Over the past few weeks, members of the freshman class experienced their first set of midterm exams. As a rite of passage in the Princeton experience, freshmen are often disappointed with their first set of midterm grades. This disappointment is perhaps most palpable for students aiming to concentrate in engineering or the hard sciences, who are compelled to take physics, chemistry, mathematics and computer science courses as prerequisites. While the challenge that some students taking these courses inevitably face is appropriate, other students may find themselves in courses for which they do not have the proper prior preparation. Though, in some cases, students may be able to alter their schedules by dropping to a lower level of the same class, some students have no other option besides remaining in their sections. The Board believes that this problem could be solved with broader placement testing as well as advising that takes into account the results of this testing.
Currently, recommendations for placement into engineering and hard sciences courses are based almost solely on standardized test scores. This is problematic for several reasons. First, standardized test scores often reflect mastery of topics within a subject only covered in that exam. Undergraduate courses at the University may cover different topics within a subject, and allowing incoming students to take higher-level courses on the basis of test scores could force students to learn background material taught in Princeton introductory courses while learning more difficult material.
Further, since high school courses cover subjects with different levels of rigor, even high standardized test scores reflect different levels of mastery. Finally, since students take advanced high school courses at different times throughout their high school careers, students may not remember the background material needed for upper-level classes. Department-developed placement exams could more accurately give students the information they need to plan an appropriately challenging freshman fall.
Placement tests for technical classes could improve advising for incoming students. First, faculty advisers could better advise students on the courses they need to take to fulfill requirements and prerequisites. Course placements would give students a better idea of how challenging courses will be, allowing advisers to more accurately suggest a course schedule that strikes an appropriate balance between academic and non-academic life during freshman fall. While the Board understands that freshman fall is a time of self-discovery, we believe that improving the advising process could give students more guidance on their strengths and weaknesses, improving the freshman fall experience.
Departments could adapt existing infrastructure to administer placement tests. These tests could be administered on Blackboard before students arrive on campus as well as on campus before classes begin, just as language placement tests are. While placement tests do exist within departments, these are often used either when students want to move past introductory courses entirely (as in the case of physics) or for students who either did not take the appropriate standardized tests (as in the case of chemistry).
Placement testing in spite of Advanced Placement scores could more accurately place all students, allowing for differentiation among students who received the same score. While the logistics of placement testing would be difficult, given that test scores currently fulfill prerequisites for several courses and departments, the effort is an appropriate sacrifice to ensure that students’ freshman years do not result in large setbacks for their grades, morale or course progression. Testing will help ensure that students’ freshman year courses appropriately reflect their coursework prior to coming to the University.
TheEditorial Boardis an independent body and decides its opinionsseparately from the regular staff and editors of the ‘Prince.’ The Board answers only to its chair, the opinion editor and the editor-in-chief.