Thursday, February 21, 2008

An ideal university admission system?

What will it be?

Let us take a few postulates, and derive it from those. Postulates:
1. Humans are different, and respond differently to similar situations.
2. Academic success and professional success have the same interchangeable weight.
3. Professional success can not be measured objectively, but is considerably a derivative of motivation.

In addition to these postulates, we need to define criteria to which the suggested system must answer:
1. Tests varied quantifiable abilities.
2. Allows flexibility in course study.
3. Gives chance to the candidate to display his unquantifiable abilities.
4. Allows unbiased selection based on chosen criteria.

On top of that, we have a few obligations:
1. Must be affordable for the institutions.
2. Must not discriminate culturally.
3. Must not discriminate economically.

In Israel, the current university admission method is based on, barring rare exceptions, two things - one is final matriculation exams average 'Memuza Bagrut', and the other is a university entrance test score 'Psychometry'.
The exam average represents a candidate's school background, but solely grade-wise. The Psychometry is meant to indicate a candidates academic potential and abilities, or simply scholastic aptitude. It is very similar to the scholastic aptitude test in the United States.
The admission, again barring rare exceptions, is purely numerical. A certain faculty holds 60 places, 300 candidates apply, and 60 candidates with the best overall grades (Weight distribution between the two elements varies, in some universities the Psychometry could represent 70%, in others 50%) are selected.
I will quickly display the problems raised by this kind of admission system:
1. Candidates are represented only by 2 numbers, while unquantifiable qualities (motivation, originality, social involvement) are given no consideration.
2. A matriculation grade is consisted half by school grade, and half by final exam grade. This provokes inequality - the prevalence of copying varies from school to school and from sector to sector and both the generosity and criteria by which certain teachers and schools grade is inconsistent.
3. The same matriculation average can be achieved by hard-worked extra-scientific curriculum, or by simply taking more of the "right" tests in order to maximize the average. Other than the obvious problem entailed, there is also the issue of freshman high-school students being completely uninformed about the possibility of maximizing your average with the greatest efficiency.

What kind of system will be more fair?
I would suggest something similar to the American system, of flexible admission based on testing, grades, recommendations and personal profile. My suggestion includes the following components:
1. Basic scholastic aptitude test, to be taken by all candidates.
2. Two or three advanced subject aptitude tests, to be chosen from a list of possible tests. Those who wish to get admitted to a scientific degree, have to take at least one scientific test. Those who wish to get admitted to a humanities degree, have to take at least one test from the humanities. This allows those who are interested in interdisciplinary degrees, as well as those who are undecided, to take one of each. It also allows those who have no interest in one field, to fully express their strength in the other.
3. A bi-sectioned personal questionnaire. First section will be a personal statement, to be analyzed for its consistency, maturity, originality and signs of motivation. Second section will be a short CV, to extract after-school activities, social involvement etc.
4. Non obligatory: Letter/s of recommendation.
5. Matriculation average.

The basic scholastic aptitude test needs to examine one's academic abilities: critical and logical thinking, reasoning, control of English, control of Hebrew and learning capacity. This means math out, critical reading in.

The advanced subject aptitude test needs to examine one's capabilities in a field related to chosen major, including aptitude and learning capacity. My personal opinion is that, we should have an array of subjects to choose from, but that array shouldn't be too wide, or the subjects too specific. An example array would look like:
- Mathematics
- Physics
- Biology
- Chemistry
- Literature
- History
- Philosophy
- History of Art

On a Humane-Scientific scale, the distribution is:
[Humane] History of Art - Literature - History - Philosophy | Biology - Chemistry - Physics - Mathematics [Scientific]

In my opinion, this kind of admission system will cover almost everything, and will minimize biased or unfair admission by allowing an all-round examination of a candidate's capabilities. It will also allow great flexibility for both the universities and the candidates, who can apply to several fields of interest without handicap or disadvantage.

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