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Dispense with your writing test

Most freshmen have passed their first test at MIT: finding the Student Center steps and their way into the Residence/Orientation (R/O) Center. Congratulations are in order. But the Class of 1989 has a more challenging task ahead.

Freshmen, don't worry about the Essay Evaluation. It's only one of four methods by which you can satisfy Phase I of the Institute Writing Requirement.

The New Athletic Center will come alive Tuesday when the majority of you will attempt to recover from the weekend's Rush activities. The thousand of you who manage to find the New Athletic Center will maneuver to your places at the less than sturdy wooden tables without the smoothest of all writing surfaces.

I question the wisdom of administering the Essay Evaluation during R/O Week. Scheduling an "optional" test for freshmen at a time when they should be and are concerned with settling into their living groups is unnecessary and unfair.

Perhaps scheduling three examination sessions in Walker Memorial during the second week of the term would reduce freshmen anxieties about their first "test" at MIT.

I enjoyed my test, especially because there was only one unabridged dictionary for the 1000 of us. I thought Bonnie Walters, coordinator of the Committee on the Writing Requirement, might rip the pages from the dictionary and give one to each of us. That would be the only way we'd get a chance to use it. This year, I hope the Committee will have adequate resources available.

You'll apply pencil to paper in an attempt to write a clear, coherent, expository essay after a summer of intense academic preparation. Strunk's definition is my advice: "Vigorous writing is concise."

After you have dashed off your composition in just under 90 minutes, the Committee's staff will secret your essay to an "evaluator." Professional readers as well as Institute faculty and staff, including President Gray, serve as evaluators. One of them will read your essay once.

Your paper will receive a grade of pass, marginal pass or fail based on this reading. You may ask: "By what standard will my essay be judged?" Walters explained last year that if your essay exhibits "serious errors in ... structure, syntax, word choice, grammar, mechanics or tone," it will fail the evaluation.

I think that with almost 100 evaluators, the standards will be subjective and flexible.

Walters last year said trends in writing quality have been consistent over the past three years. Her observation is not very comforting considering 36 percent of the Class of 1988 failed the Essay Evaluation and 45 percent passed marginally.

There are procedures for review of your performance on the writing exam if you pass marginally or fail. The thing that makes me uncomfortable, however, is the lack of an objective channel for formal appeal of the Committee on the Writing Requirement's decision on the quality of your writing.

There are other methods of satisfying Phase I of the Writing Requirement which don't occur during R/O Week. But it makes sense to dispense with the requirement as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Dispense with it.