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Streaming first year undergraduates

Disclosure date: 4 April 2014

Reference: FOI2014/044

Request

This FOI is about streaming/setting of first year undergraduate honours degree students ie dividing students in to different teaching groups on the basis of previous educational experience or levels of knowledge and/or attainment.

Does the university stream/set students (see definition above) in any of the following subject areas

1. Maths
2. Physics
3. Engineering
4. Chemistry
5. Accountancy
6. Foreign languages

If so, please give the following details for each subject area

A. How many streams/groups are there?
B. How are students allocated to groups? For instance, are they tested at the start of the year - what kind of test is used? Are A-level grades used (please give details eg one group has students with A/B grades, second group has C/D grades. Are students self-selecting?
C. When was streaming introduced?
D. Why was streaming introduced? Please provide minutes of meetings, reports, memos etc relating to the introduction of streaming.

Response

The only subject area in your list that is relevant to SOAS is foreign languages.

Japanese:

A placement test is given early in Welcome Week to all students with previous knowledge of Japanese. The tests are variations of tests used during the first-year Japanese courses. BA Japanese students may be placed in:

1. J1 - Elementary Japanese (2-unit course for complete or near beginners). This year 52, last session 45 students.
2. J1 - Accelerated Japanese (1.5-unit course, usually for students with good A level Japanese). This year 10, last session 12 students.
3. 2nd-year Japanese (2 unit course, usually with more experience than just A levels, perhaps experience in Japan, the test for this is a variation of the first-year exam).

Students will also be interviewed to determine speaking ability and to learn about how they learned the language.

So there are two streams in the first year with the beginners course being of greater weight and so has more contact hours, and the Accelerated Japanese students taking an additional 0.5 Japanese culture course.   At the end of the first year both groups of students should be at approximately the same level and so all enter the same year 2 courses.

Arabic:

A placement test is given during Welcome Week to all students with previous knowledge of Arabic. Students are then placed in one of the Arabic language courses at the appropriate level.

In BA Arabic we do occasionally allow students with sufficient knowledge of Arabic to enter directly into the second year and the third year is spent studying in an institution abroad. Students on other programmes can enter into the appropriate course for their level of language ability.

Chinese:

A placement test is given early in Welcome Week to all students with previous knowledge of Chinese, and accordingly placed in the appropriate course.
No student is however allowed to enter in the second year as that is the year abroad for BA Chinese.  If, say, a mother-tongue Chinese student wishes to study in our department, s/he will enrol in BA Chinese Studies, rather than BA Chinese.

Other languages:

Placement tests are given during Welcome Week to all students with previous knowledge of that language.  These can be written and/or oral tests depending on the language and the students individual circumstances.  

So apart from Japanese there is no streaming as such, but students are given level checks to determine if they can enter a higher level course.  Streaming on the BA Japanese course has existed in its current format since 2003 and was introduced as the numbers of students with some knowledge of Japanese was deemed sufficient to warrant opening a separate group for them.  We do not have minutes of meetings dating back that far.  Where students have a year abroad in their second year, BA Chinese and BA Korean, there is very little flexibility in what language courses the student can take in their first year.  Other degree programmes with a compulsory year abroad in the third year would also not normally allow entry at a higher level to avoid the students being of widely different levels on their year abroad.