The psychometric test for university applicants was held this week in a new format, which includes for the first time writing a composition.

Applicants to Haifa University were given 30 minutes to write a composition of 26 to 50 lines about education at home versus school education as part of the exam's verbal reasoning section.

Most of those taking the exam welcomed the addition and said they preferred it to other kinds of questions.

"The composition is a good idea, because it enables broader self-expression than other sections," said Henin, 20, of Haifa. She is applying for physical education studies and is writing the psychometric test for the second time.

Anna, a 12th-grade student from Carmiel who wants to study engineering, said the composition makes the test easier because it requires no studying, reading or memorizing.

"Thanks to the added composition, we had to study fewer words and expressions," she said.

Lidor, a 12th-grade student from Migdal Ha'emek said his preparation course for the exam included composition writing. "For a master's degree you have to write a thesis, so you need training for that," he said.

An official in the National Institute for Testing and Evaluation, established by the University Presidents Committee to develop and conduct placement tests, said the psychometric exam's new format was designed to address "the needs of higher education."

He said the change was triggered in part by the growing awareness in academia of the need to examine writing skills.

Other changes were made in the exam's verbal reasoning section. Questions such as "words and expressions" and "letter changing" were omitted.

"The changes were made to adjust the assignments to those required in university studies and to prevent memorizing vocabulary, which characterized the preparation for the previous test," the official said.

The test's eight multiple-choice sections now consist of fewer questions each, and students are given five minutes less to complete each one. The time given for writing these sections was shortened by a total of 40 minutes, to enable the composition assignment to be added without extending the exam beyond three hours.

For the past year two grades have been added to the general grade. One attributes greater significance (60 percent ) to verbal reasoning, and one attributes greater significance (60 percent ) to quantitative reasoning. The student's knowledge of English makes up 20 percent of the general grade.

'Small change'

Yiftah Cohen-Green, a psychometric test instructor at the Ankori school who took the test in its new format yesterday, said the changes are not fundamental.

"I think it will transpire very soon that the issue was blown out of proportion. There's a small change in presenting things - the student needs active knowledge, not only passive knowledge as in the past. But those who dealt successfully with the previous test will be successful in this one as well," Cohen-Green said. "Students who took the test for the second time yesterday didn't notice a significant change."

He said "old-new immigrants," who have difficulty writing well in Hebrew, may find the new format more difficult. "But this will change in a year or two," he said.

The schools prepping university applicants for psychometric exams have prepared for the change. "There's a lot to learn in the writing field. How to write a sentence, how to build a convincing argument. We found that Israeli students have difficulty in building an argument. This does not stem from texting a lot but from having difficulty in explaining their opinion," Cohen-Green said.