The percentage of students who passed the university entrance exams last year was 93.9%, the highest figure in the history of these exams that were created in the early seventies so that applicants “sufficiently accredit the vocation, knowledge and preparation necessary in order to ensure the effectiveness of teaching at these levels”. That almost 94% is the overall percentage, adding the results compiled by this newspaper from the regular exams (95.9% passed) and the play-offs (78.4%). In total, almost 240,000 students showed up, of whom 224,977 made the cut.

They did so after facing a selectivity exam (in its classic name, today better known as EBAU) with rules softened by the pandemic context: instead of choosing between two exam models in each test as in previous years (each one with four questions), the students had eight questions among which they could answer any four they wanted. Javier M. Valle, professor of comparative education at the Autonomous University of Madrid, believes that, in addition, there has been a tendency to provide the tests to the students also in what refers to “the specific choice of (the questions of) the exams ” and “the evaluation criteria of the proofreaders themselves”. Alejandro Veas, professor of Evolutionary and Didactic Psychology at the University of Alicante, also believes that the results of an improvement in the way of teaching in high school are being seen, thanks to the promotion of permanent training and the generational change initiated in the faculty. “There is a greater union between the way in which the subjects are being taught and the way in which the student likes to learn,” he says.

That favorable context that Valle and Veas talk about was very similar in 2020, when this simpler selectivity format was launched for the first time. However, then the percentage of passes did not grow, but fell slightly compared to the previous year, going from 92.3% to 92%. It must be taken into account that the students came to that test after two months of strict confinement and a quarter of closure of the educational centers. Furthermore, the redesign of the test was not released until April, so neither the students nor the faculty had much time to specifically prepare the new model. And, probably what had the most influence, the number of kids who applied increased a lot: 243,217 were examined (20,195 more students than in 2019 and 8,637 more than in 2021), due to the call by the educational authorities for the institutes to be lenient in the final evaluation of the baccalaureate with the students to compensate for the emergency situation they had experienced.

In general, the decision to soften the test due to the extra difficulties that the pandemic is putting in the way of students has not been widely discussed. Ismael Sanz, Professor of Economics at the Rey Juan Carlos University, recalled in these pages, in an article about the spectacular drop in early school leaving in 2021, a study by two professors from the London School of Economics who in 2008 showed that during the mobilizations of May 68, in France, promotion and access to the university were also facilitated. “They analyzed the trajectory of young people who probably in other circumstances would not have entered university and followed them over time. And what they observed is that these students had a good academic performance later and in the labor market”.

What many specialists do call into question is the test itself, either because of the injustice that the difference in difficulty of the exams of the same subjects in different communities may entail — “there are still mismatches,” Veas points out —, or because of their mere existence , as Professor Valle puts it: “Nobody likes it anymore, nor is it good for anything. It does not convince teachers, nor students, nor parents, nor universities… ”, he assures.

A contested test from day one

Selectivity has indeed been a contested test since day one, but the lack of consensus around the alternatives has kept it alive for nearly five decades. Many specialists argue that its elimination would generate more problems, due to its equalizing effect on student grades.

The pass rate, on the other hand, has been increasing progressively since the current university access system was introduced in the 1970s. In that decade, the percentage did not reach 70% (1978 was a particularly hard year; only 45.8% approved). From then on, the proportion grew slowly, although a full comparison with what happens today is only possible from the year 2010, when the percentage of passes over those taken for the exam begins to be available (previously the percentage that can be consulted is the number of students passed over those enrolled in the test, which is always a little lower).

Javier M. Valle rejects frequent arguments in favor of these tests. For example, he refers to the fear that private schools could inflate the grades of their high school students, so that they are in a better position to access the most demanded careers: “The average grade of private students (in selectivity ) is higher than that of the public ones, their grades are not inflated”, defends Valle. Likewise, he stresses that the organization of university entrance exams is very expensive and that, with pass rates above 90%, they do not serve to select the students who enter the campus. He admits, yes, his work to organize the entrance to the university through the average grades —when there are more applicants than places to enter a public university career, those with the best qualification enter—, but he prefers other alternatives, How to take into account grades from years prior to high school. Or divide the test into more than one course, taking, for example, an exam in the first year and another in the second year of high school. “There is a lack of boldness, a lack of educational courage, and a lack of consensus to move forward with regulations that truly change things. That is why nothing has been changed, because no one agrees on how to change it, ”he concludes.

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