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Study: Psychometric Tests Predict Academic Success Better Than Israeli Matriculation Exams

Comprehensive research checks which tools best predict success at university - and whether a student will graduate.

David Bachar

A new study has found that the best tool for predicting success at university is the General Admission Score, which is calculated by the universities from an applicant’s psychometric exam results and his or her grades on the matriculation (bagrut) exams.

The study, an unusually comprehensive one conducted by Israel’s National Institute for Evaluation and Testing, which writes and checks the psychometric exams, shows that after the General Admission Score (sekhem in Hebrew), the psychometric exam score is the next-best predictor of success, with bagrut scores coming last.

The study was done by examining the records of all the undergraduates at Israel’s six research universities between 2001-2007 – a total of 528,734 records. The research results come just as Education Minister Shay Piron is planning to do away with the psychometric exam as an obligatory screening tool at colleges and universities.

The study also sought to determine whether psychometric and bagrut scores can predict whether students will finish their degree, and in how long. Here, too, it emerged that the sekhem score was the best predictor of whether a student will graduate, followed by the psychometric score, and then the bagrut scores. The study showed that the psychometric’s quantitative reasoning score was a better predictor of the graduate’s final grade-point average, while the verbal reasoning score was a better predictor of the student’s ability to finish the degree within the allotted time.

According to the study, 64.75 percent of the students finished their degree in up to six years. The average bagrut score of these students was 97.3, while their average psychometric score was 624.

“One of the justifications for the psychometric exam is its ability to predict success in one’s studies,” said Dr. Yoav Cohen, the director of the national testing center. “This is the largest study we’ve ever done on those who finished their degrees. Our conclusion is the same conclusion we had reached before and now it is strengthened; we knew that both the bagrut and the psychometric can forecast success, and that the two of them together are better than either one alone.

“The study was not done in an effort to come down for or against Piron’s reform,” Cohen said. “We are also now conducting studies on the various components of the bagrut grades together with the Education Ministry.”

Another study conducted by testing center researcher Yonatan Sa’ar revealed that if the psychometric exam is canceled, a pupil’s bagrut average will have to be between four to 10 points higher than now to pursue the most in-demand courses of study.

While both studies were conducted by a body with an interest in the matter, they both demonstrate the importance of having two different tools to screen applicants. The Education Ministry has for years been concerned about the reliability of the bagrut exams because of cheating that occurs, and is also aware that the schools’ internal grades, which are a component of the final bagrut score, cannot be considered objective measures of pupil performance. The psychometric exam was developed in the 1980s as a response to these drawbacks.

Few details of the reform have been announced, but it appears admissions requirements for pupils who don’t take the psychometric exam will be tougher, especially in English and mathematics.