Many students applying to university to study medicine or dentistry will be required to undergo a 90-minute computer aptitude test as part of their course application.

The UK Clinical Aptitude Test (UKCAT), which is being developed by a consortium of universities with testing company Pearson VUE, will affect students applying to 24 medicalschools nationwide, including those at King’s College, London, and Edinburgh and Newcastle universities.

Professor Ian Johnson, head of the UKCAT consortium and sub-dean for admissions at Nottingham University’s medical school, told E-Health Insider that students will be able to book the test online, choosing to take it in one of 150 centres over a two and a half month period.

"A very large number of people apply for medicine and dentistry every year," said Professor Johnson. "About 40% of the people who apply will get in, out of something like 16 to 17,000 applications per year."

"There’s a lot of high-quality candidates. They all come along with very high GCSE results and high A-Level predictions. It’s quite difficult to select between them."

The UKCAT will feature verbal reasoning, numerical reasoning, abstract reasoning and problem solving questions; it will not cover academic subjects. The exam will not necessarily have a pass mark, but results will be used by each medical school as part of the overall assessment of the candidate.

"One of the things the admission staff are anxious to gain hold of is some other measure they can use other than academic excellence," Professor Johnson said. "We don’t believe that just academic excellence will make a good doctor."

There were advantages for the test being carried out on a computer – the test is generated from a large bank of questions, from which students can practice. Results can also be processed quickly.

He added: "The UKCAT will assess a wide range of general skills and attributes rather than strictly academic achievement and will assist universities in creating a level playing field for applicants from diverse educational and cultural backgrounds."

Pearson VUE explained that the test could not be completed online and that candidates needed to travel to exam centres for reasons of confidentiality and because it needed to be completed under exam conditions. "It will not be something you can prepare for," said a spokesperson.

The tests will start this summer, for candidates hoping to enter medicine or dentistry schools in 2007. An additional section covering behaviour is currently being developed.

Peter Miller, commercial director at Pearson VUE, said: "We are excited to be working together with the UKCAT consortium to deliver this important test."