UNC journalism bails/bales on historic/historical spelling test

Posted April 9, 2012

— For almost 40 years, journalism students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have had to pass a spelling and grammar test in order to get a degree. Now, in the age of spell check, the university is changing the test, which some say will make it even more difficult to pass.

“Every J-school student here at Carolina dreads the spelling and grammar test,” said junior Jasmine Cogdell. “I actually failed the test the first three times.”

Students are required to pass the 100-question test with a grade of 70 or better, and few do so on the first attempt, according to UNC associate journalism professor Andy Bechtel, who wrote about the test changes on his blog, The Editor’s Desk.

“The content of the test came up last fall when several faculty members were talking about the introductory News Writing course, which is where many students first take the exam,” Bechtel wrote. “In those conversations, I suggested that memorizing a spelling list wasn’t the best measure of competence in our craft. Why not use a set of questions about word choice instead? Other faculty members agreed to the idea.”

Beginning this fall, spelling will no longer be included on the exam. Instead, students will be tested on grammar, punctuation and word usage in a sentence, such as ordinance/ordnance, wither/whither, allude/elude and eminent/imminent.

UNC School of Journalism UNC journalism school bails on spelling test

“Our curriculum is always changing, and we think we are changing it for the better in this case,” Bechtel said.

UNC sophomore Caitlin McCabe and junior Mike Rodriguez say spelling proficiency is becoming less important these days.

“People don’t have to know how to spell as much as we once did,” McCabe said.

“There is word check now on every computer, I believe,” Rodriguez added.

Others say the change takes the emphasis away from spelling.

“I think, as a journalism student, it’s important that you do know how to spell,” said UNC senior Maggie Cagney.

Some alumni have also criticized the change, questioning the school's commitment to spelling.

“We still care about spelling very much,” Bechtel said. “It’s still an essential skill and a part of what journalists do every day.”

Students will still be marked down for spelling errors in papers, Bechtel said. For instance, students who misspell the name of a person or place in a story they write for class will automatically fail that assignment.


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  • lcornetti2 Apr 10, 2012

    A business associate and I have seen in recent years the work of students emerging from this once-hallowed school, and neither of us would hire them due on their abysmal spelling and punctuation. These were all applicants for writing positions. In decades as a college instructor he has witnessed a steady decline in this essential skill. UNC faculty--I support a failing mark if the work doesn't reflect mastery of the basics.

  • elibbybh Apr 10, 2012

    Spelling and grammar are both quite important. It bothers me so when I hear people say 'Where you at?' Behind the preposition!!!

  • LuvLivingInCary Apr 9, 2012

    Now don't be putting down on us Carolina grads. We are the brightest and the bestest.

  • bcde Apr 9, 2012

    People should have to spell to graduate high school. Many of the articles I read on this site and many other news sites have awful spelling. My 13 year old regularly reads this site and usually finds at least one spelling or grammatical error per article. I think the spelling of most young people today is terrible. They need to learn how to write without spell or grammar check. I think in general these 'tools' have become their 'crutch'.

  • CaptainClucksDuckboatAdventures Apr 9, 2012

    I thought this must have happened years ago. Obviously WRAL hasn't been hiring their they're there web editors from UNC!

  • coachjim44 Apr 9, 2012

    Real Journalism unfortunately is disappearing, as are well written newspapers. Newspapers don't understand that local news is more important than national news, and that's the reason we buy them. They just keep getting rid of local writers, and picking up wire stories, that are usually old news when you get them in newspaper.

  • joeblink Apr 9, 2012

    From my experience in dealing with reporters over the years, they need some courses in common sense and common courtesy to go along with both the spelling and word choice tests.

  • walkerp1 Apr 9, 2012

    Word usage is so much more important these days. Spell checkers are ubiquitous, but grammar checkers are not, nor are they even close to perfect. It distresses me greatly to see were where where should be. Texting has done more to destroy written communications than even the "no child gets ahead" attitude of our public school systems. So go ahead and push for better grammar. Make my day.

  • pinball wizard Apr 9, 2012

    Did they also do away with the Swahili test?

  • westernwake1 Apr 9, 2012

    So in summary, UNC journalism students are incompetent in regards to using grammar, punctuation and word usage in a sentence.