Higher Education Admissions

Higher Education Admissions Criteria

Admissions criteria are determined by the values espoused by a society or an institution. Two main approaches can be distinguished.  The first is based on the principle of absolutely equal opportunity. According to this view, candidates for higher education should be admitted by means of a blind lottery so that everyone has an equal chance of being accepted. This method ensures that the student population is representative of the full spectrum of applicants. The main problem with this approach is that random admission is likely to let candidates with insufficient academic abilities enter the institutions. This may compromise the academic level, increase dropout rates, and cause loss of time and money for both the students who do not make it to the second year and the state, which has subsidized their studies.

The second approach, commonly used in most OECD countries, including Israel, is based on the principle of meritocracy. The aim is to further excellence in society by selecting the most talented candidates on the basis of parameters that predict their academic success. Because there are multiple factors that could affect this success, more than one predictive tool must be used. Moreover, screening tools are needed that will predict academic success as accurately as possible, at the lowest possible personal and financial cost. In other words, a balance between the cost and benefit of admissions procedures must be established.

The meritocratic approach prevails in most OECD countries. Among the tools and criteria they use for higher education admissions are: high school grade average, high school diploma grades, knowledge and achievement tests, ability tests (like the Psychometric test), institution-specific admissions tests, personal essays, recommendation letters, interviews and personal background information.

For a comprehensive overview see here.


Admissions to Israeli Institutions of Higher Education

Most of the institutions of higher education in Israel admit candidates based on a combination of high school matriculation grade average (Bagrut) and Psychometric test score. The two are complementary, with the pros of each one counteracting the cons of the other.

The main advantage of using Bagrut grades as an admissions tool is that they are based on multiple assessments that were conducted over time, in various subjects and by means of a wide variety of tests and tasks. These grades reflect knowledge, motivation and perseverance. However, high school grades are not a uniform measure. First, they are not based solely on external exam scores, but also on the personal evaluation of teachers and on a constellation of assessments that differs for each student. Second, Bagrut grades obtained in a particular year are not calibrated to the grades from previous years and can therefore not be compared. Also, many candidates for higher education register quite some time after they finish high school (3-5 years), and their Bagrut grades might not reflect their abilities at the time of registration. Finally, there are those who claim that the high school exams are subject to tampering.

The Psychometric test has its own strengths. First, it offers a second chance to those who did not perform to their full potential in high school and to those who improved their abilities after finishing high school. Second, it is administered just before studies commence. Third, it tests the cognitive skills relevant to most fields of study and is not based on a specific curriculum. Finally, the test is reliable and equitable, and its scores are calibrated so that scores of examinees in different test administrations, languages, and years, can be compared. That said, the Psychometric test also has disadvantages: the score is determined based on a single testing event; it tests a limited sample of skills; and it does not test certain abilities, such as perseverance and creativity, which are relevant to success in academic studies.

Because the Bagrut certificate and the Psychometric test are complementary, it is not surprising that research has shown that the comprehensive score, which is based on a weighted average of the two, is the best predictor of a student’s academic success.

In addition to the comprehensive score, which is made up of the Bagrut score and the Psychometric score, most of the institutions of higher education in Israel use other admissions procedures such as preparatory program scores, online course scores, first year university scores, and the Bagrut score alone (without a Psychometric score). The institutions decide which, if any, of these measures they will use.