Big jump in points needed to study medicine

THE controversial new selection system for medicine degrees has seen Leaving Certificate grades jump 20 points for some courses and only students with scores in the top one-third in a new aptitude test being offered a place.

Since last year, school leavers must combine their exam grades with scores in an aptitude test (Health Profession Admission Test or HPAT) before being ranked for around 450 places in the medical schools at four universities and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.

It was designed to reduce the requirement for almost perfect CAO scores as only those with around 570 out of a maximum 600 points had previously qualified. Last year, many students with top Leaving Certificate grades did not get into medicine because they did not perform so well in the HPAT.

The combined Leaving Certificate and HPAT points needed for all five medicine degrees has risen between two and 10 this year.

But figures obtained by the Irish Examiner show the lowest Leaving Certificate points score of any student offered a medicine place yesterday was 520 – at National University of Ireland Galway (NUIG), followed by 535 at Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. The equivalent points for last year were not known but, those needed for first round entry at University College Dublin (UCD) and University College Cork rose 20 to 540 points, and by 10 to the same level for Trinity College Dublin (TCD), meaning a smaller proportion of school leavers than last year have a real chance of getting into medical school. Only around 4% of this year’s 54,480 Leaving Certificate students got the 540 points or more needed for three of the five degrees.

The lowest score in the HPAT test with which any of the places are being filled in the CAO first round is 161 (at NUIG) out of a maximum 300, but almost 70% of those who took the test in February did not achieve this score. In 2009, students with HPAT scores as low as 121, achieved by around 90% who sat it, were admitted to UCD’s medicine course but it admitted nobody with less than 165 yesterday.

The student with the lowest HPAT score offered a medicine place at TCD had 172, achieved by fewer than one-in-six who took this year’s test. The five medical schools are understood to be planning a review of the revised entry system after next year’s CAO offers.

The figures emerge as the Irish Second-Level Students Union has called for a review of the points system as soon as possible, and urged the Department of Education to ensure enough further education places are available for disappointed applicants.

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