Concerns about HPat medical school entrance exam need to be urgently addressed


A report in this newspaper that the medical school entrance examination, the HPat, is being investigated amid claims that students had prior knowledge of some of the questions that appeared in the exam is disturbing.

While there is no suggestion of any impropriety on the part of students or the course provider, it is claimed as many as 700 students who attended two-day courses run by a company called MedEntry were coached through a large number of questions, up to 10 of which appeared in the Hpat exam held earlier this month.

The Australian Council for Educational Research (Acer), which administers the HPat test used in Ireland, said it is concerned at the claim and is now conducting a full investigation.

Introduced here in 2009, HPat is seen as a mechanism to widen the number of students eligible to apply for an undergraduate medical degree here. It effectively lowers the Leaving Certificate points threshold; points from the Leaving are now combined with those from the HPat to produce an overall score from which the Central Applications Office then makes offers of places to students.

While kept under regular review by educationalists here, a formal review of the examination is due to be carried out later this year by academics at University College Cork to decide whether to retain the test or not. In this context it is interesting to note there has been a decline in the numbers sitting the aptitude test, dropping from around 3,000 students in 2012 to just over 2,500 candidates this year. It would be wise for those tasked with deciding on the HPat’s future to undertake research among applicants to establish why this decline has occurred.

The 2012 report of the National Research Group Evaluating Revised Entry Mechanisms to Medicine found that candidates who repeated the HPat were likely to improve their score with the largest improvement seen in a section devoted to non verbal-reasoning. The review subsequently recommended that the scores be redistributed for all three sections with the aim of reducing t he impact of repeating the test.

There can be no question mark over the integrity of any test which helps to determine entry to a university in the State. The Minister for Education must ask the Higher Education Authority to investigate the process of entry to medical schools in Irish universities as a matter of urgency.