Cambridge University in a tight corner after government changes on AS-Levels

Anna Carruthers 26 April 2015

Cambridge could introduce a new entrance test for the first time in 29 years as a result of AS-Level reform. According to the trade magazine, Schools Week, the University is currently gathering views on plans to bring back entrance tests for applicants.

Allegedly, documents shown to senior tutors at a committee in March state that the University is “being forced” to change its current system of using AS-Levels in order to assess applicants. The documents apparently state that GCSEs “will not give us a reliable measure” due to their ongoing reform and that “schools’ predictions of grades will be next to useless.”

Under coalition reforms, from September 2015, the new AS-Levels will be optional and will not count towards an A-level. Currently, the University uses UMS scores calculated from performance in AS-Levels to assess applicants. The scrapping of the AS-Level qualification could mean that admissions tutors have lost an important indicator in the application process – one which they use when assessing which applicants should be invited for an interview.

University departments have been asked to give their views on the proposal to reintroduce tests from the 2016/17 admissions round.

In November 2014, Dr Mike Sewell, Director of Admissions for the Cambridge Colleges, sent a letter to schools strongly encouraging potential applicants to take AS-Level examinations in at least three subjects. He claimed that it “will provide us with a strong measure of applicants’ recent academic progress, will assist us and the students in judging whether an application to Cambridge is likely to be competitive, and will provide reassurance that grade predictions are not relied upon too heavily in a new system.”

However, it was added that no student would be disadvantaged if they were unable to take AS exams and would be fairly assessed on all available evidence.

Some students already take admissions tests, such as the Thinking Skills Assesment (TSA).