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Julie Y
08-18-2012, 09:01 AM
My 18 yo daughter took an English placement exam for the community college yeterday. Although she didn't actually "fail," she did not do well. Her score placed her one step below Freshman Comp -- in a remedial ESL class.

This would not be so puzzling if the test had been on grammar, punctuation and other English technicalities. But it wasn't. It was strictly an essay test.

And it was graded by a computer.

Two years ago, this daughter passed the English portion of the AIMS (state-mandated high school exit) test with flying colors. She "Exceeded Expectations" in general and got a perfect score on the writing portion.

:huh:

She insists that, on the test yesterday, she did try her best and she did proofread. She is allowed one re-try.

Has anyone else had experience with a computer-graded essay test who can give her tips on how to pass? Her plan at the moment is to "use a lot of big words."

In the meantime, I am now a little skeptical of that oft-bandied statistic about how the majority of students entering college today need remedial English classes. :unsure:

Marcia
08-18-2012, 09:27 AM
I don't have any experience with a computer graded written test. It sounds very strange.

On thing the community colleges around here do is that if a student does not score well on the Math portion of the placement test, but they completely Algebra 2 or higher with an A or B in high school, they will place them in a higher Math. Lydia bombed the Math portion of her placement, but completed Algebra 2 with an A. She does get to retake the Math portion over, which she will do next semester.

I would see if they allow Kimberly to also go off her high school grades.

Paige P
08-18-2012, 09:28 AM
:unsure: That seems really ODD. How in the world can a computer grade an essay test?!?!?!?! Any way to find out exactly what they're looking for?

Vocabulary *might* be one of them?
Sentence structure *might* be one of them -- using more compound and compound/complex sentences --
ex) Since America is such a vast country, it takes days to drive cross country, SO one should carefully plan a trip and make hotel reservations. (crazy example, but stil.....)

I remember stuff like that from some of the highschool graduation test requirements -- if all you wrote was short, choppy sentences, you didn't get a high score.

:confused: It just doesn't make sense.....

Rebe
08-18-2012, 01:36 PM
I agree with Paige. This is very strange.

I would be talking to someone about this. I'm not a helicopter mom and don't want to appear that way, especailly at the college level, but this is something I wouldn't just swallow without finding out more about it.

Or, if your dd is assertive enough and has good communication skills, she could pursue this herself. I would have at that age, but then, I was pretty assertive. ;)

But I wouldn't just accept it without inquiring (or more) about it, before my child was placed in an ESL class.

ETA: I guess before I did any of this I would ask to see the essay. If after reading it, I disagreed with the placement, then I would pursue it. I suppose it's possible that she really did write a poor essay that didn't really reflect her abilities, so it would be good to verify that first.

Hollie in SC
08-18-2012, 03:14 PM
Computer? :eek: :crazy:

Kendra AU
08-18-2012, 05:28 PM
Wow, how interesting..

My bil who works at uni level grading papers grumbles so much that students can't write good papers. Clearly they passed to get there, so who graded those papers.. Then there's students, like your daughter, who can write, & well, but are told they can't.

I found this (http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2009/sep/25/robots-to-mark-english-essays) article interesting, which led me to this (http://pearsonpte.com/PTEAcademic/Pages/TestScores.aspx).

Tricia in TX
08-18-2012, 07:20 PM
I have tutored a few students who didn't pass the essay portion of the accuplacer (that's what we call the community college entrance test down here). I want to mention that these are really smart, straight-A type kids. Their essays were good, but didn't follow the pattern the computer was looking for and the mistakes they made were the wrong ones to make.

Without fail, they pass on the second try because I was able to work with them a bit so they know the tricks. Once you know the tricks, you're in.

Here are a few.

Don't use contractions. I don't know why, but the computer does not like them.

Don't argue both sides of an issue. Pick a side and stick with it.

Make sure you use complete sentences.

You are better off to use all small words and spell them correctly than to go for a good vocab and misspell the word. This is a big one. If you misspell a word you don't get any points for the effort of the large vocab AND your whole sentence is lost because now it does not make sense to a computer.

Keep it simple. Remember it's a computer! Not a person. You don't want to wow them with your knowledge on the subject. THe computer does not care, it's looking for key words. You want to wow the computer with correct spelling and format.

And that brings me to the last and most important one. FORMAT.

Use the basic 5 paragraph essay format:

Introductory paragraph.
Fluff introductory sentence.
Fluff introductory sentence
Perhaps a third fluff introduction sentence.
Thesis sentence where you list IN ORDER what you are going to talk about. For instance. Dogs are the best animals to own as pets because they are lovable, they can help you with physical tasks if you need it, and they know when you are sad.

Body paragraph 1.
5 to 8 sentences saying how and why pets are lovable. Be sure to use the actual word lovable in this paragraph at least once, preferable in the first or second sentence.

Body paragraph 2.
5 to 8 sentences saying why and how they can help with physical tasks, again using the actual words you used in your thesis sentence.

Body paragraph 3.
5 to 8 sentences saying why and how dogs know when you are sad and how they cheer you up.

Conclusion
A few more fluff sentences and then restate your theses. Example: I am so glad I've had the privileged of owning dogs; they have loved me, helped me when I needed it, and were always there to cheer me up when I was down.

I tell my students to think of it more like an algebra formula to follow than a paper. The computer does not care how smart you are, or how eloquent, or how good your vocab is, (if you can't spell the words) it only cares if you followed the formula.

Julie Y
08-18-2012, 08:18 PM
Thanks, Tricia; I will pass those tips along to her. Yes, the test was WRITEPLACER through Accuplacer. From googling, I can see that this test is very common among colleges and community colleges, and haven't seen much in the way of complaints against the grading. But, I didn't find any tips as succinct as yours.

I am also going to suggest that she take in her AIMS and SAT results the second time and see if that makes a difference.

My only guess is that she was too breezy in her first attempt -- perhaps because everyone says community college is so easy to get into? If that's the case, then this was certainly a wake-up call for her. :unsure:

Tricia in TX
08-18-2012, 08:29 PM
Failing the writing portion of the accuplacer is quite common here (at least among the kids I know from co op). I think it's because it kinda goes against what many of them are being taught.

I am really not fond of the computer grading system because theoretically, you could write an essay that did not make one lick of sense and did not correctly argue your point, and still pass if you used the right key words and format.

Seriously, I've had kids that have taken it 2 or 3 times, written fine essays, but made to many small mistakes and mostly didn't follow the correct format, and because of that they failed. I think an actual person grading the test would have passed them.

The very next time they took it, using the proper format and smaller words they were 100% sure they could spell, they all passed.

It is not because I taught them how to write a better essay, it was just because they knew the tricks to use. That does not seem right to me.

WendyW
08-18-2012, 08:57 PM
That writing "formula" is offensive! That is so NOT what good writing is!

In MN a writing test is required for hs graduation, usually given well before the Sr. year. I believe the grade scale is only 1-4 (or 5), with 1 & 2 being failing grades.

My dd attended the hs full time. She is an AWESOME writer, and is one of people who writes because she loves to. She journals and reports were one of her favorite assignments.

My ds attended the hs part time, and though never tool an English class there still managed to get swooped into a test group and took it. He HATES to write, is a rotten speller, and his punctuation stinks.

They both got the SAME GRADE on that test! They both barely passed with a 3.

Vicki P in VA
08-18-2012, 09:10 PM
I teach college freshman comp courses, and can agree with the fact that A LOT of kids come into college ill-prepared for writing. In fact, I often have to get them to "unlearn" much of what they learned in HS and then re-prep them for appropriate writing at a higher academic level. And don't get me started about spelling and grammar!!

That said, I think Tricia's tips are spot on (with good reason, if you've been tutoring kids for just this event!). I will concur with the "5 paragraph essay" format. I hate it, and try to steer kids away from it, but unfortunately that is the "golden ticket" for any kind of entrance exam, SAT exam, or AP Lit or Writing exam. Don't get me started on how much I hate it, but that's the reality.

In addition to sticking with the 5 paragraphs (again, that's intro, 3 body paragraphs each with one clear main idea that relates to a thesis, and a conclusion that wraps up the thesis and "bookends" the essay), here are a few additional pieces that might help:

1) For that intro paragraph, make sure to use a "funnel" approach (broader at top, narrowing down to the main idea, ending with a thesis). Just avoid phrases like "since the beginning of time" at the beginning of the essay!
2) Make sure that the thesis is the last sentence in that first paragraph, and that it follows the "three pronged" format Tricia mentioned above (three supporting reasons separated by commas).
3) Also make sure that each of those three supporting reasons directly correlates to one of the body paragraphs (in the same order as the thesis sentence, as Tricia mentioned). To help accomplish this,
4) Start each body paragraph with a topic sentence with a solid transition phrase and connection to your thesis idea.
5) I also agree on how important spelling is, so have nothing to add there.

If time is an issue (as in, she's running out of time, and not finishing the essay), tell her to make an outline first, and then follow it very closely. This might seem like a time waster, but I can always tell when students have taken the time to do this step for essay exams (the only place I allow 5 par. essays) because their essays are much more focused and coherent. For this kind of test, it is imperative that she get all the way through the essay and close it well.

Hope these extra thoughts will help!

Nancy Ann
08-18-2012, 09:21 PM
Can they have a real teacher look at her essay and give her pointers? I think a computer grading an essay test makes absolutely no sense to me? But, I would think if someone completely fails that they would have some sort of back up in place and have a person review it. I would have your daughter go and ask for that, than atleast she can get feedback on what she did wrong and how to do better next time.

Julie Y
08-18-2012, 09:44 PM
I would think if someone completely fails that they would have some sort of back up in place and have a person review it. I would have your daughter go and ask for that, than atleast she can get feedback on what she did wrong and how to do better next time.

Well, she didn't completely fail (that was just the writer in me being dramatic :lol: ), but it sure felt like failure to her -- to not qualify for Freshman Comp -- since English is her best subject! I doubt it's worth it, at this point, to fight it. For now, it would probably be best for her to just learn to work the system, using the tips provided by Tricia and Vicki (I don't think the admissions counselor provided any feedback). If she fails the re-take and they try to put her in a remedial class, then this momma will become a hovering helicopter! ;)

Nancy Ann
08-18-2012, 09:55 PM
If she fails the re-take and they try to put her in a remedial class, then this momma will become a hovering helicopter! ;)

:clap::lol::clap:

Shannon P
08-18-2012, 11:01 PM
I don't think ds's community college used an essay test for placement into freshman comp.:unsure:

I think they can accept other placement test scores, such as the ACT or SAT. I'd have her submit those before taking the test again.

Good luck to her!!

laurie in ok
08-18-2012, 11:53 PM
:group:

Julie in AZ
08-19-2012, 10:43 AM
Computer? :eek: :crazy:

I agree, it's completely crazy to have a computer grade writing. :mad1:

I hope she breezes through the next round following the tips shared here.

Tricia in TX
08-19-2012, 12:46 PM
If time is an issue (as in, she's running out of time, and not finishing the essay), tell her to make an outline first, and then follow it very closely. This might seem like a time waster, but I can always tell when students have taken the time to do this step for essay exams (the only place I allow 5 par. essays) because their essays are much more focused and coherent. For this kind of test, it is imperative that she get all the way through the essay and close it well.


YES! I forgot those two very important points. I always tell my students to make an outline first. Just a very quick word outline even will work.

And make sure you finish. Very important!


I don't think ds's community college used an essay test for placement into freshman comp.:unsure:

I think they can accept other placement test scores, such as the ACT or SAT. I'd have her submit those before taking the test again.

In TX, if your SAT or ACT are high enough you don't have to take the Accuplacer at all. A lot of people go that route. My kids were younger and had not taken the SAT or ACT yet so they had to take the Accuplacer.

CINDY LB OH
08-19-2012, 02:46 PM
Tricia and Vicki-- Your writing tips are great! I'm saving them for future reference.

Vicki P in VA
08-19-2012, 11:20 PM
Glad to help! It's a shame that we even have to have this conversation, since this isn't at all what real writing is about. But, it's important to get the kids in the door first, and then they can really shine when they start taking classes! Good luck to those of you with kids prepping for college!

Julie Y
08-23-2012, 05:40 PM
Tricia and Vicki-- Your writing tips are great! I'm saving them for future reference.

Yes, I compiled them and gave dd a printout. When she read it, she said, "Oh, now I totally understand why I didn't pass the first time" and feels confident she will ace it next time. It also made her feel a lot better to know she isn't the only person to have experienced this.

Yet another reason I love this forum!! :kiss:

Hollie in SC
08-23-2012, 08:17 PM
Yes, I compiled them and gave dd a printout. When she read it, she said, "Oh, now I totally understand why I didn't pass the first time" and feels confident she will ace it next time. It also made her feel a lot better to know she isn't the only person to have experienced this.

Yet another reason I love this forum!! :kiss:

:clap: I'm so glad she felt encouraged.