So far in my series of three linked series of three posts we have addressed how to tell if someone has general ability, and how to tell if they are learning anything at all. This post will comment on how schools try to work out if a pupil has potential in an area of specialism directly related to what the school offers. Once again, like assessing intelligence, this is a highly controversial area. We found this during the period 1944-1979 when the 11+ examination was sat by most children in Britain. They were tested in English, Maths and Verbal Reasoning, but whether they got a coveted place at grammar school often depended on gender (there were more places for boys in many areas, and they needed a lower mark to access grammar schools), and social class (middle class children outnumbered working class ones in grammar schools).
One of the problems with all aptitude tests is judging whether they demonstrate aptitude or in fact only test achievement. A good example might be music tests – you are considerably more likely to be able to differentiate between minute musical tones if you have been learning to do so on the violin for five years.Indeed, it is possible to pay for a course that will help you prepare for such a test:
In terms of aptitude tests, there is also perceived to be a bias in favour of the middle classes, as they have access to a broader range of extra curricular activities to support the development of ability in various specialised areas, such as learning modern foreign languages. For that reason, maintained specialist schools are now only entitled to select 10% of their secondary pupils via selection bands, and this is overseen by the Schools Adjudicator.
For interest, there are some language aptitude tests from Oxford University here:
The moral of the story is that, while aptitude tests can sometimes show us talent where it might not otherwise be spotted, just as often it shows us the background of the people being tested. The secret is knowing the difference.