The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 36.0°F | Fair

Frosh math skills tested--Advisors find math diagnostic test helpful

By Karen Kaplan

The Pre-Calculus Math Diagnostic test administered to all freshmen during Residence/Orientation Week has been called a success by its organizers.

The test had three purposes: to sensitize freshmen to the kind

of math background expected of them for their introductory calculus, physics and chemistry classes, to remind instructors that students may be rusty in certain areas of math and to aid the freshmen advising process, said Assistant Dean for Undergraduate Education Margaret S. Enders, who is overseeing the diagnostic test program.

"I'm very happy about what's happening. We had no idea what the results would be because we've never done this before," Enders said.

"The test was not made to be hard, it was made to sensitize incoming students so that they'd know they needed to understand this material. It's not just for math, but for chemistry and physics as well," she continued.

Freshman advisors were given the results of their advisees' tests to help them advise students about which classes to register for. "We're helping advisors and advisees with one more piece of information. . . . Many advisors have said it's invaluable to have this information, that it's made for better advising," Enders said.

Professor of Mathematics Arthur P. Mattuck who wrote the diagnostic test said student performance on the test was "about what I expected, but I would not call it good. After a summer's inactivity, it goes without saying that they will be rusty."

The 20-question test was divided into four parts: algebra, geometry and analytic geometry, logarithms, exponentials and complex numbers, and trigonometry. Although Enders declined to release the average score on the tests, she did say that the average time spent on the test was 49 minutes.

Because a test of this scale has never been given before at MIT, right now "the information is

not very useful because we don't know what it means," Enders said. "But at the end of the year, if we look at a group and there seems to be some correlation between performance in physics and performance on the math diagnostic, we might be able to say something," she continued.

Brush-ups began last night

The first in a series of pre-calculus review sessions for freshmen began last night where 40 students were expected to attend the three-hour "Algebra Brush-Up" in 2-102. Brush-ups for trigonometry, geometry, and logarithms will also be offered this week.

Students who received low scores in a particular subject were encouraged to attend the review session for that subject.

In addition, the brush-ups were widely advertised and all freshmen were encouraged to attend.

The review sessions are divided into three-hour-long activities, with groups of four to six students working with a tutor on review modules that were prepared by the math department. There will be no lecturing "unless it is clear that a whole lot of students are stuck in one area," Enders said.

At the end of each session, tutors will evaluate whether the students need additional review sessions, Enders said.

Enders predicted that some students who were not interested in the tutoring sessions would stop by to pick up review modules and work on them on their own.

Many freshmen think the

test was "a waste of time"

Although its organizers felt the test was worthwhile, many freshmen thought it was unimportant.

"It was a waste," said Wendy Geisler '95. "If you do well, your advisor doesn't say anything, and if you don't do well, your advisor says not to worry about it."

Gilbert R. Hernandez '95 agreed: "It was a waste of time. . . . I'm sure everyone here is capable of doing well on that test, it's just that they forgot [the material]."

Several freshmen also complained that they missed several questions because they had not memorized trigonometric identities and other formulas which could be easily looked up in a textbook.

Not all freshmen shared this view, though. "I didn't think it was a waste," said Michael Evans '95. "I thought it was for a good reason. You have to know the math. It's good to offer refresher courses. I wouldn't be motivated to review otherwise."

But few freshmen, even those who said they did poorly on the diagnostic test, said they would attend the brush-ups. Sean Dotson '95 said, "[The test] showed me that I was a little rusty, but I won't be going to the brush-ups -- I'll be starting in 18.01 anyway."