Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Problems with Test Preparations

As is generally known, I recently completed an undergraduate degree, one that is a pathway to certification to teach English (or English Language Arts, as it's sometimes called), in grades 7-12 in New York State. There are a lot of requirements one must satisfy if one goes the route I am going through, including three tests, two of which I've already passed. The last one I need to take - and indeed, the last obstacle I need to overcome in order to apply for and receive my initial certificate (which would be good only for three or five years) is the Content Specialty Test, which I'm scheduled to take this Saturday. As the title of this test implies, there are many different versions based on the specific subject in which one wishes to become certified - Chemistry, Italian, Math, etc. In my case, I am scheduled to take the English CST. They're all meant to measure one's basic knowledge of subject matter. I'm not too worried about it; I can do well on any grammar question, and on the essay section; in regards to the questions about literature, I'll either know it or I won't, based on the classes I've taken and my background.

Nevertheless, in an attempt to at least become familiar with the format of the exam, and become familiar with the type of question answered, for Christmas I asked for and received this book from XAM Online. Alas, the review that is on could have helped, because the book is horrible.

And it's horrible not because of the questions it poses - although it should be noted that the book does state that it has not been endorsed by NYSTCE (the folks who actually put out the exam); that it has nothing to do with the exams given; nor does it use previous exams as sample tests (which is standard) - but because there are typos on nearly every page in the sample test. Sometimes there are two or three. And they're really stupid typos that make me thing that they didn't even run the spell checker and/or hire an editor, like spelling errors.

My favorite is in the answer section; the answer is given, but although for every single other answer you are told the rationale, what is in the book is this: "The answer is A. (Self explainatory.)" This was not a cheap book; it was nearly $60. And no, it wasn't my money, but if their typography isn't right, I can't quite trust the content either - despite their lack of affiliation. If I were more scientifically minded, though, I would buy one of their science test prep. books and go through it to see if their alleged preparation would lead to any inadvertent new-fangled science. Instead, I wrote them a letter:

To Whom It May Concern:

I write to you today because of my concerns with the book I purchased a few months ago, such that I could prepare myself for New York State’s CST exam. The specific book I purchased was CST English 003, ISBN 978-1-58197-851-3.

I am primarily troubled with the number of typographical errors I have encountered while trying to prepare for this test. As the edition I own was published in 2007, I was surprised that I found errors on nearly every page – at least within the sections that contained sample questions (which was the part I reviewed prior to my taking the CST). An incomplete list of typographical errors I encountered include:
•    An alignment issue on page 217, question 27, letter B
•    A period at the beginning of phrases  (example: in the answer section, page unknown, number 62, letter C)
•    Some phrases within the explanatory answer section were capitalized at the beginning of the line, while others were not capitalized (this was commonly found; one example is question 61 in the answer section)
•    Periods at the end of some phrases, and not in others (this was common) – occasionally some phrases ended with periods and other phrases did not, both within the same question

I also found a few instances of confusing or just unacceptable phraseology, as demonstrated in the explanation to the answer of number 42; the correct answer, being A, was explained merely as “self-explanatory.” Given that all other answers had some form of explanation, I fail to understand why that specific answer should be self-explanatory.

These are relatively minor infractions, of course, but I am concerned about the professionalism of sending such a text to print, especially in a test meant for pre-service English teachers. I can only hope that other editions were more carefully proofread. I bring these errors to your attention, though, because unfortunately such typographical errors reflect poorly on an otherwise potentially fine company that wishes to help prepare future educators.

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