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SPA defines an admissions test as a timed, unseen, written, paper-based or online test, usually taken in the academic year prior to application, prior to offer, or at interview. Tests may be devised by the HE provider or by a group or consortium with one or more testing/awarding bodies. Tests may be used by one HE provider for one or more subjects or may be used by many providers for the same subject, as one evaluative element to inform admissions decision-making.
The type of test used depends predominantly on the course and the attributes deemed appropriate for the professional, vocational or academic discipline. Tests can range from aptitude tests, essay-writing exercises, critical-thinking assessments, problem-solving tests, subject-specific tests, cognitive measures and non-cognitive measures. Many are designed to correlate test outcomes with predictability of degree success, i.e. they are designed to infer HE study aptitude from test scores. Similarly, some test aptitude for specific careers leading out of the HE subject. Others may be designed purely for diagnostic purposes, to ascertain the academic support requirements of individuals. In all cases, it is vital inferences of future performance, ability, skill or behaviour are evidence-based and reinforced through longitudinal review analysis.
What makes a good admissions test?
A good admissions test should:
- Have rigorous validation and reliability testing.
- Be supported by statistical and research evidence.
- Ensure the minimum of bias in the test questions so the test is valid for applicants from all backgrounds in a UK context.
- Be readily available and accessible to those with evidence of specific requirements in a timely way.
- Provide exemplar materials and tests with answers.
- Be fairly and professionally administered.
- Be able to demonstrate it is fit for purpose and add value as part of holistic decision-making.
- Be approved for use through the HE provider's relevant structures and processes.
- Have a clear process within published complaints and appeals procedures to allow applicants to query or dispute aspects of the handling of the test.
SPA recommends HE providers refer to the above criteria in their evaluation of either whether or not to introduce tests, or in reviewing whether or not to continue using tests. HE providers should review the reasons for and against the introduction of a test, decide whether the potential of an applicant can be assessed without an additional test score and also be clear about what the test result will tell them about an applicant. HE providers should also consider a fee waiver or bursary if there is a test fee and the provision of familarisation sessions for applicants from widening participation backgrounds.
SPA’s research report on HE admissions tests was submitted to inform the Government's Education and Skills Select Committee: Inquiry into Testing and Assessment in 2007.
How tests are used
SPA surveyed the HE providers which had declared using tests for 2011 entry, asking not only which specific tests were in use but also more detailed questions around areas including: what additional information was gained from the test result; how test scores were used in conjunction with other factors and whether any weightings were applied; whether any approval mechanism and/or regular review process for tests was in place.
What tests are used?
UCAS lists admissions tests on its website, including those administered by external bodies and those internal to individual HE providers.
SPA held meetings with the main test bodies and consortia and investigated published information to establish what appeal mechanisms exist for UK tests.