How clever to go to Oxbridge...? (Navel-gazing discussion).

(67 Posts)
justlumpingalong Sun 27-Mar-16 13:48:25

Discussion with DH and some friends last night, triggered the boat races being on telly today... We reckoned you needed to be top 5% of your birth cohort, academically, to stand a chance (most of us went there, so clearly it must be a near-genius thing...grin)....but then we started picking it apart.

Our analysis went a bit like this:

Oxbridge take, very roughly, about 1% of kids turning 18 each year. But their recruitment and selection processes would have to be pretty awesome to find the top 1% and only the top 1%....and clearly these systems are not that great at all.

Apparently half of all schools don't put anyone forward for Oxbridge, so if you're at one of those schools, you're out. So, Oxbridge now need to find the top 2% from the remaining schools.

However, half of all kids don't apply to University at all. This may be a sensible, self-aware strategy from many people - aware that their skills lie elsewhere, but I'm willing to be a fair few of our 2percenters get lost that way. Let's say that Oxbridge now need to get the top 3% of those remaining in the pool to fill their places.

Now remove all the kids who think that Oxbridge is 'not for the likes of me'. I reckon there's loads of them - maybe half of all potential applicants? So now Oxbridge is fishing for 6% of the remaining pool.

Now get rid of anyone who wants to study Drama, or Dutch, or Dentistry, or one of the myriad other subjects that Oxbridge don't offer. And forget anyone who is burning to go the Big Smoke, or must follow their girlfriend to Hull, or wants somewhere you can do fell running. I reckon we're now down to fishing for 10% of the remaining candidates.

Now to interviews. What is the ratio of interviews to offers? 1:4? So, to fish the top 10%, even assuming a perfect shortlisting strategy on Oxbridge's part, you've got to invite the top 40% to interview.

And then we have interviewing error. All the evidence that has ever existed on utility of interviews for selecting the best candidates for anything, shows that they're crap. Let's be generous and suppose that, with aptitude tests thrown in, the efficiency of this final stage of selection is 50%. That would mean that offers are made to kids who are, largely, in the top 20% of their cohort. That, roughly, gives an IQ of 113.

So, ignoring all debate about what 'clever' means, what do you reckon?

Ps go gently - bit hungover...tbugrin

disquit2 Sun 27-Mar-16 17:48:51

The minimum grades required by Oxbridge put students well above top 20%, according to academic levels achieved. For subjects such as maths as Cambridge, which requires 2 A stars and 1/2 As at A2s plus STEP grades, picks from the top 1% or so in terms of academic achievement.

I agree that they miss top candidates who do apply, and they miss even more students who don't think Oxbridge is for them or who want to do other subjects/jobs, but I would think that top 2% of achievers is still probably a more accurate guess than top 20%.

However, top 2% of achievers academically is clearly not equivalent to top 2% intelligence/ability/potential. Measuring the latter is much harder and not done routinely but I wouldn't think that the majority of students who make it to Oxbridge are as "low" as 80th percentile in IQ.

justlumpingalong Sun 27-Mar-16 18:05:37

Hi Disquit, thanks for replying. I had decided that everyone must be in a Cadbury's-induced coma.

I agree, they're certainly not looking at top 20% by attainment - far from it. But IQ...?. Of course, most people will be above the 80th centile - many very much higher - but the bottom end...I'm not so sure.

I was surprised when I got there to find a lot of people who really weren't super clever I was sure that I would be the dimmest by far. There were plenty of extremely clever people - far smarter than me, but also some people who though reasonably bright, were a really long way off exceptional. (This was 20+ years ago though).

Crumpetsandtea Sun 27-Mar-16 19:02:48

I think there are probably a mix of the very bright and also those who are genuinely good at exam technique?

Crumpetsandtea Sun 27-Mar-16 19:04:35

Not forgetting those who work exceptionally hard?

justlumpingalong Sun 27-Mar-16 19:38:58

Thanks Crumpets. Yes, it's probably another thread entirely, but I reckon that a modestly bright kid, at a great school, with supportive parents and a lot of work could get the As and A*s to get shortlisted, and to then meet most Oxbridge offers. There are clear exceptions, as Disquit2 points out, such as Cambridge Maths, but I reckon for most subjects, this would be the case.

Lurkedforever1 Sun 27-Mar-16 22:10:59

I don't think it's so much about being extrodinairy clever to get there for many subjects, more about were you lucky enough to have the opportunities years before entrance. Child a at crap high offering few academic options, with crap teaching for higher ability will need to be well within the top 1% with super supportive parents etc to realistically stand a remote chance. Child b at a good school won't need to be anywhere near that level.

Crumpetsandtea Sun 27-Mar-16 22:43:42

There is also an expectation piece here - sometimes there is an "expectation" of Oxbridge, whereas some people although clever, might have the view it is about as likely as landing on the moon

senua Sun 27-Mar-16 22:44:04

Apparently half of all schools don't put anyone forward for Oxbridge ... However, half of all kids don't apply to University at all ... Now remove all the kids who think that Oxbridge is 'not for the likes of me' ...

I think that there is a fair amount of double-counting going on there. You have removed a percentage for each of these categories but I'm sure that crap-school, didn't-apply, not-for-the-likes-of-me is, quite often, just one person not several different people.

Do I gather that none of you are Maths grads?wink

IndridCold Mon 28-Mar-16 10:11:46

But their recruitment and selection processes would have to be pretty awesome to find the top 1% and only the top 1%....

Where does it say that it has to be the top 1%? It only has to be a group of students who are very bright, who will make the most of the opportunity. In selecting you start at the top and work down until you have the best selection possible, bearing in mind that some of the best will want to go elsewhere - as you point out.

As we are just embarking on this ordeal with DS, it is evident that you do have to be very clever to get a place, but you also have to work very hard - and not everyone wants to do that either smile.

disquit2 Mon 28-Mar-16 12:01:58

Of course, most people will be above the 80th centile - many very much higher - but the bottom end...I'm not so sure.

I went to a school which took top 20%, based primarily on verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning, i.e. tests related to IQ.

At Oxbridge I would say that while many of my contemporaries didn't seem to me "super clever" they were typically quite a lot cleverer/faster/deeper thinkers than most of my school contemporaries - I don't believe that there are that many students who are only 80th percentile in intelligence. Of course there are quite a few students with spiky profiles: scientists who are terrifically high in non-verbal abilities, for example, but probably not so high in other areas.

justlumpingalong Mon 28-Mar-16 13:26:04

Hmmm, some interesting posts. Senua - no maths grads, but we did think of the double counting. We made attempts to account for that, but it was all half-arsed back-of-envelope stuff.

Disquit - I like the comparison with your school. That's a very interesting way of looking at it. I went to a school with a selection cutoff at just above average on VR/NVR, so, probably top 40%. I would agree that, yes, my Oxford contemporaries were quite a different bunch to my school mates, although less so if just compared to the 'top half' ...

Indrid - it doesn't say anywhere that they must get the top 1%, and I doubt that it ever will, for the reasons that are being discussed here. That was our hypothetical starting point, if you like - what the notional Oxbridge intake would be, if their recruitment and selection processes could perfectly attract every one of the very cleverest students.

There are also a lot of assumptions here - we are ignoring overseas students, and very bright UK students who choose to go overseas, for example.

disquit2 Mon 28-Mar-16 15:57:20

Where does it say that it has to be the top 1%?

My own opinion is that the higher education system in the UK would be a lot healthier if society acknowledged that we have 10 or 20 world leading universities in the UK, not just two, and that many of our "best" researchers don't work in Oxbridge.

It's good that Oxbridge miss quite a few of the best students, because they then go to other top courses, and stimulate students on those courses to achieve the most they can.

It is really damaging at the postgraduate level that UK students automatically assume that Oxbridge is better at everything, and don't look around at the full breadth of courses and PhD positions available. Fortunately international students have a far better knowledge of where high quality postgraduate teaching and research takes place in the UK.

justlumpingalong Mon 28-Mar-16 18:12:26

Very good point Disquit.

DontCallMeBaby Mon 28-Mar-16 21:11:52

I had a Mensa tested IQ of 174 at age 16 - rejected by Oxford a year later. At the very least you need to factor 'not freaking the fuck out in interviews' into your criteria.

catkind Tue 29-Mar-16 14:51:52

I'd say it is not so much about IQ as about potential in your subject. Does a high IQ enable you to read around your subject and write interesting essays? Even in maths, DH has a far higher IQ than me, but I have the higher degrees. University maths is more marathon, IQ tests more sprint ability.

MarianneSolong Tue 29-Mar-16 15:01:40

Not sure that IQ really measures anything rather than how good you are at doing IQ tests.

I suppose that to go to any university where there is a high level of competition for places and where they interview and or have additional application forms you have to be:-

- Good at GCSEs and A-levels
- Good at any aptitude tests
- Good at pursuing your enthusiasm for your chosen subject beyond the confines of the school syllabus.
- Good at communicating your interest/enthusiasm/passion/experience in writing
- Good at communicating your interest/enthusiasm/passion/experience face to face

AprilLady Tue 29-Mar-16 19:12:50

My guess would be that the vast majority of students fall in the top 2% to 3% (in their subject area at least) so equivalent to an IQ of around 130+.

Some ways of getting to this - the selective schools that recruit broadly the top 10% typically have around 20% of students going to Oxbridge (so top 2% overall) The very top selectives - Westminster, SPGS - whose intake is more the top 4% or 5%, get Oxbridge rates of closer to 50% (so top 2% to 2.5%). The Sutton Trust published the best entry rates for state comprehensives a year or two ago. One school had 8%, but quite a few well regarded schools with a broad intake had more like 3%.

Bottom end of range is difficult to gauge; a hard working student at a good school with a passion for a particular subject but who was more in the top 10% than top 2% might well make it through the interview process. I have nothing to base this on, but my guess would be that someone in the top 20% would be less likely to achieve this.

Crumpetsandtea Sat 02-Apr-16 20:00:26

I can honestly say that in my previous life (city firm) I could not tell the difference between students coming from Oxbridge and elsewhere.

Molio Sun 03-Apr-16 11:43:51

Isn't an IQ score almost wholly irrelevant?

ReallyTired Sun 03-Apr-16 16:05:17

A really smart student will decide what they want out of life before picking a university or even a course. I met really smart people who studied at their home uni to keep costs down even though their home uni was an ex poly.

English university degrees (not meaning literature but academic degrees) are no longer affordable and the country is storing up a whole host debt that there is little hope of "graduates" paying off. I feel that radial reform to the university system is long over due. Our graduates are not employable enough and some students have had enough of their degree subject after one year. It would be good to have a system of modules that could built up to make a degree.

JustRichmal Sun 03-Apr-16 20:56:00

I agree with Lurkedforever1. It is not a level playing field. The proportion of students getting a place from private school is not reflective of the proportion of students going to those schools. Right from a child's birth, there is so much altering the probability of their getting to Oxbridge or Russell group universities.
If a child is really determined to get into Oxbridge, I would say their first decision should be to pick rich parents.

ReallyTired Sun 03-Apr-16 22:23:13

"
If a child is really determined to get into Oxbridge, I would say their first decision should be to pick rich parents."

A lot of rich parents are incredibly intelligent as a fool and his money are quickly parted. It takes brains and hard work to make wealth.

It is saying the unsayable that genetics plays a massive role in intelligence. Intelligent parents also provide a better environment for nurturing academics regardless of wealth or genetics. Often intelligent people earn more than unintelligent people and are more likely to be rich. It is a vicious circle.

DanyellasDonkey Sun 03-Apr-16 22:34:27

My son had a brief notion of going to Cambridge. We had the equivalent Scottish grades but would have been shite at an interview anyway so glad his notion was a brief one!!

grumpysquash3 Sun 03-Apr-16 22:43:30

What is the ratio of interviews to offers? 1:4? So, to fish the top 10%, even assuming a perfect shortlisting strategy on Oxbridge's part, you've got to invite the top 40% to interview.

Here is the flaw in your picking-apart.

The top 40% in any one subject are likely to be more intelligent than the population at large. What I mean is if you take the lower end of the top 40% of engineering, it's a fair bet their IQ is above 113. Combine those candidates with the top 40% who apply to do maths, medicine, languages etc. etc. It will be a bright bunch.

Also, even if they do screen the top 40%, they will select what they think is the best/most intelligent quarter to offer places to, so the cohort that go to Oxbridge won't be representative of the top 40%, but very much skewed towards the academic elite.

Interesting discussion though smile
FWIW I would bet a tenner that none of you studied statistics smile

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