Universities consider admission tests for law

Polly Curtis
Friday November 14, 2003
The Guardian

An Oxford-led group of elite law schools is considering plans for a national admissions test for undergraduates.

The top schools have devised proposals for an aptitude-based test to help admission tutors distinguish between the best candidates for law courses after record applications this year. If the proposals are agreed, students will be sitting the tests for university entry in 2005.

The National Admissions Test for Law - or LNat as it has been dubbed - would contain four 20-minute questions on comprehension, critical thinking, logic and judgment, and an ethics essay, which might challenge potential students to provide advice to a mock client, or explain how they might argue a brief in court.

Pupils could opt to take the test at their own school, a nearby participating school, or at a university law department.

Jane Minto, director of admissions at Oxford, said: "Subject-specific tests can, alongside interviews, be of vital help in differentiating between candidates who all have top predicted grades, and Oxford is taking a leading role in developing a National Admissions Test for Law."

Cambridge, University College London, Kings College, London, Bristol, Birmingham and Nottingham universities are all considering the proposals.

Professor Ian Dennis, head of the law department at UCL, said: "UCL is interested in the proposals and they are taking part in discussions regarding the tests, but we are yet to make a decision."

Dr Geoff Parks, director of admissions at Cambridge, said the university was "seriously considering" Oxford's proposals. "We're definitely interested in investigating further. With the BMat [Biomedical Admissions Test] already in place and the thinking skills assessment being piloted, there is a general interest in looking at aptitude tests."

The proposals are the first for a national entrance exam for a single subject. Cambridge, Oxford and UCL all introduced aptitude tests for medical students this year, and Cambridge is set to pilot its "thinking skills tests", in an effort to distinguish between students and identify potential.

"We are interested in aptitude tests because they give us a common measurement of all our applicants," said Mr Parks. "Secondly the idea behind the design is that they test skills which are inherent abilities, rather than the functions of schooling; they offer a way of identifying potential. And thirdly these tests will help us discriminate." This year, Cambridge received 1,396 applicants for around 230 places on courses across its colleges. Oxbridge received a 7.1% surge in applications across the board.

Mr Parks said there was a "good argument for a number of good law schools using the same test".

"If universities are going to start introducing aptitude tests, it's much better that students only have to sit them once. If these things are going to exist we are of the view that universities should have to collaborate."