Report Overview

A study produced by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) tracking 8000 A-level students to investigate whether the US based SAT could be used in university admissions in the UK.

Key Findings

  • The relationship between degree performance, prior attainment and the type of school attended suggests that on average students from comprehensive schools are likely to achieve higher degree classifications than students with similar attainment from grammar and independent schools.
  • Having controlled for prior attainment, gender was not a significant predictor of degree outcome, e.g. male students were neither more likely nor less likely to do better at university than female students with the same prior attainment. In this sample, ethnicity was also not a significant predictor of degree class, although in a recent much larger study ethnicity differences were found to be statistically significant (HEFCE, 2010a).
  • In an earlier phase of the research it was found that girls are more likely to be in HE than boys with similar attainment, yet girls tend to enter courses with lower entry requirements than would be expected from their prior attainment compared with boys.


  1. For applicants who already have A level and GCSE attainment data, the SAT® would not provide any additional information that would be useful for predicting degree outcomes.
  2. Tests used in the admission of candidates to HE should be investigated to ensure they are valid predictors of undergraduate performance.
  3. The use of data about the educational context in which students have obtained their qualifications, particularly the type of school attended, should be encouraged when comparing the attainment of HE candidates.
  4. The importance of A level performance in predicting HE outcomes suggests that, due to some inequalities in the reliability of predicted grades, a post-qualification system may be more equitable and useful in assisting in the selection of candidates.
  5. In assessing candidates for HE, average performance in both GCSE and A level examinations is more important than the total points accumulated.