Thursday 23 November 2017

Medicine points still out of reach as aptitude test deemed a failure

Photo: Thinkstock
Photo: Thinkstock

Katherine Donnelly and Breda Heffernan

A CONTROVERSIAL aptitude test that was meant to take the heat out of the points race for medicine has failed.

Points for entry to medicine have shot up again to a record high, dashing the hopes of many students with top-class results.

Students needed between nine and 13 extra points to get into medicine this year, over and above those required in 2010.

The Health Professionals Admissions Test (HPAT) was meant to broaden entry to medicine and reduce the advantage enjoyed by those who could afford fee-paying schools or grinds in order to boost their Leaving Cert points.

However, points for medicine have risen each year since HPAT was introduced in 2009.

Provost of Trinity College Dublin (TCD) Paddy Prendergast said last night that HPAT had been a "brave experiment" but now needed to be revised.

He said there was disquiet within his university about "HPAT not doing what it was supposed to do".

While the official advice is that there is little or no benefit to be had by preparing for HPAT or repeating it, there is anecdotal evidence that students have improved their scores by re-sitting the exam.

The maximum score possible in HPAT is 300 and this is added to a student's Leaving Certificate points, to a maximum of 560, to give a final total.

The biggest jump in entry for medicine was at University College Cork, which recorded a 19-point increase for its undergraduate course in the last three years, from 715 to 734. During the same period, points at TCD went up by 12, University College Dublin was up by 18 and National University of Ireland, Galway was up 16.

This means that a student hoping to sit medicine in UCC who has a maximum CAO tally of 560 would need a minimum HPAT score of 174 to secure a place.

Around 3,000 students sat HPAT this year and the top score was 242, up from 223 a year ago.

A review of the test was promised at the end of its third year and a report is expected in the autumn.

However, it is widely accepted that HPAT has not delivered and a new direction is needed.

HPAT is designed to measure a candidate's logical reasoning and problem-solving skills as well as their verbal reasoning and ability to understand people's thoughts and behaviours.

It is a multiple choice test lasting two-and-a-half hours.

The Australian Council for Educational Research, which sets the test, said re-sit data from similar tests showed there was little if any improvement in performance.

However, this has been contradicted by one private secondary school that runs HPAT courses.

Hewitt College in Cork cited examples of students whose scores jumped from 179 to 200 and from 171 to 208 after repeating the test.

Critics say HPAT has simply continued the practice of rewarding those students who can afford to take grinds or repeat the test.

Irish Independent

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