Change in University Entrance Exam Would Add Essay Component

The format of the Psychometric Entrance Test, the higher education admissions exam in Israel, is likely to be changed under a plan formulated by the National Testing and Evaluation Center.

High school girls studying for the psychometric exam in Jerusalem in 2010.
Tomer Appelbaum

Under the new format, students will be required to write a composition and there will be fewer questions related to vocabulary. Another proposal would provide a breakdown of the test score into "real" and "humanities" components. A final decision about the changes is expected to be made at the end of January. Along with the changes in the psychometric exam, education officials are considering that would affect bonus points given to students studying certain subjects for the matriculation exams at advanced levels. Today, bonus points are given according to similar criteria for most subjects, aside from math and English. This week, the Technion senate voted unanimously to recommend to the inter-university team on admissions policy to increase bonus points for core subjects and cut bonus point for all other subjects. A final decision on the matter is also expected within the next few weeks.

Officials at the National Testing and Evaluation Center, the organization responsible for testing, said yesterday that a proposal to require students to write a composition as part of the psychometric exam has been under consideration in recent months. The idea was prompted by complaints from universities about a decline in the writing skills of Israeli students.

The current format of the psychometric exam focuses on three areas: verbal thinking, math and English. If the proposal to include a written composition on the test is accepted, then it would come in place of vocabulary questions.

"Rote learning of rare words does not contribute much to predicting the success of the test-taker in academic studies other than assessing his rote learning skills," a knowledgeable source said yesterday. "Given the decline in writing skills, we hope that the change will filter down to the high schools, where students are meant to learn how to build and formulate a logical argument and not just go over the same thing in other words. If this move is successful, perhaps the education system will benefit something from the psychometric exam beyond its ability to vet students." Unlike other parts of the test, which are graded by computer, the composition will be evaluated by two external assessors, and the grade will reflect an average of the two assessments. The new composition requirement is likely to prove a barrier to students with learning disabilities as well as new immigrants.

Another proposal would change the way the psychometric exam is scored. Today, the overall score reflects a weighted average of the scores in the three areas tested: verbal (40 percent ), math (40 percent ) and English (20 percent ). Under the new proposal, the overall score would reflect a weighted average of a student's performance in the "real" and "humanities" components of the test. According to a source involved in formulating the changes, this is meant to help the university departments vet applicants by setting prerequisites for a minimum grade in different sections of the test.

Another proposal would change the system of bonuses for students who take advanced level matriculation exams. Over the years, the list of subjects eligible for bonuses has grown. The Ministry of Education was yesterday unable to provide an updated list, but several universities have confirmed that the it includes some 80 different subjects, many of them related to technology studies. Four-unit courses of study entitle test-takers to a 10-point bonus of on the matriculation test and five-unit courses entitle them to a 20-point bonus. Math and English provide bonuses of 12.5 and 25 points, respectively.

In addition to subjects like physics, chemistry and history, the bonus is also given today for art, machine inspection, farm mechanics, computer graphics, music and physical education.

This week the Technion senate decided to recommend to the inter-university team that bonus points for core subjects (math, physics, chemistry, biology, history, Bible, literature and English ) be increased while bonus points for all other subjects be cut.