UNC journalism bails/bales on historic/historical spelling test

Posted April 9, 2012 5:49 p.m. EDT
Updated April 9, 2012 6:57 p.m. EDT

— 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.

“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.