A five year study into the validity of the use of a Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) in university entrance is launched today by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER). The study will examine how far the SAT might help admissions officers deal with the thousands of applications they receive each year.

The £1.6million research project is backed by the Department for Education and Skills (DfES), the Sutton Trust and the College Board which owns the SAT.

Higher Education Minister Bill Rammell said: “In his report on fair admissions to higher education, Professor Steven Schwartz recommended a research study to assess the idea of a national test of students’ potential for HE. This research will help to fulfil that recommendation. It will be an important part of the wider work to be led by UCAS into all aspects of admissions testing.

“As we made clear in the 14-19 White Paper, we also need to help universities differentiate between the most able students. This research, which is due to report in 2010, will be considered alongside the measures we are already taking forward on tougher A Level questions, an extended project and supporting moves to provide universities with A Level unit grades to aid greater differentiation between the best candidates”.

John Dunford, General Secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said: “Heads of schools will be pleased that the SAT is to be thoroughly tested with Government backing and resources. The current admissions system is a minefield for many schools and their students and we welcome this move to investigate the potential of the SAT to add clarity to the system and reinforce equity.”
All schools and colleges in England with A level students are being invited to participate in the longitudinal study, which aims to include 50,000 students – about one fifth of all next year’s A-Level candidates. They will sit the SAT in November as the first part of the exercise.

The study aims to provide information on:

  • how SAT can help predict university outcomes together with A Levels
  • whether aptitude tests can distinguish between the most able students who get straight As at ‘A’ Level
  • if they can help identify students from disadvantaged backgrounds who may have the potential to benefit from higher education.

The SAT results will be compared with A level results and later with students’ degree outcomes. All the students participating in the trial will be asked to complete an on-line survey of their academic results, attitudes, aspirations and well-being every September until they get their university degrees. This will provide invaluable information while they are at school, and about how pastoral support and teaching methods affect their experience of university.

Chris Whetton, Assistant Director of NFER, said: “The NFER is extremely happy to be undertaking this large and important research project. It is important that there is up-to-date and hard information on the various possible methods of selecting students for universities, in order that we have a system which is demonstrably fair and valid.”

Sir Peter Lampl, Chairman of the Sutton Trust, said: “We are delighted that the Government is supporting this large scale trial. It builds on an earlier trial of the SAT in British schools conducted by NFER and funded by the Sutton Trust which showed promising results. It demonstrated that the SAT was measuring something different from A levels, and was able to identify potential amongst those students whose grades do not reflect their ability particularly in below average performing state schools.”

The SAT is the most widely used university admissions test in the world, and is taken by over 1,475,000 students internationally each year. This trial will build on a smaller study in 2001 which suggested it could be helpful for UK admissions.

The research has been endorsed by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) who, on behalf of the HE sector, are preparing a new programme of work to research, further develop and disseminate expertise in all areas of HE admissions. Jill Johnson, Director of Outreach at UCAS, said: “UCAS is very pleased to support the work of the National Foundation for Educational Research in conjunction with the Sutton Trust to provide evidence on the ability of the SAT to predict university outcomes as this will inform and enhance the necessary research into all aspects of additional testing.”

Media enquiries

If you're a journalist with a question about our work, get in touch with Ruby. If it's out of office hours, you can call or text 07834 461299.

E: [email protected] T: 020 7802 1660

Keep up to date with the latest news