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Math Placement Test Without a Calculator?


Replies to: Math Placement Test Without a Calculator?

  • SikorskySikorsky Registered User Posts: 5,851 Senior Member
    Doing math in your head or on scratch paper is ideal, but is it really expected of students in this day and age?

    It is in my math class. Even in classes for which I expect students to use calculators heavily, I expect them not to use calculators for basic computation. It's pointless to make students multiply two four-digit numbers by hand if they can already do it, or divide 3.51*10^5 by 4.3*10^(-9) manually if they can already do it, but if they can't already do it, they haven't achieved a basic level of math proficiency that we expect of high school graduates. And I certainly expect that my students will not reach for a calculator to multiply 17 by 5, or approximate pi/2, let alone the square root of 95.

    Calculators are fabulous labor-saving tools. But a student who can't do arithmetic or basic algebra without one really does need remedial math. If her high school graduated her without these skills, it did her a disservice. But I don't think that means her college should just pass her along that way.

    In your situation, I'd be annoyed and disappointed and frustrated, too. But I don't think the college is really the right entity for you to be ticked off at.
  • sybbie719sybbie719 Super Moderator Posts: 22,612 Super Moderator
    toledo wrote:
    Hey, BCEagle, anyone who's been reading this forum for any length of time knows you're a whiz with numbers. You'd pass with flying colors. (BTW, I always love reading your posts when it comes to finances.)

    No one would ever mistake me for a math wiz and I used the same concept as BC. I knew that 9*9 =81 and 10*10 =100 since 100-95 =5, I would have also chosen the largest number over 9 and under 10.

    My daughter also went to a school that did Marily Burns Math for smarty pants and knew how to do all sorts of abstract word problems but struggled doing basic arithmetic in her head. Yes, I whipped out my index cards and that is how she learned multiplication.

    I agree with Garland about the over reliance on calculators. Kids with high tech calculators simply program formulas in their calculators and then plug and chug without really knowing how to do the work pen to the paper.
  • BCEagle91BCEagle91 Registered User Posts: 22,762 Senior Member
    > In your situation, I'd be annoyed and disappointed and frustrated, too. But I don't
    > think the college is really the right entity for you to be ticked off at.

    Schools have 12 years to teach at least arithmetic and algebra. That is a very, very long time. If the schools aren't doing their jobs, then parents have to step in to fill the void. The problem is that parents often don't know that there is a problem.

    I recall the survey results in grad school on how to improve courses. The biggest complaint was on students that didn't have the prerequisites for the course eating up valuable course time. How can a college professor teach the required material if a lot of course time is spent doing prerequisites?

    In this case, the placement tests are fair to everyone. The professor can teach the course. Students in the course aren't held back by students that won't succeed in the course. Students that have to take remedial courses will be prepared for the course after they can demonstrate that they can meet the prerequisites.
  • bovertinebovertine Registered User Posts: 3,303 Senior Member
    It all depends on what the purpose of the exam is, and the level of student we are talking about. One should certainly be able to estimate, but if they require you to estimate they should make sure it is appropriately easy to discern between the answer choices using estimation.

    At some level, the test should be designed to evaluate knowledge of the math concepts, not entirely the ability to perform arithmetic and estimation.

    For example, I think it would be far more effective use of time to have several questions along the line of "What is ln(e^6.37)", rather than questions like "Estimate the number closest to e^6.37". In the case of the latter question, depending on the answer choices given, you would merely have to narrow it down and guess.
  • FiftyFifty Registered User Posts: 189 Junior Member
    garland wrote:
    He'd ban all calculator use before middle school, maybe high school, so they'd acquire basic number sense...
    Right on! Students need "basic number sense" to know if the numbers their calculators produce are reasonable. In most college science courses, plug-and-chug leads to poor understanding. The successful students are the ones who have an approximate idea of what the solution should be before they start entering numbers in a calculator.
  • toledotoledo Registered User Posts: 5,032 Senior Member
    I think we all agree that too many students rely on calculators. But, do you really think that this remedial math class is going to go back and teach the basics that my D missed? I'm sure she'll be using her calculator from day one.
  • JHSJHS Registered User Posts: 18,345 Senior Member
    I suspect the basics your daughter missed have nothing to do with using a calculator or not. I'm glad her college requires something on the level of introductory statistics and probability for ECE majors, and if she doesn't yet have the skills to let her succeed in those classes (or introductory calculus) she really ought to get them.
  • SikorskySikorsky Registered User Posts: 5,851 Senior Member
    But, do you really think that this remedial math class is going to go back and teach the basics that my D missed? I'm sure she'll be using her calculator from day one.

    Well, if that happens, being ticked off at the college will be a totally appropriate response.
  • sunnyfloridasunnyflorida Registered User Posts: 4,790 Senior Member
    My guess is that she won't be using the calculator in the class much. My dad is retired and in is late 70's. He has his masters in Computer Science and his doctorate in Education. He worked for a branch of the military (civil service) in some sort of computer simulator training. To fill his time and stay sharp he teaches remedial math at the local college. His students don't get to use calculators.
  • barronsbarrons Registered User Posts: 24,980 Senior Member
    I think stats and probability classes would be far more useful and fun than a calc class. Some find them more concrete and interesting as they apply directly to everday problems.
  • PizzagirlPizzagirl Registered User Posts: 40,488 Senior Member
    I think we all agree that too many students rely on calculators. But, do you really think that this remedial math class is going to go back and teach the basics that my D missed? I'm sure she'll be using her calculator from day one.

    Well, how else should she go about getting those basics?

    Just because she's an early childhood education major doesn't mean that she shouldn't have a basic level of math competency.

    For your square root of 95 example, she should be able to at least know that the answer lies between 9 and 10.

    I do concur that the statistics class would probably be the most interesting and most importantly the most useful for someone who is not going down a sciency-mathy type of path.
  • camathmomcamathmom Registered User Posts: 355 Member
    Approximating the square root of 95 is a 7th grade math problem. It involves only basic arithmetic and approximation skills. It breaks my heart that this could be considered a difficult problem for a college student to do without a calculator.

    It is very important for someone who is going to be a teacher of young children to easily understand how to perform these simple types of calculations. IMHO it is unacceptable to graduate students from elementary teaching programs unless they have a strong understanding of math through Algebra. I applaud the college that the D of the OP attends for insisting upon this!

    I'm sorry that your D has to take an extra course, but I'm even more sorry that she arrived at college with this deficiency in math.
  • coolweathercoolweather Registered User Posts: 5,949 Senior Member
    This makes me remember back the days I was in HS. No digital calculator, no sliding ruler.
    I had to use a trigonometric table, a thick book to interpolate values for sine, cosine, tan,...
  • SikorskySikorsky Registered User Posts: 5,851 Senior Member
    I must have been on the cusp of change. When I was in high school, I had a TI-30 (which cost $30 of my own money, which was more money in the '70s than it is now) that I used for chemistry but was not allowed to use in Algebra II. In Algebra II, I also had to do linear interpolation to approximate trigonometric values.

    I've never asked my students to do that. I've also never asked them to crank-start a Model T.
  • kitty56kitty56 Registered User Posts: 1,331 Senior Member
    When S took his math placement test, no calculators were allowed. He had some other personal issues going on at the time, plus he was not aware that he would have to take the placement test at all (not that any of that should make a difference). He did not do very well, but got permission to take discrete math. Boy, he struggled with that. Got through it, but I think the placement test may have been correct. He took calc I and prob. and stat. after that and got A's in those though. Discrete was tough for him.
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