ADMISSION MAZE, Australian Doctor (20 April 2011)

Dr Kerri Parnell and Paul Smith raise several questions regarding the Undergraduate Medicine and Health Sciences Admission Test ('UCAT fails the test', 8 April).

As Dr Parnell laments, getting in is harder than getting through medical school, but the same is true for all high-demand courses and Ivy League universities.

As in most countries, the demand for places in medicine will always exceed supply and competition will be intense. It is therefore inevitable that students will have to go through several hoops to succeed. In fact, the difficulty of getting in (and hence reduced competition after graduation) is one reason why the medical profession is attractive.

What most people forget is that the cut-off Australian Tertiary Admission Rank to get into medical school before UCAT was introduced was an astronomical 99.7. Few would prefer that situation.

Whatever criteria is used: ATAR, UCAT or Graduate Australian Medical School Admission Test (GAMSAT), there will always be students and parents keen to maximise their chances of getting in and a coaching 'industry' will exist. While MedEntry provides training for both UCAT and GAMSAT, we believe UCAT (a test of generic reasoning skills) is a far better test than GAMSAT (a test of knowledge).

Two criticisms of the University of Queensland study, which showed that UCAT is a poor guide to predicting performance, are warranted. First, UCAT is a test of ability (reasoning skills) whereas university grades are a test of effort (hard work), so you do not expect a correlation between the two.

Second, the research is too narrowly focused. What is important is whether the selection system predicts success in later professional life, not whether it predicts academic success. The university's decision to consider dropping the test is analogous to scrapping university exams because there is weak or no correlation between university grades and later professional success in any field.