Britain’s Cambridge University May Re-introduce Entrance Exams


In an effort to distinguish its most talented applicants, Cambridge University in Britain is considering the reintroduction of entrance exams. The idea has been met with concern that the admissions process could be unfair for state school students who aren’t able to afford tutoring.

Cambridge, which is perpetually ranked as one of the top universities in the world, is considering an entry test for its candidates in view of the sheer volume of students getting A* and A marks on their A-level exams. Academics say that increased competition makes A-level exam results something other than a robust proof of student achievement.

With the entrance exam, the university will determine which students it will call for an interview. The entrance test, if put into effect, will apply to all applicants and it will be taken while students are still in school. The Sunday Times says that the exam will include a thinking skills assessment, a multiple choice language aptitude test and a 45-minute essay. A university spokesman said:

“The university is considering all options but has made no decisions. We already use admissions tests for some subjects and the option of introducing wider testing is part of discussions about how to adapt to [A-level reforms].”

Cambridge used to offer an entrance exam until it was abolished in 1986. Since then, the state school student population at Cambridge increased to 60% from about 50%.

In 2013, Mike Sewell, the Director of Admissions at Cambridge, warned that an entry test might need to be re-introduced as a way of distinguishing the most exceptional applicants among hosts of great students, The Mail Online says.

Barbara Sahakian, a professor of experimental psychiatry, explained why Cambridge is faced with a challenge of distinguishing top applicants:

“What people are concerned about is whether the A-level exam results still mean quite the same thing as they used to mean. There are a lot of students getting very high grades but not all of them would have got those grades in the past, so it is hard to discriminate between candidates.”

An entry exam could put talented students from poorer backgrounds at a disadvantage. The poorer students, compared to private school students, will be less likely to get exam-specific tutoring to achieve well on Cambridge’s entry test.

Apart from students from poor backgrounds, adults applying for college could also be at a disadvantage, Sir Richard Evans, Regius Professor of History at Cambridge, says. As the Independent reports, Cambridge documents that were leaked to the newspaper show that many of the university’s dons are not reacting to the exam’s re-introduction favorably.

If implemented, students in Year 13 will have to take the exam around November. This year, about 26% of all British candidates earned an A or A* in their A-level exams and more than 400,000 applicants were accepted in British universities and colleges.