Next spring, nearly 300 colleges and universities nationwide are offering an optional 90-minute exit exam to test students on skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, and writing ability.
The test is meant to evaluate the “soft skills” that top employers have started demanding.
This isn’t the first time that colleges are offering this SAT-like Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA), but it is the first time that students will be given their individual scores. Students are encouraged to share their scores with potential employers as proof they’re capable of careful, thoughtful analysis, according to Chris Jackson, director of partner development for the CLA. In the past, the scores were used solely for metrics within the college system.
“These tests are becoming increasingly necessary,” Jackson tells Business Insider. “Students might come out of college with a specific major, but employers want to know if they have transferable skills, meaning the skills necessary to change jobs and careers without having to be completely retrained.”
The test requires students to analyse evidence from different sources and distinguish rational from emotional arguments and fact from opinion by answering open-ended questions, which are typically hypothetical but realistic situations.
“The test is looking specifically to see if students can recognise potential for bias or logical fallacy in a document,” Jackson says. Students will not do well on this exam if they tend to accept information as it is and not think critically about it. On the other hand, those who score well are able to state their positions with supporting evidence.
What happens if students score poorly on the exam?
Jackson says it doesn’t really affect them because the test is optional. They are not required to show employers their assessment, but if they do, it will work to their advantage. Furthermore, test-takers will also receive subscores in each category assessed. Even if they receive a poor overall score, they may still excel in certain soft skills.
The exam costs $US35, but many institutions will foot the bill to get their students to take the test.
Below, Jackson has provided us some sample questions along with materials that resemble the CLA’s format:
You are a staff member who works for an organisation that provides analysis of policy claims made by political candidates. The organisation is non-partisan, meaning that it is not influenced by, affiliated with, or supportive of any one political party or candidate. Pat Stone is running for reelection as the mayor of Jefferson, a city in the state of Columbia. Mayor Stone’s opponent in this contest is Dr. Jamie Eager. Dr. Eager is a member of the Jefferson City Council.
Dr. Eager made three arguments during a recent TV interview: First, Dr. Eager said that Mayor Stone’s proposal for reducing crime by increasing the number of police officers is a bad idea. Dr. Eager said “it will only lead to more crime.” Dr. Eager supported this argument with a chart that shows that counties with a relatively large number of police officers per resident tend to have more crime than those with fewer officers per resident. Second, Dr. Eager said “we should take the money that would have gone to hiring more police officers and spend it on the Strive drug treatment program.”
Dr. Eager supported this argument by referring to a news release by the Washington Institute for Social Research that describes the effectiveness of the Strive drug treatment program. Dr. Eager also said there were other scientific studies that showed the Strive program was effective. Third, Dr. Eager said that because of the strong correlation between drug use and crime in Jefferson, reducing the number of addicts would lower the city’s crime rate. To support this argument, Dr. Eager presented a chart that compared the percentage of drug addicts in a Jefferson ZIP Code area to the number of crimes committed in that area. Dr. Eager based this chart on crime and community data tables that were provided by the Jefferson Police Department.
In advance of the debate later this week, your office must release a report evaluating the claims made by Dr. Eager. You have collected the attached information, and your supervisor asks you to spend the next 90 minutes to review these documents and prepare a memo to the senior staff in response to the three sets of questions (on the next page). (In this case, a memo is an internal document that is concise and comprehensive; there is an example of a memo in the set of materials provided to you.)
ACCOMPANIED MATERIALS FOR SCENARIO 1
QUESTION 1: Dr. Eager claims that Mayor Stone’s proposal “will only lead to more crime.” (Document E contains the chart Dr. Eager used to support this claim.) What are the strengths and/or limitations of Dr. Eager’s position on this matter? Based on the evidence, what conclusion should be drawn about Dr. Eager’s claim? Why? What specific information in the documents led you to this conclusion?
QUESTION 2: Dr. Eager claims that “we should take the money that would have gone to hiring more police officers and spend it on the Strive drug treatment program.” What are the strengths and/or limitations of Dr. Eager’s position on this matter? Based on the evidence, what conclusion should be drawn about Dr. Eager’s claim? Why? Is there a better solution, and if so, what are its strengths and/or limitations? Be sure to cite the information in the documents as well as any other factors you considered (such as the quality of the research conducted on various drug treatment programs) that led you to this conclusion.
QUESTION 3: Dr. Eager claims that “reducing the number of addicts would lower the city’s crime rate.” (Documents C and F exhibit the charts Dr. Eager used to support this statement.) What are the strengths and/or limitations of Dr. Eager’s position on this matter? Based on the evidence, what conclusion should be drawn about Dr. Eager’s claim? Why? What specific information in the documents and any other factors you considered led you to this conclusion?
EXAMPLE HIGH-QUALITY RESPONSE FOR QUESTION 1: I do not agree with Dr. Eager’s claim that Mayor Stone’s proposal for reducing crime “will only lead to more crime.” His only support for the claim hinges on the document 6 chart that shows a weak correlation between the number of police officers per 1000 residents and the number of robberies and burglaries per 1000 residents. However, Dr. Eager is mistaking correlation for causation and failing to understand the alternate explanations for such a correlation. More than likely higher volumes of robberies and burglaries per 1000 residents are occurring in concentrated urban areas or poorer neighborhoods with crime problems.
As a result more officers will naturally be allocated to these areas rather than to other areas with low crime rates. However, that does not mean that the increase in police officers in these areas is causing the extra crime. By only observing correlation and not examining the underlying circumstances, Dr. Eager is being shortsighted in his analysis. If anything the problem is that even though more police officers have been allocated to high crime areas, these problem areas still simply do not have enough police personnel to adequately deal with the problems. As such Mayor Stone’s proposal possesses merit that Dr. Eager’s claims fail to observe.
Dr. Greer claims that “reducing cell phone usage while driving motorised vehicles would lower the city’s vehicle-related accident rate.” (Document B exhibits the chart Dr. Greer used to support this statement.)
ACCOMPANIED MATERIALS FOR SCENARIO 2:
QUESTION: What are the strengths and/or limitations of Dr. Greer’s position on this matter? What specific information in Documents A and B led you to this conclusion? What additional information, if any, would you like to have had?
EXAMPLE HIGH-QUALITY RESPONSE: I cannot agree with Dr. Greer that “reducing cell phone usage while driving motorised vehicles would lower the city’s vehicle-related accident rate.” Dr. Greer’s strategy of looking for root causes of vehicle related accidents is a good one, but cell phone use while driving may not be the primary cause of vehicular accidents in Stoneville.
The chart he showed in his TV interview (Document B) seems to show that vehicle-related accidents increase along with the per cent of registered drivers using cell phones while driving. However, Dr. Greer is either misunderstanding the information he gathered from Document A to create his chart, or he is misleading the public. What his chart (Document B) does not show is the population of each region.
Therefore, the chart ends up comparing a number with a per cent, which is not meaningful. Dr. Greer is correct in saying that the number of vehicle-related accidents increases with the total number of registered drivers living in each region, but he fails to consider number of accidents per 1,000 drivers. When I look at the tables provided by the police department (Document A), I can see that the number of vehicle-related accidents per 1,000 drivers stays relatively constant regardless of the percentage of drivers using cell phones while operating a motorised vehicle.
You would expect the region with 1% cell phone users while driving and the one with 10% to have very different vehicular accident rates, but in fact, they are the same at 8.59. This suggests that reducing cell phone use while driving a motorised vehicle may not affect the vehicular accident rate at all.
There are many things that cause vehicle-related accidents. The North region has 5% of cell phone users while operating a motorised vehicle, but a noticeably higher vehicular accident rate of 9.04%, so it leads one to wonder what is going on in this region. It would be wise to examine this region to get an idea of all the other possibilities that may exist for vehicular accidents.
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