School exam managers and admissions experts are demanding that pupils whose online Oxbridge admissions exams were hit with technical problems are allowed to resit the tests.

Schools Week can reveal that one in eight pupils who sat the BioMedical Admission Test (BMAT) – a total of 1,125 students – reported technical glitches during the exam. Experts said this ren-ders the test “useless”.

I think the students should be given an option to resit a paper test so those online ones can be put to one side

Due to the fallout of Covid-19, admission exams such as BMAT, for pupils hoping to study medicine, biomedical science or dentistry, were switched to an online format at the start of the month.  Cambridge Assessment, the exam board which administered the test, said it was working closely with universities to “ensure all applicants are considered fairly” and had encouraged those who faced problems to apply for special consideration.

The board said that around 3 per cent of the 10,500 students taking the test had “requested special consideration because they were unable to complete all or part of the test”.

A further 1,125 students, or one in eight, reported being hit by technical issues but were able to complete their test. BMAT results are due to be published today (Friday).

Yet a survey by medical admissions experts UniAdmissions suggests the disruption could have been even greater, with 85% of around 1,000 students saying they encountered technical problems. Dr Rohan Agarwal, founder of UniAdmissions, added: “A resit is an absolute must or they tell universities to just disregard it. Special considerations won’t work because of the number of students involved.

“The test is used very aggressively by universities to shortlist the best candidates for medicine. If the result for even a small percentage of students is off, that actually throws the whole system and makes the BMAT useless to a certain extent this year.”

Agarwal said that, if resits took place at the end of the year, in line with summer exams, universities would still have time to make informed decisions.

Schools Week previously reported that a number of schools said their pupils had been disadvantaged with tests not working, test links not arriving and formatting issues hindering the completion of the exam.

The BMAT is designed to provide additional evidence to support a candidate’s application to medical school. It is used by universities such as Oxford, Cambridge and Imperial College London, but each university sets its own criteria.

A school exams manager, who wished to remain anonymous, said they feared the exam board “wouldn’t be able to measure the impact of the disruption” and “couldn’t level the playing field”.

Of the six pupils at that school who sat the BMAT, two encountered technical difficulties. While one was sorted quickly, the other pupil’s problems persisted, leaving them in a “flood of tears by the end”.

The exams manager added: “Medicine is highly competitive. I don’t know how they can even this playing field as if this happened to another student perhaps they wouldn’t have been so badly affected or reacted the same way.

“I think the students should be given an option to resit a paper test so those online ones can be put to one side.”

Meanwhile Yasmin Sarwar, CEO of Oxford International College, said around half of the 30 students sitting the BMAT faced issues.

While she noted that it would be difficult for an individual’s experience to be categorised, she admitted that it would be “too difficult for the medical schools to make decisions without the tests as it’s just too competitive”.

A Cambridge Assessment spokesperson said: “We are working closely with those universities who use the results of BMAT to ensure all applications are considered fairly, drawing on information from our special consideration process.”