Test called waste of time; university says reason exists behind four-hour long exam

Ruth Brown

Ruth Brown

Students see Proficiency Exams as a waste of their time and a pain in the behind, but a purpose behind them does exist.

SDSU’s Proficiency Exams include five areas of testing. The exam includes testing in Writing Skills, Mathematics, Reading and Science Reasoning. Each of these tests is administered to students in 40-minute blocks. An additional Technology Literacy test has a 20-minute limit.

“The exam is administered when students have completed about half of their credits for a degree, typically second semester of the sophomore year,” wrote Mary Kay Helling, the associate vice president for SDSU’s academic affairs.

A student who is in the process of getting their baccalaureate degree must have at least 48 credits completed and passed by the time of the test date. Students who are in the process of getting their associate degree must complete and pass at least 32 credits. Testing is offered in both the spring and fall semesters.

“We use the tests to help lead to improvement for the university’s academic plans,” said Joann Sckerl, the director of academic evaluation and assessment. “They help to provide feedback to the departments that appear to need improvement.”

The exam that is currently used by SDSU and other South Dakota public universities for measuring the students’ learning skills is the Collegiate Assessment of Academic Proficiency (CAAP) Exam. The required score to pass each test is based upon a national average for Proficiency Exams.

The SDSU Web site said the Writing Skills test is a 72-item test that measures students’ understanding of standard written English. The tested areas include punctuation, sentence structure, grammar, strategy, organization and style.

The Mathematics test is a 35-item test designed to measure students’ mathematical reasoning ability. It tests students’ understanding of pre-elementary, intermediate and advanced algebra, as well as coordinate geometry, trigonometry and introductory calculus.

The Reading portion includes a 36-item test designed to measure students’ reading comprehension as a product of skill referring, reasoning and generalizing. The test includes four passages of written work that the student must read and then answer questions relating to it.

The Science Reasoning section of the Proficiency Exam is a 45-item test. The test has contents that are related to biology, physics, chemistry and physical science.

“Most students who take the proficiency exam do pass it on the first try,” said Sckerl. “In the spring of ’07 about 95 percent of students passed.”

If a student does not pass the Proficiency Exam on one or more components, they have the opportunity to take the test in that area two more times. Retesting must occur within one year of the original test date. If a student does not pass, they will not be allowed to graduate.

Students who do not pass on their first try are required to create a development plan with their academic adviser to help prepare for the retesting.

The Proficiency Exams are something that universities across the nation use to help understand which academic departments need improvement. They are meant to help satisfy students’ educational needs.