Medical school entry test fails to widen access to profession
THE NEW entry and selection test for entry to medicine – known as the Hpat – has done little to widen access to the profession, according to a draft review for the Higher Education Authority.
The review also concludes that students who can afford to take expensive preparatory courses for the Hpat (Health Professions Admission Test) outperform others – despite claims the exam presents a “level playing field” for all students. More than 50 per cent of Hpat candidates take “commercial coaching” courses, the review states.
The review – by the medical schools and other experts – concludes that students who repeat the Hpat perform significantly better.
In all, one-third of successful applicants in the past two years were actually repeat candidates, with many of them dropping out of other much-coveted college courses. More than 85 per cent of students who repeated the exam improved their scores.
The findings are unlikely to be welcomed by the Department of Education, which has promoted the Hpat as a new-style exam where – compared to the Leaving Cert – there is less reliance on rote learning.
But medical schools will be under pressure to make changes before the 2013 exam next February.
Education sources say possible changes include:
* Hpat scores will be valid for a period of one year only;
* marks will be redistributed for the three sections of the exam, with fewer marks for the non-verbal reasoning section (which shows the greatest improvement among repeat students); and
* practice Hpat material will be more widely available.
About 10,000 students have taken the Hpat assessment since it was introduced in 2009.
Under the Hpat system, students would be able to apply for entry to medical school once they had achieved 480 points in a single sitting of the Leaving Cert. Entry is currently determined by a combination of Leaving Cert points and marks achieved in the aptitude test.
The draft report reflects scepticism among the medical schools with the new system, which, it says, was introduced at the direction of the Department of Education.
Asked about Hpat in the Dáil recently, Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn stressed any changes were a matter for the medical faculties alone.
The 2006 Fottrell report on medical education, which led to the introduction of the Hpat, said a new system was necessary to “provide entrants [to medicine] from a more diverse background”.
But the draft report says there is little evidence of any change in the social background of those entering medicine since revised procedures were introduced.
The finding that it is worthwhile for Hpat students to take preparatory courses is also highly significant. The Australian Council for Educational Research – the independent administrator of Hpat – has claimed this is not the case.