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Text Messaging as a Part of College Entrance Exams

2009 November 18

A recent article in the Telegraph details an addition to the GCSE English exam: a section on text messaging worth 10% of students’ final exam grades.  The GCSE is a standardized educational exam for 15- and 16-year-olds commonly used in most of the United Kingdom.  The GCSE in particular is used as a college qualification exam and comes in a variety of subjects.

It is unclear exactly what this text messaging section looks like, although the Telegraph notes, “As part of their answer they will be required to include examples of common text shortcuts.”

This seems unwise for a couple of reasons, both related to test validity:

1) Text messaging abbreviations are a bit more fluid than the rest of the language, so I would think the list of “common text shortcuts” is fairly limited: here is a potential list.  Is memorizing 100 abbreviations really a valuable skill indicative of one’s mastery of English?

2) What does this possibly have to do with the language skills required in college?  The purpose of college entrance exams is to ensure that the students entering college are prepared to do so.  It is already a problem in the United States that students simply assume they and every one of their classmates are meant to go to a four-year college without necessarily being ready.  This leads to a large attrition rate in freshman classes.  There are two solutions to this problem: either a) stricter entrance exams or b) more college programs teaching remedial skills.  So if the entrance exams are getting easier, and universities can’t afford the programs they already have, then we appear to be in a downward spiral.

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