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Seniors score nearly the same as freshmen As seniors were preparing for their last round of final exams in May, the University asked 60 students to take another test. But this test was not for a grade. In an attempt to assess College students' quantitative and critical thinking skills, a committee of faculty members sent randomly selected seniors a 44-question multiple-choice test. Thirty-six students responded. And in order to compare Penn students' skills before and after they complete their undergraduate education, the committee also sent the test to 120 incoming freshmen this summer. Sixty-one students completed that exam. The results? The scores for seniors and freshmen were remarkably close, both averaging about 70 percent. "There were several questions we wanted to look at," said Biology Professor Ingrid Waldron, who supervised data analysis for the exam. "[For example,] do students have difficulty in thinking about what they are learning and figuring out how to put the information together in new ways?" The test focused on areas in which professors suspect students may have difficulty. Waldron said that to a large extent, the test results confirmed the professors' assessments. But she emphasized that the test is still in its experimental stages and should not be relied upon as an accurate judge of students' abilities. Divided into two sections -- numeracy and critical thinking -- the exam included word problems and graph interpretation. For the numeracy section, students needed a background in statistics and probability to complete many questions. While freshmen and seniors both had problems with probability and reading graphs, Waldron said the seniors often fared better on the questions that required a background in statistics. Waldron said the study is flawed because the sample size is too small, some of the questions are unclear and the exam was given to seniors close to graduation -- during a time when they might not have put in considerable effort. The committee will now discuss reasonable goals for improving students' skills. Although Penn graduates may not necessarily require expertise in mathematics in their careers, College Dean Robert Rescorla stressed that numeracy and critical thinking abilities are necessary for such basic skills as understanding newspaper articles and business issues.

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