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Oxbridge applicants face technical difficulties during admissions tests

A number of candidates who sat for university admissions tests two weeks ago, such as the Biomedical Admissions Test (BMAT) and Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA), experienced technical difficulties with the online test software, potentially dashing their hopes of being admitted to Oxbridge.

Cambridge Assessment Admissions Testing (CAAT), which administers the tests, moved assessments online this year, to support candidates around the world who might be self-isolating or subject to restrictions and unable to sit a test in a centre. These tests were delivered online through a platform provided by Mercer Mettl.

However, according to some schools in the UK, a number of students have been disadvantaged by tests not working, test links not arriving, or formatting issues stopping them from completing questions. 16 complaints regarding links not being sent or logins not working were posted on Cambridge Assessment’s Twitter page between November 3 and 5.

Graham McNamara, the director of sixth form at Chiswick School in west London, shared with Schools Week that a pupil sitting the BMAT had to be isolated for 2.5 hours until the test link was sent through.

“He couldn’t have his phone and no one could speak to him,” McNamara said. “For him it was stressful – there is a lot riding on him doing well in the exam.”

According to remarks from another teacher published by Schools Week, a student who sat the TSA was unable to view sections of the exam script, as the screen zoomed in on the text that she was attempting to analyse, making it impossible to read.

“Because it was being invigilated online she didn’t want to run the risk of being accused of plagiarism or communicating during the exam so she stayed silent,” said the teacher, who wished to remain anonymous.

The admissions tests were sat in more than 3,000 locations around the world. The majority of candidates completed their assessment smoothly, except for a small number of centres in the UK.

Speaking to Schools Week, a Cambridge Assessment spokesperson said: “It is extremely important to us that no candidate is disadvantaged and we have a special consideration process for any candidate who felt that something on test day – be it a technical or other issue – impeded their ability to answer the questions.”

Candidates who wish to pursue Medicine or Biomedical Sciences at Oxford University are required to sit the BMAT. The TSA is also an admissions requirement for a number of Oxford courses in the social sciences and humanities, including Economics and Management, Experimental Psychology, Human Sciences, and Philosophy, Politics and Economics.

The tests aim to provide an additional piece of information for tutors to differentiate between many well-qualified candidates, particularly because candidates come from a wide range of countries and hold many different qualifications.

An Oxford University spokesperson told Cherwell, “Some centres in the UK experienced technical issues and CAAT are looking into these as a matter of urgency. At this stage, they have not confirmed the number of candidates affected, but we know it is a small percentage of the total number of participants.”

“Oxford University recognise the distress that affected students may be feeling and will support them wherever possible. Candidates who experienced issues in the run up to test day or on the day itself have been advised to let us know via either or both Oxford’s own extenuating circumstances form or the Special Consideration process on the CAAT website so that tutors considering their applications are aware of any exceptional challenges they may have faced,” the spokesperson added.

CAAT has been contacted for comment.

Image credit: SjPrice / Pixabay

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