Points for medicine fall after test restructure

Why requirement for sought-after undergraduate programme has dropped

The points for undergraduate medical entry have fallen dramatically this year across all five colleges. This follows the restructuring of the HPAT marking scheme in 2009. They are down 18 in NUI Galway (721) and UCC (724), 15 in Trinity (733) and the Royal College of Surgeons (727), and 14 in UCD (733).

When the HPAT (Health Professions Admissions Test) assessment was originally introduced it was supposed to be a predictor of suitability for a career in medicine. Given the vast range of roles carried out by medical graduates, from general practice to surgery, medical research to academic teaching, it is difficult to believe any test can capture suitability across all these roles.

Both the HEA and the medical faculties undertook detailed research on how HPAT had operated after three years. They found that in its second year of operation 40 per cent of successful undergraduate medical applicants achieved entry based on a repeat sitting of the HPAT. It was also found that the greatest improvement in performance after intensive grinding took place in section C of the test.

We had moved from a scenario whereby students repeating the Leaving Certificate to secure a place were now taking intensive grinds to improve their HPAT score, which completely undermined the argument that it was in any way a good predictor of medical suitability.


Some of the deans of medicine lobbied the HEA to remove the test entirely, but were refused on the grounds that it would only lead to students repeating the Leaving Cert. The option of allocating the vast majority of places to those sitting the Leaving Cert for the first time was not considered.

The compromise agreed by the HEA on behalf of the Department of Education and the five undergraduate medical faculties was to restructure the weighting of the three sections of the test to one where section C now only constituted 20 per cent of the marks, with sections one and two having 40 per cent each. The Australian Council for Educational Research (Acer), which administers the HPAT test used in Ireland, launched the investigation last March after students claimed they were coached through a number of questions which appeared in a section of the exam. The group will publish its investigation report in November.

When the HPAT results were published in June, after the Leaving Cert, many students perceived their score indicated they had no hope of a place in medicine and they consequently dropped medicine from their CAO application before the 1st July deadline, thus reducing the 1st choice applications by 7.8 per cent to 2,872 applicants.

Today’s reductions in points requirements are a direct consequence of the change in the weighting for the various sections of the HPAT test. The only question that now arises is whether securing good scores in sections A and B of the test is in any way related to a student’s capacity to have a successful career as a medical graduate.