Test your English skills

I found this test/quiz on the BBC News site, with questions by Janice Owen, a retired British teacher. The quiz tests basic English comprehension in grammar and such.

The introduction to the quiz:

Hardly a week passes without headlines about academic standards. Are exams getting easier? Are people getting smarter?

Well, here's a chance for Magazine readers to test themselves - first on English - next week on maths.

In two weeks, the average results of those who have taken both quizzes will be posted.

Honestly, I hope the math questions make me think a bit more; I found this quiz to be shockingly easy. Is that just me, or is this really all that is expected of kids when they graduate, whether they are college-bound or not?

Given the writing skills of so many of my peers when I was in an engineering program, I guess I shouldn't be too surprised at the basic level expected of graduates, but these were things I learned my freshman year of high school, if not before. These were all skills we were expected to have when we took the Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP, or CRAP, as my physics teacher liked to call it) as sophomores. The ACT and the SAT tested at a higher level than the quiz given by BBC News, and that was before the written assessment was added to the SAT. At least the College Board and ACT expect more for those hoping to attend college.

I acknowledge that I was college-bound and therefore strove to meet a higher level of accomplishment than was required for graduation, but most of the skills on the quiz relate to basic communication skills – can you get your point across effectively and with the meaning intended. I never really put a lot of effort into learning grammar (so if there are mistakes in this, that's why), but I can put pen to paper - or fingertips to keyboard - and do a more than adequate job of conveying my thoughts to others.

I'm inclined to believe that exams are getting easier, but what level is expected just for graduation from high school or its equivalent? I know that not everyone is college-bound and some just need basic skills, but is this really the bare minimum? Can't we do better than that?

I can't help but wonder how much the internet/cell phone age has to do with all of this. I've known so many people who send emails to professors in "netspeak," who spend more time IMing and texting than they do composing real words. I can't even get into IMing or texting because I'm such of fan of real sentences and proper punctuation. I can't stand to get responses that I need to translate.

Is this the future of communication? Are those who can use proper grammar and identify a simile correctly going to be the smart ones? Is that all it's going to take?


I had a somewhat frustrating time last night at the school with my 15 yr old. It was half yearly report time, and leaving aside the absolute zoo that we experienced just trying to see each of his teachers for the allotted 5 mins (!), what his geography teacher said about generation Y and how they behave/communicate left my head reeling. My guy was scored lower in Geog and Eng because he didn't fit the profile of Gen Y: he was thoughtful and thorough while his peers were rambunctious and scatty; nevertheless, they got through more work (when they could be bothered) than my 15 yr old because they were used to racing through their activities. Because majority rules, my guy can look forward to lagging in his grades due to the fact that he hasn't had his net/games/mobile phone potential fully enabled at home. It was a conscious decision on my part to keep him away from computer games and the like so that he wouldn't become anti-social. Looks like I might have done the poor lad a disservice.

Aced in visual arts, though -- and that's all that matters really... ;-)

My apologies for taking so long to respond. I wanted to discuss your situation a bit with my sister, who works with kids 11-14.

Her response was that she sees much the same thing. As far as something like spelling goes, kids are being taught phonetics. As long as their point is conveyed, however badly, they'll get passing grades.

I shudder at the thought of interpretive reading; if I wanted to do that, I'd read stories in Old English.

Every time I see an ad for video game learning games, for children as young as three, I cringe. At three you should be reading your child Dr Seuss and watching them run around outside, not giggling manically while punching buttons on a controller.

My parents didn't allow me to have a gaming console until I turned 18, they made sure I read and got fresh air and exercise. I just don't see that today, and I'm not that old to begin with.

I applaud you on your "disservice" to your son, because in the long run, the critical thinking skills will do him a world of good.

If he's as good at art as you are though, he'll serve the world quite admirably should he choose that route.