schools.
  • Having controlled for prior attainment, gender was not a significant predictor of degree outcome, e.g. male students are neither more likely, nor less likely, to do better at university than female students with the same prior attainment.
  • Girls were more likely to be in HE than boys with similar attainment, yet, compared with boys, girls tended to enter courses with lower entry points requirements than would be expected from their prior attainment.
  • Other factors positively related to achieving places on courses with high entry requirements were being Asian or mixed ethnicity, learning English as an additional language (EAL) and attending an independent school.
  • The overall GCSE performance of schools was positively related to the entry points of students’ HE courses; students from higher-performing schools are more likely to achieve places on courses with high entry requirements than students from lower-performing schools.
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