Open Access Research article

Comparison of the sensitivity of the UKCAT and A Levels to sociodemographic characteristics: a national study

Paul A Tiffin1*, John C McLachlan2, Lisa Webster1 and Sandra Nicholson3

Author Affiliations

1 School for Medicine, Pharmacy and Health, the Wolfson Research Institute, Durham University Queen’s Campus, University Boulevard, Stockton-on-Tees TS17 6BH, UK

2 School for Medicine, Pharmacy and Health, Durham University Queen’s Campus, University Boulevard, Stockton-on-Tees TS17 6BH, UK

3 Institute Health Science Education, Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, Queen Mary University of London, London, UK

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BMC Medical Education 2014, 14:7  doi:10.1186/1472-6920-14-7

Published: 8 January 2014

Abstract

Background

The UK Clinical Aptitude Test (UKCAT) was introduced to facilitate widening participation in medical and dental education in the UK by providing universities with a continuous variable to aid selection; one that might be less sensitive to the sociodemographic background of candidates compared to traditional measures of educational attainment. Initial research suggested that males, candidates from more advantaged socioeconomic backgrounds and those who attended independent or grammar schools performed better on the test. The introduction of the A* grade at A level permits more detailed analysis of the relationship between UKCAT scores, secondary educational attainment and sociodemographic variables. Thus, our aim was to further assess whether the UKCAT is likely to add incremental value over A level (predicted or actual) attainment in the selection process.

Methods

Data relating to UKCAT and A level performance from 8,180 candidates applying to medicine in 2009 who had complete information relating to six key sociodemographic variables were analysed. A series of regression analyses were conducted in order to evaluate the ability of sociodemographic status to predict performance on two outcome measures: A level ‘best of three’ tariff score; and the UKCAT scores.

Results

In this sample A level attainment was independently and positively predicted by four sociodemographic variables (independent/grammar schooling, White ethnicity, age and professional social class background). These variables also independently and positively predicted UKCAT scores. There was a suggestion that UKCAT scores were less sensitive to educational background compared to A level attainment. In contrast to A level attainment, UKCAT score was independently and positively predicted by having English as a first language and male sex.

Conclusions

Our findings are consistent with a previous report; most of the sociodemographic factors that predict A level attainment also predict UKCAT performance. However, compared to A levels, males and those speaking English as a first language perform better on UKCAT. Our findings suggest that UKCAT scores may be more influenced by sex and less sensitive to school type compared to A levels. These factors must be considered by institutions utilising the UKCAT as a component of the medical and dental school selection process.

Keywords:
Medical student selection; Educational attainment; Aptitude tests; UKCAT; Socio-economic factors