While the number of students who take Ball State’s Foreign Language Placement exam has risen since 2016, Assistant Chairperson of the Department of Modern Languages and Classics Stephen Hessel said there are still students who are surprised to learn it exists.
The exam is meant for students who have had past experience in a particular language and wish to be placed in a higher level class when coming to the university.
Typically, students who take the exam can earn between four and 14 credits based on their score, Hessel said. A student’s score then determines what level class they should actually begin with, rather than making them start in an introductory-level class by default.
“Students are smart and savvy,” Hessel said. “They want to get the most out of a college education, and since so many took a language during high school, they should have the opportunity to get credit for that.”
While he said he has been pleased to see more students taking the exam, Hessel said there is still room for improvement as only 20 percent of eligible students took the exam this year.
Traditionally, students received pamphlets about the department and the exam at freshman orientation. Now, however, Hessel said the department has goals to spread the opportunity to students in other ways.
“This year we have made an effort to be more visible to students through a series of events around campus,” Hessel said. “We would like to engage with students before they arrive on campus. We will be pursuing a closer relationship with orientation for the coming summer.”
The specifics of each exam varies based on the specific language a student wishes to study, but Hessel said the main goal is the same: “evaluating which class level would be most beneficial to the student.
David Spencer, senior Spanish and computer science double major, said he took the exam his freshman year after receiving a pamphlet during freshman orientation.
“The placement exam can save an incoming student a lot of hassle and money,” Spencer said. “My experience as a Spanish major has been great. The department has great professors that care about you and want to see you succeed, and they are very passionate about their work.”
Because of his results on the exam, Spencer tested out of four classes and started his Spanish career at the 300-level. While nervous about taking higher-level classes in his first year, he said it was where he needed to be.
When students start learning foriegn languages at the appropriate class levels, Hessel said, they are able to improve on a variety of “transferable skills” including writing, public speaking, critical thinking and cultural competencies.
“They also allow students and graduates to pivot with greater ease between lots of fields,” Hessel said. “The ability to interact with others in another language is a huge advantage in almost any career.”
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