Stonewalled for 4 years, student paper has the scoop on UBC entrance exam

The UBC student paper says an anonymous source has leaked details on the grading of admissions essays the school spent four years fighting to keep secret.

'There’s nothing shocking in there; nothing untoward or sketchy,' student journalist says

A grading rubric used by the University of British Columbia to score admissions was the subject of a long legal battle between the school and the The Ubyssey student newspaper. (Christer Waara/CBC)

UBC's student newspaper says it has the inside scoop on what the school is looking for when it grades admissions essays — but finding out didn't come easy for staff at the The Ubyssey

The essays are part of UBC's broad-based admission process, which the school says takes both applicants' grades and personal experiences into account by having them answer five questions in about 200 words each.

A rubric posted online by The Ubyssey, which they say is the one the school uses to grade applications, states that spelling and grammar do not matter at all in these answers, noting dialects vary across Canada and even around the world.

"There's nothing shocking in there; nothing untoward or sketchy," coordinating editor Jack Hauen told On The Coast host Stephen Quinn.

"Basically, UBC is looking for a set of attributes for students to demonstrate in thereabouts 1,000 words. Those are very specific attributes and each attribute is ranked on a scale of zero to five and then your application is graded on the sum of the attributes.

"It's not based on the answers to the questions themselves, but the attributes you display. Some of them are leadership, responsibility for others, … each of them are linked to the five short-answer questions you answer to get in."

Investigation started in 2013

Hauen says The Ubyssey investigation started in 2013 with a Freedom of Information request, which was unsuccessful.

The Ubyssey appealed to the B.C. Office of Information and Privacy Commissioner to compel UBC to release the rubric, but UBC still would not.

Then the B.C. Supreme Court ruled UBC had to release the documents since it could not prove doing so would cause UBC or its application process undue harm — a decision the school appealed.

"It certainly seems they would have pursued this until the end of time," Hauen said.

The four-year investigation only ended when an anonymous source gave the student paper what appears to be the grading rubric.

UBC told CBC News it would not confirm whether or not the rubric, purportedly used in 2016, was authentic.

In a response to On The Coast, UBC director of undergraduate admissions Andrew Arida wrote "releasing the [broad-based admission] application scoring guides would allow prospective students to tailor their answers and compromise the authenticity of the response to meet UBC's requirements."

But Hauen disagrees and says sharing the rubric is important to give all applicants a fair shot at the process.

With files from CBC Radio One's On The Coast

To hear the full story, click the audio labelled: After 4 years of being stonewalled, student newspaper gets answers on UBC admissions