SNC Students Tackle the JPE

Caroline Coughlin, Editor

The Junior Proficiency Exam, or JPE, is a written test designed to show a student’s writing skills before he or she enters into the professional world. SNC students are required to take this test during their junior year as a prerequisite for graduation. On Feb. 24 and 28, a total of 56 SNC students took the JPE, according to assistant registrar Jane Rainwater.

Many students wonder, though… Why exactly do they have to take this exam?

English department chair June Saraceno said, “The Junior Proficiency Exam is one of the ways we show evidence that our students have acquired the skills their college degree reflects. This type of test is very common in colleges and universities across the country. It’s a way of showing we’ve hit the benchmark of ensuring that all students can write at a college level by graduation.”

During the exam, which is given every semester, students are given a choice of two questions, and they have up to two hours to write an essay that answers one of them. Each question is based on a topic of general interest, such as whether or not capital punishment should be legal. The questions are accompanied by short readings that provide background information on the topics.

Students take the exam during their junior year “in case any additional instruction is required,” Saraceno said. She added that the test is intentionally a written essay instead of a multiple-choice or true-false exam. “There are few ways to check for writing skills other than by writing… Actually, I can’t think of any other way,” she said. “Especially in a world where rapid communication is the norm, the ability to respond in writing with clear content and mastery of English conventions is critical. Few employers are interested in hiring individuals who can’t express themselves well in writing.”

Students’ views on the JPE vary. Junior transfer student Jamie DeFrank, who took the test in February, said she believes it is unnecessary. Colleges that she attended previously didn’t have a similar test. DeFrank didn’t try to study for the exam; she just showed up and took it.

Junior Angel Dwyer also took the exam in February and said she felt confident about it. “My English professor Chris Anderson used a JPE-style exam for our midterm, so I knew exactly what I was walking into when I took the test.” Although the JPE wasn’t hard for Dwyer, she doesn’t believe it should be a graduation requirement.

Professor Chris Anderson, who helps to grade the exams, said that each exam is graded by two different English professors. “Each JPE is graded independently using a JPE standard rubric,” he said. “If the exam earns passing marks from both professors, the student is notified that he or she has passed. If there is a discrepancy between the two graders, the exam is independently graded by a third professor. The exams are graded on a 1 to 5 scale in four areas: approach, organization, development and expression.”

Saraceno added that “as educators, our goal is to have a 100 percent pass rate for all students taking the exam.” Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. A few students fail the exam each semester, and they must attend a JPE review seminar, taught by professors Chris Anderson or Ann Marie Brown, before taking the test again. The seminar addresses areas of their writing that need help. According to Brown, the majority of students pass after taking the seminar.

Anderson said that students who are concerned about how they will do on the exam should come see him before they take it. He is willing to help students prepare for the JPE beforehand so they can walk into the test with confidence.