Higher EducationPop Quiz

Pop Quiz: Be prepared!

In the world of college and university admissions, teaching, and advising, we spend time discussing the “preparedness” of our entering students.  Ideally, students come in with the basic framework of reading, math, etc, as well as some skills like time management, critical thinking, etc.  This makes them prepared for the hopefully more rigorous and deep specialized education they should get in addition to finishing rounding out their general knowledge.  The better prepared students are the ones who succeed and complete their degree, at least in theory.

jodee’s post on including courses on subjects like computer programming may feel to  some like a distraction to the goal of preparedness, and to others like me as another way to foster the needed skills.  Also, you may have noticed that the computers won, and they now rule the earth.

We’ve all seen articles on the eroding educational system, the changes technology may bring to our students and our classrooms, but the age old problem of preparedness and the transition from high school to college keeps coming back.  That last link has the alarming statistic that 60% of new college students are in remedial math or English classes in their first year, and that doesn’t even start to assess skills preparedness.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it appears high school educators and college educators don’t agree on what preparedness means.  One thing I noted in all this googling was that the primary focus was on students taking remedial math and English, with a side of discussing other skills, but no list or description of what those skills are (some articles did mention specifics like being able to construct an argument in writing, but that’s it.)

Here’s my question to you: what are the specific skills students should have mastered before entering college?  Which skills should be learned in college?

The Pop Quiz is a question posed to you, the Scholars of Doubt. Look for it on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays in the afternoon (ET).

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Apostrophobia is a college professor at a women's college in the US. She teaches biology, does pedagogical research on her guinea pigs (aka students), and has an existential fear of misplaced apostrophes.


  1. August 4, 2014 at 3:48 pm —

    As a High School Physics teacher, I plan to focus on a core set of skills. Students, upon the completion of a high school science education, will:

    1. exhibit a deep and robust understanding of fundamental science ideas.
    2. exhibit a deep and robust understanding of the history and nature of science.
    3. display responsible citizenship (locally and globally).
    4. display a respect for scholarship and become life-long learners.
    5. exhibit curiosity and creativity.
    6. think critically to solve problems.
    7. communicate effectively.
    8. work effectively within groups.
    9. self-reflect and self-improve.

    What tends to happens in U.S. schools is a focus on covering content. Big ideas are important, and a narrower, deeper focus on key concepts should be the focus of a generalized education. Teachers may have the above goals for their students, but don’t make these goals clear to themselves or their students. Many teachers haven’t been adequately prepared to guide their students toward these goals. The result is generation after generation who learn that school is cramming memorization for a multiple choice test, and freshmen class after freshmen class of college students who have rarely, if ever: thought critically, written or spoken to communicate ideas, worked effectively in groups, learned how to self-reflect/evaluate, or even, in fact, learned the content that was covered in any meaningful way.

    Recently I’ve been looking into the research of Carol Dweck, author of “Mindset” and I might add a 10th goal: Students will respond to failure and struggle with appropriate effort. Still working on the wording here, but there is definitely something to Dweck’s “fixed vs. growth” mindset.

  2. August 5, 2014 at 10:17 am —

    Students need to know sentence structure and need to have the ability to express themselves coherently through a written document. I know that sounds like something that should have been beaten into their heads all throughout K-12 but you should see the crap I get from my students. Also, I think that we should teach them to be patient and to think through their work. Too many students just think of school as doing their “time” before they get a job so they turn in hurried work that does not best represent their skills and intellect.
    I think college should be where they learn focused skills toward their primary career goals. I shouldn’t have to teach them how to redo everything they were suppose to have learned in high school to learn the topics in my class.

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