Sunday 18 February 2018

Second-time lucky for grind students after HPAT furore

Katherine Donnelly

THE Health Professions Admissions Test (HPAT) for entry to medicine is mired in new controversy after repeat students from the class of 2009 proved that you can do a lot better the second time around.

Some of the cream of the 2009 Leaving Certificate crop who failed to get into medical school last year because of their HPAT results, are in line to take a place this autumn.

HPAT sparked a furore when it emerged that top-performing Leaving Certificate students, some of whom received the maximum 600 CAO points, were denied their top college choice.

The biggest losers were girls, who traditionally do better in the Leaving Certificate, but who saw that edge blunted by the introduction of HPAT last year.

Medicine hopefuls now have to combine their HPAT scores with their Leaving Certificate points -- but do not get full credit for points above 550.

Many disappointed students repeated HPAT, ignoring official advice that it was impossible to prepare for the test and that, given the nature of such assessments, there was little prospect of improvement in a repeat sitting.

Sarah Petch of Kinsale, Co Cork, scored 600 points in the Leaving Certificate last year but failed to get into Trinity College Dublin.


Her ranking was reduced by a mid-range HPAT performance, which was only ranked better than 50pc of other candidates.

But this year she re-sat the test and, according to recently released results, she was ahead of 97pc of other candidates.

She put her improvement down to preparation, after signing up for two courses -- one in Dublin and one online course based in Australia, where HPAT is devised. She now hopes it's enough to take that place in TCD this autumn.

The HPAT Ireland website advises that ACER, the Australian firm that runs HPAT, "does not recommend or endorse any commercially available courses offering HPAT-Ireland preparation. Nor does ACER have knowledge of the content of such courses, or any involvement in their development, or any commercial interest in the programmes."

On the issue of repeats, a spokesperson for ACER told the Irish Independent last autumn: "Re-sit data from similar tests shows that there is little, if any, improvement in performance, and in general where there is improvement it tends to be at the lower end."

But Sarah knows other candidates from 2009 who also put in a much better showing in HPAT 2010. It has also emerged thatstudents are starting to prepare for HPAT as early as transition year, and that teachers are being asked to help them prepare.

The two-and-a-half hour test, which assesses logical reasoning and problem solving, interpersonal understanding and non-verbal reasoning, was introduced last year with a view to reducing the reliance on points, which drove students to strive for the perfect 600 in order to be sure of medicine.

The Government wanted to broaden access to medicine and take it out of the preserve of students who can achieve 600 points, many with the benefit of privately funded education.

The change brought a radical shift in the profile of those gaining a place in medical school; and, most notably, the proportion of boys gaining a place rose from 42pc to 48pc.

Irish Independent

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