Cambridge to introduce universal admissions tests

Hayden Banks 2 February 2016

The University of Cambridge has confirmed proposals to introduce a standard entrance test, varying between subjects, with effect from those applying in October 2016 onwards. 

Dr Sam Lucy, Director of Admissions for the Cambridge Colleges, today sent out a letter to Heads of Sixth Forms and Oxbridge Coordinators informing them of the change to the admissions procedure. The move comes in the wake of a meeting held last week with teachers to gauge opinions on the introduction of entrance tests to replace AS Module scores. The letter does not specify the nature of the tests, but does say that '‘written assessments will be undertaken either pre-interview or at-interview, depending on the course applied for'’.

The entrance tests will be applied to the new joint-honours History courses, however Medicine and Veterinary Medicine applicants will continue to be tested by the Biomedical Admissions Test (BMAT) before coming to interview. The letter specifies that Mathematics and Music applicants will be exempt from the standardised entrance tests, however ‘'colleges will assess aptitude, knowledge base and potential through short tasks at the time of interview'’.

Dr Sam Lucy told the BBC that '‘this move is a result of responding to teacher and student feedback, a desire to harmonise and simplify our existing use of written assessments and a need to develop new ways to maintain the effectiveness and fairness of our admissions system during ongoing qualification reform'’.

With government plans to separate AS-levels and A-Levels, meaning that module scores are no longer always available at the time of application, the admissions coordinators require additional information to differentiate between candidates. The letter states that the tests will range between one and two hours in duration, depending on when they are taken.

The letter also stresses that '‘no advance preparation will be needed, other than revision of relevant recent subject knowledge where appropriate.'’ However, Olly Hudson, president of Sidney Sussex JCR, has expressed dismay, calling the move ''the worst thing to happen to access, like, ever''. He continued: ''there is no such thing as an un-teachable test, and the kind of resources independent and private schools can dedicate towards these things are huge.''

CUSU Access Officer Helena Blair commented that: ''CUSU has maintained grave concerns about the proposed introduction of admissions assessments at Cambridge and worked to assist the university in exploring options available. Since the introduction of assessments became inevitable, we have worked tirelessly within the Collegiate University to minimise the negative impact on access to Cambridge.''