Prospective students seeking admission to Cambridge University in Fall 2017 will have to take entrance exams, the school has confirmed. The decision comes after the government's A-level reforms, according to which many students will not sit AS-levels. The AS-level results helped universities to decide whether to offer admission or not.
The new assessments will provide "valuable additional evidence of our applicants' academic abilities, knowledge base and potential to succeed in the Cambridge course for which they have applied", wrote Dr. Sam Lucy, Director of Admissions at Cambridge, in a letter to UK schools and colleges.
The written exams, tailored to each subject, will be taken by candidates either before or during the interview, writes Adam Care of The Cambridge News. Majors requiring pre-interview multiple-choice test questions include English, Engineering, Economics, and Natural Sciences.
College majors with at-interview written exams include Law, Philosophy, Computer Science, Linguistics. Pre-interview exams will be taken at the beginning of November on the same day as Oxford, which already organizes its own internal examinations. The at-interview tests will be held during the interview weeks in December.
The exams require no special preparation beyond revision of the relevant material, confirmed Dr. Lucy.
The university spokesman confirmed in front of The BBC that the new tests would complement existing assessment measures as the changes to AS-levels would mean losing "a key piece of evidence in the mix," which the tests are supposed to replace.
As Tom Morgan of The Telegraph notes, Cambridge University argued the necessity of keeping the AS-levels. In 2014, Cambridge wrote an official letter to all schools and colleges in the country urging them to continue to offer AS-levels. Some schools agreed while others preferred to focus on the two-year qualification.
According to former Labour minister Alan Milburn, the new entry requirements may raise additional barriers to equal access to education, writes Sally Weale of The Guardian. Students from less-privileged families may not be able to afford private tutoring to pass the exams successfully, continues Weale. The question of the continuing underrepresentation of pupils from black, minority and unprivileged backgrounds at Oxford and Cambridge was also raised by Prime Minister David Cameron. He urged Oxford, his alma mater, to focus more on the equality of opportunity, pointing out that only 27 black students were accepted out of a total intake of 2,500 in 2014.
Head of the Sutton Trust educational trust Sir Peter Lampl and Michael Trobe of the Association of School and College Leaders approved the re-introduction of exams at Cambridge, Weale writes. However, they both agreed that Oxbridge needs to improve their equal access to education policies. Trobe also added:
"Virtually everybody in education disagreed with the government's decision to decouple AS-levels and A-levels, and one of the reasons was that AS-levels have been incredibly useful in predicting final A-level grades for university applications."
Cambridge University launches a dedicated website next month, www.cam.ac.uk/assessment, which will contain up-to-date information about the exams, including dates, contents, syllabi and more.