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Results of Freshman Exams are Mixed

By Zareena Hussain
Associate News Editor

Results from the two mandatory freshman exams, the Freshman Essay Evaluation and the Pre-Calculus Math Diagnostic, were released yesterday, revealing marked improvement in some areas and regression in others.

The number of freshmen who received a score of adequate on the math diagnostic test jumped seven percent while the number of freshmen who passed the essay evaluation fell three percent.

164 of the 962 freshman who took the essay evaluation, or 17 percent, received a score high enough to pass Phase One of the Institute Writing Requirement, said Coordinator of the Writing Requirement Leslie C. Perelman. Last year, 20 percent of students taking the exam passed.

The low passing rate is due to a harsher grading system put into place two years ago. The revised grading system was designed to "send messages to the students that they need to be more aggressive and take a leadership role in improving their writing skills at MIT," said Kip V. Hodges, then-chair of the Committee on the Writing Requirement, at the time.

After the new grading system was put into place the passing rate for the Essay Evaluation plummeted from 48 percent in 1994 to 17 percent in 1995.

Some 91 students bypassed the essay evaluation altogether by satisfying the Phase One largely through advanced placement credit, Perelman said. Students who received a five on the Advanced Placement Language and Composition Test were credited with completion of the Phase One of the Institute Writing requirement.

Courses satisfy requirements

Of the 798 students who did not pass the FEE, 215 received a grade of "not acceptable with subject recommended". Those students were advised to take one of the introductory writing classes, however most of those classes have historically been oversubscribed.

"Part of the problem in phase one classes is that a number of those spaces are taken by juniors and seniors who have not passed Phase one," Perelman said.

The other option to students for passing Phase One is to submit a five page or longer paper from any class or UROPactivity as proof of writing ability. However, that option may pose problems for procrastinators.

Students who postpone submitting their Phase One paper until fall term of their sophomore year, the deadline for submissions, have sometimes run into problems. Their old professors may be on leave, Perelman said, making it difficult to contact them.

"It's educationally much more appropriate and much more useful to [submit papers] right now," Perelman said.

In addition to these options, MIT also offers courses during Independent Activities Period that help students satisfy the requirement. Six unit courses designed specifically to allow students to pass the Phase One requirement may also be created in the future, Perelman said.

Students fare better in math exam

This year's freshmen improved significantly on the math diagnostic. A total of 800 students, 75 percent of the incoming class, passed the exam, up from last year's figure of 719 students, or 68 percent of the class, said Associate Dean of Undergraduate Academic Affairs Peggy S. Enders. Both classes had 1060 freshmen. The average score on the test also rose this year, going from 76 to 80, she said. "Students did better this year than last year," she said.

Most students who scored inadequately got fewer than 70 points out of 100, Enders said. However, a few students who scored a 70 or better were determined to have performed inadequately because they showed weakness on two separate sections of the test. A score lower than 15 out of the 25 possible on a certain section triggered an indication of weakness in that subject, Enders said.

One possible reason for the better performance of this year's freshmen may have been the absence of a time taken statistic, which may have encouraged past years' test-takers to rush through the examination neglecting accuracy, Enders said.

"Students didn't get the impression they were being clocked," Enders said.

In addition, the physics problems given to last year's class at the end of the diagnostic as a pilot project for a physics examination were taken out.

"That could have taken some of the pressure off some of the students as well," Enders said.

Students who do poorly were advised to attend Math Review Nights starting September 3, Enders said.

Students who score lower than 55 on the math diagnostic are also advised to register for 8.01L, the version of Physics I that extends through the Independent Activities Period, Enders said.

Students who know now that they might benefit from taking the longer version 8.01 are encouraged to enroll in 8.01L now instead of switching from 8.01 to 8.01L later in the term, said George S. F. Stephans, research scientist and the instructor for 8.01L.

The first few weeks of the course are spent reinforcing basic concepts from math and physics, Stephans said. Those who switch into 8.01L later on miss the lectures on these important concepts, Stephans said.

Students who opt to take 8.01L get credit for 8.01. The course does not appear differently on their transcripts, Stephans said.