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Essay, Pre-Calculus Tests Await Freshmen

By May K. Tse
Staff Reporter

The housing and social pressures of Residence and Orientation Week will be put on hold temporarily by academic pressures as freshmen take two tests today: the Freshman Essay Evaluation and the Pre-Calculus Mathematics Diagnostic.

With possible changes in the future for the MIT Writing Requirement, grading for the essay evaluation will likely remain as tough as it was last year, when strict cutoffs resulted in a passing rate of only 17 percent, a huge drop from the previous year's 48 percent.

The FEE, taken from 9 to noon today, plays an important part of the Phase I of the Writing Requirement. Students can pass out of the requirement if they have received a score of 5 on the Advanced Placement English Language and Composition test.

But the past exemption for a score of 750 or higher on the SATII English exam was removed this year because "the SATs have been renormed, so that what was a 750 before is now an 800," said Coordinator for the Writing Requirement Leslie C. Perelman.

"We have no intention of raising the standards even more this year" for the essay cutoff, Perelman said. "But the percentage of students who pass could rise or fall, depending on the comparative quality of the writing skills of the Class of 2000," said Chair of the Committee on the Writing Requirement Kip V. Hodges PhD '82.

At present, students who do not pass the FEEhave a few options for passing Phase I, by either submitting a paper or taking a writing class.

"We are currently trying to find ways of injecting more writing for all four years, but the idea is on a very conceptual level right now," said Chair of the Committee on the Undergraduate Program Charles Stewart III, who is also an associate professor of political science and McCormick Hall housemaster.

Before a change is implemented, the Committee on the Writing Requirement will engage in discussions with students and departments, Perelman said.

At present, the proposal for changes is in a draft form, and probably will not be phased in until four to five years from now, Perelman said.

Math test to include physics

The math diagnostic, administered today from 1 to 3 p.m., will cover mostly pre-calculus. The test's 20 questions will try to determine the level of knowledge of algebra, geometry, and trigonometry.

"This test is used to help students gauge where they stand in regard to choosing math and physics classes," said Associate Dean of Undergraduate Academic Affairs Peggy S. Enders.

Last year's cutoff score was 70, but "the cut-off is always based on the year's results," so the cutoff could be higher or lower this year, she said.

While Enders cautioned that "this is merely a diagnostic test, not one which [students] pass or fail," a low score may indicate that a student needs to re-examine certain material.

If a student receives a score lower than the cutoff score, they might be advised to take the version of Physics I (8.01L) and Calculus I (18.01), or Calculus II (18.02S) or Calculus (18.01A) - a class for students with a year of high school calculus - if they already have advanced placement credit. Math review nights are also available during the first week of classes.

One new addition to the math diagnostic is a set of five physics questions at the end. The results of this pilot will be used to help design a possible physics diagnostic test in the future.

The physics department will use the results "as a way to see what students' conceptual ideas are in regard to mechanics before they take Physics I (8.01), and compare them to the same sort of questions after they take 8.01," said John W. Belcher, professor of physics.