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Two Thirds of Freshmen Pass FEE

By Eric J. Cholankeril


Almost two-thirds of the Class of 2005 passed this year’s Freshman Essay Evaluation (FEE), the first to be graded under MIT’s new Communication Requirement.

Under the new requirement, which applies to students entering MIT in 2001 and beyond, all students must take one communication-intensive (CI) subject per year. The CI classes taken freshman and sophomore year are generally HASS subjects (CI-H), whereas the junior and senior year CI classes tend to be taken in the student’s major (CI-M).

According to administrators of the FEE, 567 of 1,059 freshmen received a score of “Pass.” Another 133 students passed with a score of “5” on either the Advanced Placement (AP) test in English Literature and Composition or the AP test in English Language and Composition. Scores on the SAT II Writing test are not accepted as a substitute for the FEE.

359 freshmen received a grade of “Writing Subject Required.” Those students must take a subject designated as HASS-CI-Writing (CI-HW) as their first CI class. Another 32 freshmen may take an ESL subject as their CI-HW class. 70 students failed to take the FEE altogether, although some of those students may actually have passed through the AP exam.

Changes in grading

Under the old Writing Requirement, which has now been replaced by the Communication Requirement, the students taking the FEE received a score of either “Pass,” “Intermediate,” or “Fail.” Last year, only 19 percent of the Class of 2004 passed the FEE.

According to Leslie C. Perelman, Director of Writing Across the Curriculum, a “Pass” in previous years meant that a student was “completely proficient [in expository writing],” but this year it means that the student is “competent enough in expository writing” to take a CI subject. “We’re asking different questions,” he said.

“Before, a student who passed didn’t have to do anything until senior year,” Perelman said. Under the new requirement, he said, “Good writers can become better writers.”

More students take online version

Freshmen were strongly encouraged to take the FEE online this year, and only 95 ended up taking the make-up exam. In the online version, offered once in June and once in July, students have seventy-two hours to answer one narrative and one argumentative essay.

By contrast, students taking the written version had only three hours to complete the test.

A total of 761 students took the online version. “We’re essentially testing the entire class online,” Perelman said.

Perelman noted that taking the FEE online solves several issues. Most importantly, he said, “it replicates the kind of papers people write at MIT ... it’s a more valid form of testing.” The online FEE also tests “the ability to revise and edit.”

Before the FEE was first offered four years ago, students complained that they weren’t used to composing essays with a pen and paper. “We don’t think [about] the end of the sentence” when writing on a computer, said Perelman.

Additionally, the online version has proved useful to students with disabilities. “Now those students [just] take it at home,” said Perelman.

Freshmen react to FEE

Freshmen had differing opinions regarding the difficulty of the FEE.

“I didn’t think it was that bad,” said Sarah A. Lieberman ’05.

James A. Lenfestey ’05 agreed, saying, “It’s only hard if you make it hard.”

“I thought it was easy, but for me the difficult thing was the language,” said Paulo H. Jacob Silva ’05, an international student.

Other new students found it more difficult. “I passed, but I have a lot of friends who didn’t pass,” said Orlando Soto ’05.

“It was extremely hard. I found it difficult to concentrate,” said Jorge A. Noble ’05. “The grading system was harsh, but [the graders] were also very detailed.”

“My only complaint about it is that you can’t really judge someone’s writing skills by two questions,” said Jeremy A. Scholz ’05.

Perelman stressed the importance of improving MIT students’ writing skills. “Writing’s a muscle,” he said. “If you don’t exercise it, it atrophies.”